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Across the USA in a CTSW by Kent Wien

My day job has me flying ‘transcons’ from NY to LA and San Francisco quite a few times a month. But the thought of flying the CT across the country never seemed like an easy proposition.

But when my 16-year old daughter, who lives in Germany said she wanted to see more of the United States in our CTsw, how could I say no? She came up with a plan to go from New York to Seattle and drop in at some of the locations where Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote the ‘Little House on the Prairie’) grew up. After aligning the dates, I noticed that AirVenture in Oshkosh would be happing right around the time we were flying by that area.

We packed up enough clothes for two weeks into our L.L. Bean duffel bags, which fit perfectly in the CT by the way, and another bag with a lightweight tent, sleeping bags and pads, along with the usual airplane related gear such as tie downs, oil and cleaning supplies.

Even with full fuel, all our gear and the bags, we came in at 50 pounds under max gross weight.

Our first leg was from Poughkeepsie, where the plane is based, to Niagara Falls, NY. We climbed above the scattered clouds, finally reaching 8,500’ and enjoyed a perfectly smooth ride all the way. At Niagara Falls airport, we were met by the friendliest FBO I’ve ever encountered, Calspan Air Services, who let us use their crew car for the evening. We jumped at the chance to see the falls after checking in to our hotel. Seeing them lit up at sunset and catching the fireworks show they do every night was a highlight of our trip.

On the second day, we woke up early to fly in the smooth air from Niagara Falls over Ontario and into Michigan where my brother lives on an airpark at Newman’s field near Kalamazoo. Later that evening, we hopped back into the CT and flew formation with my brother and his wife over to a place to eat dinner. It was a great opportunity to get some nice pictures as well.

The next morning was Saturday, the second to last day of AirVenture. I have been 4 times before, but this would be the first time I had flown into the event. After printing up all the pages of the notam and studying it well, we left at 10 a.m., expecting to arrive at about 12:30 at the show. I was dreading the gridlock I had heard so much about.

After takeoff, we climbed over the scattered clouds to get above the bumps, arriving at Lake Michigan in the clear and working our way around the lake, by Chicago on the ‘flyway’ below 1500 feet.

In fact, the arrival into Oshkosh couldn’t have been easier. There were periods of silence on the radio while we were nearing the waypoint at RIPPON. When we arrived, we were the first of a group of three. A quick rock of the wings when requested, and we were off to land on 36R without ever having to say a word.

Upon landing, the ‘judges’ gave us wildly varying scores of 7, 5, 9, 7, and 1! Enya felt we got robbed on the last score.

Upon parking, the parking marshal greeted us and explained where we needed to go to buy the camping pass for our ‘north 40’ spot near runway 27. He came back a few minutes later and gave us our airshow passes worth over $100 for our stay for no charge. Apparently he liked the CT. I was shocked!

After setting up our tent, and getting organised, we went straight to the Flight Design booth and met Lars Joerges, CEO of Flight Design and his daughter Saviya, along with Daniel Guenther the COO. Tom Gutmann Sr. and Jr. were there from Airtime Aviation and of course Tom Peghiny and Arian Foldan of Flight Design USA, which does all the work on my plane.

The only purchase during the show was a model from Factory Direct Models—an order for a CTsw as a souvenir of our NY to Seattle flight. It features clear windows and an interior exactly matching N296CT. Can’t wait to see it in a few months.

If you’re tired of the usual airshow acts, let me just put in a plug for the night airshow at Oshkosh. Taking place on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, this display was fantastic. We were absolutely blown away while sitting in our chairs and watching the spectacular combination of fireworks and flying skills shown.

We stayed two nights and enjoyed the relaxed feel of the Sunday airshow. The exhibits were still going strong Sunday morning, so I was able to visit with vendors and avoid the crowds that were apparently there earlier in the week.

Leaving Oshkosh at 7 a.m. on Monday, morning was as easy as departing any airport. We took off from runway 27 and stayed below 1300 feet as directed by the notam, which is only 500 feet AGL until leaving the class D airspace. I was happy to see a smidgen more than 120 knots indicated down that low. Apparently polishing the leading edges at the airshow must have helped.

We stopped at Walnut Grove, Minnesota, one of the locations of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book and then continued on to DeSmet, South Dakota for the night. We were given a courtesy car by the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical society so we could tour all the different sites, including a home and the homestead of the Wilders. They even allowed us to take the car to the Wilder airport and leave it there the next morning when we were ready to leave.

At the Bed and Breakfast where we were staying, the owner asked us if we would mind being interviewed by the DeSmet News, a local paper in town, about our flight. Well that just may have been the highlight for Enya. She was thrilled to tell the editor about our flight so far, as we were preparing to leave.

We departed DeSmet, and flew straight to Mt. Rushmore, which can be circled at above 7,700 feet (2,000 AGL) and a half mile in distance. We then went over to Crazy Horse monument which they are still carving after all these years. Finally we proceeded over the Black Hills on to Hulett, Wyoming, which is right next to Devil’s Tower national monument. They had self service fuel and a self service crew car, so we were able to see the laccolithic butte, hike around it and get dinner. A perfect day!

Watching the weather closely, it was clear that we needed to make up some time the next day and push for a straight shot to Seattle. Clouds would be covering the Cascade mountains if we tried to do it in two days, so a single long day was best. We flew to Butte, Montana, fuelled up and used a courtesy car to get lunch. The density altitude at Butte was 8500 feet, and the CTsw used 1,500 feet of the 9,000 foot runway. I elected to take off with flaps set at zero since there were no obstacles and it was important to get to 87 knots to get our climb going.

Flying to Seattle had us passing by some 10,500 foot mountains. Using the autopilot allowed me time to study the terrain clearance and routing with both Foreflight and Garmin pilot. ‘Managing’ the flight is made so much easier with that autopilot, something I figured I wouldn’t want in a general aviation aircraft. It proved its worth on the first day I owned the plane.

Crossing the Cascades, we needed to stay clear of a TFR for forest fighting taking place on the north side of Mount Rainier. We easily crossed the terrain at 8,500 feet and dropped down to 6,500 feet as we were over the Cascade range.

90% of our flight used ATC VFR flight following services. Even with ADS-B in and out, having an extra set of eyes and an easy source of information on MOAs at our fingertips was handy.

The trip took just over 23 hours and burned 117 gallons of fuel. I flew at high power settings for most of the flight as we were dealing with headwinds of 10 to 20 knots going westbound. The longest day was the last, at 7 hours 45 minutes divided into two legs. I never landed with less than 2 hours of fuel remaining. The CT is an amazing cross country machine that just begs to be taken places.

Thanks Flight Design for building such a fun machine. This trip ranks up there as the most memorable of all. Can’t wait to fly home—with a tailwind this time!

Kent Wien