The guys together for a group picture at Sedona.
This was the day! We were at Sedona during a beautiful fall morning with clear skies and that warm sun radiating with a cold morning breeze. We loaded the planes and made the general checks and once again studied the route for the day! The flight was to be full of eye candies, 100% scenic, starting with arizona's Mesas and valleys transitioning to the overwhelming views of the Grand Canyon and ending with Las Vegas' lights and glitz.
We did a quick review of the route to be flown and settled on a place for a pit stop to refuel. That place selected was H. A. Clark Memorial Field (KCMR), just 45 minutes away from Sedona at an elevation of 6680 feet (2000 meters) above mean sea level. We decided to take it low and slow, flying together from take-off to landing and without controllers nagging us with route constraints and altitude limitations. In a matter of minutes the run up was made, mixture was adjusted for the high altitude take-off and we lined up at the right side of the runway, followed the the other Cessna lining up behind to the left. A static take-off was done and as we lifted off we kept our rate of climb to a minimum gaining speed while still flying relatively low and enjoying one last view of the airport's Mesa. With maximum elevation figures higher than 9000 feet we decided to maintain 8500 feet and dodge the terrain enjoying the views and the great colours at a low altitude. As we got close to the pit stop we overflew the airport checking the wind conditions at 1500 feet above the field and joining the pattern for the runway in use while our "wingman" followed us behind.
Flying low at the leader's 4 o'clock.
After doing a landing together we refueled and got on the phone with Las Vegas to prepare our arrival to the airport and transportation to the hotel.
In less than an hour we were once again soaring, now at 10500 feet which would be the minimum altitude available to cross the Grand Canyon on a scenic flight.
One of those perfect pictures that just make the day!
Pit Stop for some fuel and planing to Vegas.
Billy doing some planning on his improvised navigation table.
In order for you guys to understand it let me put it this way, nowadays due to the excessive traffic flying over and along the Grand Canyon in Air Tours or just for fun the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has decided to lay out some rules and create some preferential flying routes around the place. This has allowed to keep traffic organized and protect all the wildlife and nature around the park, which suffered due to the low level aircraft. So you readers have an idea, the Canyon is one of the busiest places to fly in the USA during the high season. Lucky us, we flew there during the low season and on Thanksgiving, so guess what, no one was flying there!
The view from our right window, while flying across the Canyon.
There are a few corridors going across the Canyon in different directions and altitudes. The Air Tour guys can always go lower, the general aviation goes higher. We decided to fly the corridors, first heading from South to North and then, proceeding North to South, while moving West. For those who know the place and the rules we flew first the "Dragon Corridor" and then the "Fossil Canyon Corridor". All the journey was done at 10500 feet and 11500 feet (3500 meters), with the scenery 3000 feet (915 meters) below. After crossing the designated routes we flew West descending inbound Las Vegas while the sun was fading ahead of us.
The routing we did.(This does not accurately depicts the corridors, it is simplified for better understanding)
The Canyon tour is better describer by photos, other than words. Please enjoy and bear in mind this is only a selection of a much wider, much bigger, collection!
Patches of snow could already be seen in higher terrain.
Westbound to Vegas down the Canyon.
Big ridges and Mesas all around.
Close up on a big crack inside a valley.
Nature at its best, with the nicest light one could ask for.
The sun setting on the West, leaving the Canyon for Las Vegas.
After crossing such an overwhelming scenery from a bigger, higher and different point of view you get the feeling you are being spoiled because you're flying your own small aircraft with your best mates across one of natures' biggest achievements and you have the opportunity much people can only dream of. So once I left the mountains, valleys and canyons behind I was still stunned, amazed, to say the least and I was surely not asking for anything else other than a simple landing at Las Vegas. But then again, I was wrong. This was to become one of those flights one could never imagine of when he first flew for the first time.
Let me tell you, approaching Las Vegas on a clear fall evening with the sunset on the horizon has got to be one of the nicest things one might experience while flying. The controller took us from the West right over the big Hoover Dam and told us to proceed visual to the runway. So you guys have an idea, we were assigned a runway that makes you fly an approach path which is parallel to the Las Vegas Strip which is the main street in the city and the place where all the casinos and big hotels seat. So, as the video below might show, we had the best possible view over the city without paying a dime for a helicopter tour or something like that!
The arrival at Las Vegas came with a feeling of accomplishment and happiness since we had made it all work out just right. 5 guys, 2 aeroplanes, 2000 nautical miles (3700 km) and 22 hours of flying made us reach our destination and the most fantastic thing was that all worked out according to plan. But this was by no means the end of the journey, we were on ground to enjoy 2 full days of "sinful" party in Las Vegas. And then one would have to make the nice journey back! So there was still plenty to come but that is to be told on some other posts.