Coast-to-Coast in the Mooney M20J

In September and October 2021, Katherine and I (and Magic!) flew our 1984 Mooney M20J from Orlando, FL to Victoria, BC and back again, 7,105 nm of flying!

It was an amazing adventure, a wonderful way to see the country, and as a flatlander with no real previous mountain experience, it was a real learning experience operating from airports as high as 6,700 ft MSL and dealing with terrain I can't easily outclimb. Lots of photos and details about the flights are linked below.

Trip Overview Photos

Heading West

Heading West

Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Exploring Deadwood.

Crossing the Mountains

Crossing the Mountains

Crossing the mountains into Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Oregon. Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons

The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest

Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia. Quick flight around Crater Lake, Oregon.



Sacramento, the Bay Area, Sonoma, Big Sur, San Diego, and Catalina Island.

The Desert Southwest

The Desert Southwest

California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Las Vegas, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab, and Santa Fe.

The Long Flight Home

The Long Flight Home

Long legs to Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, and finally back home.

About Us

We are Ryan, Katherine, and Magic!

About Us
About Us

I've dreamed of doing a massive cross-country adventure since before my first solo in 2006. I got my PPL in 2007 and mostly did $100 VFR hamburger runs for around 10 years, never venturing further than about 250nm from home. I joined a flying club in late 2016, met a lot of other pilots, got encouragement, and quickly earned my instrument rating in 2017. From there I decided to keep going, getting my commercial in late 2019, CFI-A in early 2020, and CFI-I in late 2020. I now instruct part-time in my flying club for my own enjoyment and love of teaching. During my time in the club flying with other pilots, I started gradually reaching a bit further out on cross country flights, going as far as Gulf Shores, AL (around 400nm) and the Bahamas. In early 2021, I finally realized my dream of airplane ownership when I bought my 1984 Mooney M20J. It's been a great experience (although expensive, as expected), and I started going even further (easier in a Mooney with the faster cruise speed), places like Atlanta, Charleston, and Asheville, NC. Prior to this trip, my longest ever XC was to Asheville, only around 420nm.

Before the trip, I did a Zoom-call Mountain Flying introduction course with a r/flying member (thanks /u/The_Loveboat !). I also researched some of the more challenging aspects of the route, particularly around crossing into Yellowstone at Sylvan Pass, the area around Jackson Hole, WY, and the Grand Canyon Area.

With me on the trip were my wife, Katherine, and our dog, Magic. We set out from Orlando, FL on September 15th with the idea that the trip would take around a month to complete, plus or minus. We had only vaguely planned the first few stops and planned to be as flexible as possible, staying with family where possible, and booking hotels last minute, etc. In the end, the trip took just over a month (a month and 2 days), and we were able to stay mostly 'on schedule'. Fortunately, I never had to divert from the airport I planned to reach when I took off, however we did have to change the plan somewhat in the Pacific NW due to weather.

Before departing, the plan was to get to Seattle and back, with getting into Canada being a possible bonus. (Contingent on all the COVID/customs paperwork BS working out) We knew we wanted to visit family in KY and CA, as well as definitely stop in Deadwood, Yellowstone, see the Seattle-area volcanoes, Crater Lake, Sonoma, do a mini Bay Tour, Catalina, Las Vegas, Sedona, and then somehow work our way home. Anything else was basically a bonus and we did very little pre-planning beyond that. Every few days we did a little long-range planning by looking at the prog charts, etc., mainly to decide how many days to plan on being in each region.

Most of the flights were VFR for sightseeing reasons (as well as me not having a turbo, FIKI, or oxygen so not really able to do mountainous area MEAs), with VFR flight plans filed with and linked to my Garmin inReach PLB. (In addition to tying your VFR flight plan to your PLB, the EasyOpen/EasyClose service is awesome and the site has really improved, I find it much better to use now than ForeFlight for VFR flight plans)

The Airplane

This is N374SM, our 1984 Mooney M20J.

  • 1984 Mooney M20J 201
  • Typical Cruise: 160-165 KTAS @ 12 gph
  • Fuel: 64 gal usable
  • Equipment: Garmin GNS480 WAAS GPS (oddball unit, but capable), Aspen E5 PFD, King KAP-150 autopilot coupled to Aspen w/ GPSS, Insight G3 Engine Monitor w/ Fuel Totalizer

Trip Stats

  • Total Distance: 7,105 nm
  • Direct Distance: 6,198 nm
  • Hours Logged: 57.5 (2.5 Night, 1.9 IMC)
  • Total Days: 32
  • Flying Days: 16
  • Legs: 24 (14 VFR, 10 IFR)
  • Longest Leg: Orlando, FL (KORL) to Bardstown, KY (KBRY) - 593nm direct (654nm actual)
  • Longest Day: Bardstown, KY (KBRY) to Ames, IA (KAMW) to Spearfish/Deadwood, SD (KSPF) - 921nm direct (980nm actual) - 7.8 hours logged
  • Shortest Leg: Victoria, BC (CYYJ) to Bellingham, WA (KBLI) - 36nm direct (45nm actual) - 0.8 hours logged
  • Approaches Flown: 2 (KBRY, KPDT - popup IFR)
  • Fuel Purchased: 554.6 gal - $2,999.97 ($5.41/gal avg)
  • FBO Services / Overnights / Fees - $236.99
  • Supplies Purchased - $12.70 (2 qts oil)
  • Oil Quarts Used: 7

Trip Legs

Leg 1 - Orlando, FL to Bardstown, KY

Starting out on our big adventure. Dodging thunderstorms, rain, and a rainy evening approach. Visiting Katherine's family and the home of Kentucky Bourbon.

