“Ready, Set, Don’t Go,” Greg’s May, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Third time’s the charm—sort of…

GregBrownFT516_4694e2Smw1200Winter offers spectacular flying, but its fickle and unforgiving weather can make longer aerial journeys daunting.

Jean and I annually flee snowy Flagstaff to visit our neighbors Tim and Hedy Thomas for a California vacation. Usually we meet in sunny Oceanside or Carlsbad, but this January they invited us to sample Monterey’s rugged coastline, bountiful sea life, scrumptious seafood, and renowned aquarium. Afterward, we planned to visit other friends two hours northeast in Truckee, California, and from there fly home through Nevada.

Although straightforward in good weather, this is an ambitious wintertime journey. Mountainous northern Arizona and California’s coast, deserts, Central Valley, and Sierra Nevada all feature different if interrelated weather patterns, which must coincide for safe air passage across the route. Truckee, in particular, high in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe, averages 41 inches of January snowfall, yet perfect flying weather would be required to land there.

So rather than attempting to hard-schedule our vacation, we negotiated a three-week “visit anytime” travel window with our respective hosts.

Even then, weather concerns arose. By early January, closely spaced winter storm systems were lined up to steamroll California and Arizona. Our travel needed to be accomplished during one- to two-day gaps between storms…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, READY, SET, DON’T GO.”**

Photo: Ocean mists fringe verdant hills near Monterey, California.

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

Greg

©2015 Gregory N.Brown

“Tucson for Christmas,” Greg’s February, 2016 Flying Carpet column

Seeking holiday sunshine

SnowShowersCeilings_MazatzalMtnsLakeRoosevelt_2440eSmw1200

Most Christmases my former sister-in-law Lesley hosts a gathering at her Tucson vacation home.

Jean and I always try to attend, though December is one month when Arizona weather sometimes raises its head. Factor in short winter days, a dearth of Tucson hotel rooms during “snowbird” season, and the alternative 8-hour round-trip drive, and sometimes it’s not feasible to go. Weather permitting, however, it makes a great aerial daytrip. The 90-minute flight allows us to arrive midmorning, enjoy family company, and return home around sunset.

This year we were particularly eager to go because all my Chicago nieces and nephews would be coming, several with spouses and girlfriends and two in their first year of college. It would be a rare treat to see them.

We also faced an unrelated mission the day after Christmas, when following a debilitating fall, Jean’s mother was to be released from a Phoenix hospital. After returning from Tucson Christmas night, I was to drop Jean at Glendale Airport the next morning to assist her mom’s transition home.

On Christmas Eve we learned that a Central Rockies winter storm system was to brush northern Arizona on Christmas Day. Despite a chance of snow flurries, I wasn’t concerned. Stationary high pressure generally deflects such storms north, accounting for Arizona’s typically benign winter weather. Ceilings usually remain high in these cases, and just south of Flagstaff the terrain drops into normally clear warm-weather country. Sure enough, all stations from Sedona to Tucson forecast blue skies.

We awoke Christmas morning, however, to a lower than expected overcast shrouding northern Arizona, raising concerns of mountain obscuration by ice-filled clouds. Accumulating snow was now forecast for Flagstaff, with precipitation to spread southward throughout the state…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, TUCSON FOR CHRISTMAS.”**

Photo: Our first glimpse of holiday sun illuminates Theodore Roosevelt Lake, viewed over Arizona’s Mazatzal Mountains.

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

Greg

©2015 Gregory N.Brown

“Three Time Zones,” Greg’s August, 2015 Flying Carpet column

Journey to the past

4-GregBrownFT815_3001eSmw1200“Be prepared to turn around,” I cautioned Jean as we launched under dark clouds. Keeping options open would be key to safely completing this long journey east.

We were bound from Arizona to Illinois for my mother’s 90th birthday and a high school newspaper reunion. Unable to justify flying ourselves 9-10 hours each way for a long weekend, we’d originally planned to go by airline.

But then we learned my mother would be gone over reunion weekend, stretching our stay to a week. That changed everything. By Flying Carpet we could use the free time to visit long-missed friends, relatives, and locations.

Yes, it’s a long flight to Chicago. But from there, many Midwestern destinations are only an hour or two away. Newly excited, we compiled a wish list encompassing three time zones and six destinations in four states. It was an ambitious itinerary, given the vagaries of spring weather.

Indeed, the forecasts were alarming as departure day approached. The Great Plains suffered near-daily tornados, showers were predicted throughout our Midwest stay, and two storm systems threatened Arizona. Rain hammered our roof the night before departure.

11-GregBrownFT815_0885eSmw1200We awoke to dark, racing clouds, but for the moment Flagstaff boasted a flyable 1,400-foot ceiling. From nearby Winslow east, Arizona featured fair weather.

Northern New Mexico reported marginal visual flying conditions, with possible mountain obscuration. That might require staying over in Gallup, but we’d cross that bridge when the time came.

For now the objective was to beat the storm out of Flagstaff. Snowflakes pelted our windshield as we drove to the airport…

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, THREE TIME ZONES.”** (Allow a moment for the article to load.)

Top photo: “The clouds break up near Santa Fe, New Mexico.” Lower photo: “Braving a bitter wind at Centerville Municipal Airport, Iowa.” SEE MORE PHOTOS!

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

Greg

©2015 Gregory N.Brown