After getting up around 5.30, Suzie introduced me to a typical American Mc Donalds breakfast: some chicken burger and a very greasy disgusting kind of potato mix. I got introduced to the default weather system that is available in almost every American FBO, found a website to file a flight plan, and to the plane washed. By the amount of dirt that came off the plane, I was convinced I would get 10 kots extra speed. A little bit too optimistic perhaps, because after all it was still a Cessna 172. Slow, but strong and (supposedly) reliable.
The last supplies were put in the airplane. By now the apron was empty again: Suzie and the other instructors were gone flying, the mechanic was working in the hangar, and everyone else was looking for a place in the shade. It was around 10 o’clock local time, and the sun was getting up to full strength again. I took a deep breath and realized this was the start of a flying adventure. Disregarding the outcome, I would have been flying for a month, which by itself was already something to look forward too. Full with optimism and energy I crawled (literally crawled, the seats were set to the most forward position to be able to put all the gear inside in an orderly fashion) into the captain’s seat. This felt good. After a thumbs up from the mechanic, I engaged the starter and the engine veered to life. I was still getting a bit used to the high density altitude (4000 ft AMSL and 35°C), and leaned the mixture for taxi, to get a smooth running engine. While remembering all the little ATC differences Suzie told me about the day before, I got the plane airborne after a long take-off roll from Santa Teresa airport (5T6). Taking the plane straight towards the 7000 ft mountains on my flight path, I was about to find out how good the performance really was. I was happy to be actually able to reach 8000ft without too much trouble, and a little disappointed in the 75kts airspeed (IAS) that accompanied that climb at a whooping 200 ft/min.
The first planned stop was Lea County (E26). Once I was clear of the isolated high mountain (with a friendly reminder of ATC “N, are you aware of the high terrain on your direct route ?”), the flight was very uneventful. The dessert kind of looked the same the whole flight. After 2 hours of flying, I had Lea County in sight. A strong crosswind, a little bit of winds hear, an unusually small runway and my willingness to survive at least the first day without damage to the airplane, forced me to abort the landing after a one wheel bouncer and divert to the next stop on my list: Abilene.
While switching to the tower frequency on final, I had to suppress a big laughter when I heard the typical south-texas-american-redneck-simpsons accent that delivered my landing clearance. As soon as I was parked on the apron, two line guys from the local FBO came rushing towards me to secure and fuel the plane in a very quick way. Although it is very common in the US airports to be treated as a king/prince/emperor, even in a small airplane, it turned out that Abilene was in retrospect one of the best FBO’s I visited during the trip. The cookies were fresh, the lemonade and water icy cold, the fuel affordable (if one is expecting 38 $ /USG later on the trip, one is not really concerned about paying 5.65 or 5.85 $ / USG, one of the upsides of bloody expensive fuel) and the lounges (yes, plural) very well equipped.
I was not really checked out on the US phone systems, so it took me a 10 minute crash course on how to reach the free flight plan number to file my first IFR flightplan. The first time I called the phone number, and also the worst operator I would ever speak to. Once he realized I was not the seasoned US pilot filing his 258th flight plan, but quite new to the system, he only managed to hide his impatience and disdain just a teeny little bit.
About an hour had passed and I jumped back into the heat. My first IFR flight in the US was not that hard. A little overwhelmed by the experience and the slightly different way of handling IFR traffic, I arrived safely in Dallas Executive (KRBD) thanks to the VFR only GPS that provided a big help to locate the IFR reporting points that were VOR’s popping up all over the place. Unaware of the time difference between Santa Teresa and Dallas (or at least, being aware of it too late), Wayne had been waiting for me an hour, luckily in an air-conditioned room.
Wayne introduced me to the friendly manager and employees of the Dallas Jet Center FBO. He then drove me over to a nice hotel, invited me to my first US steakhouse and gave me some last minute advice on the trip and some contact that were nice to have. I added “Buy chips, salsa and chocolate for the people in Resolute Bay” to my to-do list, and went for a good night sleep. No flight preparation tonight. Just sleep.