Trip to tour Vans / pickup parts January 18 – 21, 2023

While logging hours towards the ATP minimums I figured it was a great idea to make the flying count.  With that in mind I put together a trip where I hung out in Arizona for an evening while dropping off an RC jet at ,y buddy Roman’s, flew to Vans in Oregon for a tour and to pickup some RV-10 fuel tank parts (for my RV-10 Sky Designs ER tank build) and RV-8 rework materials, flew to Washington to hang out with Neil and pickup an Andair fuel selector on his week off, and drop by Montana to deliver an O2D2 unit I sold on Vans Airforce before returning home.

The trip started with a takeoff on Wednesday morning at 9:15 after I spent a good bit of time removing the rear seats (this is done with two pins per seat and takes seconds), loading a large RC jet box, engine, and transmitter inside the airplane, filling my oxygen bottle, topping off the airplane, and cleaning the windows.  Once airborne I made my first stop at Chennault International Airport (KCWF) in Lake Charles, LA.  While en-route to Chennault I saw some odd looking contrails in the sky south of Pensacola and not long after spotted a pair of T-38s blasting past me headed west and a few thousand feet below my altitude.  Shortly after landing in Louisiana and taxiing past a few N numbered C-130s I got on the phone with Nancy from Vans to confirm I was going to pickup my parts the following day.  A quick 30 minutes later the details got worked out and the parts would be getting “boxed” for pickup vs the traditional pile of parts that would be waiting at will call. 

Next stop was Fort Stockton–Pecos County Airport (KFST) in Texas.  There was lots of bouncing around in turbulence and nasty 20-40 knot headwinds while en-route.  When I landed and shut down I saw 26 knots steady on the airspeed indicator as I was opening the cabin door to pump fuel.  

While I intended to stop at Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU) in Arizona for the night I made a quick fuel stop at Casa Grande Municipal Airport (KCGZ) to top off and save $54 on the fuel purchase vs taking the fuel in Glendale.  While en-route to Casa Grande I flew over El Paso at night.  This city has ALOT of lights and had a descent glow about it.  It is much prettier at night from the air than during the day on I-10.  After landing at Glendale Roman was there with an open hangar where I parked N7ZK for the night before he took me on a tour of his shop where he sells and services RC turbines.  The following morning he dropped me off at he airport around 6:30 so I could blast off for Vans.

While flying to Vans I decided the best fuel stop would be Austin Airport (KTMT) as it was just about half way from Arizona to Oregon.  As I was shooting along at 14,000 ATC would not descent me below as the surrounding mountains represented a problem but once  I got near the airport there was a large VMC hole  I got through.  When I landed the runway had been plowed and most of the ramp as well  but the plow operator was still making passes on the ramp parallel to the runway working his way toward the fuel pump.  He quickly saw my intentions and made two passes next to the fuel pump for me.  I climbed out of the airplane into the 32 degree air, wiped about an 1/8″ of clear ice off the leading edges and pumped my fuel before loading backup and punching out of the valley to the further west where my VMC hole now resided.  While the mountainous terrain was absolutely stunning to look at, I was flying over some very unfriendly terrain.  Lots of people like to discuss how uncomfortable they are flying over the ocean but I wonder what they think about the mountains?  My choice is the water all day long.

The leg from Austin, NV to Aurora, OR was filled with more IMC and mountain obscuration.  Severe ice was forecast for the first 140 and last 65 miles of my flight.  While descending into Aurora State (KUAO) there was a thin layer that I made my way through before landing and taxing up to Vans.  Vans does not really seem to have a parking area for aircraft so I found a spot just to the north of what looked like an executive hangar to their west.  I parked the airplane and found my way through a self guided tour to the front of their building where I was looking for my tour to start at 1:30 with a demo ride in a -7 to follow.  My plan was to arrive 45 minutes early but ATC vectored me around an active MOA that added 70 miles to my trip and waiting for the snow plow in Austin slowed me down as well so I actually ended up arriving about 8 minutes past 1:30.  Greg happened to be walking by and offered to give me a tour.  Sometimes being late pays!  Greg showed me their presses and their CNC nibbler for lack of a better description.  This thing was FAST.  Having seen how many parts they had stacked to the ceiling its hard to believe they could have anything on back order.  The building was stacked to the rafters from wall to wall with airplane parts.  After the manufacturing tour Greg continued onto the warehouse tour, the hangar where their demo planes live, and then the prototype hangar/room where I got my third look at the RV-15.  He mentioned that the wing was likely going to stay the same size, that it was likely going to get stretched in the front and the back, that it had a new HS on it, and that 2+2 at Vans means 2 people and lots of stuff, not 2+2=4 people.  When I asked why Vans does not have an RV-8 demo aircraft he said its because it makes a really poor demo platform.  Flying in it you can not point things out to the passenger or see what they are doing.  Unfortunately my demo flight was cancelled because they only fly at and above VFR minimums and that was simply not what the weather looked like.  After the tour Greg walked me back up to the front where my boxes sat for pickup and despite his need to get to his doctor appointment he was still working.  I can say Greg is devoted to his job and after watching him interact with a young employee who had just passed his A&P minutes before the interaction I can easily say Greg is the type of guy you would want watching out for you or something important in your life.  Simply put, he is a good dude.

