Leg #6 MMDO-MMSD (01/02/2022)
Our climb performance out of Durango was not great but we were already at 6,100 feet so it did not take too long to get to 14,000 feet and on-course to San Jose Del Cabo. Again, the enroute portion was exceedingly normal with only a few lost in translation moments occasionally occurring. The views of Sinaloa were especially incredible. The terrain was just infinitely interesting and intimidating at the same time. After leaving the high plain of Durango, I really do not think I saw another suitable emergency landing spot until we reached the Baja Peninsula. Also, we elected to take V1 straight across the Sea of Cortez, which was admittedly a questionable choice for a single engine piston. But given the alternative of adding another 1000 NM going all the way to California and then down the Baja, we all acknowledged and accepted the risk and were as prepared as possible with our life jackets.
We selected MMSD due to its proximity to our hotel and knowledge of it from about a decade ago when we were lucky enough to arrive there on a family friend’s Falcon 2000. Unfortunately, those invitations dried up about six years ago. What I was not ready for was that MMSD, only two days out from New Years, was like Teterboro but worse. Everything from a Delta 757 to a Cessna 210 was trying to arrive and depart at the same time. I was surprised to be given the TENAY 1B RNAV ARRS truncated to direct BALACE to be followed by the RNP RWY 34 from AVURU as soon as we got in the radar environment. Given the turbojets I knew I was slotting between, I kept it high and fast on the arrival. However, this decision led to a funny exchange where the approach controller asked me to maintain my 160 knots IAS till a five-mile final, which I promptly and politely told her would not be possible and that I would be slowing at the IAF. For an added dose of humor, she politely told me that I could have pilot’s discretion on speed and then told the Citation X behind me and G550 behind him to slow. After the hectic arrival, the approach and landing turned out great and I was thrilled to have finally made it. However, in a big spoonful of irony, the tower requested a quick turn-off, which I naturally and foolishly obliged, and we immediately got stuck behind the departure line waiting for the one taxiway that runs parallel to the runway to clear. We sat for about 15 minutes as we watched the Citation X and G550 that were behind us happily roll out to the end of the runway and right into the FBO. However, the taxiway did clear, and we taxied right up to a nice parking spot at the FBO. The ground crew was slightly confused since we were not an international arrival, but they quickly got their heads around that and helped get us through the zoo like FBO to our car. The only problem was that my father and I both knew that we were not going to be able to get 100LL in the frenzy of departures, so we left and came back the next morning. It was still busy but with a little patience and a few tips thrown at the fueling guys we got serviced in about 45 minutes. After a difficult and educational 19.3 hours of flying and we had made it. Now all that was left was to do it all over again in ten days…
Leg #7 MMSD-KLRD (01/11/2022)
We got to the airport at sunrise with the intention of getting an early start so that we could make it all the way to Nashville, Tennessee on the first day. What we did not consider is that the airport and the staff required to process our departure paperwork were not open until after 7:00 AM. And when I say 7:00 AM I really mean 7:25 AM. A Mexican minute is certainly not an American minute. In the meantime, my father and I pre-flighted the plane and got loaded up. Once everyone was open and I was able to file my flight plan in quadruplet, we all went out to the airplane and got going. Getting our clearance was easy enough, but just as we started to taxi the ground controller in a harsh tone commanded that we stop our taxi immediately and return to the FBO. I was very confused about what I had done wrong, but not wanting to get into a literal Mexican standoff I obliged, and we went back to the FBO. I was greeted by the military when I got out of the plane which of course freaked out my mother. As it turns out, somewhere along the line the FBO operations failed to properly record our destination. They mistook KLRD (Laredo International) for MMNL (Nuevo Laredo). How they did this I do not know, but they did. Anyways this meant that we had left without paying our exit fee to customs, which of course made them royally mad us over about $10 USD worth of Pesos. After paying the fee and having the ops manager explain that it was their fault for letting us leave without paying the fee, the soldiers acquiesced and let me return to the plane. After all of that, we started up and departed without incident on the KINOL 1 RNAV departure. The rest of the flight was a very uneventful cruise at 15,000 ft with a pretty consistent 200+ knot ground speed, which was a very welcome change.
