“Painted into a Corner,” Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast, Flight #8

Ride along with renowned aviator, writer, and photographer Greg Brown in his light airplane, the Flying Carpet, as he searches behind clouds for the real America, experiencing countless aerial adventures along the way.


Listen to “Painted into a Corner” Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast Flight #8

Grab your logbook ‘cause it’s time for Flying Carpet Podcast Flight #8, “Painted into a Corner,” about a scary flight facing down thunderstorms in dark of night.

Podcast music by Hannis Brown.

Greg

PS: Find all Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast episodes here.


Subscribe here to be notified of Greg’s latest posts and podcasts!


Listen and subscribe via your favorite podcast directory:


About Greg

A former National Flight Instructor of the Year, Greg is author of five books, a former Barnes & Noble Arizona Author of the Month, and recently completed twenty years as aviation adventure columnist for AOPA’s Flight Training magazine. Some reviewers have compared his book, “Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane,” to sixties road-trip classics like “On the Road,” and “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

“Greg thinks with the mind of a pilot, questions with the curiosity of a philosopher, and sees with the eyes of a poet.”Rod Machado, aviation author and humorist

“You don’t have to be a pilot, or even a frequent flyer, to soar with Greg Brown in [his] Flying Carpet.” — Nina Bell Allen, former Assistant Managing Editor, Readers Digest

So buckle in and join Greg for the ride!


Please support Greg’s Flying Carpet  Podcast, Blog, & Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group!

Make a one-time donation, or better yet, subscribe your ongoing support. Thank you! Greg

Become a Patron!


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


Check out Greg’s Aviation Books, Fine Art Aerial Photo Prints, and Pilot Achievement Plaques!


Greg’s Aviation Books

Greg’s “Views from the Flying Carpet” Aerial Fine Art Prints

Greg’s Pilot Achievement Plaques

Follow Greg on Social Media!


Selling Your Family on Flying

Your beaming family has just arrived at the airport for their first airplane ride with you as captain. The smiles on their faces, fueled by excitement and anticipation, will be surpassed only by their delight after you have introduced them to the wonders of flight.

Every soon-to-be pilot has dreams like these, but that’s not always the way it goes. Here you are, wrapping up your private pilot training, psyched about the upcoming adventure of flying with friends and family. But as you get closer to realizing your dream, you discover that your family isn’t quite as enthusiastic as you might have hoped. Everyone is proud of your accomplishment. They just aren’t yet comfortable with the idea of joining you for a flight.

Chances are your loved ones haven’t flown much, if ever, in light airplanes. Since you, the family’s proud new pilot, once dinged the family car, or can’t fix a broken sink, or sometimes forget to turn off the porch light before going to bed, family members sometimes worry that their new aviator might not yet have what it takes to be a skilled, safe pilot. Besides, they’ve heard about your travails during training, your struggles mastering crosswind landings, and how you felt momentarily lost on your first cross-country. After all, you did earn your certificate only last week.

How Do We Encourage People We Care About To Fly With Us?

First we must be sensitive to the subliminal effects of stories and apprehensions we share with our families during training. Family members may not pay much attention to these comments at first, but as your checkride approaches, they begin subconsciously to note whether you seem confident or not. So be careful not to tell too many “There I was,” stories. Instead of being impressed by your bravery, your future passengers may become alarmed at how dangerous it all sounds.

One private pilot I know is married to a woman who is petrified of flying, but in a noble effort to share his enthusiasm, she flies with him anyway. That’s a wonder, because this guy makes even the most docile flight sound like a life-or-death struggle with the elements and the airplane. Every flying story is peppered liberally with phrases like, “I barely maintained control,” and, “The controls were virtually ripped from my hand by the crosswind.”

Obviously this fellow wants to impress his audience with his masterful flying skills, but the effect has been to drive his family away from his favorite hobby and to scare friends out of ever joining him in an airplane.

Of course part of the fun of piloting is sharing adventures and challenges along the way, but be careful how you embellish those tales. Be sure to include the happy outcomes, new skills, and increased confidence that resulted from those experiences. Don’t tell war stories in front of nonpilot friends and family!