Leg 2 - Bardstown, KY to Ames, IA

Heading west. Stopping in small town Iowa for some delicious BBQ.

Leg 3 - Ames, IA to Deadwood, SD

A scenic flight over the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. Spending a week in Deadoowd.

Leg 4 - Deadwood, SD to Cody, WY

Getting closer to the real mountains. Exploring Cody while we wait for good weather for Sylvan Pass.

Leg 5 - Cody, WY to West Yellowstone, MT

An epic scenic flight through Sylvan Pass into Yellowstone, and a flyby of the Grand Tetons. Visiting Yellowstone.

Leg 6 - West Yellowstone, MT to Twin Falls, ID

Past the Continental Divide, heading towards lower terrain and lunch in Idaho.

Leg 7 - Twin Falls, ID to Pendleton, OR

Deteriorating weather and a challening approach over the mountains into Oregon. Exploring the rodeo town of Pendleton.

Leg 8 - Pendleton, OR to Portland, OR

A short, scenic, and slightly rainy flight up the Columbia River to Portland. Visiting friends in Portland.

Leg 9 - Portland, OR to Seattle, WA

An easy, short flight up to Seattle with great views of Mt. Rainier. Meeting friends in Seattle.

Leg 10 - Seattle, WA to Victoria, BC

Venturing into Canada across the gorgeous San Juan Islands. Exploring Victoria, including Butchart Gardens and Goldstream Provincial Park.

Leg 11 - Victoria, BC to Bellingham, WA

A short hop back to the USA to clear customs.

Leg 12 - Bellingham, WA to Bend, OR

A long, but easy flight down to Bend. Views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams. Dodging a little bit of weather. A late lunch in Bend.

Leg 13 - Bend, OR to Rancho Murieta, CA

South into California with a quick loop of Crater Lake on the way. Visiting Ryan's family and exploring some wine tasting rooms.

Leg 14 - Rancho Murieta, CA to Sonoma, CA

A scenic flight over the San Francisco Bay and up to Wine Country. Visiting Sonoma wineries.

Leg 15 - Sonoma, CA to Murrieta, CA

A trip down the California coast, over Big Sur, and into the SoCal area. Visiting Ryan's cousins and a quick day trip to San Diego.

Leg 16 - Murrieta, CA to Catalina Island, CA

A quick hop over the water to Catalina, the Airport in the Sky. Enjoying some Bison Burgers and Tacos.

Leg 17 - Catalina Island, CA to Las Vegas, NV

A nice, sunny flight to Vegas, with great views of the city. Meeting up with a friend for dinner.

Leg 18 - Las Vegas, NV to Sedona, AZ

Leaving Las Vegas over Nellis AFB. Venturing past Hoover Dam towards the Red Rocks of Sedona. Exploring the Sedona area.

Leg 19 - Sedona, AZ to Moab, UT

An amazing flight over several national parks. The Grand Canyon, Marble Canyon, Glen Canyon, Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park. Borrowing the crew car for tacos in Moab.

Leg 20 - Moab, UT to Santa Fe, NM

Doding some scud and misty rain, enjoying gorgeous views of Canyonlands National Park on the way to Santa Fe. Enjoying amazing New Mexican food.

Leg 21 - Santa Fe, NM to Stephenville, TX

Leaving the mountains behind and heading back to the flatlands. Amazing BBQ lunch at Hard Eight in Texas.

Leg 22 - Stephenville, TX to Austin, TX

An early evening flight to Austin. Exploring Austin, and enjoying some drinks to prepare for the long legs home.

Leg 23 - Austin, TX to New Orleans, LA

Flying to the Big Easy for lunch at Dat Dog and a quick stop in Jackson Square.

Leg 24 - New Orleans, LA to Orlando, FL

Finally heading home! A quiet sunset flight over the Gulf Coast and a clear night in Orlando.

Final thoughts

The very first stop of this trip took me further from home than I'd ever flown. And the first real long leg (to South Dakota) felt surreal. But after that, we got into a pretty good routine. It's amazing just how much this trip ended up feeling like a road trip. Flying to these places was absolutely amazing, but the surreality of it definitely wore off by the time we got to Portland or so. I didn't stress about it nearly as much. Of course I planned every flight carefully, but the airplane performed extremely well and gave me no real problems. (I have one occasionally intermittent #2 CHT probe and I've learned my fuel flow sender is slow to 'wake up' while taxiing/warming up in very cold conditions, and my old King Autopilot occasionally disconnects after 2 hours or so of engagement, but that was really it) I was most worried about the high altitude airports before this trip, but in the early Fall, the DAs weren't so high and my climb performance was just fine, even at over 7000 ft DA. Properly leaning for takeoff was less difficult than expected. Being flexible with itinerary, schedule, and avoiding booking ahead really removed a lot of stress, and I was able to pretty much plan the next 2-3 days by looking at the Prog Charts most days. In the end, finding reasonably priced dog-friendly hotels was a larger challenge than the flying most of the time. We both agree that we will do more serious trips in the airplane, probably up the East Coast next summer.