Customs in Laredo could not have been easier, even considering the dog, and we were all exceedingly happy to be back in the United States. Along with needing more gas, we had used up all of our supplemental oxygen, so we taxied over to Barker Ground Services to get it topped off. For some reason, Signature, which is right next to customs, did not have oxygen service. Barker was pleasant and we got our supplies of fuel and oxygen filled up quickly. However, during our brief stopover with Barker we had a front row seat to unquestionably one of the most disturbing scenes we had ever witnessed. Barker, along with being a normal FBO, also services the commercial aircraft used to deport illegal immigrants back to Central America. In the middle of us loading up, three large buses with barred windows, escorted by half a dozen Border Patrol vehicles pulled up to a waiting A319. The CBP agents yanked out flex-cuffed women, children, and men out of the buses and herded them into the waiting aircraft. Every single person was just starring at the ground, hopeless. The dichotomy of what we were doing and what was being done to these people could not have been more palpable. As we taxied past the A319 for departure they were still loading deportees onto the aircraft, and some of them blankly looked over at us as we went by. I could not help but feel guilty. Here I was coming back from a luxury Mexican vacation in a half-million-dollar plane with all the freedom in the world, and just twenty-five yards away from me were some of the poorest and least free people in the world. It was honestly hard to taxi the plane. When I got to the hold short line for 36R I just froze. It took my father verbally starting the before-takeoff checklist to snap me out of it. We had a normal departure, but no one really said anything to each other for the next hour. The only talking was me with ATC.
Leg #8 KLRD-KCXO (01/11/2022)
As I mentioned we had planned to go from KLRD to KBNA, but even the best-laid plans go awry. As we were dodging buildups just north of Huston, I noticed a red engine indication on the MFD. No CAS messages alerted. I immediately switched to the EIS page for a more detailed look. Our RPM was continuously but momentarily jumping above 2700 rpm by about 30 rpm and then settling back down. This obviously grabbed my attention. The first thought that ran through my mind was an oil pressure problem, but everything on that front was indicating normal. I turned the fuel pump on as well just in case it was a fuel issue, but this seemed unlikely as well. After working the problem as much as I thought I could and commanding my father to video the EIS page, I requested an immediate descent to KCXO which was only about 10 NM off our right. The plane continued to fly normally although I could hear the slight changes in engine RPM as they occurred, confirming it was not a faulty sensor. Conroe was using the ILS-14 even though it was VFR, and I requested to descend in the published hold at ALIBI. Somehow Houston approach did not see my logic in the request and thought I wanted to execute the procedure turn which I was too high to execute properly. In the end, I just requested vectors-to-final and was given a nice set of descending spiraling vectors to the final approach course. The approach and landing were thankfully normal, but the problem persisted. On the ground, we taxied to General Aviation Jet Services, who were undoubtedly the nicest people I have ever met at an FBO. They pointed us in the direction of some excellent mechanics, got us a rental car when it became clear we were not getting in the air again that afternoon, suggested a nearby hotel, and showed my mother around the operational B24 that they hangar as my father and I went to talk to Greg and Garry of G&G Aviation. We showed them the video of the EIS page and described the problem. After a little debate, they decided it was likely to be the prop governor needing to be turned back ever so slightly. In about 20 minutes they had the cowling off and were inspecting the engine.
With nothing out of the ordinary, they confidently settled on the prop governor needing to be turned back. They gave it a quarter turn back in the end. They then buttoned the plane up in record time, and my father and I took it for a lap around the pattern to confirm the problem had gone away, which it had. All the while Greg and Garry diligently waited for our return and checked in with us when we shut down. For all of this work and about an hour of time at the end of their workday, Greg and Garry only charged us $40. I do not think I had ever seen my father so happy to pay for aircraft maintenance. By the time we had gotten the plane tuned up, it was late, we were tired, and the buildups we were dodging had turned into fully developed thunderstorms that were about to directly hit the airport. The decision was quickly made to call it a night and to get a good meal and night sleep in Houston.