An Enjoyable First Flight Is Crucial

It’s easy to see why a smooth first flight is so important; it gives passengers the confidence they need to believe in you. You may get only one or two opportunities to introduce loved ones to flight, so it’s critical not to blow it. Depending on how those first flights go, your passengers may fly regularly with you in the future, or never step aboard again.

So do all you can to deliver each first-time passenger a wonderful experience. Fly early or late in the day, avoid wind and turbulence, and handle the controls with supreme smoothness.

Although you’ve just invested many hours mastering flight maneuvers, those are not the skills to demonstrate on the family’s first flight. A surprising number of new pilots try to impress passengers with their newly acquired flying skills by performing stalls and steep turns. This can be a disastrous error, because once family members become frightened of flying, there’s a significant chance that they won’t try it again. Piloting airplanes is like riding motorcycles⸺”driving” is a blast, but riding as a passenger can be scary because you have no control. Scare your passengers on their first ride, and your career as family pilot may be over, permanently.

Also, first flights with newbie passengers should be brief⸺twenty minutes to an hour, depending on how they respond. Show them some local landmarks, fly over the house, and maybe land somewhere for lunch. (Avoid tight circling over those landmarks!) Best to deliver a short and “dull” ride leaving them begging to go again, than to overdo the experience.

Appropriate skills to demonstrate on first flights are smoothness, great takeoffs and landings, and perhaps cross-country navigation. In short, your mission is to fly like a professional pilot.

What Makes Us Pros In The Eyes Of Our Passengers?

Certainly good judgment and precision flying skills head the list, but consideration for your passengers is also important. When you talk to your passengers about safety and comfort, they are likely to straighten in their seats, arrange their collars, and assume a serious expression. Now you sound like a professional pilot, and your passengers will notice the similarities.

One mark of a professional pilot to which everyone can relate is the preflight briefing. After all, that’s what happens on every airline flight, right? So along with regulatory obligations to brief your passengers, here’s an opportunity to help put your passengers at ease. Before starting the engine, spend a few moments explaining what’s going to happen from start-up through taxi and takeoff. For example, every passenger who’s seen a disaster movie knows the meaning of a flashing light or a beeping horn, right? Emergency!

Be assured that if you don’t explain it ahead of time, the eyes of your passengers will be glued in terror to that little blinking transponder reply light throughout the flight, until, that is, the stall warning grabs their attention upon landing. Point out before starting the engine that passengers may notice flashing lights during the flight and perhaps hear a horn, and that all of it is normal.

Explain how you’ll be steering with your feet en route to the runway, that pretakeoff safety checks will include running up the engine, and how after takeoff you’ll be banking and reducing power. It also helps to use a signal, like raising your right hand, when you’re busy or receiving radio calls to notify passengers that you require silence. Once aloft, fly with smoothness and alert passengers about what to expect under various flight situations.

Turbulence is particularly frightening for passengers. Never, ever schedule a first airplane ride when bumps are likely or the weather looks threatening for any reason. If you do anticipate a few bumps once in the air, use your training to point it out ahead of time.

“See those hills, Barb? Since there’s a breeze blowing over them from the west, we may experience a few bumps until we get to the other side.” Barb now knows what to expect, so mild turbulence will bother her less. And if it remains smooth, she’ll be suitably impressed by her knowledgeable pilot all the same.

When weather or other circumstances do cause you to cancel a flight, or if you must land somewhere other than your intended destination, don’t stress about it. Be conservative and proud of it. Your family will greatly respect you for no-go decisions, and will feel more confident about flying with you in the future.

What Flying Missions Will Engage Our Passengers?

As previously mentioned, it’s best to keep newbie flights smooth and relatively short until you’re certain your passengers have reached a healthy comfort level. But once achieving that comfort, you may face different challenges enticing them aloft.

Pilots often think that since they love flying, their friends and families will too. If only life were that simple. The fact is that few passengers have fun just “flying around,” especially early on.

That’s why it’s usually best to offer flying as an avenue for doing other things family members enjoy, rather than trying to get them to love flight itself. Instead of cruising around aimlessly for an hour, plan a destination where the advantages of going by air are obvious. Fly your husband somewhere in an hour that would require hours to drive, say to lunch with his buds across the state. Whisk him to the beach or off to a fishing adventure. But whatever you do, make his special interest possible through your piloting.

