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4,000-Nautical-Mile Adventure in an RV-7A

By David G. Lamb, EAA 1087854

Even before we finished the construction of our Van's Aircraft RV-7A, my wife and I had talked of taking long trips in our own plane. We made it from our home in Saskatchewan to Vancouver Island, then the Air Cadet League of Canada, where I am a director, provided another opportunity. The organization planned its Annual General Meeting for Prince Edward Island in June, and it was the perfect opportunity to fly to the East Coast.


SkyVector online planning

We did a lot of planning, which was a big part of the trip. SkyVector was perhaps one of the best tools for planning. When you lay a proposed route out, it will give real-time weather warnings, actuals, forecasts, and active temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) along and around the route.

We also have ForeFlight for the iPad/handheld device and paired it with a "Dual" external GPS antenna communicating via Bluetooth, and we had the little airplane marching accurately across the charts on the iPad. The iPad is mounted in a Ram mount on the right side of the panel. It is really hard to get lost these days.

Other planning tools we used include: Ac-U-Kwik, Great Circle Mapper, Airport Nav Finder, and AirNav.com.


Airport information with Ac-U-Kwik

After the planning phase, the main websites we used to get going were Nav Canada, and in the United States, NOAA's Aviation Weather Center. We used the Nav Canada site to file all our flight plans in Canada online and had no issues with it at all. It works well. In the United States, the Lockheed Martin folks at 1-800-WX-Brief were great and handled all our flight planning and briefing needs.

Our route took us from our home base (CJY3) in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, to Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Rouyn Noranda, Quebec City, Charlottetown; then Bangor, Maine; Brunswick, Maine; Frederick, Maryland; Huntington, Indiana; Middleton, Wisconsin, Grand Rapids, Minnesota; Piney-Pine Creek Border Airport - on the border between Minnesota and Manitoba, Winnipeg, and home to CJY3.

We had a total of 27.7 flight hours for a distance of around 4,000 nautical miles for a trip average of 144 knots. If you plot the route, it comes in just under 4,000 nautical miles, but there were a number of legs that were not too straight. For the flight, we burned 826 litres or 218 U.S. gallons, working out to 29.8 litres per hour or 8.89 U.S. gallons per hour. It sounds much better in imperial because it comes to 6.5 imperial gallons per hour.


Singing "Happy Birthday" to our son at 9,500 feet

Our airplane is an RV-7A, nine years in construction and first flown in March of 2012. When we started out, we had just over 100 hours on it. It has an Aerosport IO-360 with dual Light Speed ignition, Vetterman exhaust, and dual alternators. On the panel, we have a single Dynon Skyview, Garmin GDU 370 GPS, SL 30 NavComm, GTX 375 transponder, GMA 240 audio panel, plus the iPad with ForeFlight. We have oxygen available but did not use it on this trip.

Some of the more enjoyable sights included an early morning out of Thunder Bay tracking the north shore of Lake Superior to Marathon at 1,500 feet AGL before heading direct to Rouyn Noranda. Lake Superior was a sheet of glass, not a hint of wind. I'm sure the big lake is rarely so calm.

After a couple of days in old Quebec City, the tour would not be complete without a look at the city from the air and a turn around Montmorency Falls just to the east. The Confederation Bridge to PEI and the PEI beaches are most impressive.

But the coolest part of the trip, from the pilot perspective, had to be the New York City Hudson River VFR route. This took some planning which included ordering, along with all the other VFR charts, the NYC VFR terminal area chart. There are a number of YouTube videos on the subject; one of the best is this one. We took the flight instructor's advice to heart and flew the West Hudson River at 1,500 feet in Class B airspace.

It was a cloudless morning and the sky was busy; but the controllers were most congenial. We talked to New York Terminal, LaGuardia Tower, and Newark Tower. They are all there to help. The NYC skyline was everything one would expect when cruising down the Hudson, from Central Park to the Empire State Building to the new One World Trade Center at 1,792 feet. After the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn, we curved west and flew just north of Philadelphia and on to Frederick, Maryland. The airport in Frederick is just outside the Washington, DC TFR area and 37 nautical miles from the center at Washington Reagan National Airport.

