“Oblique Views,” Greg’s June, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Bittersweet aerial journey

Adriel Heisey flies and photographs from his Flight Design CTsw Light Sport airplane over downtown Santa Fe.Sunrise cracks the horizon as Jean and I rotate skyward. Any direction we steer—north to the Grand Canyon, south over Sedona, west toward Las Vegas–will reward us with spectacular sights. But we’re reminded this sparkling morning that perhaps our favorite route is east to Santa Fe.

From Flagstaff’s mountain pines, we soar above volcanic cinder cones, crazy-jagged Canyon Diablo, within sight of Meteor Crater, over the Painted Desert, and then the buttes, hoodoos, and hogans of the Navajo Nation. Beyond there, crimson cliffs frame Gallup, New Mexico, and jet-black ancient lava flows stream eternally from 11,306-foot Mt. Taylor.

We’re not the first pilots to appreciate these views. Back in 1929, Charles and Ann Morrow Lindbergh photographed area scenic and cultural sites from their custom Curtiss Falcon biplane, and hence today’s mission.

Our friend, National Geographic and Arizona Highways aerial photographer Adriel Heisey, was commissioned 10 years ago by Archaeology Southwest to reenvision the Lindbergh photographs for a comparative “then and now” exhibition, called Oblique Views. We’re bound today for the opening at Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

JeanGreg-BrucePapier-UliNiemeyer_FC-SAF_SantaFeAirport_2661eSmw1200-2Joining us in Santa Fe for the event will be another longtime friend, Bruce Papier.

In a past life we shared many adventures, including piloting a Cessna 210 from Indiana to Arizona…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, OBLIQUE VIEWS.”**

Top Photo: Adriel Heisey photographs downtown Santa Fe for the Oblique Views exhibit, from his Flight Design CTsw Light Sport Aircraft.

Lower Photo: Bruce Papier and Uli Niemeyer greet us at Santa Fe Airport, New Mexico.

SEE MORE PHOTOS!

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Greg

©2015 Gregory N.Brown

“Ready, Set, Don’t Go,” Greg’s May, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Third time’s the charm—sort of…

GregBrownFT516_4694e2Smw1200Winter offers spectacular flying, but its fickle and unforgiving weather can make longer aerial journeys daunting.

Jean and I annually flee snowy Flagstaff to visit our neighbors Tim and Hedy Thomas for a California vacation. Usually we meet in sunny Oceanside or Carlsbad, but this January they invited us to sample Monterey’s rugged coastline, bountiful sea life, scrumptious seafood, and renowned aquarium. Afterward, we planned to visit other friends two hours northeast in Truckee, California, and from there fly home through Nevada.

Although straightforward in good weather, this is an ambitious wintertime journey. Mountainous northern Arizona and California’s coast, deserts, Central Valley, and Sierra Nevada all feature different if interrelated weather patterns, which must coincide for safe air passage across the route. Truckee, in particular, high in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe, averages 41 inches of January snowfall, yet perfect flying weather would be required to land there.

So rather than attempting to hard-schedule our vacation, we negotiated a three-week “visit anytime” travel window with our respective hosts.

Even then, weather concerns arose. By early January, closely spaced winter storm systems were lined up to steamroll California and Arizona. Our travel needed to be accomplished during one- to two-day gaps between storms…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, READY, SET, DON’T GO.”**

Photo: Ocean mists fringe verdant hills near Monterey, California.

SEE MORE PHOTOS!

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Greg

©2015 Gregory N.Brown

“Tennis Time Again,” Greg’s January, 2015 Flying Carpet column

The power of wishful thinking

GregBrownFT115_1743-EditeSmw1200Every aviator knows the pain of stressing about weather before important aerial journeys. It’s become tradition for me to fly Jean to tennis regionals when her team wins their conference.

Fortunately, the playoffs occur in late spring and early fall when good flying weather generally dominates the Southwest.

Jean’s team was particularly strong this year, so with each successive win she’d more enthusiastically ask, “You will fly us to Albuquerque if we qualify, right?” Each time I assured her that nothing in my universe could possibly be more important. Accordingly she solicited fellow players to join us, collected their weights, briefed them on baggage limits, and arranged for driving teammates to accommodate overflow gear. When Jean’s team indeed made the cut, we began casually watching the weather.

GregBrownFT115_1525eDetSmw1200You may be surprised to learn that hurricanes, or at least their remnants, occasionally visit sunny Arizona.

In the past month two of them, Marie and Norbert, had arrived from Mexico’s Pacific coast, dropping extensive precipitation including the largest daily rainfall ever recorded in normally bone-dry Phoenix. Following two such rare occurrences in one season, I never imagined we’d see more.

