Archive for the 'Fun Flying' Category

Best shots from 2011 (a little late…)

It’s been far too long since I’ve updated, and few post-worthy topics of late. Still, I did have a couple of photos lying on my desktop from last year that I did want to share:

This is south of Knik Glacier, and is of  Lake George, as the glacier that feeds it fractures away into fresh water. The first shot is from May 1, on a pretty spring day:

Springtime view of Lake George area, Knik River headwaters, 5/1/2011

And the second shot, taken 8/13, under the later summer gloom:

Lake George area 8/13/2011

Late summer view, Lake George area, 8/13/2011

Note how the glacier chunks break through the remaining lake ice in the spring, but by late summer, the surface is just a slush.

As summer progresses, I’ll have more to share…



That’s What MTOS Looks Like

(The following photo-essay is meant to exemplify what winter weather can look like, and illustrate what kind of trouble one can easily get into when flying in the mountains on a “weather day”. There’s always an easy escape route to clear weather and lower terrain, a must-have in such conditions. Y’all fly safe, OK?)

I thought I had a plan. On 12/30, a cold, wet system had just blown through. On the 31st, the day was supposed to be mostly clear, and I expected it to be a great day to just take a few hours of a day off to go fly and take a few nice photos after a fresh snowfall, starting in the Tonto Basin.

A check of the statewide weather noted an AIRMET for mountain obscuration (MTOS) over the Colorado Plateau (at 7000′). Below and south of that (where I wanted to go) was forecast to have been reasonably clear. So, off I went to go take a peek.

But a forecast is, after all, one possible prognosis, never a guarantee.

Trying to get out of the area to the northeast into the basin, here’s my first problem:

Verde River Valley - 12/31/10

Northbound up the Verde Valley

That’s a river valley in the left of the frame, angling off to the right. Locally, there’s an overcast layer around 6500′ with occasional snow showers down to around 4500′. Since I’m flying this drainage upstream (and thus uphill), it’s just going to get worse than what we see here, and it’d be really easy to get trapped in a snow shower that’s going to close off all escape routes.

There’s absolutely no good reason to go any farther. It’s still quite clear in the desert behind me, so I make a turn to the southeast along a ridge to see what it looks like from another angle.

On a normal day, I could easily climb over this pass to the basin, but not today:

None-Shall Pass

None-Shall Pass

The other side of that ridge isn’t a good place to be at all. If I was trying to travel, I’d just go back where I started and wait it out. But since I’m only after some airtime today, I’ll use the clear space to the southeast to go see what this looks like. A few minutes later, a familiar 7600′ peak disappears in the murk:

Peaks Hiding in the Snow

Peaks Hiding in the Snow

Holding a camera still here is really quite a challenge, the air is anything but smooth, with a healthy post-cold-front westerly flow blowing upslope over some rugged lower hills just west of me. It’s still very clear to the southeast, so I always have an easy and obvious route to clear weather and lower terrain (else I’d simply not be here!), so I continue to proceed southeast.

The last path into the basin is up this canyon, now a chain of man-made lakes. Clearly, this isn’t any better either:

Salt River Canyon Closed for the Day

Salt River Canyon Closed for the Day

Since I just want some time in the air today, I just keep flying to the southeast just to see what I run into. Consequently, I fly 65 miles (!) up the Gila River drainage to an area east of Tucson. On the east side of the Santa Catalina mountains is a nice rural strip with inexpensive fuel, and it’s normally a convenient place to stop (I do still have 2+ hours fuel remaining at this point). But when I get there, I find that there’s a 20-25kt crosswind blowing across the runway, and it’s downwind of a mountains (making some unpredictable up and downdrafts probable), so this isn’t a great place to go either.

Several AWOS-equipped airports on the west (upwind) side of the mountains mention winds 10-15kts and clear, so that’s a better place to go to fuel up. I’m approaching 2 hours of bouncing around under this stuff, and the morning’s coffee is working on me, so I’m really ready to crawl out of the airplane for a bit. I head for AVQ, just north of Tucson, reporting clear and a 12kt quartering crosswind. On the way, Mount Lemmon disappears in the same stuff:

Santa Catalina Mountains, Fully Obscured

Santa Catalina Mountains, Fully Obscured

I top up the airplane, stretch my legs, and head back home across the desert in nice clear weather.

By the time I’m back to my home field, 4 hours later, most of this weather had blown clear, and I could have stuck to my original plan (good photos and all with the fresh snowfall) had I just waited a few hours. But, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I have things to do, so I’ll tie the airplane down for the day, and hope for another opportunity sometime.

Happy Holidays 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. May 2011 bring you all peace, prosperity, and perspective.

With that thought, I’m sharing the photo that has graced the desktop of my netbook for most of the year. I hope it expresses the sentiment well:

Mogollon Rim - January 2010

Mogiollon Rim in the Freezing Mist - January 24, 2010

The Passage of Summer

For the majority, summer is an “active” time. Summer means long days, outdoor activities, long vacations, get-togethers of all kinds. It’s the time of year most people look forward to, and they hate to see it end. Pilots generally are at their most active during the summer months.

On the other hand, if you live in the desert, summer has just the opposite effect. Desert dwellers spend much of their summer indoors, making the most of mornings and perhaps evenings when we can, and otherwise spending a lot of time poolside if we’re going to be outside much at all. Pilots get all the VFR weather they want, but heat ensures that early mornings are the rule; flying on a 118-degree afternoon is possible, but contains a distinct lack of  comfort.

So, the “end” of summer is something desert dwellers obsessively anticipate. Cabin fever works the same as in northern climates, but in reverse; we wait impatiently for cooler temperatures to release us from our air-conditioned confines, and when it doesn’t happen, we get a little uptight. Testy, one could say.

