LEG 1 - Cessna 152 - Gastonia, NC (KAKH) - Mountain Air, NC (2NCO)
LEG 2 - Cessna 172 - Mountain Air, NC (2NC0) - Andrews-Murphy, NC (KRHP)
LEG 3 - Cessna 182 - Andrews-Murphy, NC (KRHP) - Tyndall AFB, FL (KPAM)
LEG 4 - T-34 Mentor - Tyndall AFB, FL (KPAM) - New Orleans, LA (KNEW)
LEG 5 - PA-28 Warrior - New Orleans, LA (KNEW) - Beaumont, TX (KBPT)
LEG 6 - PA-32 Lance - Beaumont, TX (KBPT) - Temple, TX (KTPL)
LEG 7 - Cessna 172RG - Temple, TX (KTPL) - Midland, TX (KMAF)
Intermission - Sub Orbital Flight
After a thrilling ride to the edge of space, it is time to continue on westbound with Leg 8. At this point in my career I’m just shy of four years into my flying journey. I have my Commercial Pilot Certificate at the bare minimum 250-ish hours, but now I can actually be paid to be in the airplane.
Three weeks after my Commercial checkride, on October 23, 1995 there is an entry for my next aircraft type - N72GP, an A-36 Bonanza owned by Ramp 66. Again, one of the single engine freight haulers that hauled packages, checks, and whatever else needed to be moved throughout the southeast. I’d once again be checked out in the Bonanza by my friend Peter with a short flight over to Raleigh-Durham to swap out planes and pick up a Piper Lance that needed to come back to the beach for maintenance. My logbook entry for the first A-36 flight reads “Awesome a/c”. Yes, yes it is.
With no Bonanza in my X-Plane hangar (and not wanting to shell out any money for just this single leg) I bounce over to P3D v4, which includes by default the very nice Carenado A-36 Bonanza. Again, a lot cleaner and newer than the ones I flew, but very familiar feeling.
The Bonanza, just like all big piston engines, sounds awesome when you start it up and it falls into a deep bass gallop. The Bonanza definitely felt more rigid than the straight or T-tail Lances I flew. Everything felt tight…almost fighter aircraft-like. It was a real performer that had a good amount of power to spare, and very nice feel on the yoke. We had three A-36s in the fleet, two had throw-over yokes and one had dual yokes.
Our flight today will take us from Midland, TX (KMAF) across to Albuquerque, New Mexico (KABQ).
As I taxi off the ramp at Midland, it doesn’t escape me that I’ve pretty much flown every plane type on the ramp at some point or another…
A nifty paint job on this Southwest 737…
Our Bonanzas back in the day had no GPS or RNAV equipment. Just VOR to VOR and NDB approaches. Some had DME.
Climbing out of Midland…
The back of this plane is much nicer than the ones I flew. Our freighter Bonanzas had all the interior stripped out and (just like the Lances) had sheet metal sides and a plywood floor with a cargo net bolted to it.
Sadly, the plane I flew a bit at the ramp was destroyed and the super nice, young pilot killed in Roanoke when he somehow became disoriented on a localizer approach. He descended past the airport, thinking he was still on the LOC, and ended up plowing into the side of a mountain. The story is horrible to read. I had met Talex a couple of times while swapping airplanes in Roanoke, and his death shook the whole organization. The plane he was flying (N1795W) was the same one I had flown many times. It was not hard to imagine me making a similar mistake at my very green level of experience.
The accident report makes for interesting reading: NTSB report.
Newspaper article about the accident: HERE
Settling in for our flight…
The weather was rough on this leg. Lots of turbulence, and a pesky cloud layer and icing level that was coincident with our cruise altitude. At one point I had to leave 10,000’ to descend to 9,000 because of ice accumulation that was causing airspeed to decrease. With no deicing boots, and the possibility of induction system icing, the Bonanza was not a great winter ops airplane. My friend Peter was almost killed in one in North Myrtle Beach when he picked an insane load of icing flying the ILS to runway 23. He required full power just to maintain the 500 fpm descent on the ILS and he had to put his hand out the pilot storm window to scrape a hole clear on the windscreen to see enough to land. I was chipping ice off the leading edge of the wings that was probably 2" thick. Luck was just barely in his favor that day.
The problem on this leg is that the MEA is so high, with terrain to above 10,000 in close to ABQ. Getting squeezed down between the icing level and the ground is never a fun position to be in.
Finally the ceilings started rise a bit - just in time to cross the last hurdle before Albuquerque - the Manzano Mountain Wilderness with mountains up to 10,098’…
Once over the mountains, the terrain drops off into ABQ with a field elevation of 5,355’…
The Bonanza is a great aircraft. I had some close calls in it, most due to flying around embedded thunderstorms in the summer in the southeast. None of our single engine aircraft had weather radar, so you had to rely on ATC and some spidey-sense to make your way through sometimes. I hit a storm so bad once that I briefly lost control of the Bonanza and luckily it spat me out the other side instead of out of the bottom. The A-36 was built like a tank though. I also had my first real life emergency gear extension happen in an A-36.
Lots of good memories in the logbook flying it. At that point in my career, I was technically a “VFR Only” freight pilot. I was so inexperienced, that I was only allowed to fly commercial legs in VFR if they were passenger or freight. I could reposition planes, which was great, except all the planes that needed repositioning usually had something wrong with them. And despite the VFR Only tag…cough…uh…there just weren’t that many non-IFR days in the Carolinas, so I might have been more like “psuedo-VFR” at some points. (I’d actually just file and fly IFR and if anyone asked, it was VMC on an IFR flight plan…)