But a week before Jean’s regionals, Hurricane Odile steered our way from Baja California. Jean and I watched in disbelief as local meteorologist Lee Born projected the storm’s track northeastward through Arizona and New Mexico.

“This could be another major precipitation event,” he said, “with a high likelihood we’ll benefit by more rain.” Jean and I, however, saw only a disrupted tennis trip in the colorful weather blob projected to engulf the two states…

READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE FLYING CARPET COLUMN, TENNIS TIME AGAIN.” (Allow a moment for the article to load.)

Top photo: Tennis teammates Jean, Jana, and Jenny at Albuquerque’s Double Eagle II Airport. Lower photo: “Old Acoma Pueblo ‘Sky City,’ near Grants, New Mexico. SEE MORE PHOTOS!

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Aviators’ Paradise,” Greg’s December, 2014 Flying Carpet column

New and different circumstances

MogollonAirparkAZ82aloft_1300eSmw1200Among both the joys and challenges of piloting, is that however long we fly we’re continually encountering new and different circumstances. Recently Jean and I attended an FAA Safety Seminar at Mogollon Airpark (AZ82), a private fly-in residential community high on the Mogollon Rim 100 miles northeast of Phoenix.

FAAsafetySeminar_MogollonAirparkAZ82_4166eSmw1200Although Jean had lately observed that, “we don’t do enough together, anymore,” I was stunned when she cancelled Saturday-morning tennis to join me for the highly esoteric topic of “ADS-B surveillance, traffic, and weather delivery technology.” Later it came out that she was “also a little sore from too much tennis.”

Our destination likely impacted her decision, too. Picture your favorite childhood piney-woods summer camp, set at 6,700 feet elevation for nice, cool summers. Now add a paved runway and homes with attached hangars on spacious wooded lots, and you’ll appreciate why we enjoy visiting this aviators’ paradise.

Jean_FAAsafetySeminar_MogollonAirparkAZ82_1297eSmw1200Flying into private airports generally requires prior planning and permission, so you can’t wait until departure morning to figure things out. Such airports needn’t meet public-use airport standards and rarely appear in official publications such as the FAA Airport/Facility Directory. Fortunately, Mogollon’s web site specifies rules and recommends safety procedures. As with many private strips, visiting pilots are required to pre-submit aircraft insurance documentation and a hold-harmless form. The website also designates Runway 21 as calm-wind runway, specifies right traffic for Runway 3, and prohibits night landings.

The high-elevation strip is only 3,436 feet long, shorter than I remembered, and is surrounded by tall pines. That raised density-altitude concerns. Looking more closely however, I noted that narrow centerline taxiways at each end of the runway effectively add another 2600 feet for takeoff, well within Flying Carpet capabilities.

MogollonAirparkAZ82aloft_1280eSmw1200Particularly thought-provoking is that Mogollon’s runway slopes downhill from the midpoint in both directions. As a result, departing pilots cannot see aircraft at the opposite end of the runway — in fact they are so thoroughly blocked by the midpoint rise that they may not hear each other’s radio transmissions. Accordingly I studied and printed the airpark’s 7-point “Safety Warning” anti-collision departure procedures list.

Finally, I pre-calculated my course since you can’t just dial it in after takeoff. Private airports rarely appear in panel-mounted GPS navigator databases, so getting to Mogollon requires manually entering its coordinates as a user waypoint, or applying old-fashioned pilotage and dead reckoning…

READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE FLYING CARPET COLUMN, AVIATORS’ PARADISE.” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photos: Arizona’s remote Mogollon Airpark, 100 miles northeast of Phoenix.

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Precious Cargo,” Greg’s November, 2014 Flying Carpet column

Lavender by Air

7-GregBrownFT1114_1144eSmw1200What makes something precious? The price tag? Or perhaps that someone you love desires it?

We recently suffered a traumatic horticultural loss — one of Jean’s treasured Provence Lavender plants. She bought them several years ago at the annual Red Rock Farms Lavender Festival outside tiny Concho, Arizona. (See “Scent of the Sky,” FT 6/10.)

Under Jean’s careful tending, the aromatic plants have since flourished in our front yard from 4-inch seedlings to glorious, 3-foot purple-blossomed bushes. Appealing as lavender may be to humans, it’s refreshingly unappetizing to elk, rabbits, and javelina. So we never anticipated losing one to a gopher dining from underneath. I asked Jean if she planned to replace it.

RedRockLavenderRanchAloft-ConchoAZ_1128eSmw1200“I’d like to,” she said, “but it’s challenging finding hardy lavender locally. The last bushes I planted didn’t last.”

“So the Concho plants are hardier?”

“Yeah, they seem better suited to our climate. But although Red Rock offers other lavender products online, they only sell plants during their annual festival that ended last month.” I offered to inquire about flying over to get some.

