With the plane finished and well tested, we wanted a signature trip. Why? The adventure, the challenge, the quality time with father and son. And, to beat our uber-competitive family members racing to visit all 50 states.
The plan was to fly to and land in all 48 lower states in our Van's RV-7A airplane and put our feet on the ground at each stop and take a picture, not just a touch and go. And do it in 7 days! In an airplane we built in the garage!!
We did plan to see a few significant sights along the way like the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the Hudson River, First Flight airport and also eat lobster in Maine but knew we wouldn't have time to take a thorough sightseeing tour of the country. We had 48 states to claim and only a week to do it.
My son Austin and I (Larry New) worked hard on the details of the trip for several months. We shared an online document and divided up tasks like routing, aircraft maintenance, aircraft supplies, technology and personal supplies including how much and what kind of food and camping gear to carry with us. Austin even worked on our plan during his 2 months in Italy.
We searched for others that had done something similar but only found car driving information except for one pilot and his wife that had made a 48 state trip in about 14 days in their Van's RV aircraft. We started with his basic routing for the states but ended up changing it quite a bit. We also got good recommendations for friendly stops from our online pilot friends at vansairforce.net. We did the route planning in Foreflight which made it much easier than the old fashioned paper chart method from back in ancient flying times.
Here's the planned route before we departed.
Here's the empty map below the tail of the airplane ready for state stickers.
WE DID IT! We visited all 48 lower states in 7 days. We flew well over 6000 miles. The straight line flight path was just over 6000 miles and we're not sure exactly how far we flew as we occasionally had to dodge weather or avoid restricted airspace like around Washington D.C. or we detoured to see sights. Once, we forgot to get a picture so we had to return to the airport. It took us over 50 hours of flying time which is about 20% more than the straight line flight plan had calculated.
All 48 state stickers filled in. The white ones on the white background are hard to see but we did it. We plan to add a description of the trip to the left of the map.
We were generally close to original route. We did have a significant amount of weather from Tropical Storm Alberto that we had to avoid which altered our path down the northeast coast and through Kentucky down to North Carolina. We also had a tough time getting into Wyoming due to weather and had to back track to pick up that state the next morning. We also changed about a dozen of the airports stops to ones we thought would be better or closer or had cool names like Shelby, North Carolina.
Quick thoughts in no particular order
It was harder and more tiring than we expected. We averaged over 7 hours of flying and 7 stops a day. Add taxi time, refueling, meals and breaks plus packing and unpacking for overnights and securing the airplane made for very long days.
Absolutely amazed with the quality of the Van's RV aircraft. We had exactly ZERO mechanical issues. We didn't even have to add air to the tires. The ONLY thing we did was add a couple of quarts of oil over the 50+ flight hours which is typical for air-cooled Lycoming aircraft engines. But, we were ready for almost any issue including carrying a complete replacement nose wheel. Also, the RVs are faster and can fly higher than most general aviation airplanes which helped us get around or above weather we encountered. We were usually cruising at 160kts and 11,500 or 12,500 feet and occasionally at 14,500 feet while using oxygen.
Everyone we met was very nice. Airplane people are great. I think it helped that we were stopping in small towns. And, it was fun to hear the different accents around the country. Austin thought it was cool that people wanted to hear about our journey and even took pictures for their local aviation newsletters. I was flattered that many also liked the airplane and paint job.
Many of the FBOs had a lot of character. Some were just old. And our favorite small county airports were usually unattended. They were also very trusting, providing access after hours and often with honor system courtesy cars that were old cop cars or city vehicles. That's familiar to most small general aviation pilots that do a lot of traveling but it's a foreign concept to the rest of the world. Same for snacks and drinks and more with the honor system and a jar of cash.
The towns and countryside were more interesting than we expected. For most of the stops, we decided there would never be a reason to visit as they weren't on major roads or didn't have traditional tourist interests. But, some of them had crazy history like the most explosive town in the world or the origin of the outbreak of polio in the U.S. It was also interesting how green and lush parts of the country were that we thought would be barren wastelands. It was also interesting how sparsely populated parts of the west were despite being so similar to parts of the east coast that were packed with people.
We felt it would be a hard trip to repeat as a lot of things had to go well like weather, maintenance and health.
Comfortable seats and headsets helped a lot. We have Classic Aero seats and neither of us felt a hot spot or discomfort due to the seating. Two really big guys sitting all day in the cockpit is another story. I got 2 Bose A20 headsets, primarily for this trip, and also never felt a hot spot or discomfort from them. The excellent sound was a bonus.
We did it all VFR! We were ready to file IFR if needed but knew it would be a time consuming task with many stops to and from small, remote airfields.
What would we do differently and lessons learned?
We over packed. Washing clothes or doing like Jack Reacher and buying cheap clothes as we go would have made things easier by having smaller and lighter bags and backpacks.
We could have also saved weight, time, trouble and gotten better rest by staying in hotels each evening instead of carrying camping equipment.
We might have done less detailed planning on specific stops as we changed many but it did help to have an overall plan.
It would have made for more fun to try to do one thing each day like a nice lunch in town or visit the bomb museum. But, that makes for an even longer day so we weren't sure on this one.
It's not a regret as it wasn't possible due to weather but we really wanted to fly the Hudson River Exclusion and land at First Flight airport.
Cockpit heat management was important. We learned where to tuck seatbelt buckles during stops and often flew higher than needed just to cool off.
Enough bug splats slow you down. At least I think so after time in Midwest farm country and grass strips. I couldn't identify any other cause for the lost knots and they came back after a thorough cleaning. I'm sticking with my story.
Day 0 - Friday, May 25th, 2018
We flew to north Texas to be close to Oklahoma for the official start of the trip the next morning to avoid having to fly an extra 400+ miles just to get out of Texas. They have a great FBO in Dumas. They left the keys to the loaner car on the counter for us as we were arriving after hours. We stayed in the Quality Inn which was comfortable and affordable and had a very nice free breakfast which we had at 5:30 AM.
Leaving New Braunfels, Texas (KBAZ) on Friday evening full of energy and excitement.
Dinner at Hogg's BBQ. They stayed open Friday evening for us after closing hours. We told the waitress that their BBQ was as good as most of the top 50 Texas BBQ joints (as rated by Texas Monthly magazine) that we have been flying to over the last several years. She brought out the owner who liked hearing us tell him the same.
Dumas, Texas (KDUX). That's the BBQ place directly behind us.
Nice to pull the free courtesy car right out to the airplane to unload.
I'll post the rest of the trip with more specifics on our daily travels soon.