What makes a given flying trip really fun is having a destination. Family members might hem and haw a bit about flying around locally just for fun. But when it comes to a real mission, like flying to the mountains to pick up the kids from summer camp, now that’s exciting, and everyone wants to go.

I was already a pilot when I met my future wife. Jean put up with a certain amount of flying because it came with the territory, but she was not particularly interested in flying regularly. The breakthrough came when I suggested a trip to visit her folks.

An easy hour-and-a-half flight to her hometown saved four and a half hours of driving, including negotiating metropolitan Chicago. More importantly, my wife quickly realized that I’d gladly tolerate an otherwise difficult weekend with the in-laws if I got to fly there. It proved to be one of our better understandings, and Jean learned to use it most effectively.

“Want to go to Mom and Pop’s next weekend?”

“Well, er, I was planning on, er, cleaning out the garage.”

“Listen, Greg, we could fly up on Saturday morning, see my folks for dinner, and then fly back after brunch on Sunday.”

You can guess who won that discussion every time.

As friends and loved ones become more comfortable with aviation, their appetite for adventure will increase. Introduce them gently, and in most cases they’ll gear up for bigger trips as you progress as a pilot.

Still, keep your early flights with friends and family from being overly ambitious. One fellow I know wanted to make his first trip with passengers something they’d remember, and he undoubtedly succeeded. Having learned to fly in the Phoenix area, Joe decided to fly three close friends in a Piper Cherokee to a small airport in southern Utah for a family reunion. This is an ideal use for a light airplane, but it meant a trip of several hundred miles over mountainous terrain in the heat of summer.

Joe’s preflight homework was thorough, including careful fuel and density altitude calculations, plus selection of alternate airports along the route. On the morning of departure Joe made his first mistake. Not wanting to inconvenience his first-time passengers with a pre-dawn departure, he hosted them to a leisurely breakfast before taking off mid-morning. In the heat of a Southwest summer day, afternoon turbulence ranges from continuous moderate to occasional severe, so smart pilots plan flights only early in the day.

Just over the Utah border, Joe became uncertain of his position and deviated off course looking for landmarks, which of course is usually a mistake. The harder he looked, the more lost he became, until he finally decided to deviate to an alternate airport selected along the way. By then the air had become turbulent and his passengers? faces were buried in air sickness bags.

The plane was by now overdue for Joe’s flight-plan estimated time of arrival, so upon landing he and his passengers learned that flight service was looking for the airplane over a two-state area. After calling off the search, refueling, and regrouping, Joe and his passengers proceeded uneventfully to their destination.

Joe’s passengers might never have flown with him again, except that they had no choice, there was absolutely no other way to return home from the remote area. Fortunately, this departure was made early in the morning, and the return flight was as smooth as glass.

Although he made a few mistakes, this pilot actually did an excellent job of completing a challenging first flight as pilot-in-command with passengers. The flight’s safety was never compromised, and Joe’s thorough preflight planning made getting lost no more than a nuisance.

When you think about it, Joe’s was a terrific flying mission to plan with friends, it’s just that a few shorter flights first would have prepared them for the more ambitious trip to follow.

Selling White-Knuckle Passengers

Some people just take longer than others to get accustomed to the idea of flying, and a few will not participate at all. How might we sell white-knuckle passengers?

For nervous types it often helps to invite along an experienced pilot and passenger for the first few flights, even though you could easily handle it alone. A nagging fear for many passengers is that their pilot, however competent, might somehow become incapacitated in flight, leaving them helpless. An additional pilot obviously addresses this concern, while a seasoned passenger soothes nerves as well. Once passengers are comfortable with your piloting performance, most will warm to the idea of flying with you as sole pilot in the future.

Another useful tool for encouraging nervous passengers is “flying companion,” or “pinch-hitter courses that introduce non-pilots to the airplane environment. Graduates gain increased cockpit understanding, can assist with cockpit tasks, and, most importantly, learn what to do if their pilot becomes incapacitated.

Many organizations such as the AOPA Air Safety Institute, and the Ninety-Nines women-pilots organization offer flying companions courses, or you can individually arrange one with a trusted instructor. Some such courses offer only classroom training, while incorporate flight simulators or actual instruction in an airplane. I’m a particular fan of those incorporating flight simulators because fearful flyers get to experience flight controls and instrument readings without the added stress of being aloft.