“No,” she said. “It seems impractical flying almost to New Mexico to buy a few plants.” That ended the discussion for a few days — until I next encountered Jean pondering the remains of her beloved lavender bush.

“I wonder if I can bring it back to life,” she said, but that didn’t look promising.

Admitting it might not make sense flying halfway across the state to buy three or four plants, I asked if other gardeners in her club might want some. That apparently passed the test, so I phoned Red Rock Farms owner Mike Teeple…

READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE FLYING CARPET COLUMN,PRECIOUS CARGO.” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Top photo: Mike Teeple of Red Rock Farms loads lavender plants at St. Johns Industrial Air Park, Arizona.

Bottom photo: Aerial view of Red Rock Lavender Farm, near Concho, Arizona. SEE MORE PHOTOS!

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Fickle Snow,” Greg’s April, 2014 Flying Carpet column

SedonaSnowshowersAloft_0743PS_v2-Edit-2eSmw1200Little room for error

Dark clouds fringed the western sky when I departed Prescott. With appointments to make, I’d monitored the weather all day. Our home airport of Flagstaff expected gradually lowering ceilings after 6pm, and snow beginning after 8. I picked up Jean in Scottsdale at 4:30, later than I’d hoped, but a tailwind promised to hurry us home in under an hour.

Our destination still reported clear skies when we took off, as did all stations along our route, but those ominous clouds approached relentlessly from the west. Williams, 40 miles west of Flagstaff, reported visual conditions in light snow. In any case, we carried plenty of fuel to land at Sedona, Cottonwood, or Winslow, or return to Scottsdale.

Halfway home over the Verde Valley, I noted shades of green threatening Flagstaff on the datalink weather display. Little precipitation was likely reaching the ground, but this was unexpectedly early. Then the tint changed to pink. Snow! I told Jean we might be driving a rental car home from Sedona tonight.

“But we’ll arrive well before 6,” said Jean, taking the forecast literally. “Surely, we’ll beat the weather.” Maybe she was right. Flagstaff’s Pulliam Airport still reported good visual flying conditions: clouds at 2,400 broken, 6,000 overcast, and 9 miles visibility in light snow.

Nearing Sedona, we heard Albuquerque Center clear an aircraft for Flagstaff’s instrument landing system (ILS). That’s a popular training approach, so I asked the controller whether he’d issued it for practice or for ‘real weather.’

“Flagstaff is still reporting VFR,” he replied, “but the last two pilots landing there thought a visual approach would be sketchy, so both shot the ILS.” These were turbine aircraft descending from the flight levels, however, so they’d need to penetrate the overcast while we approached from underneath. Sedona soon sparkled delightfully beneath us, crowned with a solitary snow flurry illuminated by the setting sun. Ahead the distant horizon bisected an inviting if faraway sliver of sky beyond the overcast.

It’s always a bit discomforting flying under a cloud ceiling onto the plateau. Here you are cruising comfortably under a high overcast, and the ground suddenly rises up to squeeze you. Confirming as we approached that the ceiling indeed floated a healthy 2,500 feet above the plateau, I took momentary leave from Center and radioed Flagstaff tower that I was 7 minutes south and requesting the trend.

“The weather’s definitely deteriorating,” replied the tower controller, “but we’re still decent VFR, especially to the south where you’re coming from. If it’s a matter of just 7 minutes you should be in good shape.” Retrieving instrument charts for backup, I advised Albuquerque that we’d proceed visually to Flagstaff with Sedona as our alternate. Topping the plateau, we intercepted Interstate 17, which would lead us directly to the airport and ensure terrain clearance. Flight conditions remained excellent, so I said goodbye to Center. “Be safe!” said the controller as we cruised blithely homeward.

“Shouldn’t we see the runway by now?” asked Jean a few moments later…

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, “FICKLE SNOW.” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photo: Sunset illuminates an isolated snow shower over Sedona, Arizona, on our flight home. 

(This column first appeared in the April, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Picnicking Pilots,” Greg’s March, 2014 Flying Carpet column

TontoNaturalBridgeAZ_0587eSmw1200Fun is closer than you think

How far must you fly to have fun? At AOPA Summit last fall, Jean and I dined with Barry Knuttila of King Schools, and his wife Susanne. Over dinner we learned the two fly often from their San Diego home to vacation in Sedona, Arizona.

“We’re going there later this month,” said Susanne. Knowing we live in nearby Flagstaff, she quizzed us about lesser-known regional sights. I suggested Tonto Natural Bridge State Park near Payson, which we’ve always found fascinating. Our friends hadn’t heard of it, so I detailed driving routes. It’s two hours over mountain roads from Flagstaff; I estimated 90 minutes each way from Sedona.

