“Time Machine,” Greg’s May column & photos

Reuniting with a long-lost friend

“Wow! Nothing’s more breathtaking than flying at dawn,” said Jean as we leveled after takeoff from Flagstaff. “Check out the sunrise striking the peaks! And how every tree casts a shadow 10 times its height!” Steering into open country, we became time travelers treading a primordial landscape. Suddenly I was grateful for rolling out of bed early this morning, rather than sleeping late.

Today’s primary mission was for Jean to train coworkers in Tucson. After rarely traveling there in recent years, this would be our fourth flight to the “Old Pueblo” in a month, albeit to different airports for different purposes.

“I’m sure glad to be flying,” said Jean, gesturing down at Interstate 17. “Driving would have meant leaving home yesterday and staying two nights for today’s meeting. This way we’ll be home for supper.”

Flagstaff to Tucson is a poster-child airplane trip. Regulars claim they can drive the 270 miles in four hours. That might be true at midnight, but rarely at other times. En route, drivers must negotiate traffic-clogged Phoenix, the nation’s 5th largest city, from end to end. And with few alternate routes, horror stories abound of motorists stranded when accidents close the highway. By Flying Carpet, however, it’s a scenic 1-1/2 hour flight.

Such auto traffic might suggest that Arizona overflows with people, but from the air one discovers that development is still mostly limited to urban areas and the few highway corridors linking them. Happily, the majority of the West is still blissfully free of people and development.

Accordingly, it was 35 solitary minutes before we saw our first town, Payson. By the time Phoenix peeked from under its distant veil of smog, 9157-foot Mt. Lemmon already beckoned from Tucson. Like Flagstaff’s Humphreys Peak, Mt. Lemmon towers from a level plain. On a clear day, pilots can navigate much of Arizona using just those two tall peaks as signposts. Bound from Phoenix to Benson? Turn left at Mt. Lemmon. Going to Winslow? Hang a right at Humphreys Peak. But despite occasional pauses to admire passing mountains, lakes, and deserts, our minds were focused on other, more important matters.

“If only I could join you and Mark for lunch, Greg. You will tell him I said ‘hi,’ won’t you?”

Continue reading Greg’s May column, “Time Machine,” here. (Please allow a moment for the file to load.)

Photo: Greg reunites with old friend Mark Fitch at Tucson International Airport. (Jorge Villa photo)  See more photos from this flight here.

©2011 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

6 thoughts on ““Time Machine,” Greg’s May column & photos

  1. “Booming. Accosted.” You have our mutual friend characterized perfectly. Some of the finest times I’ve had in my career was working with Mark Fitch over a span of several decades. His son Morgan flew with me through the Young Eagles program when he was just eight. My how quickly the years go by. I had lost contact with him, and your column about knocked me out of my chair!

    Let me see… I’m guessing IDC?

  2. Nice story! It is nice having faithful Mount Humphreys as a beacon for this wayward student pilot. O4aNiceGPS.

    I haven’t used Mount Lemmon as a beacon yet, but someday. Maybe you’ll share your route between Flagstaff and Tucson and how you sneak into that particular Class C airspace (hint–hint).


    1. Thanks, Bruce!

      Getting into Tucson is a piece of cake. Despite our auto-drivers’ picture of Phoenix being right in the middle of the route, the Valley actually lies well to the west of the straight-line course, so you can fly pretty much direct from Flag to Tucson without dealing with Phoenix Class B. The only thing to watch for are Restricted Areas 2310.

      Tucson Class C is a non-issue compared to Phoenix Class B, as you simply need to make radio contact as with a control tower. (I always use flight following, meaning Albuquerque Center hands me off to Tucson Approach.)

      The only tricky thing about Tucson itself is to avoid landing at Davis-Monthan AFB vs Tucson Int’l – the airports’ major runways are parallel and only a few miles apart.

  3. Thanks for the “beta” (as the local rock climbers would call it) on getting into Tucson.

    Just a thought. I like to fly pretty low for the great views of the features below me, but I also know that it makes it harder for the FSSs, ATC, etc., to “see” me in this multi-layered Arizona topography.

    So, what altitude do you typically fly to get a decent birds-eye view and yet still achieve decent radio coverage (without flying so high it’s like flying Cattle Tube Airways)?

    By the way, I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to not let myself get intimidated about flying into Class B and C Airspace after I get cut loose. So, any “beta” you can give us poor novices is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.


    P.S. I WILL double-check to make sure that it’s Tucson Int’l or Ryan–not Davis-Monthan–I’m landing at. I don’t wanna swap paint with your boy–or his buds–anytime soon!

  4. Very nicely written – I enjoyed the trip! Just an old friend of Mark, and very happy to read of new adventures. Thanks for putting this out there….

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