Blog I was there

High mountain flying course: it takes more than a pilot license and a plane

As we turned to the northeast, we flew parallel to the foothills towards Boulder and we deliberate for a flip to about 220 levels to cross Rollins Cross (11,671). It had been 44 years since I had roamed these hills and climbed the Flatirons as a school scholar on the College of Colorado. As a Mechanical Engineering major, my performance was something less than my draft board expected for a 2-S deferment, so I elected to enlist before I acquired my “Greetings from the President of the United States!” This was the primary time I had seen them from this angle, a couple of thousand ft above them. I had spent a truthful amount of time spelunking round Rollins Gulch in the early 70s, however this was means totally different.

We’re not in Illinois anymore.

It was Tuesday morning as we rotated off Rocky Mountain Metro Airport (BJC) runway 12L. We turned to the northwest to run the foothills of the entrance vary of the Rockies towards Rollins Move. Our first stop of the day can be Granby, Colorado (GNB) to go to the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. This was the primary leg of a flight that may reveal what I had discovered in an eight-hour ground faculty at Western Air Flight Academy as a part of a High Mountain Flying Course. My instructor was Howard McClure and he was sitting right seat. My newly-minted videographer son and his digital camera rig have been within the back seat.

We had flown in from Lake within the Hills, Illinois (3CK) on Saturday, Might 21, 2016, in my Piper Cherokee Dakota (235 hp) and spent all day Monday in ground faculty. Howard was a grasp at these things and, sadly for others perhaps, spends a lot of his time flying air search and rescue by means of these mountains in search of individuals who have not found their method back out.

The ground faculty coated all types of issues that I had discovered in my personal pilot coaching but, being a flatlander, I had never paid a lot consideration to. Things like density altitude and rates of climb plus all types of things that never made much sense earlier than. Neither did leaning for greatest energy previous to takeoff, the 50/70 rule for take-off/abort distance, or getting ready for extreme turbulence. We spent a bunch of time studying about orographic raise and mountain waves. I by no means had to pay a lot attention to climb energy when flying my Dakota in Northern Illinois. Right now’s flights would take us to six airports, each with its personal challenges and highlights.

The cloud deck at Rollins Ridge was pretty low and we might see the Eldora Glacier ski resort not too far off (Eldora and the Colorado Ski Group have been some of my downfalls as a scholar). As we hit the ridge line that the move bisects, we acquired a stiff jolt of turbulence that was to be only a pattern of what we might experience earlier than the top of the day. My experience with turbulence so far in my flying profession was thermals off a scorching corn area in Northern Illinois.

Once via Rollins Move, we made a proper flip and flew downhill to US 40 and headed northwest out of Winter Park for Granby.

Granby is a good little airport at 8,207 ft elevation with one 5,000-foot-long runway (09/27) that is proper visitors for runway 27. Rumor has it that one of the actual challenges for this airport is that there might be a person who likes to return out and take pot photographs at airplanes which they determine are flying too low over their land. So, okay, we will take a hint. That have to be the noise-sensitive space described within the Colorado Airport Listing (a should for getting ready for and flying this trip.) Approaching from the southeast, we flew a midfield cross over and then entered a 45-degree for right downwind to land.

After a fast pit cease on the friendly FBO, we began walking round to seek out our sightseeing goal. We walked throughout the street to the north and stepped throughout the mighty Colorado. So this was the headwaters of the river that reduce the Grand Canyon. I did not get the soles of my ft moist.

K20VMcElroy is a flat airport, however there’s rising terrain all around.

As soon as we returned to the plane, the rising terrain to the east and our charts informed us that a departure to the west was advised. No drawback, as our subsequent deliberate stop was at McElroy (20V), only about 20 NM as the crow flies. Nevertheless, nothing is everas the crow flies within the Rockies, flying at much less than 13,000 ft. As we lined up on runway 27, we did our runup, pushed the throttle to max power, and then adjusted the combination. I used to be actually stunned how a lot we needed to lean the mixture to get to max manifold strain. Really not a shock at a area elevation of 7,411 MSL. Solely one among many learnings for the day.

The arrival into McElroy was uneventful, however the departure was anything but. Less than six miles after wheels up, we flew by means of a relatively sharp gorge with 9,500-foot walls. We have been headed for States Bridge on our method to Glenwood Canyon and Glenwood Springs. As we entered a one-mile extensive canyon just off McElroy, Howard talked about that we should always keep to the appropriate in case we had somebody coming the opposite approach. Nice! Like there wasn’t anything to fret about! Under us, the Colorado snaked its approach from a creek to class four rapids where international kayaking competitions are held.

We handed over State Bridge and continued to Glenwood Canyon, which is a relatively slender strategy to Glenwood Springs. The canyon is over 1,300 ft deep and the bottom is just extensive enough for I-70 to be stacked on one aspect and the Colorado to hurry via on the other. It’s thought-about probably the most picturesque canyons within the Rockies. Sadly, you couldn’t have confirmed it by me, as I used to be white-knuckle flying. Howard’s instruction as we flew excessive of Glenwood Springs was to “fly at that wall till I tell you to turn.” At one level, I keep in mind asking “Where is the airport, anyway?” and Howard replied, “Oh, it’s back over your left shoulder!” Yikes! “Okay, turn left now to 170 degrees.”

Valley in COJust enough room for a runway, a freeway and a river.

Glenwood Springs airport (GWS) at 5,916 ft elevation is at a point in a canyon south of Glenwood Springs where it widens out so to get the Colorado River, Interstate I-70, and the airport side-by-side. North of the airport, the canyon partitions begin to climb. The downwind to runway 32 has a plateau in the midst of it so a one-mile extensive downwind must be at about 6,500 ft. That is method narrower than I am used to. The winds have been reported as “calm” by the ATIS. However wait, what have been these 30-foot-high dust devils doing just before the strategy finish of runway 32?

