Flight Level 450 is definitely rarified air. And, other than three glasses of Cabernet, it’s about as high as most of us get. But I found myself there recently, with Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jon Huggins, Executive Director of Citation Jet Pilots Association, and my good friend, Stuart Fred. We were on a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to visit the “skunk works” of Rockwell Collins and their Pro Line Fusion avionics system.
But even better than FL 450 is what we were flying, Stuart’s brand new (25 hours total time) Citation CJ4. “Don’t touch anything,” Stuart barked as we taxied out from his gorgeous hangar on Houston’s Ellington field (KEFD). “Put your shoes in this bag so you won’t get footprints on my new carpet.”
I must admit I would have felt the same had it been my new airplane. I asked him where the peanut butter crackers were. You know, the ones that break into a hundred pieces and fall all over the carpet at your first bite.
He was not amused.
We were cozy, warm, and quite content at FL450, with a TAS of 420 knots in ISA+2 temperatures. But, two hours enroute, during what was supposed to be a routine weather flight, the ATIS for Cedar Rapids (KCID) changed our day.
“Cedar Rapids information Charlie, wind one three zero at four knots, visibility one quarter, mist, overcast 200.”
I dutifully reported the facts to Captain Fred. “Gee, I’ve never flown an approach to minimums in this airplane. It should be interesting.” We did a thorough approach briefing and checked on with approach control. “Runway 9 RVR 1,200, rollout 800,” said the polite female controller with a mid-western accent. “Say intentions.” The approach chart said we needed an RVR of 2,400 feet, and although we could legally begin the approach, no one was even trying it. We decided to hold.
“Cleared direct to Cedar Rapids to hold west on the 270 degree radial, right turns, expect further clearance at 1530 Zulu,” she said.
One of the great things about the CJ4 is the huge 5,800-pound fuel capacity, so we weren’t rushed to leave the area. But, after a couple of turns in the pattern, it was obvious the weather was not cooperating and Iowa City (KIOW), only 26 miles away, had 10 miles visibility and 1,400 overcast. Off we went to the alternate.
By the time we buttoned up the airplane, Stuart had (1) set up for an ILS, (2) held at a fix, (3) diverted to his alternate, and (4) shot an LPV approach to a landing. All in a new airplane, now with only 27 total hours on the Hobbs meter. And he did it like a seasoned pro.
We learned even more about the future of flying during our visit with the folks at Rockwell Collins. Their new Pro Line Fusion system is now certified and flying on a King Air 250 and 350. Fusion marries the best of their FMS 3000 capabilities with incredible graphics on three huge displays, to provide the pilot with up to ten windows of information and the ability to actually change and manipulate data by touching the PFD’s and MFD. It’s pretty awesome. I dreamed about seeing it in a CJ 1+ like mine. That dream will eventually be a reality. More about that in the coming months.
On the flight back home, I felt it necessary to bring my own Travel John for relief purposes. Believe me, no one wants to be the first person to use Stuart’s potty.