While not every pilot’s companion wants to tackle such a project, I once gave pinch-hitter training to a 14-year-old who routinely flew right seat with her father. (Her mother, the pilot’s wife, wanted a cockpit backup but would herself ride only in the back seat.) After several hours of instruction I taught the young woman to land their favored Cessna 210, per Dad’s request. The landings weren’t pretty but she could predictably get the plane down safely, and the family was more comfortable knowing they had a backup. In any case, the more your regular passengers know about flying, the more comfortable they’ll be in your cockpit.

Group flying trips can also increase family enthusiasm about flying. Many flying clubs and flight schools organize multiple-airplane “fly-outs” to destinations from dinners to ski weekends. These are great for involving the family in aviation adventures as they include vacation destinations, other friends and spouses for moral support, and experienced pilots. There’s hardly a better way to spread enthusiasm about flying.

When friends and family are slow to gain confidence in our flying, it’s disappointing for us as pilots, but don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a while, but as hesitant passengers gain confidence in your growing experience, many do ultimately climb aboard.

One of the great joys of being a pilot is sharing the adventure of flight with others. Our challenge is to make sure the experience delivers delight, not dread. Once family and friends decide that flying is fun, they’ll ride with us through almost any adventure and, in most cases, keep smiling in the process.

Pilot your airplane like a pro, make flying a great experience, and chances are your favorite passengers will become your biggest fans.

“Hey, wow, Hon! I wasn’t so sure about this at first, but this is really fun!”



Please support Greg’s Flying Carpet  Podcast, Blog, & Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group!

Make a one-time donation, or better yet, subscribe your ongoing support. Thank you! Greg

Become a Patron!


“Ode to Night Currency,” Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast, Flight #5

Ride along with renowned aviator, writer, and photographer Greg Brown in his light airplane, the “Flying Carpet,” as he searches behind clouds for the real America, experiencing countless aerial adventures along the way.


Listen to “Ode to Night Currency,” Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast Flight #5

Even after decades of piloting, night landings remain tough, beautiful, a little scary, and immensely rewarding.

Just 30 minutes aloft displace all the preflight fears and apprehensions with just a single thought: CAN YOU BELIEVE WE GET TO DO THIS?!

Greg

Podcast music by Hannis Brown.

Greg

Inbound to Flagstaff at dusk for landing, in the Flying Carpet.

Subscribe here to be notified of Greg’s latest posts and podcasts!


Listen and subscribe via your favorite podcast sources:


About Greg

A former National Flight Instructor of the Year, Greg is author of five books, a former Barnes & Noble Arizona Author of the Month, and recently completed twenty years as aviation adventure columnist for AOPA’s Flight Training magazine. Some reviewers have compared his book, “Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane,” to sixties road-trip classics like “On the Road,” and “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

“Greg thinks with the mind of a pilot, questions with the curiosity of a philosopher, and sees with the eyes of a poet.”Rod Machado, aviation author and humorist

“You don’t have to be a pilot, or even a frequent flyer, to soar with Greg Brown in [his] Flying Carpet.” — Nina Bell Allen, former Assistant Managing Editor, Readers Digest

So buckle in and join Greg for the ride!


Please support Greg’s Flying Carpet  Podcast, Blog, & Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group!

Make a one-time donation, or better yet, subscribe your ongoing support. Thank you! Greg

Become a Patron!


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


Check out Greg’s Aviation Books, Fine Art Aerial Photo Prints, and Pilot Achievement Plaques!


Greg’s Aviation Books

Greg’s “Views from the Flying Carpet” Aerial Fine Art Prints

Greg’s Pilot Achievement Plaques

Follow Greg on Social Media!


“The Day GPS Went Out,” Greg’s January/February, 2020 Flying Carpet column

“Warning! GPS Navigation Lost!” proclaimed my GPS receiver.

Jean and I were bouncing through clouds on instruments at 12,000 feet, over trackless mountains along the remote Arizona-New Mexico border.

Seconds after that initial warning, my primary flight display announced, “GPS reversion mode: for Emergency Use Only!” (but displayed no position.) My multifunction display restarted itself with a “Maintenance Required!” alert. Next came an “ADS-B (out) inoperative!” warning, meaning our transponder had stopped transmitting our GPS coordinates to air traffic control (ATC).

