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Mission: Fly Across America #1 – Day 3

Hola! So…onto Day 3 of our adventure flying across America. This is when the trip started to be incredibly cool.

TL;DR Warning: This is a LONG post. Feel free to just checkout the pics…they’re worth seeing!

If you missed Day 1 or Day 2, take a click to go see those updates before coming back here.

All evening on Day 2, we were debating what made the most sense for us to do on Day 3. We threw around many plans, checked the weather repeatedly, and flip-flopped on where we were going to stay. Items in play were:

  • Next goal after Tucson AZ was hitting the west coast, dipping our toes in the ocean, and getting some fish tacos (which was my specific request).
    • Originally we were looking at Bob Maxwell Memorial Airport (KOKB) just East of Oceanside, CA. However, further research revealed that they did not have a courtesy car, whereas McClellan-Palomar Airport (KCRQ) in Carlsbad, CA did and even had slightly cheaper fuel to boot. Score!
  • How far could we get before it got dark? What could we fit in? The main talking point was around whether we push on towards Las Vegas after hitting the coast, or take a day to relax and enjoy time on the coast.
    • If we made it to the Vegas area, it could make for an excellent staging stop for Day 4, which could then include Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon.
    • Daylight was going to be an issue if we wanted to press forward. We would need to get up early and keep moving at a good pace throughout the day. Also, none of us were night current, and even if we were, the unfamiliar mountainous terrain made us nervous, so landing after dark was off the table.
  • Jon REALLY wanted to go to the Titan Missile Museum. Apparently his previous travels had brought him to Tucson AZ many times, but every time that he tried to visit the Museum, they were either closed or he wasn’t able to make it out there for one reason or another. Although he kept mentioning it, he had essentially resigned himself to accept that it probably wouldn’t happen. It was pretty clear that we had to try to make this happen for him. 🙂

In the end, after much discussion at dinner on Day 2, we decided that we could shoot high and try to fit it all in for Day 3:

  • Check out and be at the Titan Missile Museum as soon as they open, and take the first available tour at 10:00am.
  • Drive straight to Tucson Airport (KTUS) and take off for McClellan-Palomar (KCRQ) in Carlsbad, CA around 12:30pm.
    • Flight time should be around 3.5hrs
  • Take the courtesy car to the beach, grab tacos on the way, and head back to the airport. Visit length = 2hrs total, including refueling of the planes.
  • Take off and head to Henderson Airport (KHND) just south of Las Vegas, which should take around 1.5hrs.
  • If all goes to plan, we would arrive at KHND just as the sun sets on the Nevada desert.

So started our day. Breakfast at the hotel, checked out and drove the 25mins south to Sahuarita, AZ. We quickly stopped at a Walmart to pickup a few things before driving over to the museum. (Simon was looking for a hat and nearly purchased a rather “fetching” blue bucket hat with white stars. It would’ve been special.)

The Titan Missile Museum was pretty amazing to see. It is the only remaining Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) complex of the 54 sites that were on alert during the Cold War between 1963 and 1987. Photos below:

Once back at Tucson Airport, Jon, Mike & Simon got the aircraft ready while I returned our rental car. I got back and jumped in the plane with Jon. We spent a while on ground frequency waiting for clearance, and it seemed like the controller forgot about us. They sounded busy with a possible runway closure, so we checked in again and were sent over to tower.

The tower asked if we would be ok with an intersection take off on Runway 21, which gave us about 3000ft of runway. We were happy with that since it got us out of KTUS quickly and was the same length as Hendersonville Airport (0A7) where one of our aircraft is based. After taxiing to the runway, we had to hold short for a few minutes while some F-16 traffic took off. It made for a great show, and Simon got some great photos of them:

Holding short of Runway 21 for the F-16’s
This shot of their takeoff made it look like the nosewheel was jacked up onto the taxiway/runway sign.

The tower also granted our request to overfly the aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, which was awesome.

If you’re not familiar, the aircraft “boneyard” is part of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Group (AMARG), which is the worlds largest aircraft boneyard with typically over 3,200 aircraft in its inventory. It is the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for excess/retired military and government aircraft.

Check it out on Google Maps (Zoom in on the fields & Pan around to see the aircraft!):

A fascinating webpage on the history of this aircraft storage facility can be found here:
https://www.airplaneboneyards.com/davis-monthan-afb-amarg-airplane-boneyard.htm

Also, this website keeps track of the inventory and movements of aircraft within the boneyard, which is really interesting. This is the Current inventory, aircraft type page:

http://www.amarcexperience.com/ui/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=205&Itemid=274

We really wanted to go take the bus tour of the Boneyard while we were there, but our schedule was so fluid for this trip that we weren’t able to make reservations within the required 2 weeks advanced notice that is required. Our flyover and our drive around the perimeter roads would have to be our tour.

Our flight of two takeoff went smoothly, and the tower handed us over to Davis-Monthan AFB tower for our flyover of the boneyard. Below are the photos we captured of the boneyard from the air.

It is incredible how many aircraft are in one location.
Near field is supposedly for long-term storage & preservation. Many fighter aircraft could be seen in this area. The far field supposedly contains the reclamation area and held a lot of transport and bomber aircraft.
Simon captured this cool shot of Jon’s plane over the boneyard.

After our flyover, we were handed over to Tucson departure control, and resumed on our course to KCRQ. This leg of flight saw us having to dodge a significant number of restricted areas, and brought us quite close to the Mexican border. See our flight plan below.

KTUS  320539N1105851W 320151N1105330W 320850N1104612W 321806N1110301W E63 AZ06 BZA 324655N1153801W 324721N1160156W 04CL KCRQ

Approximate Flight route from Tucson, AZ to Carlsbad, CA. (Skyvector.com)

The flight overall was fairly uneventful. Much attention was paid to avoid the restricted areas along the route, and this meant flying thru some relatively narrow airspace corridors that were busy with other traffic doing the same thing. I was keeping a close eye on the ADS-B traffic and scanning the horizon looking for other aircraft, especially as we traveled from East of Yuma, AZ until we approached the mountains West of El Centro, CA.

As we neared McClellan-Palomar Airport we contacted approach to bring us in. The airspace was extremely busy, so we had to pay close attention to the controller. This was easily the busiest airspace of the entire trip.

Final Approach into McClellan-Palomar Airport KCRQ, Carlsbad CA
After some confusion on our part, and help from a very friendly Tower controller, we found the self-serve fuel before going to park at the FBO on the other side of the runway.
Parked right under the tower at McClellan-Palomar KCRQ.

Now that we made had arrived, we started our whirlwind 1.5hrs on the ground in Carlsbad! After parking and quickly tying down the aircraft, we rushed to the FBO to figure out the crew car. They had a new Hyundai for us to use which was perfect, so we signed it out, jumped in and headed for the beach!

Once parked, we jumped out and ran down to the beach. Birds were ridge soaring along overhead as we got out, which was a beautiful sight for a glider pilot. 🙂

Jon definitely won the award for best celebration, via jumping into the ocean and collecting a bottle of seawater as a souvenir.

WE MADE IT!!!! 😀

After only a quick 15minute stop at the beach, we got back into the car in search of my fish tacos on the way back to the airport. My googling on the ride to the beach had revealed a highly rated local joint called Pelly’s Fish Market which was right on our route, so off we went!

Mike elected to rest in the car while Simon, Jon and I went to get food.
Boy, was Pelly’s a good call! I got an order of Fish Tacos and a fried calamari appetizer. I’d be in trouble if I lived closer to this place…

I was a happy man. After food, we revived Mike from his slumber in the car, and headed back to the airport. We dropped off the car with the friendly FBO staff and took a quick pit stop, before climbing back into the RV’s to get ready for our next leg.

Timing was looking just right for making it to the Las Vegas area before sunset, but we needed to get moving. The plan was as follows:

KCRQ MORON HEC 353108N1153131W  KHND

(Simon pointed out the waypoint called “MORON” which made us all chuckle, so we had to use it…)
The target was Henderson Executive Airport, KHND. We decided on this since it was still close to the Las Vegas strip, and should be much easier to get into and out of than if we attempted to land at McCarran International.

Day 3, Leg 2 – 205nm, and ~1.5hrs of flight time with the winds on that day.
(ETE not reflected in the Skyvector screenshot since it was taken days afterwards)

Our planning for this leg was purely logistical…getting from Carlsbad to Las Vegas before sunset, and avoiding the restricted areas along the way.
Little did we know how incredible this leg would be…

Our target for the stop in Carlsbad was 2hrs total, and we started our takeoff roll 2hrs and 11mins after we touched down. Pretty darn good!

We departed KCRQ to the Northeast towards the mountains and Las Vegas.

At this point, the sun was getting low, and golden hour truly started to begin. The effect in this area of the country, with its gorgeous landscape and the clouds that were present, was nothing but spectacular.

I’m going to let the photos do the talking.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we did taking them and experiencing this beautiful place.

Pretty incredible scenery, huh?
That was the most memorable leg of the trip for me, just because it was so beautiful and was totally unexpected when we set off.

After arriving, we took a bit to figure out where we were staying. We didn’t have reservations yet since we didn’t know if we would make it to Vegas today! Hard to believe that the day started out in Tucson, AZ at the Missile museum….

We finally settled on staying on the strip at the Flamingo, because….why the heck not? And this was Simon’s first ever visit to Las Vegas, so we wanted him to at least be able to walk the strip at night. We hailed an uber, and were shortly on our way to our hotel.

Once we arrived and checked in, we went out to get dinner and walk the strip. We decided to eat at Gordon Ramsay Burger, which is silly pricey, but was pretty darn good. Beyond recounting the day’s events, a mishap occurred while taking the first big bite of my delicious “Farmhouse Burger” which was topped with bacon, Dubliner cheese, and a fried egg. Just as I took the first bite, that fried egg’s yolk  popped and exploded all over my left arm, my watch, Simon’s arm and right side with bright yellow yolk.  Whomp Whomp. Sorry Simon. The event was dubbed the “egg-splosion”, and that evening I learned that it is amazingly difficult to remove congealed egg yolk from the cervices of a Casio G-shock watch.

After dinner while walking, Mike announced that he wanted some ice cream, and ducked into the McDonalds that we were passing. Upon learning that they were entirely out of ice cream for his M&M McFlurry, we ended up at Shake Shack, procuring a suitable replacement. 🙂

In the end, we walked down to the Luxor to view the large interior atrium and architecture, before calling it a night and hailing an uber to drive us back to the hotel.

We were beat….what a heck of a day! This was definitely one of my favorite days of the trip with the sheer amount of things that we were able to do and see. That trip from Carlsbad to Vegas will stick out in my memory for quite a long time.

Stay tuned for the next days updates, there’s much more to come!

Best Regards,

-Michael