This is a slightly long shaggy dog story about my new headset. A headset I didn’t buy, but now own.
I was planning to fly across the country again, as I did in 2014 (see The Grand Tour and its follow-on musings). This wouldn’t be quite as complicated a flight, because I was taking the northern, more direct route, more along the great circle. Still, no coast-to-coast flight is trivial, and I reviewed my notes from the previous flight to remind myself of the kind of planning I had done. (I didn’t really need much reminding, thanks in part to having delivered a few FAA Safety Seminars on my flight and the planning behind it.)
On this trip, the plan was to leave on Monday, May 23. I would stop somewhere around Colorado, Wyoming, or Nebraska for fuel, then head to Wisconsin for the night and to visit one of the people on my team from work, Marty. Tuesday would see Marty join me for a trip to Maryland, terminating at Tipton Field, Fort Meade, Maryland where we would spend a few days for work—and attend a colleague’s interment at Quantico, which was the reason for this trip’s timing. Marty would stay the weekend and a bit beyond in the D.C. area, and I would continue to Syracuse, New York to visit my mother. Monday would find me flying to Minute Man Air Field in Stow, Massachusetts for some more business, and Wednesday would begin the westward legs of the trip: an overnight stop to see a friend in the Chicago area, a couple of days in Boulder, Colorado visiting my sister-in-law and one of the people on my team, Dave. I planned to fly home on Saturday. Although the Massachusetts-Illinois leg probably wouldn’t need a fuel stop (depended on the winds), the Illinois-Colorado leg probably would (chance it wouldn’t, but I made plans both ways).
What does all this have to do with a new headset, and with a tale worthy of telling?
Around the middle of May, Lightspeed Aviation, maker of aviation headsets—including, for example, the subject of this musing—announced their Fly Me to the Moon (warning: spoiler alert at that page) contest. The contest was open to pilots flying general aviation flights that were not for compensation: no air taxis, no charters, no corporate flights, no air carrier (airline) flights. Just people, roughly like me, flying. The dates? May 23 through June 26.
May 23. May 23? I was leaving on my trip across the country on May 23! The trip would total about 5,000 nautical miles, enough that I guessed I would at least have a shot at this contest. I decided to give it a try.
The trip was pretty straightforward. I stopped for gas in Torrington, Wyoming (KTOR: easy in-and-out, friendly people, on the route, good gas prices) on my way to East Troy, Wisconsin (57C). During the fuel and lunch stop, I checked on the weather in some detail. I new a storm system was more than brewing to my east, and I wanted to get a read on it and decide weather to try flanking it to the north or to the south. I looked at a whole bunch of info available online, and talked with an FAA weather briefer; he recommended I get about halfway to that line of thunderstorms and check back to see where it was going before making my decision. I took his advice—knowing that I also had the option to overnight on the west side of the line and then cross or circumnavigate it in the morning, when the day had not yet fed it enormous amounts of thermal energy. (For the last few flights across the U.S. I’ve made, I’ve carried camping gear. The first time I did this, I planned to stop and camp overnight while en route. Later, it was for flexibility, so I could land and overnight comfortably almost anywhere. I have a tent, sleeping pad and quilt, backpacking stove, food, and water.)
Halfway to the line of storms, I decided to head north. It wasn’t a trivial flanking: I had to head further north than I expected, because the line kept growing to the north. It was the better choice, though, since it grew further and faster to the south (warmer there, so more energy to feed the hungry storms). Still, in the end, I went through a hole between that line as it grew north and another batch of storms coming down from the north. About fifteen minutes after I went through, that hole was gone. But, I successfully got past and turned southeast for 57C.
(A note on the weather depiction in the picture, above. I went through the gap in the storms in south-central Minnesota—and past those areas at the Minnesota-Iowa boarder and in north-central and northeast Iowa earlier than this FlightAware snapshot. I did not fly right through that weather, that’s for sure!)
The rest of the flight was, comparatively, uneventful.
Marty really enjoyed the trip down to KFME. We flew over Lake Michigan, staying close enough to the western shore that we could glide to land in case of the (very unlikely) engine failure, able to see Chicago and the O’Hare traffic, the freighters on the lake, etc. from 17,000′. The air traffic controllers were all very helpful, happily accommodating my routing requests so we could stay closer to the shoreline (rather than going direct, well out over the lake). The weather became a bit muggy as we descended for Maryland, and a bit hazy, but there were no problems afforded by the DC airspace and its Special Flight Rules Area.