I was flying Jean from Flagstaff to El Paso for tennis sectionals. Normally we make the 2½-hour journey straight-line VFR. Today, however, layered clouds shrouded the mountainous central portion of the route, so I’d filed under instrument flight rules (IFR). This route spans a huge swath of military airspace that when active cannot be crossed IFR, so I’d filed a circuitous route over Socorro, New Mexico.

My first hint of trouble was when our controller asked, “Are you ADS-B equipped?”

That seemed odd, as he had long been tracking us. He then cleared me to an intersection to bypass nearby White Sands Missile Range restricted airspace, but the GPS died as I entered the fix into my navigator. After I reported the failure, the controller assigned radar vectors around the restricted areas.

Now other pilots began reporting lost GPS, and I noted that the position symbol on my tablet computer had stopped moving…

**Continue reading Greg’s entire column, THE DAY GPS WENT OUT” **. (Mobile-device link.)


Photo: Primary Flight Display in GPS-failure Emergency Reversion Mode. 


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


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

New! The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual Fourth Edition!

I’m excited to announce my new The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual Fourth Edition, coauthored with major airline pilot Mark Holt, hot off the press and now available in print and e-editions!

This new Fourth Edition features many new illustrations and updates, many in full color, and now covers all required ATP-CTP material.

Along with numerous systems and terminology enhancements we’ve updated and expanded coverage of multi-pilot-crew coordination, one of the toughest challenges faced by new turbine pilots, and added an all-new crew briefings section.

Read all the details here!

Those who’ve been awaiting this new edition will want to order this week before ASA closes for the holidays this coming Saturday, December 21st, through January 5th.

Greg

“Mountain Airport,” Greg’s December, 2019 Flying Carpet column

Some airports set a pilot’s heart racing.

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…

**Continue reading Greg’s entire column, MOUNTAIN AIRPORT” **.


Read my detailed planning process for flying into this challenging airport.


Photo: Final approach to Runway 9, Telluride Regional Airport, Colorado. 


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


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

Telluride: Tips for flying into mountain airports

We recently landed at Telluride Airport, Colorado (KTEX), elevation 9,100 feet. The above photo was taken at 11,000 feet inbound to land. (Note how low we are over the ridge at right, at that altitude.) The town of Telluride is barely visible deep in the valley beyond the airport. Airport density altitude was almost 12,000 feet when we landed.

Several pilot friends expressed interest in my planning process flying into such an airport, so I thought I’d share the details in a post. 

First, check out the map. Telluride Airport is surrounded on three sides by 13-14000’ mountains. However it is relatively open to the west. By navigating to the Cones VOR and then turning east, it is accessible under the right conditions.

Density Altitude and Aircraft Performance

When I say accessible, my underlying concern flying a non-turbocharged airplane was not so much whether I could safely approach and land, but whether I could safely depart the 9085-foot-elevation airport in summertime temperatures. So the crux is “density altitude” (D.A.) and that’s where I’ll start.

Even before checking anything else, I knew I’d be lucky to get 65-70% of sea-level power at full throttle, and 200-300 fpm climb after takeoff from such a high elevation. So my first questions were “In the worst case could I take off in some direction without the need to climb? Better yet, could I safely descend after takeoff if I found myself unable to climb?” If I needed to climb to clear significant terrain after takeoff, I wasn’t going there.

So that crazy dropoff from the Telluride Airport westbound into the San Miguel River Valley is actually a big plus. If I could just get off the ground before the end of the runway, I’d be okay proceeding westbound even with little or no climb. I dared not take off to the east due to high terrain and little room to turn around. But visiting here was within the realm of possibility as long as I departed to the west.

Next I checked forecast temperatures for our visit. Telluride expected highs in the mid-70s and lows in the upper 40s. Those sound nice and cool until you consult density altitude charts. At 73F the density altitude would be 11,500 feet. If I departed early morning when the temperature was around 50F, D.A. would still be 10,200 feet. Wow!

Then I consulted the performance charts in my airplane’s pilot operating handbook (POH)—how much takeoff roll would I need, and did I need to clear any obstacles? I’m no test pilot and my engine is old so I all but doubled the chart values in my calcs. Even with a 1500-foot takeoff roll and some 3,000 feet to clear obstacles, the 7,000-foot runway should provide adequate takeoff margins.

