Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Flying



That's the view of my back yard. According to FlightAware.com, nobody has gotten in or out of my home field since late yesterday afternoon. It's a good time to reminisce about Christmas flights from the past. So throw a log on the fire, listen to Ella singing It's Cold Outside, and reminisce.







1993 My then-girlfriend and now wife Terri flew with me to Rapid City, SD on Christmas Eve in an Archer. We were going to meet her mother and sister. We had met the summer before, just in time for me to take a long-planned trip to Alaska in a 182. I guess she thought that I wasn't impressed and wasn't going to call her back...

My log doesn't say much about the first leg except that the altimeter setting fell from 30.60 to 30.15 between Pocatello and Rock Springs. I got a pop-up IFR clearance over the Black Hills for the second leg. That was my first introduction to Rapid City's ATC, which is consistently confusing.


1994 A year later Terri was learning to fly. We tried to fly Christmas Day, but my log says "Unable VFR." The flight time of 0.3 corresponds to about one traffic pattern.

But one of the renters was hanging around the airport with a friend who was headed home to Japan later that day. Ace had hoped to give Koshi a ride, but he didn't have his instrument rating yet (now he's a captain at American Eagle), so I gave Terri, Ace, and Koshi a ride. In solid IMC, including a low approach. They didn't see much but had fun anyway.


1995 I flew with two students and spent an hour dinking around in my Taylorcraft.


1996 The ADF failed going into McCall, ID for a ski vacation. Since all McCall had was an NDB approach we went back to Boise and rented a car. On the way home the snow was so bad we got a hotel room and spent an extra day.

We came home from Boise VFR. It was starting to snow, so I set up the VOR runway 3 approach just in case. IMC was inevitable, but John in the tower kept insisting that his visibility was 3, so I flew the approach. At minimums I barely saw the approach lights and circled to runway 21. [Presumably the statute of limitations has expired for both of us!]


2001 I flew a Christmas eve charter in a Cessna 414 to Delta, Colorado from Jackson Hole. There was one passenger, an outdoorsy woman a little younger than me. She did not say a word the whole way. She just sat huddled in the back. I got the impression that something was really wrong, but never found out what.


2002 I was in the 414 again, this time flying freight from Boise to Spokane. I always tried to take a younger pilot along when flying freight, so they could get some experience. This was my way of repaying those who did the same for me. But this time the autopilot was out-of-service, so I couldn't take any passengers.

I flew up to Spokane early Christmas eve. I checked into the hotel early; I think I was supposed to leave Spokane at 0400 or so. The hotel was empty, and the desk clerk was very nice; if I hadn't been happily married I would have made a pass at her, which would have been a nice Christmas memory. But I behaved and went to bed early.

I got to the airport at the appointed time and everything was locked up tight. No courier. Hangars locked. FBO silent. I had some contact numbers, but nobody was answering. It was cold and I was very far from home on Christmas morning.

Finally I reached someone. "We don't fly Christmas Day; go home," he said, angry, so I did. The two companies fought for weeks about whether they should pay for the flight.


2003 Again I was in the 414 on Christmas eve, flying a family from Salt Lake City to Sun Valley. Sun Valley was below minimums, so I ended up diverting to Twin Falls.

The father asked me if his son could sit up front, and of course I said yes. I found him a headset and tried to explain what was going on, but he slept through the whole flight. Twin Falls was above minimums but it was cold and rainy and there was a monster crosswind. I remember my arms tiring trying to hold the aileron for the crosswind correction; the 414 had an aileron-rudder interconnect which meant that slips required a lot of strength.

The kid slept until the engines stopped.

When I got home the ramp was a mess with blowing drifting snow. One of the line guys ran out to the taxiway and signalled that I should shut down where I was. All of us were shoveling through big drifts, trying to get the airplanes into the hangar. The tug couldn't get any traction, even with three of us standing on it, so we shoveled some more.

That is, all of us shoveled except for the then Chief Pilot, who drove to McDonald's and drove back to the airport and ate while we all busted our butts. That was not a popular move.

The snow persisted through Christmas. On Boxing Day I did a LifeFlight. My log makes it sound exciting: "Blizzard Conditions on departure. Winds gusting to 40 at Burley. Pt w/broken neck." I can't remember it.


2004 The company was doing a lot of extra sections for a major international freight carrier, mostly in Senecas. I talked them into using the King Air, which I had been flying for a whopping 200 hours. (I'm still a little resentful that nobody ever gave me any credit for booking a charter.)

This time I took one of the mechanics along for the ride; he had just finished his Private Pilot license. We went to Sun Valley and unloaded. I started up and did the usual King Air "Two Finger Salute," that is, checking the status of the current limiters. Uh-oh: one of them had blown. This is a no-go item.

But I had Alex along! He fixed it, or else we would have been stuck there for Christmas Eve.




And that's about it. I don't see a pattern (other than lots of IFR). Some fun, some work.

Actually, even the work was fun.

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