2100 nm in the bag for the contest.
While in the DC area, besides working at our office in Maryland and going to Quantico, we did a little sightseeing. Marty had booked a room right across the street from the Treasury building; from the “rooftop” bar, we could see Treasury, the White House, and the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We took some time to walk the Mall area a little on Friday evening.
One of the highlights of the trip was my experience at Minute Man Air Field in Stow, Massachusetts. Afree my weekend stay in central New York, I went on to 6B6 in Stow. After landing at 6B6, I looked for a place to tie down (I had found no guidance in the various publications and online sources I referenced during flight planning). Seeing nothing, getting no answer to my queries on the radio (transmitting in the blind) and finding what looked like a reasonable empty tie-down, I taxied over and shut down. After I got out, two guys guiding a Cessna Skyhawk came in to a spot a couple of spaces behind me. I went over, we greeted, and I asked if they knew whether I’d chosen an okay transient parking spot. “Yeah, that’s fine,” replied one, “that’s my spot, and my plane’s in for maintenance, so you’ll be fine there.”
After they helped me push back into the parking spot, they mentioned that the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), EAA 196 was having their monthly barbecue, meeting, and safety seminar, and invited me to join them.
Wow: that sure topped heading to the hotel in Boxborough and eating in the hotel restaurant! To top it off, one of the local pilots offered me a ride to the hotel. What a wonderful community of pilots.
2600 nm in the bag.
Heading back west, I passed a bit south of Syracuse and over the heart of the Finger Lakes area. The lakes were pretty, made all the more so because I’d never seen them well from the air before.
The biggest challenges on the flight into Illinois were a Presidential temporary flight restriction along my route, that I ended up passing before it came active, and a little weather, just clouds and rain, no thunder, no bad turbulence.
A beer and some food with my friend near Chicago (former customer from my days at NeXT), good company and conversation, and a good night’s sleep brought me to Thursday’s flight. This one had a more definite schedule than others: Dave was taking me to a Rockies game, and I wanted to arrive in plenty of time to make the game and get Dave’s tour of the ballpark. The weather looked to be fine, and I headed for Boulder (KBDU), with the only question being whether I’d need to stop for fuel.
Turned out that any way I ran the numbers, I needed gas. Looking at my route and my planning and the information I had through ForeFlight on my iPad, I changed my destination for that flight to Jim Kelly Field in Lexington, Nebraska (KLXN): looked, again, like an easy in and out, and the gas prices looked good. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful. After refueling and using the restroom, it was back in the air for a quick hop to KBDU.
4,200 nm in the bag.
Unfortunately, the Rockies lost. Pretty badly. Nonetheless my visit with Dave, my stay with my sister-in-law and most enjoyable picnic where she keeps her horse, and a wonderful, leaisurely breakfast on Saturday at Lucile’s had me relaxed and ready for the final leg home.
The Rocky Mountains were lovely. They always are to me, from the ground and from the air. More than a dusting of snow on the peaks and high ridges, less than a deep blanket, lakes glistening in the sunlight. North of Eagle, south of Meeker, west into Utah and over Carbon City and Price and Delta, into the high desert country, continuing across Nevada and into California. Closer to home and just north of Mono Lake, just north of Modesto, and finally a bit of a tour of the south Bay area and into San José. No problems with weather at all on this leg, and no problems making it non-stop from Boulder.
4,964 nm in the bag.
Hmmm…how about…um…a sightseeing flight with my cousin over Yosemite, along the Sierra spine to Lake Tahoe, and back home? He likes photography, we’ve talked about flying—yup, he’s game! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t quite cooperate, so that flight turned north a bit short of Yosemite (still in sight of Half Dome, though), and the next leg wasn’t exactly along the spine. We meandered among the peaks and clouds, though, and saw some spectacular scenery, including the all-but iconic low past perpendicular to a knife-edged ridge. Pure joy in the sky.
Another 344 nm. Total now: 5308 nm. I was in first place on the leader board.
A previously-planned dinner with a friend became an enjoyable aerial tour of the Bay area and dinner in Half Moon Bay. And then, a trip to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Great theater. We’ve been going there for decades. Of late, my wife and younger son have driven, my elder son and I have flown. It’s an easy flight straight up the Central Valley of California. Well, usually it is.
Planned cruise altitude was 16,000′. There were some clouds around, but no ice anywhere in the forecast or in the pilot reports (PIREPs). We (Joshua and I) filed and launched.
