“Small Flight Turns Big,” Greg’s July column

SnowSquallSedonaSEZ_7144-EditeSmw1200Better than a sunny day

By car, Sedona, Arizona is 45 minutes over winding mountain roads from Flagstaff. But by Flying Carpet, it’s less than 20 miles and takes ten minutes. The small distance, however, belies the grandeur of the flight. Forested Flagstaff graces the southwestern Colorado Plateau, while sunbaked Sedona edges the Verde Valley far below the plateau’s red-rock rim. To fly there you cruise cool pines for five minutes, launch over a 2,200-foot precipice, and plummet half a mile downward between scarlet spires to Sedona’s mesa-top “aircraft carrier” runway.

Videographer Derek Ellis and I had been filming at Flagstaff Airport under partly cloudy skies this unseasonably cool morning. The forecast called for gusty winds and midday snow showers, so we’d agreed to shoot on the ground today and film aloft tomorrow which was to be sunny and warmer. After capturing hangar and preflight shots, Derek wanted to test our cockpit audio setup for tomorrow’s aerial recording. So he took the copilot seat and I cranked up the engine. So much for that forecast bad weather, I thought, scanning high broken clouds.

“It seems like a shame not to fly when we’re sitting here with the engine running,” I said to Derek. “Shall we go up for a look? If conditions are favorable, we’ll do some filming. If not, we’ll just fine-tune the audio and return to land.” My friend showed thumbs-up, so armed with my previous weather briefing we taxied for takeoff. No sooner had we cleared the trees than it was obvious the weather was good for miles around. What’s more, shafts of sunlight streamed between the clouds, and the air sparkled clear for filming.

I steered to where scenic Sedona huddled out of sight beyond the rim. Within minutes we cleared the cliffs, and Derek excitedly filmed the freshly revealed red rock paradise on his first-ever light airplane flight. When he finished, I suggested we land for breakfast at the airport restaurant.

Sedona’s runway slopes upward to the northeast. Since slope generally trumps light winds when it comes to runway performance, Sedona traffic normally lands uphill on Runway 3, and departs downhill on Runway 21. There are various rules of thumb for estimating when winds should override slope in determining takeoff and landing direction. Some pilots use 10% of touchdown or rotation speed as their limit for arriving or departing with a tailwind, while others round the number to a simple 10 knots. With today’s breeze southwesterly, I elected to land uphill with a light tailwind.

Over huevos rancheros and plenty of coffee, we discussed Derek’s upcoming graduation from Northern Arizona University, and his filmmaking career plans. Then, some 35 minutes after arriving, we moseyed out the restaurant door toward the airplane.

“Whoa! Look at that!” said Derek. To our astonishment, a massive snow squall loomed ominously from the northwest…

Read Greg’s entire Flying Carpet column about this adventure, “Small Flight Turns Big.”

Photo: A late-season snow squall threatens Sedona Airport, Arizona. See more photos here.

View Derek Ellis‘s video shot partly on this flight:

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

(This column first appeared in the July, 2013 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

“‘Flying Carpet’ Tour,” Greg’s June column

SONY DSCThe Great American Flying Vacation

Nothing beats exploring the world from the cockpit of a personal airplane. Sure, there are endless regional diversions to draw us aloft. But who among aviators doesn’t aspire to grand aerial journeys, and treasure memories of those made in the past? For unlike airline travel, piloting is as much about the voyage as the destination.

Last summer I heard from Angus Watson, who with his wife Chloe was planning a flying vacation from Chicago through my neighborhood: the desert Southwest. We discussed their intended route, and associated terrain and weather considerations. But not until Angus shared their online photo album afterward did I realize that he and Chloe had just completed a “Great American Flying Vacation.” Their dozens of amazing ground and aerial photos reminded me that such journeys are at the core of why we learn to fly, but at the same time have become disappointingly rare.

The Watsons invested $6000 in their 16-day, 3,000-mile vacation, including 27 hours in their flying club Cessna 182, avgas, car rental, and lodging.

“We chose to stay at some pricey hotels — Santa Fe’s La Fonda, The View in Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Lodge,” explained Angus, “but the memories will last forever. Compared to a premium two-week cruise or tour, this vacation was a bargain. And as they say in the ads, how do you value piloting an airplane over Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Canyonlands National Park? Priceless!”

