Of course the most noticeable feature of Hendricks' tricked out high-country hauler is the paint. The striking black-and-red scheme-which is hands down the best looking 208B paint job I've seen-was done by West Star Aviation at Grand Junction, which has an extensive completions shop of its own.
Hendricks' Caravan is unlike any other in the world, so it only follows that its panel should be something special, and it is. There is no factory PFD option for the airplane yet, though I'd wager that that situation will change soon, so Hendricks opted for the colorful and capable Chelton Flight Systems EFIS flat-panel LCDs for the left side. The dual "tube" system features head-up display-style symbology, a virtual 3-D presentation, TAWS and highway-in-the-sky fly-through boxes for guidance. There are loads of other instruments, including dual Garmin GNS530s, a Bendix/King autopilot and multifunction display and, perhaps most importantly, dual cup holders. Yingling was in charge of the avionics installation.
I hadn't met Deanna yet, though we'd spoken on the phone several times. Still, I figured it was a pretty good bet that the purposefully striding woman with the Caravan keys in her hand was likely to be her, and I was right. It was just barely six a.m. as we headed across the West Star ramp to the unmistakable black-and-red behemoth waiting for us on the ramp. Deanna had already preflighted the airplane, so we climbed aboard, fired it up and taxied out for a little early morning aviating. It was cool out and we were light, so we gave back about 9,000 feet or so of the 10,500-foot Runway 11/29 had to offer and turned right toward the higher ground off to the south and then west.
As we headed toward the ranch over terrain onto which it would be impossible to gracefully deadstick in an 8,700-pound glider, the appeal of the famously reliable PT-6 became abundantly clear. There is the occasional logging road or rough cleared patch of ground, but that's as good as it gets.
After we'd flown for 20 minutes or so, Deanna pointed out the ranch, which I didn't see right off, and then the runway, which I saw right away. We descended to roughly pattern altitude and overflew the strip, checking out the new, larger sock as we went. Deanna told me that the west runway, the favored direction, often has a light tailwind even when the sock is limp. We made the tight turn in the canyon, and headed downwind. Onto base, you descend below a small ridge rising off the southeast end of the strip, and fly the outflow of the alluvial fans that lead conveniently to the runway end. We were a little fast over the ground on final-that little tailwind was indeed there that morning-and we touched down several hundred feet down the runway before Deanna gave the prop just a little touch of beta and we were stopped and backtaxiing with plenty of bluegrass to spare.
After photos, Deanna and I headed back to Grand Junction the long way in the Caravan, an airplane that many have said flies as easy as a 182. After flying the 208B a bit, I think that comparison does the Caravan a disservice. It may look big and boxy, but it's not even remotely truck-like in its flying manners. It is, in short, one of the best flying airplanes I've ever had the chance to handle. With the Oasis treatment in back, it sure is comfy, but I'd never willingly give up a front row seat in this airplane for one without a yoke. Heading back to Grand Junction, we followed the Colorado upstream, flying low and enjoying the sights. What a blast.
When we got back to GJT, the Cherokee Six, a pretty good back-country airplane in its own right, was parked on the ramp at West Star near where Deanna dropped me off, and she complimented me on it. So to be polite I offered to trade airplanes with her, maybe not for good but at least for a couple of weeks. On behalf of her boss, she graciously declined the offer.
Oh well, maybe next dream.