BarrySusanneKnuttilaPiperAztec-PaysonAirportPAN_0507eSmw1200“We’re staying right at Sedona Airport, and I see Payson’s not far as the crow flies,” said Barry, consulting his smartphone. “Would you consider joining us if we flew there? Susanne and I could fly directly to Payson coming from California, and you and Jean could hop down to meet us in the Flying Carpet.” It had never occurred to me to fly to Tonto Bridge given its rather remote location, but Barry later took the initiative to phone around. With no weekend rental cars available at Payson Airport, he arranged a limo* to deliver us to the park…

Tonto Natural Bridge is reportedly the largest natural travertine bridge in the nation, and possibly the world. Unlike more common aboveground stone arches, Tonto Bridge was sculpted from underneath by Pine Creek. Trees and vegetation carpet its ground-level top, and spring and rainwater percolate through limestone to trickle and shower 180 feet to the underlying creek. Not only does this stunning watery oasis mark an otherwise parched area, but visitors can actually observe the continuum of living vegetation accumulating calcium carbonate and turning to stone… It’s amazing how little-known this treasure is both within and outside Arizona.

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, Picknicking Pilots. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photos: Top left, Tonto Natural Bridge, Arizona.  Above right, Barry and Susanne Knuttila arrive at Payson Airport, Arizona.  SEE MORE PHOTOS.

(This column first appeared in the March, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

*Car service provided by Dennis Jeffers of Gekko Transportation, ph: (928) 951-1159

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Easy IFR,” Greg’s February, 2014 Flying Carpet column

9-GregBrownFT214_0490eSmw1200Flying Low Ceilings and Rain

We awoke in San Antonio to low ceilings and steady rain. At bedtime last night, a massive stalled cold front curved eastward from El Paso in a great northerly arc to Canada. Today’s forecast called for inches of regional rain, thunderstorms, and flooding.

Following a week touring Texas, Jean and I were eager to return home to Arizona; instead, it appeared we’d be stuck here for days. Futilely, we’d hoped the front would accelerate past during the night, leaving clear skies and tailwinds behind it. Now, resisting the urge to roll over and sleep, I fumbled through a weather briefing. Considering the gloom outside, the news was surprisingly good.

6-GregBrownFT214_2365eSmw1200Yes, the front remained stationary as forecast, but thunderstorms no longer threatened. And while a few stations along our route reported ceilings below 500 feet, most were “easy IFR” at 800-1,500 feet. Finally, the freezing level was high enough to relegate any icing threat above our planned altitudes.

While it meant battling 500 miles of clouds and rain, it was entirely feasible to fly to El Paso on instruments. Beyond there, New Mexico was forecast to clear by afternoon. If so, we’d proceed visually through the mountains to Flagstaff. If not, a lengthy westerly detour would circumvent them IFR. Either way, we had an instrument ticket home!

Read the whole story in this month’s Flying Carpet column, Easy IFR. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photos: Top left, “Easy IFR” over West Texas.  Above right, Wall mural at San Antonio’s Mi Tierra Restaurant and Bakery.  See more photos.

(This column first appeared in the February, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

“Touring Texas,” Greg’s January, 2014 column

DowntownFortWorthSundanceSquareAloft_0413-EditeSmw1200Best milkshakes this side of the Pecos

This year’s AOPA Summit had long marked my calendar. I’d never been to Fort Worth, unless you count in pilot parlance, “I’ve flown over it.” And just two states from Arizona, it initially appeared within reasonable Flying Carpet range.

I was soon reminded, however, of how big those states really are — we faced an 11-hour round trip. Then Jean was invited to a San Antonio meeting the week after Summit. I phoned Texas pilot friend Sergio Schaar asking where to relax over the intervening weekend.

“Consider Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country,” he said. “It’s known for wine and German cuisine, and you could stay at the Hangar Hotel right there on the airport. While there, partake of the incredible $1 avgas promotion at nearby San Marcos Airport, though I’ve heard there’s a two-hour wait.” Landing at San Marcos would also allow me to tour Redbird Skyport‘s touted “aviation laboratory.” Each additional destination made the long journey more attractive.

We fled Flagstaff ahead of a huge storm system rolling in from the west. (Snow there the following day made national news.) Although turbulent, powerful tailwinds urged us along ahead of the approaching cold front.

“Poof!” Jogged by a bump, Jean’s elbow popped the passenger window some 60 miles out.

Read the whole story in this month’s Flying Carpet column, Touring Texas. (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photo: Downtown Fort Worth’s Sundance Square, glimpsed through a hole in the clouds. See more photos here. This month I’ve included some of the “Well, I’ll Be!” ground photos I always enjoy taking at our destinations. Let me know what you think!

(This column first appeared in the January, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2013 Gregory N.Brown