GregBrownFT613-SchaarC172_6916eSmw1200Then last fall, San Antonio pilot Sergio Schaar wrote of “touring the beautiful Southwest by air. I have great interest in flying from San Antonio to Monument Valley during March spring break with my 13-year-old son Max in my 1971 Cessna 172.” He expressed concerns, however.

I love traveling to new places and I love adventure, but I’m also a conservative newly-minted instrument pilot who always puts safety first. I am concerned about mountain downdrafts, high density altitudes, the tricky approach into Monument Valley’s ‘one-way’ airport, aircraft performance if I need to fly instruments at high minimum en route altitudes, winds aloft exceeding 30 knots, rapidly changing weather, not to mention being in the middle of nowhere… and of course, my own limitations. Greg, do you think it would be stupid and crazy for a 300-hour flatland pilot like me, who has never flown in high elevations and mountainous terrain, to try a trip like this? Too ambitious, maybe?”

“Of course not,” I replied, “This is why you became a pilot!”

Read Greg’s entire June, 2013 Flying Carpet column, Flying Carpet Tour.” (Please allow a moment for the file to load.)

Top photo: Chloe and Angus Watson at Monument Valley, Utah. (See the Watsons’ “Southwest Vacation” photo album.)

Upper right: Max and Sergio Schaar with their Cessna 172, the “Green Hornet” in Flagstaff, Arizona. (See the Schaars’ “Flying Carpet Tour” photo album.) 

See more column photos here.

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

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

“Nothing Short of Magic,” Greg’s May column

11-GregBrownFT513_6734eSmw1200From snowy pines to swaying palms

Never does the Flying Carpet seem more aptly named than when journeying from snowy mountain Flagstaff to sunny Southern California.

However logical the climatology, it’s nothing short of magical to depart snowy pines and alight 2½ hours later amid swaying beachfront palms. Our neighbors Tim and Hedy Thomas had invited us for a weekend at their seaside rental condo, and for the first time we’d land at Oceanside Airport.

Although Oceanside’s 2700-foot runway is plenty long for a Skylane, it snuggles among hills so there’d be no room for sloppiness. Instructor Fred Gibbs recently admonished me for approaching a little hot, a habit developed to counter Flagstaff’s gusty winds. Shorter runways demand precise flying speeds, so I polished my short field technique before our trip. Our destination’s 28-foot elevation would further shorten our landing by lowering our touchdown groundspeed 10 knots compared to what I’m used to at 7,000-foot Flagstaff.

OceansideBeachPierBalconyView_6714eSmw1200Parking can be limited at Southern California’s busy airports, so I phoned ahead.

“There’s plenty of room: four transient tiedowns plus two more for overflow,” offered airport manager Dennis Easto. I was intrigued that half a dozen parking spots should be “plenty” in such a congested region.

We launched equipped for three climates. While shorts and swimsuits filled our luggage, the back seat brimmed with both winter and desert survival gear for any unscheduled landing. When the snowy Colorado Plateau and Bradshaw Mountains yielded to the parched Mojave Desert, we shed coats and opened air vents. Ninety minutes later we descended over Palomar Mountain into a green ocean paradise peppered with fuchsia flowers.

“You can smell the sea breeze from the cockpit!” said Jean, as we rubbed elbows with the famed observatory

Read Greg’s May, 2013 Flying Carpet column, “Nothing Short of Magic.”

Top photo: Oceanside, California Beach and Pier. Upper right: Historic vacation cottages on Oceanside Beach. See more photos here.

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

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

“Lend Me Your Ear,” Greg’s April column

GregBrownFT413-2284eRomantic flyaway turns quiet

Music ranks close behind food, clothing, and shelter among things humans most value. So when a pair of favorite country and bluegrass performers scheduled a concert within Flying Carpet range, I booked tickets two months in advance.

The performance would take place in Wickenburg, 60 miles northwest of Phoenix. The small desert town is renowned for its Old West character, and would offer warm respite from Flagstaff’s cold mountain winter. Sensing the opportunity for a romantic “flyaway,” I reserved rooms at Rancho de los Caballeros, one of Wickenburg’s historic dude ranches.

“What fun!” said Jean. “And our California beach weekend is just a few days later!” The next morning I encountered friends Julie and Bob Millis at the Flagstaff Airport.

