Flying an RV-12 Across the Country
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
As told by CHI Dispatcher Joe Palmer
CHI Aerospace is now the new owner of a 2017 Vans’s RV-12! N311VA was purchased from Foothill Aircraft Sales at Cable Airport, just outside Ontario, California. The journey to bring it home was unforgettable. Follow along as we detail how we flew an RV-12 across the country.
Arrival at Cable Airport
Tad and I arrived in Ontario around 12 PM and ubered to Cable Airport. After meeting with the mechanics and owners, we took it for a test flight along the foothills. The RV-12 flew perfectly and before we knew it, the deal was done and the plane was ours. The plan was to depart the next morning after some much needed rest.
Day 1: Departure from Cable Airport and Arrival at Needles Airport
We departed the airfield at 6:00 AM and our journey to PSM began. The terrain was breathtaking and we could see the marine layer to the west that is common to southern California.
We made our way east to Needles, California, where we would fill up for our flight over the Grand Canyon. From a distance, the airport looked deserted. When we arrived, we were the only ones on the airfield. To say this place was a ghost town would be an understatement. Definitely one of the more interesting airports I’ve ever been to. The broken down Beech 18 definitely fit the theme.
With the RV topped off, we departed for the Grand Canyon. In order to cross the canyon we had to climb to 9500 FT and with the heat and humidity, it took a long time to reach that altitude. Also, the Grand Canyon is considered Special Use Airspace, where there are special corridors you must fly through in order to transition. Reference the chart below to get an idea of what this airspace looks like.
We selected the Fossil Canyon Corridor for our route, landing at Page Airport after the transition through the canyon. Looking down at the canyon from that perspective, it did not look real. The size was what impressed me the most. The unique terrain was unlike anything that I have ever seen. And we got some amazing pictures.
After flying over the Grand Canyon, we landed for fuel and snacks. This airport was filled with interesting aircraft, mostly made up of Grand Canyon scenic flight helicopters and Cessna 206s. This airport is a popular destination due to its location in proximity to the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell.
Lake Powell and arrival at Rifle Airport
We departed Page to an amazing backdrop on our way to Lake Powell. It's hard to put into words what the terrain looked like from this viewpoint. The deep canyons and rock formations made it seem as though we were flying above a different planet. After passing the Rainbow Arch and Navajo Mountain, we continued towards Grand Junction, Colorado.
In the distance we were able to see firefighting aircraft scramble out of Grand Junction and make their way towards the local wildfires. What was most impressive is the speed and altitude at which they were flying. Our route to arrive at Rifle Airport is pictured below:
The route took us directly over Grand Junction and through a valley eastbound towards Rifle. The turbulence was moderate and definitely tired us out the longer the flight went on. Also, the Temporary Flight Restriction (Red Circle) was for wild fires in the area and we witnessed two more fast moving prop driven aircraft depart our destination to go fight the fires. After we flew through the valley, we landed at our destination which is where we decided to stay the night. We got to stay in the mountains of Colorado, accompanied by a beautiful German Shepherd named Rusty, and ate some delicious BBQ to fuel up for the next morning.
Day 2: Departure from Rifle
This was definitely my favorite airport. Look at that backdrop! We even got to taxi by the firefighting aircraft we saw the previous day.
Since the mountains around us were so high, we had to climb in a spiral directly above the airport. Density Altitude was also a factor. Taking all of that into consideration, we climbed as high as we could in order to stay clear of any obstacles. The Skyview HDX was perfect for this trip. The HDX automatically calculates DA and we were able to push the RV12 to the absolute limit in a safe manner. Also, the HDX helps illustrate our terrain clearance. Anything in red on the map is terrain we won't clear and anything yellow is what we can clear by 500 FT and above. Definitely puts into perspective how demanding mountain flying can be.
We flew north to our first fuel stop in Casper, Wyoming. This flight was the easiest of the day with the early morning calm winds. We even saw more firefighting aircraft once we landed!