If you fly to within 60 nautical miles of Washington, D.C., it is mandatory to take awareness training with respect to the Washington TFR area. I am not sure why it is considered a TFR because it is a permanent fixture of the Washington area. Almost every controller will ask if you have had the training.

The training is not onerous. The short summary is "keep talking and keep squawking". You can register with the FAA and actually get a certificate if you wish to fly within the 30-nautical-mile TFR. We did not wish to. I did the online version and became "aware", planning to stay outside the actual TFR. We had originally planned to go into Leesburg, Virginia, which has its own procedures, but in the end opted to park in Frederick.

Frederick was a good option. It is about halfway between Gettysburg and D.C., has a tower, and a great FBO with rental cars available at the field. We thoroughly enjoyed driving in the countryside and Gettysburg, where people were preparing for the re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg fought 150 years ago in July 1863.

In Washington the Vietnam Memorial was our first priority, and then, of course, there was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Flying home we had interesting weather leaving Maryland. There was a complex system with plenty of cloud covering the area, and the good news was there were few buildups and relatively high ceilings. The stop in Huntington, Indiana, gave a nice perspective on general aviation. The airport manager, who pumped our fuel for us, said we were fortunate. The state had, that day, removed the state tax on avgas in order to encourage aviation in the state. It was nice to see some progressive thinking. From the Fort Wayne area we arced around the west side of Chicago and up to Middleton, Wisconsin. We had clear skies from there all the way home.

Things we learned or had reinforced: There were a few. In the summer it is so much nicer to fly early in the morning than after noon. When the weather is fine, the lumps from daytime heating come out on schedule between 11 a.m. and noon, and the ride gets rough. We did spend time at 8,500, 9,500 and 10,500 feet when it got later in the flight. The higher you go, the smoother it gets, normally.

An autopilot makes life so much easier. The Dynon Skyview has an integrated autopilot that does a wonderful job of easing the workload. We spent by far the majority of the flight with the autopilot engaged. Of interest, on return to CYWG we were on the centerline for Runway 31 from about 25 miles out. With the HSI centered and the autopilot captured on the ILS, we stayed coupled to within a half a mile of touchdown. I was impressed.

I would not go out and buy a stack of VFR charts again. The only one we really used was the NYC terminal chart. The ForeFlight presentation is so good, why bother? The big panel-mounted Garmin GDU 370 performed remarkably, and with the iPad backup, maps are redundant. We also carry a Garmin Aera 500 as a backup to the backup. It also works well in automotive mode in the rental car!

In the airplane: folding cup/water bottle/pop holders are a necessity. We have two, one on either side of the cockpit. Good control locks are definitely required when parking away from home. For a while, when I parked, I had a couple of pieces of wood holding the rudder and seatbelts holding the stick. This option was marginal.

Before the trip, I bought a great RV control lock, Anti Splat Aero's Ultimate Gust Lock. I have also installed its Nose Job and ASA Oil Separator - all superior products built by RV folks for RVs. PS: I have no affiliation with the company other than I really like their products.

As I am occasionally forgetful, one of the smarter moves during the design and construction phase was to use the same tiedowns for the underneath area of the wing and for the baggage. You can't tie down the baggage until you remove the tiedowns and reinstall them in the cargo compartment. If I hadn't done this, I'm sure I would have gone flying with them hanging down at some point.

Also, in the airplane, plan for in-flight snacks. We had the "flight feeding bag" within reach as the last item packed into the cargo compartment. It contained pre-sliced cheese and sausage, crackers, energy bars, drinks, and fruit.

Next year the Air Cadet League is planning its Annual General Meeting in Whitehorse. The planning has already started and Alaska will be part of the plan.

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