“Where’s your airplane?” I asked, noting their empty hangar. “That’s an odd story,” said Julie. “Last weekend Bob and I flew to Wickenburg, where we often vacation during the winter. After parking we learned they were repaving the airport ramp, and that our plane would be moved during the process. But they apparently decided at the last moment to close and repave the runway, too. So we had to leave the plane. Bob’s driving me back next weekend to get it.”

Intrigued at our mutual connection to the tiny town, I discovered the Millises would be there during our musical mission, so we planned a pre-concert dinner. Shortly thereafter I flew Julie to Wickenburg to retrieve her plane, saving Bob the five-hour round-trip drive.

“See you back here in a few weeks!” said Julie when we parted. Prepaying the concert and lodging had its disadvantages. Even as the weather shaped up nicely for our getaway, I acquired a nasty cold.

“Surely you’ll be well by next weekend,” said Jean, hopefully. Fortunately I indeed felt better by departure day. Despite bitter cold and the need to shovel snow from the hangar, my head had seemingly cleared and I suffered only a runny nose.

GregBrownFT413-3212eLaunching on a crystalline Saturday morning, we skimmed snow-frosted pinnacles of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, photographed the old Mingus Mountain mining town of Jerome, and threaded the Bradshaw Mountains south of Prescott.

Just 50 minutes later, we descended into the warm Sonoran Desert. Wickenburg Municipal Airport lies at 2400 feet, my lowest destination since dropping Julie there weeks earlier. Our friends greeted us at the tiny territorial-style terminal.

“How was your flight?” asked Julie.

“Spectacular!” I replied. The only nuisance was my newly plugged right ear, not particularly surprising when landing 4600 feet lower than our takeoff airport. Surely it would clear in a few minutes…

Read Greg’s April Flying Carpet column, “Lend Me Your Ear.”

Top photo: Historic Jerome, Arizona, on Mingus Mountain between Flagstaff and Wickenburg. Upper right: Jean at the Wickenburg Municipal Airport terminal, Arizona. See more photos here.

©2013 Gregory N.Brown

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

“Guilty Pleasures,” Greg’s October column


“What’s your ZIP Code? And did you arrive by car, light rail, or bus?” asked the Heard Museum admission attendant.

“None of those – I flew here by light airplane,” I answered.

“There’s no check-box for that,” she replied, quizzically.

By now you know I’m a pilot who’s hard-pressed to take wing without a purpose. Jean and I had just returned from a month overseas; before that I’d been overbooked with work, and afterwards grounded with a cold. Now all I could think about was flying. But where?

I did have some practical objectives. After languishing for five weeks the Flying Carpet might have bugs to iron out before launching on serious missions. Then there was our aging Scottsdale airport car, which hadn’t been driven in months. Was it even operable? Jean most often uses that car and I didn’t want her stranded on her next errand. But I had no pressing reason to fly to Scottsdale or anywhere else.

“What about that bola tie show you’ve been wanting to see in Phoenix?” asked Jean. A hint of  “I’m sick of hearing about it,” tinged her voice.

“That’s quite a journey for a 30-minute visit,” I replied. Still, it was the only suitable day trip currently on my destination list. Friends know I’ve long been enamored with bola ties; they’re the only neckwear in my wardrobe. I’d vowed to tour the Heard Museum’s nationally acclaimed exhibit when next in Phoenix on other business, but was it worth a special trip?

“You want to fly the plane, right?” said Jean, exasperated. “You want to drive the airport car. And you want to see the bola tie exhibit, right? So fly the plane to Scottsdale, drive the car to the museum, and see the exhibit!” Guilty pleasures had now been officially approved by direct order…

Read the story in Greg’s October Flying Carpet column, “Guilty Pleasures.” (First appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Top photo: Thomas “Tommy” Singer (Navajo). Silver and turquoise bolo tie, 2009. (Courtesy the Heard Museum, Phoenix.) See more photos here.

Visit the Native American Bolo Tie Exhibit at Phoenix’s Heard Museum through November 4th, 2012, and then at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Terminal 4 Gallery from February through June, 2013.