Settling in at 16,000′, happily breathing oxygen through the cannulae using the pulse-demand delivery system, I started planning ahead. And looking ahead. We would probably penetrate the clouds up ahead; a glance at the outside thermometer showed the low single digits Celsius. Above freezing, but in the danger zone for ice formation on the wings. I asked Joshua to watch for ice on his wing after we entered the cloud. He wondered about that, and I explained my reasoning. (Image to right and profile below from FlightAware.)
We hit the cloud. I noticed the airspeed had decayed a little, and looked at the wing. I called Joshua’s attention to his wing so he could see it. A very slight coating of rime ice on the leading edge. The laminar flow airfoil on a Mooney, so effective at slicing through the air easily and giving me high speed and great efficiency is known to be very susceptible to in-flight icing, and noticeably affected quickly.
I had Joshua ask ATC for higher (FL180, since, before entering the cloud, that looked to me like it would put us on top), we were cleared, and I climbed very briskly in hopes of clearing the ice. FL180 got us on top, and we changed to masks from the cannulae.
Unfortunately, FL180 didn’t keep us on top for long. So, we repeated the climb, to FL200. And again, to FL220.
FL220 kept us on top, and the ice sublimated. We stayed at FL220 until it was time to descend for Ashland. Knowing what probably awaited us in the clouds below—more ice—I had Joshua tell Seattle Center that we wanted an expedited descent to 10,000′ (in order to minimize our exposure to the ice). ATC, helpful as they almost always are, cleared us as we requested and we went down. At over 2,000 fpm. The ice was no problem.
After some wonderful theater, including Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Wiz, Roe, Vietgone, The Yeomen of the Guard, and more, it was time to launch for home. By way of Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego. S03-KMYF was no problem, and we had wonderful desserts, and bought same for those who drove. The flight home was unremarkable.
6767 nm down.
I wanted to get night current. I also needed some gas for an upcoming flight. I decided to gas up at Byron (C83), where gas prices are pretty low (for the Bay Area). It had been a while since I’d flown a night cross-country to an airport I’d not been to lately, so I thought I’d add a full-stop landing at Oakdale (O27) to bring the total to three. Not much of an addition, but it was a fun flight, and I got some good additional experience (rust removal). Image below a screenshot from Cloud Ahoy.
June 24, 6925 nm. And I was in first place on the leader board.
You probably already get the idea that I wanted to win this thing. I decided I wanted to put one more good flight in the bank, to some place fun that I’d not been, but, really, just an up and back with a fuel and pit stop. I cast around for some place about 2½-3-ish hours away. Some place with fuel and a place for a pit stop and some interesting scenery along the way.
Bandon State, Oregon. S05. Past the California North Coast and along the Oregon coast. I hit the sky not long after 8 on Saturday morning, June 25. The flight was very pretty: mostly clear—clear enough to easily see the Farallons, shown in the picture to the above right—some fog around the Arcata area (see the picture below), pretty ocean. Pretty windy for the landing, but nearly aligned with the runway.
I took some time to eat a sandwich, refueled, used the rest room, called for my clearance (cleared as filed, with a void time), and up, up, and away.
As I approached the Bay Area, I decided to cancel IFR and enjoy the view: past Mt. Tam, over the Golden Gate and past the San Francisco Marina, then the normal low-level route from the Bay Bridge past KSFO and to Palo Alto, south and west of the Bayshore Freeway. Shortly after passing the I-280 extension, I was told to hold over the site of the old Candlestick Park. Completing my second 360, San Francisco Tower cleared me to continue. But, that was the biggest excitement of the flight (other than the scenery).
769 nm for the morning’s fun, bringing the total to 7695 nm.
I logged my flights on Cloud Ahoy (some thought I should save them, and log them after the contest closed: we had a couple of days after the June 26 contest end to log flights), but I decided just to get the flights in.
Sunday, the contest closed. Monday, people logged a few more flights, but not much. And not long after the logging period ended, I get an email message. From Lightspeed Aviation.
I had won the contest!
A new Lightspeed Zulu PFX headset was heading my way. I was excited, and very happy indeed!
I’m writing this in late August and early September. I’ve received the headset and flown a few flights with it. My “old” headset, a Zulu.2, sounds and performs much like the first Lightspeed ANR headset I used, a Zulu. The PFX sounds very different from the Zulu.2. The noise reduction is much better, more complete. The noise reduction, in some ways, feels different.
I’m looking forward to taking the PFX up into the mid-20s.
Look for a pilot report some time in the next few weeks.