Once I pulled the facility off to idle as I made the left base, the plane would not drop. It took us three tries to get in and, in the long run, I widened out my downwind to a more than a mile and 7,200 ft.  This gave me sufficient time on base to drop in. I might have given up and gone to the subsequent stop besides we would have liked fuel. Thank goodness for the large white stripe across the runway on the halfway point. It’s meant to inform you to use the 50/70 rule (70% of take-off velocity before 50% of the runway), but it positive helped me on one of the approaches to point out I was not going to have the ability to land with out overrunning the runway!

We fueled up on the self-serve pump and departed for our subsequent cease – Gunnison/Crested Butte (GUS), 7,680 MSL. The home of Western Colorado State University is just about 62 NM from Glenwood Springs, but our route would take us by way of Schofield Cross, 10,707 MSL. Our objective was to climb as shortly as we might to get to over 11,000 MSL. We followed Crystal River into some canyons with 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks on both aspect. This route left a few hundred ft beneath us as we traversed the move.

As a flatlander, I was all the time taught that “severe turbulence” meant you had experienced structural deformation of the plane. We had educated and briefed the difficulty of turbulence in training and at nearly every stop, we talked about the fact that should you attempt to resist severe turbulence, you might bend the airplane. I had rigorously calculated my Va to assist ensure that to remain protected. The world was lovely, and as we have been arising towards Crested Butte, this phenomenal mountain ski resort comes proper up out of East River Canyon.

As we exited Schofield Move, I happened to be glancing on the VSI (I was diligent as that is the most sensitive indicator of climbing or descending) when the underside fell out. My VSI pegged at -2,000 fpm. I had the presence of thoughts to do what I had been taught. Loosen your deathgrip! We flew by means of this downdraft and out the opposite aspect in a couple of seconds but not before all three of us hit the ceiling of the aircraft and went scrambling for our seat belts and the digital camera rig. Imagine a leaf caught in a wind gust. I’m satisfied if I had tried to withstand the downdraft that we’d still be there. We flew around the east aspect of Crested Butte ski resort and on to Gunnison.

GUCGunnison Airport has a mountain in the midst of left downwind.

The challenge at Gunnison is that there is a mountain in the midst of the left downwind and the strategy plate says: “turn base when you see the small building.” You lose sight of the runway as you fly around this “hill.” In any other case this is a great runway 24 – 9,400 ft x 150 ft.

After lunch, we departed for Salida’s Alexander Area (ANK), a lovely mountain valley airport at the south end of the Arkansas River Valley. We flew by way of Monarch Cross (11,312 ft street elevation, and the Colorado Airport Listing studies that “Monarch Pass has had a historically high number of crashes.”) and then left downwind to runway 24. This problem here is a 300+ foot drop off on the strategy end of runway 24, so with winds from the west you’ll be able to anticipate a 300-400 ft per minute downdraft simply as you’re getting ready to flare. No drawback: with a 7,351-foot-long runway, you possibly can simply land lengthy. We stopped in on the FBO and purchased a great ebook on mountain flying accidents. Howard knew the writer of Flying Colorado Mountain Weather, Margaret W. Lamb.

Our subsequent cease was the notorious Leadville, Colorado (LXV, 9,934 ft) airport. This is the very best business airport in North America. The flight from Alexander at 7,523 ft to Leadville (with a sample altitude of 10,934 ft) is simply about 45 nautical miles, but the climb is a real effort for a normally-aspirated engine.

That is the place we actually practiced orographic carry (assume gliders driving thermals). We have been flying up the Arkansas River valley with the Collegiate Peaks 10 miles to the west and the Horseshoe Mountains to the east. We tried to remain as close to the japanese ridge as potential to experience the uplift arising from the valley without getting caught in the rollers over the japanese ridge. We truly have been getting virtually 1,000 ft per minute at that fee. I had not seen that each one day! The landing was deliberate for a excessive cros wind however the runway (Rwy 34, 6,400 x 75 ft) is protected by lodgepole pines, so the winds dropped just before flare.

As we sat at the end of runway 34, we appeared on the moving-map Garmin, and observed that our route house by means of Fremont and Loveland Cross was blocked by climate. Since we were not check pilots, I checked out Howard and asked what was subsequent. Howard stated, “That’s okay, I know another way.”

We departed runway 34 and felt like we have been hitching it up all the best way down the runway. We spent eight minutes performing a U-turn to the south. Howard pointed to a county street that was headed east and stated, “Follow that road.” The street headed toward Mosquito Mountain (13,898). Within about two miles of the mountain, the street took a proper turn to the south and over Weston Cross (11,960 street elevation.) We cleared this saddle move at 12,700 ft! From there it was all downhill to KBJC, Broomfield, and dinner. About this time, we seemed over our left shoulders to see what my son referred to as a “funnel from heaven.” It was a shaft of rain, snow, and ice about 4 miles in diameter over Loveland Move, our originally deliberate route residence. It appeared like a divine monument to the unpredictability of Rocky Mountain flying that we’d been experiencing all day.

Route of flight

As we have been enjoyable within the remaining flight to Broomfield, speaking about youngsters and automobiles, it occurred to my son and me that there are in all probability a lot of flatlander pilots with a PPL and a plane who determine they might simply go do that. After a day of mountain flying, I do know that’s lifeless incorrect. This was a journey of a lifetime, and I’m really glad we had Howard along as instructor.