We came to the realization that our route would take us painfully close to Mt. Rushmore. After careful consideration, we went for it! We deviated from our original plan, which would take us south, to sight see a national monument. We departed Casper, Wyoming and headed for the national park. Unlike the Grand Canyon, there were no special flight rules we had to follow. Here are some of the pictures we got from our fly by:
We continued on for another hour and a half and landed in Pierre, South Dakota for fuel. The sky was huge and we were surrounded by cornfields.
Flying over Iowa, the view stayed pretty much same. We few over miles of flat fields watching crop dusters make their runs over farmland. Unfortunately the thing that did change was the weather. Our plan was to make it to Cedar Rapids, Iowa but thunderstorms had us deviate to Waterloo, Iowa instead. With storm continuing to build along our route, we decided to stay overnight in Waterloo and try again the next morning.
Day 3: Weather
Day 3 was one of the more challenging days of our journey. A massive line of thunderstorms that stretched across the country were directly in front of us. We dealt with many pop up thunderstorms that we had to navigate around. Also, we had to keep a safe and legal distance away from the clouds. This meant flying at lower altitudes in order to continue the journey.
Both Tad and I had to work together as a crew to keep an eye on the storms, our fuel level, airspace, and any other factors related to our trip back to PSM. The closer we got to Portsmouth, the worse the weather became. Fortunately, the ADSB in the RV-12 gave us weather radar and we had a backup Stratus to overlay weather on our iPads. Having these backups to the original system proved to be vital for the rest of the flight.
We decided to regroup at Port Meadville Airport in Pennsylvania (KGKJ). One of the most challenging landings we did during the trip was at this airport. The RV-12 continued to impress, landing in a wind-shear with a 45 degree crosswind. We had no choice but to land at KGKJ. Although the conditions were less than ideal, it was a great learning experience landing in marginal conditions.
After refueling, we looked at the weather and this is what we saw:
We landed with every possible AIRMET. A good lesson to remember is that weather can change on you in an instant. We made the decision to wait out the weather at GKJ and then continue on our journey. After 2 hours on the gorund, the weather improved enough for us to depart. Our goal was to reach Portsmouth by nightfall but the closer we got to NY, the less likely that became. The clouds kept pushing us down and we eventually found ourselves in Elmira, NY where we spent the night. The upside to spending the night is NY was we got to park next to four UH-60 Blackhawks on the ramp! And there was a lot of commercial traffic too.
Day 4: Small hops
Believe it or not, the last day was the hardest day. Weather was more of a factor. The only thing we could manage to do is hop to different airports, but only when the weather cooperated. We departed Elmira to the north and then made our way to Schenectady (SCH) where we stopped to plan out the rest of the trip. One cool thing about this airport is it is the home base for the LC-130H of the New York Air National Guard. The primary mission of these modified C-130s is to fly all the way to Antarctica. We were lucky enough to see one takeoff!
After refueling with coffee, we took off from SCH and flew as far as we could before diverting towards Great Barrington Airport (GBR) in Massachusetts. The clouds kept pushing us down and that gave us no choice but to land. What we found was one of the more interesting stops along our journey. Great Barrington Airport sat in the valleys of western Massachusetts, and had a line of general aviation aircraft tied down where we parked.
Since we had to wait out the weather for an unknown period of time, we decided to hang around the airport for a bit. The staff at Great Barrington offered us a crew car and we took it into town to get some pizza! Once we finished, we took one more glance at the weather and took off for our final leg to PSM.
In order to maintain legal cloud clearance in the airspace we were flying through, we had to fly through the valleys of western Massachusetts. This meant flying over Westfield and Westover, two active air force bases. The weather deteriorated, but was still safe to fly through and the controllers helped us transition through the Class D airspace surrounding Westover and Westfield. After that transition, it was smooth sailing all the way home.
Our arrival into Portsmouth was bittersweet. We finally delivered a new plane to join CHI, but our amazing journey was over. We made it all the way from California to NH in an RV-12. The journey encompassed everything a Private Pilot learns in training. Personally, I learned more in this four day period than I did throughout the duration of my private pilot training. We dealt with density altitude, weight and balance issues, special use airspace over the grand canyon, and weather. We’re happy to add another airplane to the fleet of aircraft for our students to learn on!