Archive for Arizona

“Inches of Runway,” Greg’s January, 2019 Flying Carpet column

Posted in Flying Carpet column with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2018 by Greg Brown

Wind rarely seems as threatening as other weather when flight planning, because you can’t see it. But as every pilot learns, wind is real; it can be helpful or hazardous, and often portends changing conditions.

FLG Flagstaff area aloft_0134e+++Smw1200

We’d planned Christmas in Tucson, but holiday snow was forecast, urged along by a powerful cold front. Indeed, Christmas dawned snowing and blustery. Surprisingly though, Flagstaff’s forecast called for midmorning clearing. Sure enough, at precisely 10am sun warmed our yard, blue sky pierced the clouds, and ceilings rose along our route. So we packed and took off.

Ceilings again lowered as we flew south but so did the terrain, so we cruised comfortably to Tucson for a family holiday dinner. Based on a sunny forecast, we planned to brunch and hike the next day before heading home.

The next morning, however, we were wakened by a smartphone weather alert. Despite yesterday’s clear-skies forecast, Flagstaff now expected morning snow flurries, followed by northeasterly 35-knot wind gusts tumbling from the mountains. What’s more, 40-knot headwinds would plague our normal 8500-foot cruising altitude. I suggested staying another night, but Jean wanted to return for the neighborhood holiday party. That meant departing immediately in hopes of beating the winds home

**Read Greg’s entire column, INCHES OF RUNWAY**

Photo: “Down I flew, carrying partial flaps with knife’s-edge readiness to go around because something bad was surely imminent.”

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Painted into a Corner,” Greg’s December, 2018 Flying Carpet column

Posted in Flying Carpet column with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2018 by Greg Brown

 

Thunderheads_2686eSmw1200“Oh, and the St. Johns VOR is out of service,” said the flight service briefer before we departed Santa Fe for Scottsdale.

In those pre-GPS days, St. Johns was the only enroute radio navigation aid on Victor-190, the 274nm instrument airway between Albuquerque and Phoenix. No matter, I anticipated good weather throughout the 2½-hour flight.

Launching late afternoon in a rented Cessna 172RG Cutlass, we cruised clear skies southwestward. Entering Arizona, however, I spotted unexpected clouds ahead. It turned out that an unforecast stratus layer had developed almost to Phoenix. Fortunately, visual flight conditions prevailed underneath, the only concerning weather being a line of heavy thunderstorms paralleling our route 30 miles to the north.

Soon we cruised under clouds at 8,500 feet, ogling intense distant lightning off our right wing. I’d anticipated reaching lower country by nightfall, but we’d been slowed by headwinds, and darkness falls early under clouds. I calculated ceilings to be 1,000 feet above the highest ridges ahead. While usually plenty in daytime, that’s risky for night flight over mountains…

**Read Greg’s entire column, PAINTED INTO A CORNER**

Photo: A line of heavy thunderstorms paralleled our route 30 miles to the north.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Routine Flight,” Greg’s November, 2018 Flying Carpet column

Posted in Flying Carpet column, Greg's piloting tips with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2018 by Greg Brown

GregBrownFT1118_7379-Pano-3000Smw1200

“For once,” said Jean, “a routine flight.” We cruised homeward through cool, calm skies thanks to a high overcast filtering New Mexico’s high-desert summertime sun.

Driving from Flagstaff to Alamogordo takes eight hours each way. Going commercially requires two airline legs plus ninety minutes’ drive from El Paso. So general aviation truly offers the fastest way to get there, circumstances permitting, and this weekend was proving to be such an occasion.

But what is a routine flight, anyway? Piloting light airplanes turns out to be more about anomaly than routine. However often we travel a given route, every flight is different. Most aviators learn to appreciate that variety as adventure, but anyone expecting uneventful aerial “auto trips” is doomed to disappointment…

**Read Greg’s entire column, ROUTINE FLIGHT**

Photo: Thunderstorms threaten Alamogordo White Sands Regional Airport, New Mexico (KALM) from the Sacramento Mountains.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Time Warp,” Greg’s October, 2018 Flying Carpet column

Posted in Flying Carpet column with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2018 by Greg Brown

The weekend had long been planned.

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.

