Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chile

Flying is like the rest of life in that persistence and patience pay. Remember the last couple of days before your first solo? If you were like me, you were impatient for that achievement, so you kept on trying and trying and trying until it all came together. The rest of one's flying career often follows that pattern. Keep trying and trying and trying and it all comes together and something wonderful happens.

So there I was in Chile on mathematical business. Before leaving I had called a guy who called a guy who called a guy who might have know a guy whom I could fly with while there ("Thank you" to John and Rodrigo), but that wasn't going to work out. The first few days had terrible weather, and the mathematical conference was just excellent, so while I was disappointed about the flying the trip was more than worth it.

But, still, I kept trying. So I called another guy, but he didn't speak English and my Spanish wasn't good enough. A Chilean friend offered to call for me, and got the number of a guy who spoke English who called a guy whom I could fly with! He was based at Temuco, my departure airport, so the plan came together: a one hour flight with Brian out of Temuco in a Cessna 172XP, followed by the first leg home in an Airbus 318.

In the USA we are so focused on GPS and IFR that it almost sounds like an insult to call someone a VFR pilot. But it's a compliment; think of Duane Cole, who flew his clipped-wing Taylorcraft all over the country, VFR only, and never missed a show (although sometimes he departed a day early). And that's what Brian is: a highly-skilled VFR pilot who seems to know the whole country of Chile in detail, from flying to visit his cattle ranches.  He raises an Angus/Hereford mix.

Like Brian's cattle, I'm a hybrid.  IFR and VFR are like my twins, whom I love equally for different reasons.  But the only charts I had available were IFR charts, which the Chilean government posts online. As we discussed where to fly, I was looking at the chart and thinking "120 radial for 42NM", but that was not necessary. Brian knew the way. (The 30 mile visibility was helpful, too!)

The Chilean government has lots more information online, including an equivalent of FlightAware and facsimiles of filed flight plans. I can't tell whether this is openness or control.

Brian's niece had recently married a guy form the US and he asked if they could ride along. Of course! Empty seats on a sightseeing flight ought to be a crime!

So we launched out of Temuco. I was in the right seat, but Brian graciously let me do all the flying, so the net.logbook.police can just back off when they complain that I shouldn't have logged the flight. He looked out the window while I tried to follow the stupid 120 radial; after a couple of minutes we could see the top of Villarica volcano peeking out from above the scattered layer and I forgot about the radial and just headed there.

I don't think the airplane had Mode C, because Brian left the transponder on ON rather than ALT. This was good, because I was all screwed up on Chile's hemispherical rules. Here in the US, FAR 91.159 applies: eastbound cruise altitudes are 500 feet above an odd thousand, and westbound we are 500 feet above an even thousand, at least between 3,000MSL and 18,000MSL. This doesn't make any sense in Chile, which is a long narrow country; you can't go very far to the east or west, so the hemispherical rules have northbound flights at odd thousands plus 500, and southbound flights at evens plus 500. We were headed southeast, so I chose 3,500 MSL, but it should have been 4,500 or 2,500.

No matter; soon we were over higher terrain. Brian does sightseeing flights out of Pucón during the summer, so he guided me through the spectacular terrain. There were a couple of places that made me uncomfortable over Lake Caburgua, because there was really no place to land, but the risk/reward ratio was pretty low. Lake Caburgua is lined with beautiful homes, many of which can only be reached by boat (I didn't think to ask about seaplane until just now; maybe I'll send him an email).

The IFR charts I had don't show the large number of grass strips scattered through the countryside.
Some of them were right next to spectacular fly-fishing streams. I used to own a Taylorcraft, and I would love to have one there to visit these mountain strips.

What about soaring? There was a lot of steady ridge lift near the mountains, and the cumulus clouds were popping that afternoon. The thermals were weak (which is nice on a sightseeing flight with folks in back), but they were there. After we landed at Temuco I noticed that the thermals were cycling quite close to the airport. I don't know if this happens every day, but on that day you could have flown a sailplane all day right nearby.

The tower spoke Spanish, although Brian says that they can speak English if they have to. I found them pretty easy to understand. There was no ATIS; Tower or Ground gave us the wind and weather and runway in use, and that part was all very familiar. There was no big red sign at the hold short point, but the hold short markings were the same. I could get used to flying there very quickly.

From a practical perspective, another country on one's resume is some kind of asset, but that's not the point, is it? I met Brian, his wife, his niece and her husband, and some of the folks at the Aero Club. We all had a wonderful afternoon. flying in spectacular scenery on a beautiful day. What else could you ask for?

Oh, I know: can I have another try at that landing?

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