USA Cross-Country Adventure: Very Long

This post is particularly relevant (and VERY LONG) for those low time pilots (especially Cessna trained) that dream of someday owning an SR20/22 and using it for something more than a $100 hamburger.

It started when Luke Lysen of The Flight Academy needed to get one of his newly leased airplanes from the Northeast to Las VegasÂ…. SR20 N1430C only had some 98 hrs or so during its last two years.

Joe Bialkowsky, one of LukesÂ’ instructors, offered to take the right seat as I put to use my new instrument rating earned last August (steam gauge 172, American Flyers, Morristown, NJ), and learn the Garmin 430, Avidyne. Autopilot (GPSS steering) and landing attitudes of the SR20. My previous xcountry experience was limited to 3-4 hr hops in a 150/172 from my summer home at the Jersey Shore. IÂ’ve had an SR20, then SR22 on order for a few years, but since we extended our stay in the UK for a couple more years, we decided to put off the acquisition until back home in NJ. Of course the fact that IÂ’m low time (around 150 hrs) and the insurance gyrations of the last two years made the decision to delay a bit easier.

Joe flew the SR20 down the Hudson river corridor on a cold, clear turbulent day (8 Feb, from Worcester, MA) to Toms River, NJ (some 50 miles south of NYC). We planned legs down to Houston for some business, next leg to Santa Fe and a final leg up to the Grand Canyon, ending in Las Vegas. Not only was this to be a pilots dream (letting me test the agility of the SR20 as a cross country cruiser), but as a Geologist, to have some professional fun as well!

Day 1: 9th Feb. We awoke to a cold but clear frosty morning in the low 20Â’s (a good start, no clouds forecast until southern VA). The only problem was it was pretty cold on the ramp, no preheat and an already weak battery. Yes, we needed a cart from OceanAire who was out there within mins of our request at 0645 (a great FBO). We departed VFR along the coast and picked up our IFR clearance near ACY. A beautiful dawn lit the sky as we crossed the Delaware Bay, heading towards the Chesapeake (PXT) and onward hopefully to Knoxville, TN. As we turned to the SW, a strong headwind developed (forecast at 30kts, but somewhere about 40 kts) and some thin, high clouds began to appear over the folds of the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge.

I was learning the use of the Garmins and Avidyne and marvelled at the utility of the slaved autopilot for navigaton and situational awareness. The headwinds from an approaching low centered in Texas/LA (groundspeeds slowing to under100 kts) were going to defeat our planned arrival at Knoxville, so we put down short at TRI in Blountville, TN (4.7 hrs, about 480 mi) for gas.

Landing an SRXX is not a Cessna experience. The landing attitude is much flatter and faster. I had some trouble trying to get the electric trim set on the sidestick to remove pressure as we landed during the day. Joe was nearby providing good instruction and to help through the landing bounce or two during the next 3 days. We did 17 landings during the trip, and it was only on the last few that I felt my landings were beginning to become passable. It takes some time to unlearn my Cessna highwing habits! I realize 17 landings isnÂ’t a lot, but for us Cessna trained guys, get ready to do a lot of pattern work and touch-n-goes!

For you low-timers and non-instrument rated folks, the iticket comes into its own on a trip like this. Inputting the flightplan into the Garmin 430 only takes a few mins. The Avidyne display creates an outstanding display of whatÂ’s ahead and emergency airports nearby. I wonder now how I was able to pass the instrument rating with all those steam gauges! We shot at least 6 approaches and a couple of holds during our 4 day journey. Doing holds on the Garmin/Avidyne is definitely cheating! Couple all this with the autopilot that is slaved to the GPS of the 430 (GPS Steering), a great deal of the flying workload is eliminated, giving you more time to focus on the landing preparation and execution (altitude hold was included in this autopilot, but not pre-selected step-up/down). For the low time VFR pilot, this is a wonderful next level of flying: complex, yet doable and eminently practical. Matching this utility with critical decision-making skills is mandatory. Thanks to The Flight Academy, Joe and I had a running dialogue of such decision-making along the entire journey.

Our next leg took us along TN, northern Alabama and ultimately to Jackson, Mississippi (HKS). We had great views of the Appalachians and the “lazy old” river while drifting in and out of high clouds. Since the headwinds slowed us down during the day, we had to make a decision as to whether to continue onto DWH (in Spring, TX, just north of Houston). We were briefed on the weather and noted that the front had moved faster than predicted early in the morning. We would be flying in IMC (no icing predicted and +4-6 C @8000 in Miss) for most of the way, with possible rain predicted and our landing airport. We both felt fine and well rested from a good nights sleep the previous night. We departed Jackson, filed and granted direct for DWH, flew mostly IMC checking ATIS’s along the way and landed just after dusk with an approach. The day was long, some 11.3 hrs logged, but the adrenaline kept flowing.