Next I consulted my POH climb-performance charts. At these density altitudes my calculated climb rate was a thought-provoking 12-14 miles to clear a 1000 foot ridge in our normally peppy Skylane. (Before our first visit here several years ago, I actually climbed the airplane to 11,000 feet to confirm my climb rate under appropriate temps.) Clearly I didn’t dare climb eastward toward the mountains after takeoff, but the good news was that departing west I needn’t climb at all to clear terrain, and could in fact safely descend into the San Miguel River Canyon if necessary.

Two things I can do to shorten my takeoff roll and optimize my climb rate are:

  1. Take off when it’s coolest early in the morning, and
  2. Load the airplane as light as possible. For the latter we took minimal luggage and removed unnecessary supplies from the airplane. I also planned fuel for the 2-hour flight before taking off from Flagstaff. Although our Skylane holds 88 gallons, 45-50 would give me adequate reserve. So we took off from Flag with 75 gallons, with the target of having 45-50 departing Telluride. That put us ~475 pounds under max gross weight, not a precisely calculated target but simply based on “the lighter, the better.” If we’d had heavier people or bags I’d have departed Telluride with even less fuel and landed at nearby Cortez (which is much lower) to fuel for the flight home.

Weather factors

Now come weather factors. It goes without saying that I want excellent visual flight conditions before flying up a dead-end canyon. (Initial altitude for an instrument approach here is 13,000 feet, and for an airplane like ours you’d need to miss the approach some 6 miles from the runway where there’s still room to turn around. And yes, consulting approach plates is accordingly part of my planning.)

The remaining factors boil down to wind. I did not want to take off eastward over town into the dead-end canyon, nor battle downdrafts given such limited aircraft performance. Wind flows over mountains like water over rocks in a brook, so I dared not accept significant winds from north, east, or south due to potentially severe turbulence and downdrafts tumbling over the high surrounding mountains. Anything stronger than light westerly winds would also generate turbulence and force me to land downwind. There’s hardly room to circle-to-land nor on climbout, so I decided I wouldn’t accept any wind beyond a few knots from the west.

Traffic

This is a relatively busy non-towered airport in a narrow canyon with effectively a one-way runway (land east, depart west). Many visitors arrive in jets. If there’s much traffic when we arrive or depart it’s best to to avoid conflicts by lingering outside the canyon or on the ground until things quiet down.

Consult with Local Pilots

Based on this assessment the flight sounded quite doable. I always phone ahead to unfamiliar mountain airports for guidance from a local pilot. So to reinforce my conclusions I phoned Telluride Airport to ask whether many light aircraft come in at this time of year and they said yes. But those answering were not pilots so I phoned area flight schools hoping a local pilot with Telluride experience could give me a summertime operations report. Finally I reached someone at Cortez Airport who said they do see quite a few light aircraft coming or going from Telluride. In a telling example he told of a Comanche pilot who came in the day before and checked extra luggage with him for the weekend to lighten the airplane before flying in and out of Telluride. (That pilot sounds like a wise one!)

Noise Abatement Procedures

Even then I was a little nervous, but logic and homework said we’d be safe. My final planning step was investigating and refamiliarizing myself with Telluride Airport’s noise-abatement procedures. (Check for these on any given airport’s web page, as they’re not always available through normal flight-planning channels.) By following noise abatement procedures we help keep our favorite airports open.

It’s all about Airspeed

Okay, now let’s talk about the actual flying, much of which boils down to speed. As you know, we fly all our pattern work and approaches at “indicated airspeed” read off the airspeed indicator. That remains true whether you’re operating at sea-level Nantucket or Telluride.

ALWAYS FLY THE SAME INDICATED AIRSPEEDS FOR AIRPORT OPERATIONS REGARDLESS OF ELEVATION. If you approach sea-level Nantucket at 60 knots indicated, you should also approach Telluride at 60 knots indicated.

That being said, it’s true airspeed, not indicated airspeed that in no-wind situations defines our speed over the ground. This of course is why when cruising at altitude your airspeed indicator might show 100 knots when your true airspeed and hence groundspeed might be say 130. True airspeed increases by about 2% per thousand feet, so at Telluride you’re truing about 20% faster than at sea level. Why does that matter?

