Big Spring, Texas Nationals

Rich Sauer and I decided to fly my plane from Northern California to Big Spring, Texas for the Nationals. The flight time was supposed to be 7 hours and 35 minutes. We would make a stop for fuel at St. Johns, AZ. Everything was going great for the first 20 minutes, then my charging system failed. Oh well, the nice thing about aircraft engines are they do not need a battery to run, they use magnetos to fire the spark plugs.

I turn off all the electrical, including my GPS which plugs into the lighter socket to keep it charged. It runs for only 3 hours off the internal battery. I have flown the first part of the route many times and was able to make it to Las Vegas using only visual navigation. After Las Vegas I would turn on my GPS every hour to check and make sure I was still on route. As is usually the case we hit head winds stronger than predicted and the first leg to St. Johns took 5 hours and 30 minutes, about 45 minutes longer than planned.

When landing at St. Johns, I let the rpm drop too low on roll out and the engine quit (this is caused by the high altitude and hot turbo charger). As we were rolling down the runway I tried to start the engine but the battery was too weak. As luck would have it, the runway and taxiway were every so slightly down hill to the fuel island. I rolled all the way (about  a mile) to the fuel island with the prop still. We got some funny looks as we taxied up.

As I worked on the charging problem, Rich asked the lineman if he could give us a jump so we could get on our way to Texas. He looked at us a little funny as to why we would want to fly all the way to Texas without an electrical system. As he was getting the ground service cable, the plane in front of me at the fuel island was trying to start his radial engine. A fire erupted in the cowling. The lineman dropped the cable and ran on got a fire extinguisher. While he was gone, Rich was knocking on the window of the plane trying to tell the pilot that his plane was on fire. The guy just kept on cranking. Burning fuel was now running on the ground and burning under the plane. The lineman arrived with the extinguisher and was able to put out the fires.

We were trying to beat the thunderstorms that were supposed to cover most of New Mexico, so we asked the lineman if he was ready to give us a jump. I could almost see him rolling his eyes. First a fire and now these guys want to get going to Texas. In between all this excitement I determined the problem with the charging system was the voltage regulator. I would have one sent to Texas. The plane started right up with the jump and we were on our way.

Soon after departing St. Johns, we hit a really big thermal. I had set the climb power to give me about a 200 fpm rate to keep the engine cool. Slowing to 82 knots and keeping a 45 degree bank, we were able to climb at 1,500 fpm for about 3,000'. We were still going up at 13,500' when we pulled out because we had reached our cruising altitude. Near White Sands New Mexico, we were near a military operations area. We got to see a F-117 stealth fighter up close. They passed within a mile of us. They continued to maneuver around the area for a few minutes while we watched.

We found Big Spring without any more excitement. Total flight time was just over 9 hours. The regulator will be here Friday. Scot Huber is already here was well as Ron Gleason, Bo, Paris, Kurt Warren, and many others. No one flew earlier today, but after 5:00 pm several gliders were towing up. The High today was only 93 degrees. One of the employees for the local FBO said it has been over 100 degrees for the past several days. The wind was blowing about 10 to 15 mph out of the east. Ron said the forecast was for winds out of the south for the next couple of day.