Day 2: 10th Feb: I had some business to attend in Houston during the morning. We had gassed up the evening before at the self service pumps, so Joe had only to pre-flight before I arrived at 14:00. The front had settled in over night and we awaited departure for about 30 mins at the end of the runway at Hooks together with a Challenger that was sipping Jet A. Houston Approach was swamped due to some heavy showers passing through the area. We received clearance for departure, then direct to Amarillo and I hand flew the SR20 on instruments for the next 30 mins. The plane did not have the new PFD, but the 6 pack was a familiar sight from my 172 and the stable platform created a comfortable climbout.

Over now to autopilot as we monitored the weather (+4C OAT @ 8000 ft), solid clouds, a little turbulence and occasional heavy rain. Everything was pretty smooth until I noticed the oil pressure light come on. We glanced over to the oil pressure gauge. It was reading in the center of the green, then, and only for a second, it pitched down to zero, and then back into the green after readjusting the throttle. Hmmmm, it sure got our attention and we reviewed emergency procedures, started checking weather at airports close by (all at about at minimums), while intently watching the gauges. We thought that some light turbulence mixed with the heavy rain might have jarred the oil pressure probe connection. However, 3 or 4 mins later, we noted that the rpmÂ’s suddenly dropped by 300. Another jiggle of the throttle had us back to about 2550 after a minute or two. No further anomalies occurred, but we had a great discussion of what we would do if any further untoward issues arose while in the soup. With nearby airports just at minimums and a question as to whether we would be within gliding distance, we discussed if with a total loss of power whether the chute would be appropriate. Our plan (with total loss of power) would be to attempt to glide to the nearest airport, see if we could get out of clouds, come to a decision height of some 1500 agl, if no airport in sight, pull the chute if necessary. We didnÂ’t need to go down that route, but it was a great experience in decision-making and the option that the chute brings (comments from others as to cause of pressure/rpm drop and what they would have done??). We proceeded onto Amarillo, broke into clear skies, practised a hold, had a few words with a traffic control after he sent us off on a heading of 230, then he asked why we werenÂ’t on 320 (now I see why our Mike R. tapes ATC conversations with his airplane), bounced a landing and shared some beers over BBQ discussing the dayÂ’s adventures. Another 4.5 hrs and 2.3 hrs of actual IMC.

Day 3: 11th Feb: We were off at dawn headed for Santa Fe, NM (SAF) in clear, cold skies (20F), filed direct. A storm was headed Amarillo way from the north, but we were moving west, alas not to see another cloud on this trip. The day dawned slowly as we viewed the early morning mist burn off while we stepped-up onto the plains, studying the changing drainage patterns and erosional outcrops of the geomorphology below. Geologists who love to fly get the best of both worlds! A bright day emerged with some winds out of the north as we shot 3 landings into SAF. Nestled south of the mountains with a warm and cozy FBO helps characterize this special retreat for the visitor.

After another approach to a small field close to Albuquerque, we turned north cross country, speeding along while hand flying at a legal, but low altitude (we donÂ’t do this back EastÂ….too many radio towers and people!) revelling in the unlimited views of the Southwest. We were headed to Meteor Crater, AZ, where we circled and took some great photos of one of the best preserved impact structures on this planet due to the Arizona arid climate. And more was to come!

Further north we began to descend with an afternoon sun brightening the red erosional cliffs surrounding the plateau of Sedona Airport, AZ (SEZ). Look guys, there is nothing like this on the east coast; a runway perched atop a mesa with significant drop-offs at each end. We shot an approach and I was confused that the decision height listed was so high above the airport agl. No matter, I concentrated on the landing, came in nicely over the numbersÂ…… oops, nose too high, and slightly bounced down runway 3. We walked over to the airport café, settled down to lunch to watch others make that same approach (with mostly better landings). A good lunch, nice climb around the canyons to the north of Sedona, then we headed south for a quick tour of the Phoenix area. Boy, I thought the NY corridor was busy! Private airports supporting lots of students kept the skies filled with small aircraft ascending and descending throughout the area. We shut down at Scottsdale airport and given the red carpet treatment by the new FBO at the east end of the field. Another 4.5 hrs of incredibly beautiful terrain in what must be some of the most friendly small airplane hospitality in the land!

Day 4: 12th Feb: Another cloudless morning as we left Scottsdale VFR for the Grand Canyon. The month of February looks to be a great time to visit the Grand Canyon. The plateaus are covered in snow as we approached the absolutely enormous crack in the earths surface. The Colorado river acts as an ancient bandsaw as the continental crust is pushed upward in a dome. The resulting extentional basin is awe-inspiring, especially in the illuminating morning sun with not another airplane or helicopter in sight. Joe and I were alone transversing the VFR corridors at 10.5- 11,500 ft across the reds, oranges and blue/greens (water and trees) of the canyon contrasted sharply against the snow. Onto the north to Lake Powell (Glenn Canyon), Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks and some of the better landings and lunch in St. George, Utah (yet, another “plateau” airport!). This tour of these National Parks could take another whole post! Another couple of approaches to Colorado City, AZ, and three of the best landings to date began our final leg to the journey towards Las Vegas.