  1. The plane feels like it’s going much faster than you’re used to on final approach at sea level, so pilots sometimes make the dangerous mistake of slowing below normal approach speed because “this doesn’t feel right.” Obviously you’re going to touch down faster, too.
  2. You may have wondered why landing distances increase with altitude like takeoff distances do. The reason is because you’re going faster over the ground at the same indicated airspeed so consult your performance charts for adequate runway length.
  3. Since you’re flying faster, the airplane’s turning radius increases, just as it does when driving faster in a car. You may be familiar with accidents where airplanes flew up a blind canyon and lacked room to turn around. Larger turning radius at the same indicated airspeed is one reason why. This is one reason why pilots generally avoid circling to land or taking off east at Telluride–you need more room to turn around. If you must reverse course in a tight canyon, maneuver the plane to one side, slow down, and drop a notch of flaps to reduce turning radius.

High Density-Altitude Takeoff Procedures

Finally, a few general tips regarding high density-altitude takeoffs.

  1. As mentioned, clearing obstacles or terrain after takeoff is a major consideration as to whether you can safely depart a given high-elevation airport. Along with studying the charts beforehand, when arriving at a new-to-me high-elevation airport, I scout the terrain from the traffic pattern BEFORE LANDING and note what direction I could fly after takeoff toward the lowest terrain with minimum climb. I then record that info and clip it to the yoke. Departing Telluride the only way to go is west down the San Miguel River Canyon. Here at Flagstaff, the terrain descends toward the south over I-17, but departing in any other direction requires climbing. If takeoff performance stinks, I want to know before takeoff which way to steer.
  2. Lean the engine at full power during pre-takeoff run-up to ensure maximum takeoff power. This is done the same way as you would in cruise, with a nudge toward the rich side of peak rpm or EGT.
  3. Following rotation, accelerate in ground effect to best rate of climb speed before beginning your actual climb. Since engine power and propellor efficiency are diminished at high density altitude you will not experience the sort of acceleration, clean rotation, and climb performance you’re used to. This procedure prevents you from pitching up too much/too early into climb and potentially stalling the airplane upon leaving ground effect.
  4. Among the biggest threats of high D.A. takeoffs and landings is perceptual. Prepare yourself mentally to fly by the numbers, regardless of what you see out the windshield. You’re gonna feel too fast approaching to land, and be startled at the long runway roll and poor climb rate on takeoff. (Expect to clear obstacles by dozens of feet, not hundreds as you might be used to.)

We Made It!

Jean and I launched for Telluride Friday morning, and with tailwinds flew a smooth and uneventful 1:45 flight. We spotted the airport shortly after entering the canyon, and with no other traffic, landed uneventfully.

Following a fun weekend of hiking and dining we roused our hosts too-early Sunday morning to take us to the airport, and although our takeoff run was long we cleared the runway in plenty of time. Density altitude at 8am, with outside air temp ~50F, was 10,200 feet. Our climb rate ranged from 3-500 rpm, not impressive but better than I’d expected. That marginal performance actually turned out to be a plus because as we rolled down Runway 27 a jet reported inbound on the Runway 9 instrument approach but we passed way below him still climbing out of the canyon. (Another good reason to have previewed instrument-approach paths and altitudes, so we knew we wouldn’t conflict.)

You’re probably thinking “that’s a crazy amount of work and planning just to land somewhere.” That may be true, but our lives could depend on it. And once you’ve experienced a given airport a time or two the process is much simplified. Now that I have twice personally experienced Telluride’s setting and terrain, and know that the Flying Carpet will take off comfortably from there at a given weight and density altitude, I’ll need to do little more next time than check weather parameters–and be prepared to cancel or stay over if those parameters depart my safety range.

Sunset over Mountain Village, Telluride, Colorado, from the Mountain Village Gondola.

Notes

This is not intended to provide comprehensive guidance as there are many more mountain flying principles not described here. But hopefully you’ll find this example useful for basic understanding.

PS: Those flying turbocharged aircraft will experience all the above effects but with better takeoff and climb performance. (You’ll still use more runway on take off and landing.)