©2012 Gregory N.Brown

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

“Perfect Use of an Airplane,” Greg’s June column

The date had long marked my calendar – a Friday night gala in Santa Fe introducing aerial photographer Adriel Heisey’s new book, The Rio Grande: An Eagle’s View. Adriel’s invested the past ten years photographing the 1875-mile river from its Colorado headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, all from ultralight and light sport aircraft.

I was intimately aware of my friend’s tribulations in shooting, refining, and culling some 35,000 photographs for the book, all while piloting fulltime for the Navajo Nation and completing other photography commissions. Every month or so he’d call and say, “Greg, I’m flying the President to Flagstaff for a meeting today. Can we hang out someplace with ‘wi-fi’ and good coffee?”

Over sandwiches and cappuccinos, Adriel would share his latest milestones, flying stories, and photos for this seemingly endless project, all while uploading images to some phantom editor from his laptop. Often, he expressed discouragement over the years-long burden of the massive undertaking, but by next visit he’d be renewed by some new fix of flying and photographing amazing sights along the river. Finally, at the upcoming Santa Fe event, Jean and I would experience the long-awaited book of dazzling photographs, essays, and a forward by Robert Redford. No wonder we were excited!

Shortly before the gala, Jean was invited to attend a professional panel in Huntington Beach, California. “That’s the day before Adriel’s book debut,” I reminded her.

“It’s just a morning commitment, Greg,” she replied. “We can fly to California on Wednesday, get a beach fix, and dine out together. There’ll be plenty of time to return home Thursday after the meeting, and get to Santa Fe on Friday for the gala. Surely you won’t mind flying four days in a row…”

Read the story in Greg’s June Flying Carpet column, “Perfect Use of an Airplane,” here. 

(First appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Main photo: Cochiti Reservoir on the Rio Grande, just west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. See more photos here.

©2012 Gregory N.Brown

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

How the “Flying Carpet” got its name

Reader Sergio Schaar wrote to ask, “What inspired you to call [your airplane] the Flying Carpet?”

Years have passed since I last explained it, so I thought it appropriate to share my very first Flying Carpet column that tells the story behind the name.

“Magic! The whining of the gyros gave way to mystical drums and rhythmic chanting, crazily mixing images of flight with those of ancient and sacred ceremonies. Chills traveled up and down our spines-we could scarcely have been more astonished if we had arrived by flying carpet.

“Adventurer Richard Halliburton would have appreciated our situation. After hitching ’round the world by freighter and camel in the 1920s, he became obsessed with visiting remote Timbuktu, a legendary mid-Sahara caravan stop. The way to get there, he decided, was by The Flying Carpet, a black-and-crimson Stearman that he bought and shipped to England in 1931.

“With pilot Moye Stephens guiding the Stearman, Halliburton traveled the ancient world to exotic places such as Baghdad, the Dead Sea, headhunter country in Borneo, and, yes, Timbuktu. During the course of his journey he enthralled princes and paupers alike as he took them on their first airplane rides.

“It’s tempting to look back at those times and think we missed the real adventure of flying. Well, we didn’t. Flying was out of reach for all but the wealthiest people in Halliburton’s day, so most people could enjoy flying only vicariously through his writing.

“Today we live exploits that Halliburton’s readers could only dream of — piloting our own flying machines on our own adventures.

“On this particular day, our flying carpet had taken us to a mystical and exotic place in the New World — Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation, where Jean and I had invited friends to spend the day exploring the annual Navajo Nation Fair…”

Continue reading my first Flying Carpet column, “Ninety Minutes to Another World,” here. (This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Read my book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane for more on how Halliburton’s flying adventures inspired the naming of my column and steed.

Top photo: LeRoy Peterson’s black and crimson Stearman biplane, similar in appearance to Richard Halliburton’s Flying Carpet. Lower photo: Miss Navajo Nation at the Navajo Nation Fair, Arizona, as detailed in the column.

Richard Halliburton was a renowned travel writer in the 1920s-30s. Among his most popular works are Richard Halliburton’s Book(s) of Marvels, and The Royal Road to Romance. His lesser-known 1932 book, The Flying Carpet, tells the story of his adventures flying North Africa, Europe, and Asia in a 1929 Stearman biplane.

For more about Richard Halliburton and his “original” Flying Carpet, see “Richard Halliburton and Moye Stephens: Traveling Around the World in the ‘Flying Carpet’” and “Moye Stephens: Aviation Pioneer and Adventurer” at Aviation History magazine.

