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The pivotal leg

June 29, 2010

Hot Springs to Cameron was our make it or break it leg.  We knew that if we could make this leg…with enough time to get to Carbondale, IL….we would have a shot.  Problem was: we had WEATHER!  A line of thunderstorms had formed to the northeast of our location and lie directly in our path.  We would be unable to fly a straight line from Hot Springs to Cameron, instead, we needed to fly in a more westerly direction to get around the front that was slowly moving to the south-west.

Heather’s GPS has XM Weather – a service she pays for that isn’t cheap, but is well worth it when you can see and avoid.  We are self-proclaimed chickens when it comes to lightening…and both agreed that we would give a wide berth to any storm with convective activity.

As we headed out from Hot Springs Heather  began looking for a fix that would get us around the storm.  We grabbed the sectional and located Fort Smith, AR – a military airport surrounded by MOA’s (Military Operations Areas) as well as a Restricted area.  Heather called the tower to make sure they knew what we were doing, and we were relieved to learn the MOA’s and Restricted areas were not hot.

Meanwhile, we noticed that our airspeed indicator was not working.  It was seemingly pasted at zero.  We weren’t far from Hot Springs and I asked Heather if we should consider making a return to the ground.  Heather scanned each instrument – all of which were working properly.  She pointed out we had two GPS units – both of which were showing us speed.  She asked if I was comfortable with continuing – and I was…so we continued our trek away from the storm.

From the cockpit we could see the storm clouds as they moved towards where we had been.  On the XM Weather we were able to watch as they intensified, but could also see that once we got past the front, we would be in clear weather for the rest of the day. 

It was on this leg that we both won and lost the race.  Had we stayed on the ground and waited for the storm to pass, we would not have had time to complete the race by 5pm.  We may have made it to Cameron, MO later that day – but we would not have had time to complete 4 legs on Friday in time.  Leaving when we did was key in getting us to the finish line in time.  However, the fact that we had to fly around the storm added significant time to this leg, and ultimately caused us to have one of the longest times en route.

Once we were clear of the storm, we made a direct line for Cameron.  The sky was blue, the scenery beautiful, and we tried to make up some time as we cruised to our next timing line.  Cameron was a picturesque airport.  A one strip runway surrounded by green, green grass, a blue, blue sky with puffy white, white clouds!  The FBO was a cute and inviting building with an American flag waving against the beautiful sky.

We were greeted by the three gentlemen, all of whom were eager to help us get fueled and on our way.  They had a variety of snacks and drinks for us, and even had airplane shaped cookies.  The interior of the FBO carried the aviation theme through the fabrics, pictures and even the signs on the restroom doors!

Heather checked weather to confirm what we already knew….we had High Pressure from here on out and it was just a matter of finding the most favorable winds.  I called my Uncle Bruce (which I had been doing at every stop along the way,) for his synopsis of what would give us the best time.  At this point we started seeing a headwind at lower altitudes and a possible tailwind if we climbed.

Back in the plane, we once again encountered difficulty getting Bravoski started.  We knew we needed to get going soon if we were to make it to Carbondale, IL by official sunset. [Note:  the rules of the race state that we had to get past the timing line by the sunset time stated for each stop.  We didn’t have to be on the ground – just past the timing line.]  The guys all gave us suggestions on how to start her, and the stop chair even googled  a hot start on a piper warrior.  The resulting suggestion was to prime her 2 or 3 times and crank….which was the norm for Heather prior to all the trouble we had.  Heather went back to her old faithful way of starting the plane – and she started right up.  We were ready to go and make this 4th and final leg of the day.

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