On April 18th my brother David and I left Santa Rosa California heading east over the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains on an adventure of a lifetime. We left with great confidence in my sturdy Zodiac XL. After all, last year it had safely taken me and my brother Alan to Oshkosh, why would it behave differently on this trip?
In thirteen days we flew 8,490 miles in 75 hours. Average speed was 113 MPH. Along the way we took over 1,500 pictures. A few can be viewed in this photo album
The airplane was fully loaded with both wing lockers stuffed and the back completely filled with lighter bulky items like sleeping bags, pillows, a tent and the many things we want to get to while in the air – camera, binoculars, cell phones, snacks and drinking water. Loaded like this the Jabiru 3300 is able to claw its way to 15,000 feet when you ask it to. It can also fight its way over a 6,500 foot mountain pass with a 45 MPH head wind if necessary.
The airplane performed flawlessly with never a hint of trouble. Along the way we encountered a wide variety of weather: heat, cold, high clouds, fog, 50 mph head winds, abrupt turbulence and a thunderstorm or two.
Pilots love to talk about how fast their airplane will go. I am no exception. My Zodiac will go 140 miles per hour in level flight with no wind. I have had it up to 181 MPH in a dive. I don’t really fly like that though. I don’t suggest anyone else fly like that either. I like to fly at about 110 MPH. That is about as fast as she will go without fuel consumption rapidly increasing. At 110 MPH she burns about 4.7 gallons per hour which is a respectable 23 miles per gallon. At full throttle the plane only gets 15 miles per gallon – not worth it in my opinion.
The challenge of the trip: Weather, weather and more weather. The route home from Washington DC was not at all as planed. Every day we encountered weather which required a delay or a course alteration. Having the best weather information in the cockpit was barely good enough. Flying around bad weather added over 1,000 miles to the trip and caused us to log 1,133 miles on the last day to make it home on schedule.
Highlights of the trip: For us it was the sights we saw along the way – the perspective you just can’t get from an automobile or out the window of a commercial jet. Controlling your own view – making a tight turn over a point of interest – flying down into a canyon you happen upon – that is the joy of flying a Zodiac. Most of the eye candy is in the west but flying down the keys in Florida and over the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico was a true delight. It is always a treat to fly over a major river or near a national land mark. We flew over the tallest peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Appalachians. We buzzed along northern Nebraska farmland for hours at 500 feet. (If you choose to fly like that watch out for the happy little airplane killers – radio towers. No, they are NOT all identified in your GPS!)
Conclusion: This was a grand adventure, a trip of a lifetime. A journey with beauty and challenges; challenges well met by my Zodiac XL. I have need of no other airplane.