Our predominate weather pattern this summer was a persistent ridge parked over the intersection of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Instead of sticking around for a few days, they tended to hover for weeks at a time, baking the landscape in a seemingly never ending string of record high temps. Instead of breaking up in late September, they persisted right up into early November. Our late-summer cabin fever was acute this year; we might get a couple of moderate days with a frontal passage, then we’d be right back to 2-3 weeks of 10 degrees above-normal. Now that it’s almost mid-November, we’re crossing our fingers that it’s finally behind us.

So, I’ve done very little fun flying over the past several months. Usually, I get a flying camping trip or two to a cooler place, but circumstances conspired to prevent that happening this year. My own airplane has only flown 18 hours since it’s annual inspection in mid-May when I returned from the first AK trip. Sure, I’ve done quite a bit of early-morning instruction, but simple fun flying has been pretty thin.

Last weekend, an unexpected convergence of moderate temps, a few spare hours, and a fully functional airplane all made for my first opportunity since March for a “just for the fun of it” flight; 3 hours of VFR cruising on a simple quest to find whatever fall color I could locate. What few photos I took are included:

Now that reasonable weather is finally here, I hope to have the opportunity for more of this in the next 3-4 months before the inexorable return of summer heat. Stay tuned…

First Feet-Wet Session – 2010

Flying floats is at the top of my list of rewarding things to do. Given where I work and live, it isn’t easy finding opportunities to indulge in this activity. So, I tend to go out of my way for them.

Being here in AK in late summer brings just such an opportunity. I took a day trip to see Don Lee at Alaska Floats and Skis in Talkeetna for a float refresher. He’s based out of Christensen Lake just south of the town, thus this location has quick access to the Talkeetna Mountains and all the lakes within, without a lot of time transitioning to water and back. His operation has a couple of PA-22s on straight floats, which make nice cost effective airplanes for this kind of work (even if they don’t unstick from the water all that easily…).

I was only a year out of a flight review, but figured it was just as well to use this as an opportunity to renew while I was at it.

While out, we photographed some of the “easy” lakes, and I put a gallery up so you can get a sense of the place. (In the not-so-easy spots, the camera just stayed stowed):

It’s typical backcountry flying, but with water instead of turf or gravel as a runway at the end. The trickiest thing here is that almost all of these remote lakes require a consistent glassy-water landing technique because, well, that’s just what they are. All my initial float training was done in California, and while you can practice glassy water landings anywhere, I never really got to see more than one for real. To experience them, one has to simply be where the smooth water is. None of my glassy water landings were all that good, although they did improve markedly at the end.

I just need to go practice them more. Yeah, that’s it…

Big thanks to Don and Esther H., it’s always challenging and fun flying with them in one of the best spots anywhere on earth.

Hey, that could be…me

This article on AVweb references a flyer apparently distributed by DHS around Hickory, NC, in the last few weeks. It says to be on the lookout for suspicious operations and aircraft that may be exhibiting “indicators of suspicious activity”. Those indicators have a disturbing level of familiarity, to wit:

A customer that does not want to provide any identification, or provides identification from a Southwest Border state of foreign country

OK, I never have any problems providing identification if asked, but if I do, it’s likely to be a combination of a U.S. passport and an AZ driver’s license.

A customer who insists on paying cash.

I don’t do this all that much, but a lot of guys I know do. It’s common practice.

A customer who displays numerous cellular telephones

Only one for me. I do have a drawer full of dead ones, though.

Transfer of luggage or bags from one person or aircraft to another.

Uh Oh. Been there, done that. Especially if I’m at a marginal strip, and have a friend with a heavy hauler that can safely pack out some gear.

Guards posted around the aircraft.

Not so much guards, as a few guys standing around with beers when we’re done flying for the day. I don’t think we look much like guards, though.

Rents hangars for short periods of time.

Admittedly, that one’s pretty rare.

Excessive amount of luggage for only one person.

Anyone ever seen my camping setup? “Excessive luggage” is fitting.

Vague about their travel itinerary.

Well, yeah. “Trying to get around this weather to <xxxx>, might take a couple of days. Maybe go east, maybe west, maybe I just won’t get there…”


Depends on just how bad that weather was…

Altered “N” numbers.

Probably not so much.

Dirty undercarriage or tires.

(Ding!!!) We have a winner!!!

Uses self refueling very late at night or very early in the morning.

I almost always self-serve when I can, and it’s often early or late. I’m cheap^H^H^H^H^H thrifty, and only a 325nm range, so we’re talkin’ a lot of fuel stops.

Flying an aircraft that is worn out but has a very nice GPS system.

Define “worn out”? Sounds to me like half the airplanes in the western U.S., Canada, or AK.

That looks like about 9 of 13 for me, depending on interpretation. So, I think it’s safe to say I better avoid North Carolina for awhile.

Objects in Window are not as they Appear

This seemingly nondescript photograph was taken the morning of 8/29 while at 4500′ in an improvised hold over the Gila River in central Arizona. The view is directed at the 40nm distant Santa Catalina mountains, north of Tucson. Mount Lemmon is the distant peak left of center frame:

Santa Catalina Mountains in the DIstance

On this particular day, a strong low pressure system has been spinning over central California, and is pulling tropical moisture from Baja California over us. Today, the flow aloft is pretty strong, 20+kts out of the southwest, and there’s quite a lot of mid-level moisture around.

Mt. Lemmon is high enough (9157′) that the moist flow is compressing out into a cloud. So, if you look close:

No, it just looks like steam

It almost looks as if there’s volcanic steam blowing downwind from it. Never mind that the last volcanic eruption in Arizona was 900 years ago, and 150mi the opposite direction. I still did a double take out the window.

Man, I must be really bored…