The Voyage Home - JANUARY 21, 2002

The FAA fly off time was done - it was time for N724X to leave the nest! I resolved to move the plane from Melbourne to a temporary base at Iowa City Municipal (IOW) prior to moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the near future. I made one last trip to Orlando, this time only one way. The weekend was spent checking and rechecking everything I could think of and a few I didn't. An oil change revealed no significant metal in the oil filter which was a relief. Finally, everything was tightened, twisted and packed - it was time to go ...

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The night before: final tinkering. Note that the nav light on right wing is inop. The cable had come uncoupled. Ouch! The wire was pulled back into the end of the strake and reconnected. An easy job if one is a double-jointed contortionist! A little manipulation with some tubing and long forceps pulled the wire back into position and allowed a more firm reconnect. I make a mental note never to do that again. 1/21/02 - The day starts poorly: Virtually the entire state was IFR due to ground fog in the south and a band of embedded thunderstorms in the north, directly across my previously chosen path between Tampa and Orlando, so carefully designed to avoid the myriad restricted airspaces and MOA's. While both N724X and myself are IFR capable, I knew that I would rather focus on flying the plane rather than 'working the system'. I decide on a VFR only trip and waited anxiously for my opening.... Things looked pretty grim for a while but by the afternoon, the fog started lifting around Melbourne. After a lengthy discussion with probably the best FSS briefer I've been privledged to work with, I found the opening for which I had been looking: The band of weather across the top of Florida didn't quite reach the coast. I would sneak by between layers, thereby avoiding convection and IMC conditions. This strange visitor appeared just prior to my decision to launch. This moth was enormous and spectacularly beautiful. It fluttered to a stop in front of the hangar and disappeared soon thereafter, no doubt after receiving his IFR clearance. The weather improved shortly thereafter to VFR conditions. A good omen...

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A motley crew to be sure. The guys from Hangar 18 are on hand to see me off. Left to right: Brad Flecker, Mike Manary, Malcolm Collier, yours truly and N724X. Ready to go! The path traveled. I was treated to wonderful views of Cape Canaveral on the way out, carefully avoiding climbing to altitude until clear of the restricted airspace. It was hazy but stayed a steady VMC as I tracked along the coast. I climbed out to 10500 feet and trimmed for level flight. I was making about 190 knots TAS with the engine leaned out to about 12.8 GPH. Not too bad! Soon, I was over the layers that were reported to me by the FSS briefer. Even though I was making relatively slow progress due to ferocious headwinds and the visibility was marginal but steadily improving, it was a relaxing trip. That is, until the only real glitch in the journey: my vacuum pump went out! An attention grabbing double chime and a blinking light on the panel annunciators was confirmed by a "0" reading vacuum gauge and an annoyingly lazy AI which predicatbly rolled over. Thankfully, I did not and after a few more minutes in marginal VFR, I found myself basking in the sun under blue skies as planned ... The view was glorious! I almost wanted to step out and walk on those clouds! The weather the remainder of the way was VFR all the way!
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As I reached the edge of the front, the cloud layer broke up ... Into the clear! On into Georgia. The day was drawing to a close, however and without an AI, I didn't want to fly at night, even with clear weather. I set down at La Grange, GA, southwest of Atlanta, outside Bravo airspace. My first experience landing at a different airport. I taxiied up to an empty ramp and shut down. By the time I opened the door, there was a crowd of about 10 people appearing seemingly out of nowhere, ogling N724X! It was the strangest thing! Everyone was extremely friendly and many offered to help and gave tips as to where to stay. A quick inspection revealed that there was nothing I could do about the vacuum pump. I resolved to settle in for the night... N724X dozes on the pre-dawn ramp, covered with ice. So much for my super early start. Sigh ...
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Not something I'd ever want to encounter in flight! The folks at the FBO were super helpful and very interested in the plane. After joining me as I stood forlornly staring at N724X, they offered a place in their heated hanger next to the Citation. Problem solved in short order! The final leg to temporary home base, LGC to IOW by way of VOR's CNG, VLA, CAP, BRL, IOW. I opted to travel by airway in spite of GPS capability to afford redundancy and offer a chance to practice with the equipment. As you can see, the path is virtually straight anyway and doesn't add a significant amount of time to the trip. Climbing out from LGC. I am struck by the quality of the morning light. A little rain passing by Gadsden Municipal (GAD) in Alabama. Beautiful countryside!
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As I flew over Tennessee, I had the strangest sense of familiarity. Then I spotted the airport out the window and confirmed what I suspected on the GPS: Maury County (MRC) airport near Mount Pleasant, TN. Why is this airport important to me? In the Spring of 1998, a good friend of mine, Catherine Schmalzer, arranged for her pilot brother-in-law, Eddie, to take me flying in a Piper Warrior. After that flight, I was hooked - I resolved to become a pilot. This coincidental fly-by was a real treat and an wonderful juxtaposition of two beginnings ... The journey ends! I arrived at IOW to winds gusting into the 30's. Now what did Nathan teach me about crosswind landings? Fortunately, I remembered enough to get us both down in one piece! N724X rests in the Jet Air hangar at IOW. The Voyage Home complete - the first of many cross countries....
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My father, Ricardo Sr., was so excited that N724X was coming to Iowa, he jumped in his pickup and drove here from LA in 2 days! He arrived, carrying a gift of all the tools one could want to work on a plane. After a more complete inspection, it was clear that the vacuum pump had gone bad. A call to Don George, Inc (who provided the engine) resulted in a replacement pump and a special wrench to work with the unit. I cannot speak more highly of Don and his company's support! They are truly wonderful to interact with and are highly recommended! The vacuum line (seen propped on top of cooling duct) was carefully cleared of any debris and cleaned. The hardest part of the job was getting the pump back on to the engine. No surprise for those who have worked on them. It's that one last nut on the lower post that's the problem. You can see the pump unit with the blue stripes lower left corner. The pressure mounts! A little help from below and using a flat edge of a screwdriver starts the nut on the thread. After that, it was easy to get everything back together. Dad survives his first flight in N724X! He was treated to a quick jaunt over to Dubuque, a tour up the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers to view the rolling hills of the Badger State and back all in an hour and a half. Who knows, N724X may well prove to be faster than his pickup! Now with a paternal stamp of approval, N724X waits for the next journey ....

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome! email: rich@rguerra.com

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