©2019 Gregory N. Brown

“High Country Breakfast,” Greg’s September, 2019 Flying Carpet column

“Care to meet up at Sedona, Greg, for Sunday breakfast?”

It was Mike Harrison, a recently certificated 130-hour private pilot flying out of Phoenix’s Falcon Field (KFFZ). This would be Mike’s first warm-weather flight to Arizona’s high country and his wife Tammie’s first cross-country.

Sedona’s 5000-foot elevation diminishes aircraft performance due to “high density-altitude,” meaning air thinned by the combined effects of altitude and elevated temperature.

We partially counter it by flying lightened airplanes at cool times of day. To prepare, Mike had flown there with a more experienced pilot, but on a cooler day, so we reviewed procedures. His preparation was impressive.

Tammie & Mike Harrison at Sedona Airport, Arizona (KSEZ)

Mike had planned his flight with just enough fuel for safe reserve, putting his Piper Warrior a healthy 200 pounds under gross weight departing Sedona Airport (KSEZ).

He intended to land at 7am, and depart by 9am in 70ºF temperatures. He would lean the mixture before takeoff, and accelerate in ground effect to climb speed before ascending. Landing uphill on Sedona’s sloped runway and launching downhill would shorten his landing and takeoff rolls.

Meanwhile, Jean and I debated whether to fly 20 miles from Flagstaff to Sedona. Driving there via mountain roads would take 45 minutes, so we launched grinning into crisp morning air.

“It’s time for a longer flying trip,” she said, as we plummeted moments later between crimson spires to Sedona’s traffic pattern. While 3,500 feet higher than Falcon Field, Sedona is 2,000 feet lower than Flagstaff…

**Read Greg’s entire column, HIGH COUNTRY BREAKFAST” **. (Mobile-device version here.)

Top Photo: Downwind to Runway 3, Sedona Airport, Arizona (KSEZ)

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


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

Hear Greg’s talk, about piloting the Flying Carpet on an unforgettable “Long Journey North”

If you ask my wife and me to name our most memorable journey in our decades of flying, we’ll both respond with our “long journey north” from Phoenix to the Canadian border for a relative’s funeral.

I wrote a column about this trip years ago, recently revisited as I work on an upcoming book project. But the bigger rediscovery was a recorded talk I gave at the 2004 AOPA Expo detailing the memorable journey when it was still fresh.

The trip was spontaneous, hardly planned, and involved crossing much of the country in a Cessna 182 through difficult weather. But we all know how it is with family events, right? There was no choice but to go.

Along the way we experienced numerous aviation adventures, our wackiest “airport car” ever, and some of the craziness found in every family.

Pilot listeners will also appreciate the details I reveal along the way, about how we make piloting decisions to get us to faraway destinations by light airplane, safely.

The talk is 50 minutes long, and I believe you’ll be compelled to sit through and enjoy it. So grab a seat, a cold drink, and have a listen!

Greg Brown, “Long Journey North”
(Please excuse the occasional brief mic interruptions.)

See more Long Journey North photos HERE.

Greg

©2004, 2019 Gregory N. Brown

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

“Runaway Autopilot,” Greg’s June, 2019 Flying Carpet column

Years ago when I instructed part-time in Indiana, my instrument student Pete presented a surprise opportunity to fly for his company.

“We’ll start with rental airplanes while you help pick out a suitable twin,” he offered during a lesson. Having only 140 hours of multiengine experience at the time, I questioned why he chose me.

“As an instructor you are thorough, cautious, and safe,” said Pete. “You’ll need a type-specific checkout and we’ll initially pay a higher insurance premium, but those are good investments in my opinion.” I took the job, and ultimately we purchased a cabin-class Piper Navajo.

My first lesson was how much work it takes running even a single-airplane corporate flight department. I spent more time managing maintenance and logistics than piloting.

For one thing, radios were less reliable back then, meaning frequent visits to the avionics shop.

Then one day the landing gear wouldn’t retract after takeoff. Better that than not extending for landing, but flying the normally speedy twin home from the East Coast at 130 knots maximum-gear-extended speed was memorable for the wrong reasons…

**Read Greg’s entire column, RUNAWAY AUTOPILOT” **

Photos: Piper Navajo “cabin-class” twin.

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

Greg

©2019 Gregory N. Brown

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