We approached the Hoover Dam on Lake Mead and were directed to head for the “stratosphere” (the space needle of Las Vegas) for our final landing into North Las Vegas Airport. A quick descent and final bounce put us on terra firma and an end to this adventure. A total elapsed time of 4 days, 28.5 hrs flight time, 4.3 actual IMC, 1.5 hrs of night flying, at least 6 approaches, 2 holds, 17 landings (not including bounces) and some 3000 miles of pure, undefiled, exhilarating enjoyment. Come to Cirrus Design, The Flight Academy and the small airports of the USA to fufill at least some of your dreams!

Five Lessons I Learned Flying the SR20

  1. The SR20/22Â’s are excellent cross-country machines, great for visualizing routes and landing procedures using Avidyne, Garmin 430Â’s and an autopilot. YouÂ’d be crazy not to have an instrument ticket to best utilize the equipment. I imagine businessmen/women must be thinking of this alternative to todayÂ’s crowded hubs.
  2. The SR 20/22Â’s are excellent instrument platforms. The high wing loading smooths out the bumps in turbulence and the side stick control is easy to master. The transparency associated with the moving maps, checklists and autopilot make for increased awareness of the instrument environment. Yes, it is complex, but not overly so, and by definition of data available, must increase situational awareness and safety.
  3. The SR20 is a comfortable machine. As said, it handled turbulence well and you can easily sit for upto 5 hrs without cramping any of the passengers or pilot. The heater works extremely well!
  4. The aircraft parachute comes into decision-making more than I would have thought. Not in the sense of a crutch that can be misused (“launch off into the wild blue because I have a parachute to save me”), but in situations that you would find yourself with an engine out (IMC or over wooded or hostile terrain), there is an option instead of trying to glide to a hope-for-success landing into hostile terrain.
  5. Those low time “Cessna-only” pilots are going to need a lot of practice landings to perfect the new attitudes and faster speeds of an SR landing. Getting the electric trim just right and the stronger-than-normal right rudder are new for the Cessna guy. It’d be good to have an experienced Flight Academy (or instructor totally familiar with an SR20/22) person at your side for the first 40-50 or so! But, it is definitely doable….


WOW! What a great PIREP!

I enjoyed reading it immensely.

I routinely used my SR20 for X-country flights - some pretty significant ones, including several coast-to-coast trips. Probably 800 of the 950 hours I put on my '20 were X-C. Now that I have my '22, I use it the same way. Your comments on the '20 are equally applicable to both types; I agree with all of them.

Hope we get together before I move to Las Vegas, and N1MR moves into its new abode in a hangar at VGT! (There’s a beautiful Bonanza in there now).

  • Mike.

Thanks for the PIREP.

Landings - as you build time, try to fly as many different planes as possible - they all have their own beauty. A tailwheel checkout in a Cub or Citabria is a great confidence builder. I moved into my SR22 from a Tiger, and the landing attitude is pretty similar. I think you’ll find it’s not so much the actual attitude that’s different, but the visual clues - Cessnas have significantly higher panels, so that changes the picture.

Engine hiccup - the good news is engines rarely quit without giving some early warning. The bad news is you may have gotten that warning. I wouldn’t rest until I knew what the problem was. A small shot of water/air/bad fuel can cause a heart-stopping hiccup, never to return again, but your problem seems more significant. I’d do an oil analysis ASAP and keep a close eye on mag checks. Compression and boroscope, too.

Geology - can you recommend a good book for an overview/introduction to Geology? I often find myself looking at ground features and wishing I knew more about how they formed. Monument Valley - from my Tiger a decade ago (before digital photography)

Amen, Amen! [H]


Hi Alex,
WOW! what a trip. What a great post. My partner and me left about the same time from the Flying-W for a trip to Chicago. Slow trip out with those headwinds the return Wed. was a blast 250 KTS ground speed @ 15K’. I’d love to do the same trip you did sometime soon. Thanks for the encouragement and enthusiasm.

Great story. If you “Jersey guys” get together, count me in. I’m at MMU and Lincoln Park, with my newly acquired SR22.

The wife and I are planning a Sept coast to coast with a two week guided tour of the west starting at Grand Junction CO. One of those booths at this years AOPA in Philly.


thanks for the comments. Yes, good landings are starting to come…

RE: Geology texts: any Borders or Amazon will have your basic Geology 101 textbooks. They’re all good, but you’ll want to browse and find one with the best pictures and writing style that will interest you (in teaching earth science, the pix are worth more than a 1000 words). the following: [ Landscapes/MV-Geology.html ]is a good reference for Monument Valley. Also, try ordering the national parks geology guides for good descriptive geology.