But “time warp” triggered an epiphany…

**Read Greg’s entire column, TIME WARP** (Mobile Link HERE)

Photo: Gallup Municipal Airport sign, New Mexico.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Rock Art Ranch,” Greg’s featured past column

Posted in flying adventures, Flying Carpet column with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2017 by Greg Brown

Journey Across Time

“Never did I imagine ever finding myself in a place like this!” said Purna, as we lurched along the rutted cattle track, like characters from a Tony Hillerman Navajo detective novel. “Always I have lived in the city, and this is unlike anything I’ve ever imagined.”

My wife Jean and I had plucked the young native of India and her fellow graduate student, LeeAnne, from plush Scottsdale, where the two were visiting from Chicago.

Together we’d flown from urban landscape to high-desert plateau, notable from the air not so much for its own featureless surface, but rather for the distant buttes and mountains to which it leads one’s eyes.

Petroglyphs1003eSmw1200

Parched and treeless below us, high plains rolled like soft flesh to the horizon, slashed here and there by deep incisions cut by water zig-zagging through the land. What’s down there, I wondered, in those crevices rendered bottomless by harsh desert shadows?…

**Read the entire column, ROCK ART RANCH“**

Top Photo: “Lush Chevelon Creek cuts its deep canyon across barren high desert near Holbrook, Arizona.” Lower photo: “One of many petroglyph panels in Chevelon Canyon.” SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE!

An expanded version of this story appears in Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane.

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

Greg

©2001, 2017 Gregory N. Brown

“Tight Quarters,” Greg’s December, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Posted in flying adventures, Flying Carpet column, Greg's piloting tips, Greg's photographs with tags , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2016 by Greg Brown

gregbrownft1216_5091-1smw1200Pirate pool party

Attending a kid’s 4th birthday party might sound unimportant, but Jean and I felt high emotional stakes in flying to Alamogordo, New Mexico for the occasion.

Our son and daughter-in-law Austin and Desi and their children had recently moved there from overseas. That would make our grandson’s “pirate pool party” our first family celebration together in six years.

Alamogordo is nine hours’ drive from Flagstaff, but less than three hours by Flying Carpet. Perusing the charts, I was pleased to find manageable terrain en route. However, a 140-mile thicket of restricted airspace encompasses nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base, blocking general aviation access from the west. High mountains and additional military airspace also limit access from the east.

That leaves two flying routes from Arizona, neither direct. Shortest is to fly east beyond Socorro to JUPTR intersection, then steer 90 miles south between military airspace and the Sacramento Mountains. The longer alternative is to fly southeast to El Paso over high and remote terrain, then thread an exceedingly narrow 60-mile corridor northward between restricted areas. Both routes are comfortably flyable in good weather, but given such tight quarters each can be blocked over many miles by a single thunderstorm…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, TIGHT QUARTERS**

Photo: “Massive thunderheads crown the Sacramento Mountains northeast of Alamogordo, NM. (Note malpais volcanic lava fields in foreground.)” SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE!

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

Greg

©2016 Gregory N.Brown

“Ode to Night Currency,” Greg’s November, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Posted in flying adventures, Flying Carpet column, Greg's piloting tips, Greg's photographs with tags , , , , on September 22, 2016 by Greg Brown

Tough, beautiful, and a little scary

gregbrownft1116_1139-2smw1200I taxi my noisy little capsule toward the runway, arm out the window, in a cocoon of flashing red beacon light.

I’m practicing landings tonight, and it’s a dark one. Although nervous, I’ve done my homework and the facts say I’ll be fine. So I grit my teeth and go. We learn valuable things about ourselves through piloting.

I scan the flight controls with my flashlight, and perform an extra-thorough engine run up. Then I squelch the butterflies, and take the runway.

Sure, our little city will appear on downwind to base, but every other direction will be black, black, black. Instrument flying skills will be required, and takeoffs anemic at Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot elevation.

First circuit: When possible, I time night flights when moonlight offers a glimpse of terrain, but this month’s opportunity was fogged out. So I launch into utter darkness. It’s warm this evening, and at nearly 9,000-foot density altitude the airplane is sluggish.

Slowly I skitter aloft, accelerating in ground effect to climb speed. Hardly off the ground, I punch blackness beyond the runway. There are invisible pines and foothills down there, and nearby lurks 1,000-foot-high Woody Ridge…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, ODE TO NIGHT CURRENCY**

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

Greg

©2016 Gregory N.Brown

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