July 18, 2010

It's Hot Out There

Like a lot of Bay Area residents, I must have driven up Interstate 80 straight through Davis — a small atypically-pleasant Central Valley town a few miles from Sacramento with a large (and rather good) campus of the University of California in it — dozens of times on my way to the Sierras or Tahoe or points further east. Similarly, I've flown over it dozens of times on my way to Sacramento Executive (KSAC) or further afield for instrument training or VFR trips away from the Bay Area; the runway's an easily-visible landmark on the way elsewhere. But amazingly (especially given the university), I've never actually stopped there, either driving or flying. So UC Davis's little Davis / University airport (KEDU) seems a natural place to go for this jaded pilot looking for a new instrument approach to shoot and a new local(ish) airport to chalk up as "done" (KEDU shouldn't be confused with KDWA, Davis / Woodland / Winters — yes, there are two closely-spaced airports with "Davis" in the name; not bad for a small town…).

Trouble is, it's hot out there — I'm a San Francisco Bay Area kind of person, and I've lived in coastal Northern California more than long enough to be kinda used to the mild dry summers here — so when I start doing my homework with DUATS and notice that the temperature out there in the Valley is already above 35C and forecast to be up towards 40C by the time we're out there, it's difficult to relate to the pleasantly sunny and breezy 20C around my neighborhood here in Oakland. I do a quick density altitude check out of curiosity: 2,900' for an airport effectively at sea level. Not that this really surprises or worries me, but it's one of those little reminders that all the world ain't Oakland, and makes me wonder what South Tahoe or Truckee would be like today. Not much fun in a normally-aspirated C172, I'll bet, with both airports up around 6,000' MSL.

That heat strikes almost immediately we leave the inner Bay Area, and by the time we're cleared direct CODRU (the KEDU RNAV RWY 17 approach IAF for our purposes), it's hot, even though we're 5,000' up. Closer in, at 2,000 for the procedure turn, it's bloody hot, and Evan H., my long-suffering safety pilot in the right seat, listens to me whinge from under the Cone of Stupidity on how dumb it was to wear my usual black jeans and dark t-shirt (so perfect for a London summer's day…) here in Aggie land rather than shorts. At least it's a dry heat, which I actually like in the right circumstances.

We do the course reversal (thanks to the G1000) and descend towards Davis, getting hotter each mile. The one thing most people remember about driving through Davis is the water tower(s), which you can see from miles away (the campus is pleasantly hidden by trees and things like that), but from the air, every damn Central Valley town has water towers (and / or grain silos, at least north of the Delta), so that's not a lot of help for VFR approaches. Evan keeps his eyes skinned for the towers, which he claims he'll recognise, which (of course) he does through the haze as we join the approach inbound. It's definitely hazy — several times we were unable to see opposing traffic Travis or NorCal called for us until they were nearly on top of us — but that haziness means the air is nicely smooth, and the rough ride I'd feared from the earlier higher winds aloft forecast and just general experience over the Valley never materialise. It's that heat that's getting irritating, and by the time we're on short final I'm sweating heavily, something I rarely do while flying. As soon as we land and turn off the runway, I open the side window. Big mistake! It's actually hotter outside, of course, than inside, and the superhot air just floods in. Oh well. I'll survive.

As for Davis airport itself, there's not much to write about. It's way too hot to stop and wander around, so we taxi back to the other end of the runway and depart immediately. Two things strike me: fuel at Davis is at least 60c cheaper per gallon than at Oakland, and the airport is dead as a doornail at a time and place you'd expect a lot of Sunday afternoon rec flying and training. We never see another plane in the pattern, nor hear anyone else on CTAF the entire time.

We escape back on the missed to Travis approach, who don't sound too busy either, but if there's been one theme on this trip so far it's the way Travis dropped the ball on (internal) hand-offs or the Travis controller doesn't seem to know where the RNAV approach course reversal starts (he asks at least twice whether we've started our procedure turn inbound yet, once before CODRU, the IAF that defines the start of the hold-in-lieu for the approach, the other time just after CODRU, when we still have some 4 nautical miles to go before turning inbound). Nothing serious, and Travis is pretty GA-friendly for a (big) USAF base, but when we get handed back to NorCal after Travis solicited from us a precis of how we're going to do the next approach (the RNAV RWY 25 into Rio Vista, O88), NorCal clearly had no idea who we were or where we were heading, let alone that we were (supposed to be) heading direct for EPPES, one of the RNAV approach's IAFs, for a full pilot nav approach. Oh well — we'll survive.

As with a previous flight a long time ago to Rio Vista, I wonder out aloud from under the hood about how to pronounce "EPPES". I've consistently pronounced it "eeps", but without any real belief that it's correct; and in my experience, controllers tend to go to great lengths to avoid directly pronouncing waypoints or intersections with weird or not-obviously-pronounceable so you don't get any clues from them either. But this time Evan points out that there used to be a restaurant chain in the area called "Eppie's", and that the fix is probably pronounced "eppies" after the chain. D'Oh! I've been here long enough that I should have known that. Live and learn, I guess.

After we let NorCal in on our apparently secret plans, the approach into Rio Vista goes well; I've done this particular approach a lot, and Rio Vista was one of the airports I did a lot of landing practice at for my original PP-ASEL; and at least here there's some traffic in the pattern.

As with the landing at Davis (and other assorted bits of the flight), Evan videos the landing at Rio Vista with his new iPhone 4 (humph! I only have a 3GS). He points it at me as I'm saying something sarcastic about Travis or controllers in general; I suspect I'll survive the ribbing if the audio ever gets out (it was probably swamped by the sound of the engine anyway). The landing itself is in the face of a steady 25 knot headwind straight down the runway, and unlike Davis, where I was a little worried about the effect of the density altitude, landing and takeoff here are brisk. But it's still hot as hell, and we escape back to NorCal and the RNAV RWY 27L approach with LPV.

It's been a GPS kind of day, quite deliberately; a good workout. Back at Oakland, the early evening temperature's dropped down well below 20C, and I have to put my sweatshirt back on. Back to normal, I guess.

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