I have been wanting to fly to Dallas for a while and 3 opportunities in a row have resulted in the weather no cooperating. Well, we finally had the weather we needed to make the trip.
I generally prefer to fly the Flight School's Cessna 172, but after a recent flight in a 160HP Pip Cherokee with my instructor, we found out that the Cherokee is actually a few MPH faster than the Cessna so we elected to make the flight in that. I was a little worried that the baby carseat would not fit well in the back seat as this would be the little man's first flight out of his infant carrier. The back seat of the Cherokee is actually pretty spacious and the seat fit fine.
Flight planning indicated that there were going to be clouds along our route but that both our home base and destination airport (Arlington Municipal - KGKY) would be clear. The cloud were also forecast to decrease throughout the day. This trip was going to require VFR over the top, which was a first for me. We had enough fuel on-board to make a full round trip, so even if the clouds did not cooperate, we would have enough full to return or divert if necessary. I also learned that the term "VFR on top" is a clearance given to IFR pilots; we were doing "VFR over the top".
I got up early and arrived at the airport at 0700, about 30 minutes before the wife and kiddo were going to arrive so that I could install the carseat, get the airplane loaded, and finish my preflight. This also gave me the opportunity to load the weight and balance profile into Foreflight because the tail number was not in their database to automatically populate.
My passengers arrived almost right at 0730 and after getting them loaded, we got the plane started up...after about 10 tries. The cold morning weather was making the engine a little stubborn. Engine warmers are not a thing in Texas due to the warm weather, but we still get near freezing mornings that make starting carbureted engines difficult. The wife who is admittedly timid of flying was really hoping I would not get the engine started. But alas, we got the engine started and were off by 0800.
The 2.5 hour flight in a stiff headwind to Arlington was beautiful. The forecast proved to be almost exactly accurate and we were on top of the clouds for most the flight. We let the little dude out of his seat and his first reaction was to push the yoke forward (definitely a future pilot). As we neared Dallas Class B airspace the clouds opened up and we made our decent into Arlington while staying outside of the Bravo. Aside from a slightly erratic helicopter doing maneuvers along our approach, we had an uneventful landing at Arlington and parked on an almost empty ramp.
The only oddity along the way was that I was unable to receive the Waco VOR (ACT). I had GPS so this was not a major issue but my route was using the Temple (TPL) and Waco VOR as waypoints to ensure I remained clear of some Restricted airspace near Fort Hood. I was able to receive the TPL VOR without issue. I did not see any NOTAMs for an outage during my brief and failed to check them after that fact. That being said, there is currently an outage NOTAM that started on 19 December so perhaps that is related.
The folks at Harrison Aviation were awesome and had our rental car out to us and we were on the road a few minutes later.
We returned to what looked like a completely different airport to depart a few hours later. The entire ramp was full of jets and other small aircraft, probably 50-100 airplanes. This was a huge change from the empty airport we experience when we arrived.
Other than a slightly snooty Air Traffic Controller, we departed just as the sun was starting to set. We got to watch the sunset from the sky and were in complete nighttime darkness by the time we got to Austin.
We did have one issue on the flight. The door to the plane was not closed completely. Prior to takeoff I had checked the door (hard shove) and latched it locked. The problem is that the bottom part of the door somehow did not latch properly. From the pilot's side of the plane, I could not see the bottom part of the door to see that there was an issue. We only noticed the issue once we were at cruise and we could not warm up the cockpit at all despite having the heat on. This was not affecting flight at all so we elected to press on to our destination. I know I will be checking the door more thoroughly in the future; though I am not sure that we really did anything wrong.
Other than the door, we arrived back at Kelly Field (KSKF) safely with a nice night view of the city.
All said, flying to Dallas versus driving is not much more convenient but I have to say it was a lot more fun.
This flight was one of the smoothest (logistically) that I have ever had. I think that is 100% due to the amount of planning I put into the flight. I felt ahead of the plane and my radio communications the entire trip, which made the flight extremely stress free.
Getting an adequate weather brief was essential to us even making the trip. I know exactly what to expect from the weather and everything happened as predicted. Even if the weather had not cooperated, we had a plan to divert/return.
I did learn to pay more attention to details, ie. the door. We did check it as I had always learned but in this case, that was not enough. It did not look like anything was stuck in the door but I will definitely be looking at the lower lip of the door from now on.