“Convergence,” Greg’s past Flying Carpet column

greg,penny,chris769eMy longtime dear friend and writing mentor, Penny Porter, passed away last week, and I decided to share a past column in remembering her.

When I met Penny in the late 1990s, she was president of Tucson’s Society of Southwestern Authors (SSA), author of several books, and reportedly the most-published-ever Reader’s Digest contributor back when that was a big deal.

unknownSix feet tall with “big,” fiery red hair, Penny was a consummate writer who somehow balanced between professional woman and delightful giggling 12-year-old.

Penny introduced me to famous writers of the day like Ray Bradbury and Tony Hillerman–she induced me to fly Clive Cussler to Tucson one year for the annual SSA Writers Conference–and lovingly shared writing wisdom and humor that helped shape my own work and inspires me to this day.

Most of all, she was an artist to the core who imbued even the briefest informal message with literary richness.

Penny, I’m gonna miss you big-time!

Greg

**Read about Penny in Greg’s column, CONVERGENCE**

Photo: “Penny Porter with Chris Sis and Greg at Jimmy’s Diner in Tucson, Arizona, 2000.” 

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine. Read an expanded version in Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane.)

Greg

©2019 Gregory N. Brown

“Piper, the Flying Cat,” Greg’s February, 2019 Flying Carpet column

Dogs commonly travel by airplane, but how often do you meet a flying cat? Transporting the skittish animals can be tough enough by car, much less by airplane. Yet my Montana friends Alyson and Travis Booher routinely aviate with Piper, their adventure cat.

GregBrownFT219_0946eSm1200

“Before Piper, two geriatric cats at home limited our travel,” explains Alyson. “So when I got a new kitty, I vowed not to be homebound anymore.” Alyson used to write a “Dear Tabby,” advice column for Missoula’s Animeals food bank and adoption center. One client had trained her kitten to ride everywhere in a harness on her shoulder.

Intrigued, Alyson wondered whether most kittens can be trained to travel. Investigating online, she learned that ‘pet adventure travel’ is trending among young people. Few fly with felines but given countless other “adventure cat” activities she thought, “Let’s try it!” Travis was concerned about being tagged as ‘the crazy cat people,’ so the couple agreed Piper would travel exclusively for function, not attention.

“As with people, flying is not for every pet,” says Alyson. “My cat just happens to be really chill. Probably the key is to train kittens when they are young.” A show-cat owner advised Alyson that if a kitten isn’t bothered by vacuum-cleaner noise, it will be comfortable out and about. Piper passed that test, so she began toting him on errands in a cat backpack. Finally one day, the couple bundled Piper into their Skylane to visit Alyson’s brother in Bozeman. When Piper stretched out relaxed, Alyson freed him from his backpack to cruise the cockpit…

**Read Greg’s entire column, “PIPER, THE FLYING CAT”**

Photo: “Piper relaxes aloft over the Cascade Mountains.” (Alyson Booher photo) SEE MORE PHOTOS!

Follow Piper the Flying Cat on Instagram!

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Sports Car for a Day,” Greg’s September, 2018 Flying Carpet column

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.

GregBrownFT918_1967VolvoP1800SeSm1200So 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.

PaulCowdreyC170c1972_DPA_6881eSmw1200

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…

**Read Greg’s entire column, SPORTS CAR FOR A DAY**

Top photo: 1967 Volvo P1800S coupe. Lower photo: Paul Cowdrey at KDPA, circa 1972.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Powerless,” Greg’s July, 2018 Flying Carpet column

“Hey Greg! I’ve just experienced my first two engine failures—in one trip!”

8-17_JimPitman_Ercoupe-delivery_152549eSm1200Flight 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…

**Read Greg’s entire column, POWERLESS“**

Photo: Jim Pitman, with the 1946 Ercoupe. See COCKPIT VIDEO of Jim’s engine failures!

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“Sworn to Secrecy,” Greg’s June, 2018 Flying Carpet column

“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…

**Read Greg’s entire column, SWORN TO SECRECY“**

Photo: Bull elk, near Flagstaff, Arizona.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

“‘Gotcha’ Switch,” Greg’s May, 2018 Flying Carpet column

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…

**Read Greg’s entire column, ‘GOTCHA’ SWITCH“**

Photo: Mark, with his Bonanza.

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

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown