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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

April 2nd, false start to Santa Fe: 10 mile flight instead

With input from several pilot friends, Alex had created a scenic itinerary over the Rocky Mountains with stops for hiking which would keep us busy for about 2 weeks. The trip would bring our flight hours to about 25, meaning that we would also test the new engine well. An important contributor to the itinerary was Rob Reynolds from Chicago who Alex met thanks to another pilot friend Mark Epner, the President of the Leading Edge flying club which he used to be part of. Over the phone, Rob had mentioned that he had been in Argentina and had flown to Uruguay from there in a rented Cirrus with a “local” who knew the area. In the video he shared, we saw that the “local” was our instructor Ricky Montesano and the rented SR22 was our LV-GQF! If the world is a small place, the Cirrus world is even smaller.

Rob on the left, Ricky on the right, LV-GQF in the back

The first stop was KSAF = Santa Fe, New Mexico. To get there from Boulder, we would fly over the Red Rock amphitheater, see Pike Peak (one of the 54 “fourteeners”, i.e. mountains that are over 14,000 feet in the Rockies) on our left, find the Royal Gorge and then follow the Arkansas river to Salida where we would land because it is a beautiful and high airport (elevation 7500 feet). Then depart again over the Sangre de Cristo range via Poncha Pass (10,200 feet), see the Great Sand Dunes before arriving in Santa Fe. The only little regret we had was that we needed to fly quite fast because of the high-power settings required for the engine break in, maybe we would race by the Peaks and Dunes and miss them?

On April 2nd, we got up very early– we had been advised by many to land before noon because after that the mountain air gets turbulent - and headed to Boulder Municipal airport (KBDU) where we checked and prepared the plane. Alex installed the two GoPro cameras to film the views and we climbed into the cabin. When Alex switched the batteries on, we got an error message warning us that terrain data was not available. The very day we were going to fly over high mountains and through valleys and passes !!

Terrain data comes from Jeppesen and shows on the MFD screen. The map is colored yellow as soon as the terrain is 1000 feet or less under the plane and red if it is 500 feet or less. In addition, on the bottom of the screen, there is a profile that shows you what type of terrain is in front of you if you keep the current heading. It is obviously extremely valuable information, even if the visibility is good because it is not always very easy to judge heights of mountains when you are in the middle of them.

In the blue circle on the right is the SD card which is causing the problems; along the bottom, the profile data

We do have a backup on the iPad thanks to the Foreflight application but looking down at the iPad while you’re flying instead of in front at the screen or out of the window is not very pleasant and probably stressful.

Bottom line: we decided not to go, got out of the plane, went to the airport building and started calling all the avionics experts close to Boulder until one would answer. Alex also called Leo Vinci, the avionics expert from Cielo in Buenos Aires, who helped us do some checks but the conclusion was that there was something wrong with the SD card (that stored terrain and other data) or its reader and the solution would probably be to change the whole screen. Which meant ordering a new one with Garmin and waiting for it to arrive. We were talking several days.

After a good conversation with Rusty from Freedom Avionics in Broomfield (KBJC, elevation 5800 feet), Alex decided we could go there to get the work done. It was only 10 miles away and we could go easily without terrain data. But to our surprise, when we switched the batteries on for this short trip, the terrain data magically appeared where it had been absent two hours before… We still decided to go to Broomfield because obviously the availability of data was not reliable enough for a big mountain trip. Also, our plane is from 2008 and so are the screens so the MFD has done its job long enough to be replaced.

We arrived at Freedom Aviation less than 10 minutes after take-off and informed Rusty that the data was back. He had never seen something like it on an airplane. He did mention that his car’s SD card only worked when it was extremely cold or extremely warm outside which made us think there was maybe a link between the temperature and the data?

Enjoying the views from Broomfield airport while Rusty and Alex were checking the plane.

By now it was too late to start the 2-hour flight to Santa Fe in good wind conditions so we booked the hotel closest to the airport (4 minutes by car) and asked them to come pick us up which they did. It turned out the Hilltop Inn had a nice, English style, pub and restaurant, complete with Sheppard’s pie, fish and chips and Guinness, so it was not a bad choice at all. Our room was called “Oxford” and from there, we prepared a plan B to go to Santa Fe the next day, around instead of across the Rockies, in case the terrain data would not show up. In parallel, Rusty ordered the new screen which will arrive sometime next week. So we’ll need to be back in Broomfield, Colorado soon!

To end on a happy note, our prolonged stay in KBDU allowed us to see this plane which reminded us of our friends Claudio and Betina in Argentina.

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