Airplane versus Minivan

As I plan and pack up for Alaska I have had a couple of offers from guys who wanted to come with me from Boston to Anchorage (we leave Wednesday).  It turns out that the Cirrus SR20 is not that practical for long trips unless you are either very thin or totally friendless.  Full fuel is necessary for some of the long legs in the remote regions of Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories where airports are widely separated and airports that sell fuel are uncommon–mostly you only get fuel at airports that are accessible by road or ship.  With full fuel my old Diamond Star would carry 570 pounds.  The Cirrus has a longer range but the penalty is that it only holds 520 pounds fully fueled and its performance at gross weight is marginal on warm days or at high elevations.  You need a lot of runway and to make sure that you don’t need to outclimb any terrain.

The airplane isn’t any fun without Alex in the back seat.  Alex needs his Science Diet Nature’s Best, which isn’t widely available, plus some other accessories.  Dog+food is about 100 lbs. total.  The plane needs a towbar, canopy cover, and tie-down ropes at 20 lbs.  For navigation one needs paper charts and approach plates for a total of at least 20 lbs.  Survival equipment is required by statute (until 2000 or so the kit was required include a gun and ammunition) and a full tent, mattress pad, and sleeping bag is really a good idea for forced landings as well as impromptu camping when hotels are full or not dog-friendly.  That’s about 35 lbs. together.  You want some electronics in the airplane, such as headsets, EPIRB (the emergency locator transmitter that Cirrus includes in the airframe is an ancient 121.5 MHz design, which is not very effective for getting rescued), and maybe a little Iridium phone.  That’s maybe 10 lbs. put together.  If I want to take a camera and some clothing and my 195 lb. carcass it looks as though I will have only about 100 lbs. left over for a human passenger.  If I want to take a little folding bike that comes down to 70 lbs. spare capacity.

How does a minivan compare?  A 2005 Toyota Sienna has a “curb weight” of 4120 lbs., 2000 lbs. more than the Cirrus.  Its gross vehicle weight is 5690 for a “payload” of 1570 (the curb weight includes full fuel).

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Waterphobia in the modern age

On Friday my friend Rich asked for a ride up to the Wiscasset airport (KIWI) on the central Maine coast.  He wanted to take his dad and I had already arranged to practice approaches with a CFI buddy so it was fortunate that the Cirrus had only “tab fuel” on board (26 gallons, good for 2.3 hours).  It was an uneventful instrument flight up towards Portland, mostly on top of a layer of clouds at 2500′.  Once on the ground at Wicked Good Aviation we petted the big Black Lab and his 6-month-old puppy friend then borrowed the “courtesy car”, an old Cadillac that would have been called a gas-guzzler until the SUV came along and demonstrated that 18 mpg is not as low as a family car can go.  After chatting with the contractors who are fixing up a house on the peninsula, Rich said “let’s take the boat over across the cove to a restaurant.”  We ferried ourselves out to the boat’s mooring via canoe and had an uneventful trip to and from the restaurant, which is next to an old Civil War-era fort at the mouth of the Kennebec River.  At the end of the boat ride we had to ferry ourselves back from the mooring about 20′ to the beach via the canoe.  I got out on the beach and watched as Rich and my CFI buddy went back to pick up Rich’s dad.  As soon as he stepped from the boat into the canoe the canoe flipped over, dumping everyone and everything into the salt water.

What do three average Americans carry when they are in a boat these days?  Cell phones, digital cameras, etc.  In the 1950s the total cost of this incident would have been a little time to let the clothing and wallet dry.  On Friday the total cost of the electronic items destroyed was closer to $5000.

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