Home-InternationalFlying High in the Thrush 550

Flying High in the Thrush 550

by Juliana Ap. Torchetti Coppick

Delivering an aircraft, whether new or used, is always a rewarding task. It’s like being the emissary of good news. That aircraft is part of someone’s projects, whether to compose an existing fleet or perhaps to be the aircraft that will initiate the projects of a new company.

I felt doubly gifted by being hired to take this Thrush 550 to its destination as the flight was scheduled to start on my birthday and the day after Mother’s Day. As the plane is equipped with the Garrett engine, the contractor was looking for someone who had experience with this engine, due to the particularities of its start and shut off procedures. As I had already flown a rice crop in an aircraft equipped with this same engine, I was comfortable operating it.

Route covered.

But what really caught my attention was the fact that I would fly from the extreme Southeast to the extreme Northwest of the United States. What we in Brazil call “navigation” or “shuttle flight” Americans call “cross country”; a literal definition of the route I took to deliver the plane in question.

The aircraft was in Cross City, Florida and was destined for Moses Lake, Washington. As is common in this type of flight, the initial plans suffered some changes in the route due to the weather. The terrain was also a determining factor, since instead of planning a straight line towards the destination, I prepared myself to fly further north and avoid the high Rocky Mountains that cut through Idaho and reach around 14,000 feet. I did a careful pre-flight inspection as soon as I arrived at Cross City Airport (KCTY).

Because it has a single axis, the Garrett requires that the shut off and start procedures be done with a flat propeller pitch and that right afterwards, the pilot manually rotates the propeller so that the engine goes through the cooling process in a uniform manner. Otherwise, the metal will suffer deformation and in some cases it may even lock. Therefore, before starting, it is also necessary to manually turn the propeller to check if the cooling has been done properly since the last shutdown. If this procedure causes the engine to make harsh noises or to show irregular friction, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

After checking that everything was ok outside, I climbed into the cabin and started the engine. Starting a Garrett isn’t rocket science, it just requires attention to the engine parameters and a lot of care with the EGT temperature. The limit is 770°C, but obviously if the pilot senses that the temperature is rising abnormally, the emergency cutout must be done beforehand to avoid further damage. Again, my winged partner didn’t disappoint: the start went smoothly and I taxied to the fuel pump to fill the tanks with 228 gallons of jet fuel. After a lot of rain, around noon the ceiling went up and I was able to take off. I had to fly at about 1000 feet AGL, but visibility was great.

After checking that everything was ok outside, I climbed into the cabin and started the engine.

About to start the flight in Cross City, Florida.

During cruise, the aircraft demonstrated its speed and I was able to maintain 145 kts of indicated airspeed. After two hours and thirty minutes of flight, I landed at Bessemer airport in Alabama (KEKY). After refueling and a quick stop for coffee, it was time to move on. When I was about to enter the cockpit I heard someone shouting “Go girl! and I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of smiling women waving at me through the airport fence, where a small restaurant is located. And off I went!

This time with a blue sky, unlimited ceiling and visibility as far as the eye could see. Another two hours and twenty minutes of flight and I landed at Poplar Bluff (KPOF), Missouri. As I had taken off late from Florida, and KPOF offered excellent logistics, I decided to spend the night there and planned my takeoff for the next day. At dawn on May 14, I headed towards Trenton, Missouri. The weather was fine and I was able to enjoy the view of the beautiful Mississippi River. After just over two hours of flight, I landed in Trenton (KTRX). From Trenton to O’Neil (KNOL), Nebraska, it took about 2 hours and 40 minutes of flight. After landing and while fueling the Thrush 550, I had the opportunity to appreciate one more of the many well-kept airports.

A very kind lady and her husband quickly chatted with me and said that after they retired she decided to learn to fly and he decided to work as manager of that FBO (fixed base operation). From O’Neil, I continued the ferry flight to Black Hills (KSPF), South Dakota. The airport’s altitude, 3,933 feet AGL, was already showing signs of a change in the terrain. The airport is beautiful and the FBO there has a typical style of mountain cabins, made of wooden logs and stuffed animals decorating the rooms. I decided to stay there for the night. After a delicious dinner and a good night’s sleep, it was time to move on.

Two other pilots were leaving and we ended up splitting the taxi fare to the airport. On the way, they told me that they were ferrying a Stearman that had been fully restored. When we arrived I could see that historic plane up close and take some photos. I think these occasions with which aviation presents us are incredible.

Back on my mission… I took off from the Black Hills bound for Lewiston (KLWT), Montana. A stretch full of immense rocky mountains that look more like sculptures made by an artist. Already close to Lewiston, I observed one of these sets of mountains called the Big Snowy Mountains. The place lives up to its name! White snow covers the tops of the mountains that reach a majestic 9,100 feet altitude.

Again: landing, fuel, coffee and back to the sky! The leg from Lewistown to Libby (S59), Montana was the prettiest of the entire route. I had to fly higher, reaching 10,500 feet in some parts, because the snowy peaks in that region are really high. The landscape is breathtaking. Beyond the mountains and snow, about 60 miles from Libby I crossed magnificent Flathead Lake. Even from above, it is possible to see the crystal blue water. There are other smaller lakes in the area, all of which are beautiful. I literally felt like flying through the scenery of a postcard.

While fueling the aircraft I realized how unusual it is to see an agricultural aircraft in a snowy landscape.

Libby airport is at about 2,600 feet MSL. The descent has to be made close to the runway as the location is hidden in a valley. I descended as much as I could, but up to about eight miles from the airport I still had to maintain 7,000 feet. One of the many things I love about Garrett engines is the quick response, both for accelerating and decelerating. Obviously I entered the circuit much higher than usual, but I stretched my downwind leg a little to lose altitude and I was able to approach without any problems. The location is beautiful, but requires attention both on arrival and departure. Some pilots, especially those flying piston aircraft, prefer to fly over the highway, so in addition to maintaining a lower flight level, they may also have an extra option in case of an emergency landing, as the mountains do not offer favorable conditions for this kind of situation.

While fueling the aircraft I realized how unusual it is to see an agricultural aircraft in a snowy landscape. Speaking of which, I also noticed that in these locations there is the option of Jet Fuel +, which is nothing more than aviation kerosene with additives. Its function is to prevent the fuel from forming into a gel, a typical reaction when flying in high altitudes and low temperatures. After the takeoff, heading for my final destination, I climbed again to 10,500 feet.

At 10,500 feet over the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

This was the shortest leg of all, lasting about 1 hour and 50 minutes. The customer, who was awaiting the arrival of the aircraft, told me that the company’s runway was about 30 ft wide and about 3,000 ft long. If the conditions there were not favorable for landing, I could proceed to the airport municipal. That was the least of my concerns. What really caught my attention was a meteorological phenomenon that until then I had only seen in photos and videos.

When crossing some fields during the descent, I could see numerous spots where the dust rose and formed a well-defined vertical line. Initially I believed that these were places where tractors were preparing the land for planting. But it was nothing like that!

What I was seeing were “dust devils”. Moses Lake is located at about 1,200 MSL and in a very flat region, which favors the occurrence of this phenomenon. The atmosphere was extremely turbulent but everything went really well. Even on the narrow runway and with all the swirls, I was able to land smoothly and without any problems.

Finally another aircraft delivered with countless new experiences and some friendships that I made along the way. Before returning, I had time to taste the delicious cuisine of the American west coast; literally a delight for those who love fish and seafood. But for those who fly, the really good taste is the one that stays after another successful mission!

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