Monday, May 17, 2010

Well, We Tried--May 16, 2010


Woke up at 7:00 A.M.  Hopped in the shower, grabbed some breakfast.  Outside my window the skies were spectacularly clear.  It looks like we were going to have a full day.

We headed over to the airport at 7:35, and I was in the airplane shortly thereafter.  I grabbed 1/3 cup of coffee for an extra jolt before hopping in.  The weather was simply perfect for least at the airport.  The winds were 4 knots, and the skies were clear.  Beautiful.

I took off Runway 17L and headed up towards Rocky Mountain Regional.  I had coordinated with ATC this morning, although I was going to be above the Class Bravo at 13,500.  It's still nice to let them know what we're doin'.  I threw on my oxygen before I took off and braced myself for a long day.

I was on station right around 8:30 at 13,500 feet.  My first line was north-bound, and I had no problems completing it, doing a nice 126 knots.  I made the turn for Line 2, however, and I was instantly doing 175 knots.  Oh boy.  I was only at 16" MP and 2300 RPM's.  This was going to be a tough one.  I missed a ton of pictures due t speed, so I circled back around.  I slowed up, pitched up, and hit the line doing 155 knots.  Still too fast.  It took me five miles before I started taking pictures...and I was BARELY meeting the 139-knot requirement...I was actually over it at 145 knots...and I was just above blue-line.  Hmm.  This was not good.

I failed that line.

I turned north-bound and didn't really have a problem with one.  But I went back to Line 2...I still couldn't get the airplane slow enough.  I had to abort.  Unbelievable.

Pete had already started his descent due to a stomach problem.  So he was out.  And Kenton was over the mountains trying to find a flight plan without snow.  He was failing in that regard.  But I couldn't do anything up high, so I asked for a flight plan down low.  He gave me one at 12,500, but it put me right into clouds.  I couldn't do it.

So he gave me another one.  I loaded it up and headed for it.  It was a bit deeper into the mountains, and as soon as I hit the eastern ridge, I was already starting to get bounced around.  But I kept going towards the line.  There was snow all around in most of the areas, but it looked like it MIGHT be doable in this one.  But as I got closer, it just became unbelievably horrific.  My plane was being tossed around like a rag doll.  I gripped the yoke with both hands and gingerly tried to get her out of there.  I was cruising at 140 knots, and it was putting me just a few miles from the fact of the huge mountain.  And then it was as if I reached an invisible the east it was moderately bumpy, but to the west it was hell.  As soon as I hit it, I just hunkered down to get that airplane out of there.  I had the peak ahead of me, huge foothills to the left (at my altitude so I couldn't turn south), and several high hills to the north.  I had to slowly but VERY accurately turn to the north, trying to keep the ball centered, trying to keep my altitude.  I was failing miserably.  The ball was a modern-day game of Pong, and my altitude was descending at 800 feet/minute.

But I aimed between these two hills.  The entire time I was looking out my right window trying to find a path out of here.  I had pushed the throttles forward, and I was just trying to was a losing battle.  I SERIOUSLY pictured me hitting the side of the jagged rocks out there.  It came to the point where I honestly thought that it was a good possibility.  But I HAD to get out of here.  I picked my path and kept the turn in.  I had to make sure I turned in time so as to avoid the high peaks.  It was not pretty.


ATC came on and said I was getting out of radar coverage.  I was just focusing on getting out alive.  I tried grabbing my camera between my legs to snap a couple of pictures, but even that proved to be too much.  I HAD to keep my hands on the yoke.  I was being tossed around.  Then I had one of most abrupt punches of turbulence yet.  It was incredibly quick (I never felt it coming), but it was brutal.  My head flew up and hit the ceiling...only the 2nd time I've had this happen in the Aztec.  It's never pretty.

I finally completed my 180-turn and felt soooooo much better.  But I was not safe.  I was NOT out of the woods (mountains) yet, and I watched jagged rocks pass by my wing to the north.  I was right at their altitude.  I HATE this project.  This was seriously our best day in weeks, and this is how the mountains treat us.  It was a moment in my aviation career of "What in the hell am I doing"?  I finally saw the flatlands increasing in size, though, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I crossed that last ridge.

I was still alive.

Everything just happens so fast out there.  I was doing 140 knots westbound, and as I turned I was doing 165 knots.  I couldn't maintain a climb, and I was consistently pegged at over 500/feet per minute in descent.  I had to maintain a constant turn, though I couldn't be too steep due to the forces out there.  But if I kept the turn loose, I would hit cumulo-granite.  I just sighed.  It was NOT fun.

I landed and just questioned this whole lifestyle, this whole project.  It's just stupid.  I went over and shook Kenton's hand after I landed and said, "I have no idea how you flew a 172 out there."  He didn't say anything.

I had logged 2.1 hours.  And I had only completed two lines.  This project sucks.  We have 9 hours done out of over 100.  And we've been here 5 weeks.  I am just so jaded.

On an interesting side note, Pete had landed, and the line guy said he had an oil leak.  Pete said it happens on these Aztecs, but he cussed when he came around the wing.  His engine had shot out a couple of quarts down the cowling.  It turned out an oil line had become disconnected.  Had he not had that stomach pain who knows what would've happened.  It was a mess!

We went out for BBQ for lunch.  Then we came back to the hotel.  And I about went mad again.  I stayed in for a few hours, but I just couldn't take it anymore.  So I went for a walk.  It only lasted a half hour, but it helped.  It was 65 outside (though a chilly 65, if that's possible), and I just couldn't stand to be in this hotel anymore.  I am dying.

This evening Jaye came over, and I spent a few hours with her.  We went DVD-player shopping, then out to eat, then over to the apartment.  But I have rules when I fly, and I made sure I was back in at 9:45.

Tomorrow is lookin' like it's supposed to be better than today.  The clouds are forecast to be at 12,000 feet instead of 8,000, AND the winds are supposed to be out of the west (at 22 knots) instead of the north.  That should provide us with low-enough speeds.  So we'll see.  I'm banking on flying several hours tomorrow.

So with that said, I headed for bed at 11:05.  Alarm is set for 7:00 A.M.

All I can think about is flying ONE MORE DAY.  If I can just get through tomorrow, I'll be on my way to my vacation.  It can't come soon enough.  But that is what is holding me right now.  All I need to fly is tomorrow!!!  I think Tuesday is pretty much a given for yucky weather, so I don't think we'll be able to take pics.

ONE MORE DAY.  Just one more day.

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