Our friends Steve and Molly recently invited us for a hiking weekend in southwest Colorado.
This would be our first summertime visit to 9,070-foot-elevation Telluride Regional Airport (KTEX). Telluride is surrounded on three sides by 12-14,000-foot mountains, but we could approach from the west at 11,000 feet.
Like most Telluride traffic I planned to land on Runway 9 and depart Runway 27 to avoid maneuvering in the dead-end canyon east of the airport. That required good visual flight conditions, and light winds to preclude downwind takeoffs or landings and dangerous downdrafts tumbling over the surrounding mountains.
Given suitable weather, my main concern flying our non-turbocharged Cessna 182 was safely departing such a high-elevation airport in summertime.
Temperatures of 48°F to 75°F sound pleasantly cool, but at 10-12,000 feet density altitude we’d be lucky to get 65% of sea-level power at full throttle, and 300 fpm climb…
This was a summer of special visitors from faraway places. Happily, most were enthusiastic about flying, so I got to play aerial tour guide.
First up were Jean’s beloved “Swedish sister” Helena from her foreign-exchange-student days, with husband Pelle and daughters Majken and Linnéa.
Flight opportunities were limited given six people and our four-seater airplane, but assisted by our friend Richard piloting his Bonanza, we accomplished a two-airplane Grand Canyon tour, followed by Sunset and Meteor Craters. “Routine” for us, but our guests won’t forget it.
A month later dear friends arrived from Canada on their first Arizona visit in seventeen years. Marcel and Lise have flown with us in the past, and have several times welcomed the Flying Carpet to Quebec. The airline they flew from Montreal doesn’t serve Flagstaff. So in lieu of a three-hour rental car drive after umpteen hours of airline travel, Jean and I picked them up at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (KPHX) and had them relaxing at our home 90 minutes later.
Along with terrestrial adventures, we reprised our Grand Canyon air tour a few days later, which again was a hit. Then in casual discussion, our guests revealed that they’d always wanted to visit Las Vegas.
“It’ll be hot there this time of year,” said Jean, but that didn’t deter Marcel and Lise. Their short stay allowed only one night in Vegas, which an eight-hour auto round trip would have largely consumed. But at ninety minutes each way by Flying Carpet, we could enjoy virtually a whole day and night there…
Thursday, I flew to meet a pilot friend for lunch. Sounds routine, doesn’t it? But Uwe Goehl, Canadian Airbus captain who flies the world for a Middle-Eastern airline, lives in faraway Abu Dhabi. We last met six years ago, so when Uwe enrolled in hot-air balloon training just across the state line at Hurricane, Utah, I jumped at the chance to reconnect. As always when bound for unfamiliar airports, I phoned ahead.
“As long as you’re not staying over the weekend,” said Art Granger, manager of Hurricane’s General Dick Stout Field Airport (1L8). “We’re closing the runway for reconstruction Monday morning—you wouldn’t want to get stuck here for three months.”
That got my attention. Sure, I planned only a day trip, but what if delayed by weather or an unexpected mechanical problem? I remembered my friend Julie, whose airplane was stranded at another airport when runway reconstruction started two days early and she couldn’t leave. So I arranged to meet Uwe at nearby St. George Regional Airport (KSGU), instead.
St. George is only 150 miles from Flagstaff, but over a stunningly remote route. Halfway lies none other than the Grand Canyon, followed by the uninhabited “Arizona Strip.” En route, only Grand Canyon National Park Airport reports weather, beyond which there are no airstrips, towns, nor even ranches for 100 miles. So while excited, I obsessively double-checked my survival kit, outerwear, water, and energy bars…
For those wondering what a total solar eclipse might be like and whether it’s worth experiencing—believe me, it is—I thought you might enjoy revisiting the last one, which I flew to Canada to see back in 1979.
If you’re interested in traveling to see the eclipse along the path of totality, don’t delay in making reservations, and that includes reserving a day fly-in spot at even relatively remote airports. Yes, it’s four months away but lodging and airports are already filling up!
There’s nothing like flying to escape the beaten path. Returning from Massachusetts to Arizona, Jean and I steered for Warren and Melissa Smith’s private Atlanta, Illinois farm strip. Landing on grass is like alighting on a cloud, but you must always scout it first. Warren, an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector, shared details.
“It rained the other night, so I drove the strip in my car,” he said. “It’s in great shape, plus I confirmed the 2300-foot usable length with a wheel. Ideally, land from the south because there’s a 300-foot overrun at the north end–touch down upon clearing the corn. From the north, land past the metal “Hoblit Farms” building. In case of concerns, of course, divert to nearby Logan County Airport.”
We’d hoped to make Illinois nonstop, but headwinds dictated refueling at Logansport, Indiana. Despite bargain prices, I resisted topping tanks; it’s best to operate light on turf.
During our final one-hour leg, I reviewed soft-field procedures and runway requirements. Although 2300 feet is plenty for a Skylane, grass demands proper technique and lengthens takeoff roll…
We relaxed with our son Hannis and his fiancée Marissa on Richmond Pond in western Massachusetts, our fourth flying destination crossing the continent from Arizona.