©2012 Gregory N. Brown

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

“Ski Telluride!” Greg’s April column

Mountain flying adventure

Finally, we were on our way! With skis, boots, and homemade chili shoehorned behind us, we soared over the ancient Hopi Mesas, isolated Navajo Nation ranches with their eight-sided hogans, Black Mesa’s snow-frosted forests, and the red barrens of Southeastern Utah. Just days earlier Steve and Molly Palley had invited us for a ski weekend at their Telluride condo. Their car would be full for the six-hour drive from Flagstaff, but if we cared to fly…

Telluride! The name quickens the hearts of skiers and pilots alike. Renowned for superb skiing and funky festivals, Telluride also hosts the nation’s highest commercial airport, perched at 9,070 feet in a dead-end canyon ringed by rugged “fourteeners.”

A diehard skier, Jean jumped at the Palleys’ invitation. But I dared agree only conditionally – homework and perfect weather would be required to tackle this notoriously challenging airport.

Pilots must be well-versed in mountain-flying techniques before attempting such destinations: lean the fuel mixture before takeoff; accelerate to climb speed in ground effect; “fly the numbers,” as there’s little horizon reference, cross ridges at an angle, and especially, assess wind flow over terrain to predict and avoid dangerous downdrafts and turbulence.

Continue reading Greg’s April Flying Carpet column, “Ski Telluride!” here. (This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine, 4/12 issue.)

Top photo: Telluride’s ski slopes overlook the airport (visible at upper left). Lower photo: Final approach to Runway 9, Telluride Airport, Colorado. See more photos here.

©2012 Gregory N.Brown

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

Greg’s featured past column: “Cowboy Pilot”

“So, do I have to fly out of Flagstaff to hang with the ‘airport slugs?’ Or, are us’ns outta Williams Airport not fit for polite company?”

It was the first “official” pilot query from Bruce Bloomquist, who just earned his private pilot certificate and took delivery of a shiny new-to-him airplane in the same week. [Congratulations, Bruce!]

“You need not fly out of Flag to join the slugs, Bruce,” I replied. “My cowboy buddy Baldy, for example, flies out of Seligman. The only requirement is to be hungry on Sunday mornings.”

“Ha! I’ve already heard a story or two about the, um, infamous Baldy!” said Bruce. “I’m really looking forward to meeting him − and all the other flying locals.”

“Baldy is a total character, Bruce − and one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet!” I offered to share my columns about Baldy. Then I realized that YOU might enjoy knowing Baldy too, so here is the true tale of a real cowboy pilot!

Read “Cowboy Pilot” here. One of my favorite columns, about one of my favorite people, it first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine back in May, 2005. If you like it, comment below and I’ll post an additional column about him.

Photo: Baldy Ivy and his ’41 “T-craft.” See additional photos here. Visit Baldy’s web site, PilotShareTheRide.com.

©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!

“Lessons and Landmarks,” Greg’s August column & photos

Cross-country odyssey during the Air Traffic Controllers strike

“Four-four-Mike, I’ve been calling you for two minutes!” I was climbing with Jean and two buddies out of Salt Lake City International Airport, in a Cessna 210. Frantically, I apologized for missing the controller’s calls.

“There are mountains out there!” he chided, “What if you missed a vector?”

There was little danger, as we were in good visual conditions. But missing radio calls on an instrument flight plan is inexcusable. Why such a blunder? While another pilot flew, I was attempting to monitor two frequencies while filing a flight plan four hours in advance of our final leg home to Lafayette, Indiana.

The reason? Three months earlier, in August, 1981, President Reagan had fired 12,000 air traffic controllers in the ugly wake of a strike…

CONTINUE READING Greg’s August Flying Carpet column, “LESSONS AND LANDMARKS,” here. (Please allow time for the article to load.)

Photo: Santa Catalina Island’s “Airport in the Sky,” California (Chris Dejongh photo). See more photos here. Thanks to all the pilots who provided “Airport in the Sky” photos this month, including Chris Dejongh, Barry Knutilla, and Bill Rote −and extra kudos to Diane Myers, Gabe Wisdom, and Jeff White, who flew dedicated photo missions to help me out!

©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!