Flying the Cessna 340 - September 2008
After Ma and I enjoyed flying with Doug and Ann in their Lake amphibian in May 2006, Doug mentioned that he was in the market for a larger airplane for more long distance flying, with pressurization as one of the requirements. In December 2006 Doug sent a cryptic note - 'We Had Twins', announcing the 'arrival' of their Cessna 340 pressurized twin! Earlier this year, Doug mentioned that they were planning a trip with friends in the 340 to Palm Springs, CA and that he might have two seats available. When he confirmed that opportunity in the late summer, Mary and I jumped on it, using it as a chance to visit our son and new daughter-in-law in Seal Beach, CA.
We met Doug and Ann, and their friends Michael and Diana, as the six of us arrived bright and early at the Auburn, WA airport and
loaded our suitcases and goodies into the 340 in the hangar. We then pulled the 340 onto the ramp for a startup under cloudy, but brightening, skies. I jumped into the right seat, and got settled into the surprisingly tight front cockpit of the Cessna 340. Doug jumped in the left seat, and our 4 passengers made themselves at home in the first class accommodations in back. Doug has a Garmin 530 in his instrument stack in his 340, and we also mounted a Garmin 496 on Doug's yoke, and my Garmin 296 on my yoke. We definitely had an abundance of perfect GPS information on all our flights!
Doug cranked, I input our flight plans in the Garmins, and we launched just at sunrise, taking a good portion of the Auburn runway for our takeoff roll, but climbing out at nearly 1000 FPM in the cool morning air. Doug gave me the controls to get a feel for the Cessna 340, which felt solid in all axes, and easily trimmable in pitch. We got our IFR clearance, and climbed quickly through low clouds into glorious clear conditions on top. Mt Rainier looked great in the climb with the sun behind it, and we climbed just east of Mt Hood with a great view of its high glaciers, as we passed it heading southbound into Oregon.
We cruise-climbed to 17,000 feet, and slowly left the clouds behind as we flew through eastern Oregon and into Nevada. Oakland Center planned to keep us high due to the mountainous terrain, so was cancelled VFR and descended visually into the clear Nevada skies as we let down for Reno Stead. We descended down into a valley just to the west of Stead, and then crossed over the field to enter a right downwind for a landing on runway 32. The Cessna 340 pressurization system was set for 5000' most of the flight, allowing for no pressure change as we landed at the 5042' altitude at Reno Stead.
After a quick fill up on reasonably priced avgas, and a friendly P-51 Mustang flyby, we took off on runway 32 at Reno Stead and made a climbing right turn south toward downtown Reno, picking up our IFR clearance and enjoying the views of Lake Tahoe to our west. Our flight plan to Bakersfield and Palmdale allowed us to fly just to the east of Yosemite, with a stunning view of Half Dome and El Capitan as we cruised at Flight Level 190.
The clear air of the mountains was replaced with hazy conditions below as we crossed into the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, then clear again as we flew overhead Palmdale, passing the large lakebeds of Edwards AFB just to our north.
We continued southwest toward Palm Springs, and again cancelled IFR after being held too high by LA Center. We finally saw a number of light aircraft as we descended from the west of Palm Springs, and got an eyeful of giant windmills in our descent over the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning, finally landing at 103 degree Thermal airport. Welcome to the desert! Our rental car was waiting, and we enjoyed the next three days in Seal Beach with David and Katie.
We arrived back at Palm Springs/Thermal at 2:30 PM for our flights back to the Northwest, greeted by 108-degree heat! We quickly loaded our gear, took off the cabin reflective covers, and jumped in. Doug started and taxied while I loaded the flight plan, and we gratefully got airborne and climbed quickly to cooler altitudes, thankful for the 340's air conditioning. LA Center had a callsign mix-up, so I flew the climbout VFR while Doug re-filed our IFR clearance, which we needed in short order.
As soon as we were back on an IFR clearance, we faced a wall of building cumulus all along our route, which headed to Beatty, NV, and then generally parallel to the California-Nevada border. Comfortable now at Flight Level 190, we deviated around the most threatening buildups using the Nexrad radar downlink to the Garmin 496 - very handy! The clouds held little rain, and just a light trace of ice was noticed on the leading edge. We stayed solid IFR for quite awhile, and then had a blast cutting in and out of the edges of the building cu.
We got an initial descent into the Reno area from Oakland Center, and broke out at 16,000 feet into clear skies below. We again were kept high as we descended over Reno's International airport, so Doug lowered the gear and flaps once we were cleared for the visual approach into Reno Stead. I had the pleasure of flying the descent, so I kept a good descent rate, aided again by the great cabin pressurization, cruised overhead Stead and entered a left downwind for runway 8, luckily timing my turns to need almost no power as we made a firm but quite acceptable touchdown. The Cessna 340 is definitely a nice handling twin in the pattern and in the landing phase.
After the surprising amount of California and Nevada weather on our third leg, the fourth was just the opposite. There was not a cloud in the sky along our entire flight path from Reno Stead to the Seattle area! We took off just before sunset from Stead, and were cleared directly to Klamath Falls, OR, climbing to Flight Level 200. The sunset over the California mountains was gorgeous, and we settled into a smooth cruise as the night got darker and darker.
Approaching Portland in the dark, we were greeted by a large green meteor directly to our north, which broke into green and red segments. Seattle center cleared us directly to Auburn, once crossing into Washington state, allowing for a smooth descent into the brightly lit environment of Seattle, and a nice touchdown and rollout back home at the Auburn airport, after an enjoyable 11 hours of flying!
Thanks for the great Cessna 340 opportunity, Doug. Let me know when you next need a co-pilot!