The Extra 300L is back in Seattle
June 17, 2011 1 Comment
On June 14, I flew the Extra 300L from its winter home at Boulder City, NV (KBVU) back to Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle for the summer. I followed my usual route (chart at SkyVector.com; GPS track for Google Earth here) up the east side of the Sierra Nevada to central Oregon, through the Columbia River gorge and then north to Seattle, with fuel stops at Carson City, NV (KCXP) and Bend, OR (KBDN). I often stop at Reno Stead (KRTS), but the pylon racing school is running this week, and mixing it up with that crowd can involve long delays. The trip, as usual, involved about 5½ hours of flying; total block time (takeoff about 0735 PDT, landing at about 1435 PDT) was about 7 hours). Distances flown:
KBVU-KCXP: 328 nm
KCXP-KBDN: 318 nm
KBDN-KBFI: 263 nm
I usually bring the Extra to Seattle in May for a full season of aerobatic rides and stall/spin/upset training. But the Pacific Northwest has endured a cool, cloudy, wet spring this year, and the skies are only slowly showing signs that summer may arrive for more than a couple of days at a time. So I delayed the trip this year.
The trip, about 910 nm as flown, is always interesting. It begins over the moonscape that is the desert around Las Vegas, and the scenery gradually changes to include trees, dry-land farms, and finally the lush forests on the west side of the Cascades. Along the way, I pass over, beside, and between spectacular mountains and lakes (wet and dry). Here’s a photo album from a previous trip along the same general route in the Bonanza.
Flying a long cross-country in the Extra is a challenge. It’s designed for high-performance aerobatics, not long cruises along highways in the sky (it’s also a great airplane for formation flying). You must hand-fly the entire time, compensating for the airplane’s inherent twitchiness; a virtue when looping and rolling, a challenge in all but the smoothest air. The cockpit is tight, leaving no room for arranging charts and amenities. The baggage area behind the pilot’s seat is compact. And there’s no heater, which, thankfully, isn’t usually a problem this time of year. The Extra is also limited to day/VFR flight—you can’t pop through cloud layers or stretch a flight into dusk. Finally, the airplane has a limited endurance, about two hours plus a reserve at normal cruise settings (which yield 160–165 KTAS).
Flying cross-country in airplanes like the Extra is immeasurably easier these days, thanks to GPS navigators with moving maps and databases of information about airports and ATC frequencies. Datalink weather is also a huge help. I carry a Garmin GPSMap 396 with XM weather on such trips. Combined with information from the engine analyzer/fuel totalizer, the 396 makes it easy to monitor progress against the plan, keep tabs on the weather (especially surface winds) at the destination and alternates, and avoid the maze of MOAs and restricted areas that make flying portions of the route like running a gauntlet. Although the GPSMap 396 is now ancient (and discontinued) technology, it’s still an ideal device for an airplane like the Extra. There’s no place to mount a snazzy iPad to use with in-flight tool like WingX or Foreflight—a kneeboard also isn’t a good option; it interferes with the control stick.
I plan my trips with Voyager, produced by Seattle Avionics. One of its best features is the ability to send a route directly to devices like the GPSMap 396, saving many button presses and typos. I also use DTC DUAT when checking weather and filing flight plans at FBOs (the other official DUAT provider is CTC DUATS).
Sharp observers of the GPS track of the flight will note some unusual maneuvers as I approached Bend. As often seems to happen, a traffic-pattern flash mob formed during my arrival. Hoping to let the frenzy die down, I made one 360-turn while still several miles southeast. But with one airplane flying a pattern worthy of a 747, another dutifully following behind, and a helicopter swooping down to the only runway from the rotorcraft pattern on the west side of the airport, timing and spacing still didn’t work out. Minimum speed for the Extra in the traffic pattern is about 90 knots (any slower and the airplane flies in a high nose-up attitude, blocking the view and causing the stall horn to chirp), and flying an extended pattern with a long final approach can be awkward, what with the limited view over the nose. So, with no one behind me, I made a couple of additional circles before re-entering the downwind leg and landing.