Once I got the boxes loaded, which was up for debate among Nancy, the shipping department, and tech support, I bought the most expensive fuel of the trip and loaded up for the next leg to Neil’s place in Davenport, WA.  More clouds, more mountains (Mt Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt Adams), and more sub zero weather (saw -12 on the OAT) and I landed in the dark at 68S.  Neil had a hangar open and waiting and was kind enough to top off the airplane with jug fuel as the fuel at his airport was a blistering $7.90 a gallon.  After a tour of the hangar he built with the airplanes he also built in it we headed to his house some 3,000 feet away to retire for the evening.  The following morning fog and a low ceiling cropped up so we opted to take a town tour after hooking up a home built pre-heater to my airplane to pre-heat.  Neil mentioned that while his county has 10,000 people in it it produced more grain than any other county in the state.  We validated this by watching grain cars get loaded at the rail spur.  After heading back to Neil’s after the tour we spotted a Cessna coming and going from 68S so I asked him over the handheld about the ceilings and deciding the ceiling would support the launch of N7ZK.  I loaded into the freighter and blasted off direct X04.  After filing, getting weather, and flying homebound I noticed that I was only about 40 miles north of a small city in Montana where a a gentleman lived that I had agreed to sell an O2D2 unit.  I had initially planned on stopping there but with the weather delay I figured I would send the unit via common carrier.  As luck would have it the weather was VMC with a wide swath around his airport so sent him a text to see if he was available in the next 12 minutes.  Sure enough when I landed he was there to accept the unit.  Unfortunately I was in a hurry so I did not stay long to chat as I wanted to get over the mountains and land somewhere that would be warm enough the following morning that I would not commit a felon on my IO-540.  I spiraled up and out of his valley so as not to end up like the poor fellows in their Bonanza. Matter of fact I did a lot of spiraling down into and up out of valleys and bowls on this trip.  While en-route to M40 in northern Mississippi I was wearing (2) sweatshirts and a 700 series North Face jacket with hood.  I was cold despite the Rv-10’s maximum effort to keep me warm.  As day turned to night, the mountains turned to flat land and I made my arrival into Monroe County Airport after flying near Memphis where the Fed-Ex heavies came in like Cessnas in the pattern at Orlando Exec.  One after another they funnel in underneath N7ZK.  Once on the ground I fueled the airplane and went in to the unmanned FBO to find a nice pilot lounge with recliner chair.  Sadly for the tent and 25 degree sleeping bag I had brought, they got left in the plane.  I’ve come to believe any true GA cross country pilot should carry a warm sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad for the event that they are not fortunate enough to FBO couch surf.  After 6 hours and 3 minutes of sleep according to my watch,  I strolled out to the airplane and turned on the Dynon to see the OAT was 32 degrees and the 48-53 degree CHTs and 45-46 degree EGTs.  According to Mike Busch this wasn’t even going to be a misdemeanor.  I turned the screw and plotted a course to miss the wiper style storm that was quickly heading to cut me off form the peninsula of Florida and Violet’s first Pinewood Derby race the following day.  After an uneventful flight I landed at X04 and changed the oil for the next trip.

35.3 hours with the engine running,

307.4 gallons of Avgas burned,

7.6 hours of IMC,

2 approaches,

5,798 miles flown.


You see something like this in the sky and wonder what traffic you should be looking out for.

You ask ATC and they say no one is around, then you see the potential culprits on your own.

N numbered C-130 in Lake Charles.

Just another day on the ramp in Texas showing 26 knots on the airspeed indicator after shut down.

Just another day in Texas continued in the air showing 186 knots through the air and 140 over the ground.

El Paso/Juarez lit up like a Christmas tree.

N7ZK’s sleeping spot in Glendale, AZ.  Thanks Roman for lining this up!

The turbine test room at Roman’s shop. 

Eastern edge of the Grand Canyon near/looking at Grand Canyon West Airport.

Amazing view, terrible place to have an engine failure.

Lots of mountain obscuration the whole day.

The VMC hole I descended through to get to Austin, NV.

My first landing on a runway that looked ANYTHING like this.

Waiting for the snow plow to finish moving the 4″ of snow off the ramp so I could fuel.

N7ZK sitting proud on the ramp with my VMC hole through the 28 degree overcast layer to the west.

Mt. Shasta

Current operations at Vans.

This thing was moving quick.

Where Vans keeps all the cool stuff.

The RV-15 with the Vans flying club RV-8A behind.

Vans VP and COO Greg Hughes after our tour of the plant and warehouse.

Skyscraper leaving her mark.

Vans new tents to house their growth sitting on land they own.  30″ x 59″ box waiting to load into the RV-10 Heavy.

8′ long J-channel loaded for the trip to Florida atop the Vans parts for my Sky Designs ER tanks for the -10 and some skins for the -8.

Mt. St. Helens left, Mt. Rainier Center, and Mt. Adams to right.

Neil’s hangar that houses the worlds fastest RV-8 and his cavernous Yukon.

Prior to 68S departure.

The Rockies.

Not warm at all.

Temps look good in the morning at M40 for unheated start up.

A windshield wiper storm trying to cut me off from Florida.

Draining the oil for another 40 hours of flying.


Back in time to help Violet finish her car and watch her get 2nd in her den. The Super Slug was fassssst.


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