Marissa’s folks Alex and Sabina had been consummate hosts, treating us to sightseeing, concerts, and savory meals. Alex even let me drive his vintage Miata sports car. In return, all he asked was to go flying. Alex had once taken lessons, but circumstances prevented him from finishing. Now he was eager to retake the controls. Once a pilot, always a pilot.
On the appointed morning, however, broken clouds shrouded the lush green mountaintops surrounding Pittsfield Municipal Airport, with no improvement expected. To our mutual disappointment, it wasn’t safe to fly.
Midday came, and as I toted luggage to Hannis and Marissa’s car for their drive home, sunlight momentarily silvered Richmond Pond. Quietly, I checked weather. Area ceilings were indeed thinning, and had risen off all but the highest peaks. What’s more, an amended forecast indicated continuing improvement. I asked Alex what was planned for the afternoon.
“Be aware of a Citation jet practicing instrument approaches, and numerous aircraft flying the Trois-Rivières traffic pattern,” cautioned Montreal Center after issuing our instrument clearance from Quebec back to the States.
Not until reaching the runway did Jean and I fully appreciate the implications. How could we determine when to take the runway with so much traffic chattering in a foreign tongue? We might as well be on another planet!
Every aspect of this flight to French Canada had been impacted by language…
You’d expect a flying carpet to deliver you to enchanted destinations. Well, 2,000 miles and fifteen flight hours from home over French Canada, Jean and I truly felt our steed’s magic. After clearing customs at Windsor, Ontario, we gazed down upon Toronto, Ottawa, and then, Montreal. Each resurrected memories of a long-ago youthful journey.
In 1971, I drove this route on a post-graduation road trip with two Chicago high-school buddies in my 1939 Chevy. After setting up camp in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, we picked up a hitchhiker named Marcel while cruising town. Lacking a common language, we couldn’t determine his destination, so he gestured us to a nearby tavern.
“If you’ll break camp and drive me 15 miles to Champlain,” Marcel offered via the bilingual bartender, “you can stay in the guest cottage behind my parents’ house.” We accepted, and while the others slept, Marcel and I “talked” late into the night via sketch pad and French-English dictionary. The next morning, I was startled awake by the horn blast of an oceangoing freighter. Having arrived in darkness, I never guessed the St. Lawrence Seaway was steps away.
I was recounting this story to Jean for the umpteenth time when Toronto Center issued a frequency change. Bienvenue au Québec! Air traffic control is bilingual in Quebec, so Montreal Center controllers swap seamlessly between French with Québécois pilots, and English with Anglophones like me. The mighty St. Lawrence River materialized off our right wing, and thirty minutes later converged with our course at our destination. Inbound to land at the uncontrolled airport, we heard the following transmission.
“Trafic Trois-Rivières, Cessna Un-Sept-Deux Golf Alpha Bravo Charlie, présentement sur Alpha, je m’aligne Piste Deux Trois pour un décollage immédiat.” Jean and I looked to each another, eyebrows raised. The pilot was obviously in the local traffic pattern, but where? I requested his position in English, but he answered in French. Eventually he managed the word, “takeoff,” but we never spotted the airplane. Clearly, great care would be required to safely operate here.
I was securing the Flying Carpet when two figures rushed from the terminal, arms outstretched. It was Marcel Duval, the very hitchhiker I picked up in 1971, and his captivating wife, Lise Marquis. Who’d have imagined that our chance friendship would endure for decades…
When a family wedding beckoned from Chicago, our first thought was to book airline tickets because it’s too far to fly for a weekend. But then Jean and I got to talking.
Think of all the sights to see and friends to visit within flying range of Chicago. And soon, Where shall we go this time? In short order, a weekend wedding trip blossomed into a full-fledged flying vacation to three states and Canada.
Canada! Consider your feelings when flying into a new-to-you state. Now make that destination Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and you’ve got one memorable trip.
This would be our first foreign border crossing by private aircraft since 9/11, and security procedures would accordingly be more complicated and stringent than before. I might have waited too long to start planning, if not for chatting a month before the trip with pilot Mark Harris who routinely flies into Mexico.
Every aircraft crossing US borders must have a current Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CPB) decal. These annual stickers cost only $27.50, but can take several weeks to receive. In addition, pilots must pre-file crew, passenger, aircraft, and itinerary information for each crossing via CPB’s “Electronic Advance Passenger Information System” (eAPIS) web site. While individual trip manifests can be filed as little as an hour before takeoff, the required pre-registration can take up to a week for email confirmation.
I’d also need a restricted radiotelephone operators permit for international travel, and a radio station license for the Flying Carpet. Canadian charts and GPS navigator database are of course required, and aircraft insurance certificate. Non-aviation planning included current passports, international cellphone and data service, informing our credit card issuers, and medical insurance coverage…
Hey Folks, check out my“Flying Carpet” video segment with Warren Morningstar on this week’s September 15th AOPA Live aviation news broadcast, about Arizona flying destinations within range of AOPA’s upcoming Prescott Fly-in.