Jean and I would fly from Flagstaff to Phoenix, soak up sun at a tony resort, and attend a late-afternoon wedding in nearby Tempe.
Shortly before the wedding, however, Navajo friends invited us to a same-day high school graduation luncheon in Gallup, New Mexico, an hour in the other direction.
For days Jean and I calculated and recalculated how we might attend both events, but the timing was too tight—even an embarrassingly-brief Gallup stop might make us late for the wedding. How disappointing, that two celebrations involving treasured friends should land so far apart on the same day.
“We’d need a time warp to make both events,” lamented Jean as she RSVP’d regrets to Gallup.
Here’s my latest “Down to Earth” terrestrial Fine Art Metal Print,“Mountain Sunflowers,” photographed at Kachina Wetlands south of Flagstaff, Arizona.
This summer has been one of the best in memory for wild sunflowers blooming in the meadows and mountains of Northern Arizona. Just the other day I captured this image of the San Francisco Peaks framed by sunflowers at Kachina Wetlands.
“Sphinx Moth with Thistles,” (right) for their silent auction, and yes, more “Sunflowers!” (left) for their live auction. Coincidentally both of these were shot in previous years at Kachina Wetlands. Best of success to ANCA at their fundraiser!
Unlike most teens of my era, I favored old autos and sports cars over tire-squealing muscle cars. So I bought a ’39 Chevy before heading off to the University of Wisconsin.
After two years of worthy adventures, however, the old car’s 55mph maximum speed became tiresome. Then one day the rear axle bearings seized in a cloud of smoke on Interstate 94, and finding replacements took weeks.
So I sold my beloved Chevy and set my heart on an idiosyncratic Volvo P1800S sports car like that driven by Roger Moore in television’s The Saint.
After much searching I found a fire-engine-red ’67 coupe in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, with four-speed transmission, overdrive, and a claimed 60,000 miles.
My younger brother Alan and his high-school buddy Paul Cowdrey were already private pilots, so I hitchhiked home to Chicago and Paul flew me to Sheboygan in a Grumman Traveler.
This was my first time sharing a cockpit with a peer. I’d aviated since childhood with my dad, but although enjoying our destinations had developed little piloting passion since we kids were mostly relegated to the back seat. And while having recently earned my own pilot wings, I’d barely begun overcoming the training traumas to appreciate future aerial adventure.
But tracing the sparkling Lake Michigan shoreline under Paul’s command on such an exciting mission changed all that…
“Hey Greg! I’ve just experienced my first two engine failures—in one trip!”
Flight instructor Jim Pitman had just ferried a 1946 Ercoupe from Wisconsin to Arizona, and wanted to brainstorm what might have caused the power losses.
“The seller had kept the annual current and run the engine regularly, but hadn’t flown the plane in a few years. Following a thorough preflight inspection and engine runup, I departed Rice Lake Regional Airport (KRPD) for Storm Lake, Iowa (KSLB), where I stayed in a neat lakeside hotel.”
After waiting for fog to lift the next morning, Jim launched toward Phoenix with refueling stops at Smith Center, Kansas (K82), Dalhart, Texas (KDHT), and Belen, New Mexico (E80).
Following a slight diversion for thunderstorms, he crossed the Mazatzal mountain range east of Phoenix in darkness, “which was fine because I am very familiar with the area,” and overnighted at his home field, Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (KDVT). After 15.3 flight hours from Rice Lake, all that remained the next morning was 60 minutes to Salome Arizona. Deer Valley Tower issued Jim an intersection departure from Runway 7R.
“When I lifted off, the engine lost power and the plane settled back on the main gear. As the nose came down, the engine regained power just as I pulled the throttle to abort the takeoff.” Back at the ramp, Jim thoroughly tested the engine. Everything worked fine and having so much time in the airplane, he figured the culprit was a one-time bit of water in the fuel. Still, as a precaution he requested full runway length for his next departure…
And here’s my latest “Down to Earth” terrestrial Fine Art Metal Print, “Sunset Lenticulars,” photographed at Kachina Wetlands south of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Lens-shaped “lenticular clouds” commonly form downwind of mountains—in this case, Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks—during periods of strong winds aloft. See all my latest “Down to Earth” terrestrial Fine Art Metal Prints.
“Shed-hunting”—I first heard the expression when an acquaintance briefed me on a favorite pastime.
Collecting shed elk and deer antlers sends him hiking the great outdoors; it’s good exercise, and can even generate a few bucks from people seeking home and garden decor. Knowing my passion for flight, he asked about scouting his favorite shed-hunting area from the air.
“Of course you’d have to keep the location secret,” he added. Whether gathering blueberries, mushrooms, or antlers, nobody wants to reveal their private motherlode.
My first reaction was, “Sure!” Like most pilots, I thrill to exploring Earth from above. Jean and I often note back roads to drive, and countless of our passengers have scouted sites pertaining to their own favorite diversions—mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and wilderness camping.
Obviously, identifying even the largest antlers from the air would be impossible, so I asked for details. It turned out my friend’s interest was not in spotting antlers per se, nor even animals. Rather he sought the lay of the land: identifying established back roads, hiking-access points, and wildlife trails and water sources where shedding animals might congregate. All these could be assessed with binoculars from a prudent altitude.
This fellow knew as little about aviation as I do about antlers, so he asked the legalities of aerial spotting. Obviously, FAA regulations define minimum flight altitudes in given environments, and we’d need to avoid charted conservation areas.
Upon investigating wildlife conservation rules, however, I learned that my friend’s seemingly benign mission was more complicated than it sounded…
Every pilot experiences a bit of pucker factor when descending through clouds on an instrument approach.Am I really where I think I am, safely separated from the ground?
I was reminded of the stakes when my friend Mark phoned after landing at Colorado Springs with his wife and another couple.
“After clear weather through the mountains, we encountered an inversion east of the Rockies,” he said. “Colorado Springs was reporting 1000 broken, 1500 overcast, so I requested the ILS Runway 17L approach. The vectoring and intercept seemed fine, but we broke out of the clouds just above the trees while still several miles from the runway. It was quite a scare, and I want to determine the cause so it never happens again.”
For you VFR pilots: an instrument landing system (ILS) consists of two intersecting perpendicular radio signals projected from the ground. By centering the associated vertical (localizer) and horizontal (glideslope) needles, pilots are guided to the runway.
Mark wondered if the problem was with glideslope signal or receiver, or if he’d made some serious error in executing the approach. The approach plate showed terrain 1,000 feet above field elevation north of the airport, so I suggested he might feel low breaking out there. That didn’t satisfy Mark, however…
Restricted airspace is something we pilots study and then studiously avoid.
Fortunately, it’s limited enough in most places to easily bypass. But here in the Intermountain West, huge swaths of the stuff can dictate 100-mile detours.
Jean and I regularly experience this flying from Flagstaff to Alamogordo, New Mexico to visit family. To bypass 135 miles of restricted airspace encompassing White Sands Missile Range, we must steer east past Socorro and then 90 miles south, or southeast to El Paso and turn north.
Normally we take the shorter northern route. But when weather recently shrouded northern New Mexico, we launched via El Paso.
En route, we reflected on restricted-airspace lessons we’ve learned…