A New Chariot

I’m in Salt Lake City now, having officially been assigned theĀ  Piper Aztec. Flew over the grand canyon on my way from Arizona, landed to fuel up and cool the right engine, then popped up for some surveying near Park City. Today, the weather was forecast to be a bit windy, but perfectly VFR. I hopped up to 13000 feet with my oxygen cannula on and got kicked around by the 45 kt winds blowing over the mountains. There’s a limit to how fast we can be going while taking the pictures, so I was dragging around at 85 KIAS on the downwind photo lines using the landing gear as a brake since you can’t pull the engines too far back. Wind moving over mountains that fast creates some interesting dynamics, so constant jabs of rudder and power adjustments were required to meet the very strict tolerances for the survey work. I was truly earning my fee.

After shooting for a while, I pulled out of the mountains to see if there was another area of the project where the winds would be at my side instead of my back, which would make things substantially easier. It was fortunate that I took this little reprieve, because it allowed me to notice that an unforecast fog bank that was heading towards the airport I was basing at, moving at 30 mph.

I dove for the ground at the top of the green arc, trapped in the small wedge of open airspace between the mountains and the Salt Lake Class Bravo. Once low enough to duck under the shelf, I cranked over and zipped for the airport, arriving on the base leg only a minute ahead of the fog. The next challenge: the winds. Stronger and in a different direction than forecast, I would have to bring 5000 lbs of antique airplane to the earth while the wind gusted to 35 knots at a 40 degree angle to the runway. Did I mention this is my second day flying multi engine planes solo?

Airplanes on a cloudy day
Things cleared up to “Marginal VFR” pretty quickly, but I was glad I got down before the soup arrived.

Fortunately, my experience whisking the venerable Scarlett into the oft windy and tree covered airport back home served me well. Each wheel kissed the runway in succession, in the proper order for a right crosswind, and I guided her off the runway and parked. Before I could shut the engines down, the weather rolled over, leaving me unable to see one side of the airport from the other.

Exciting as the day was, there was never any need for concern. The plane had 5 more hours of fuel and a full suite of instruments for flying in the clouds. Though I have little experience in this type of plane, I’m quite adjusted to gusty crosswinds and never hesitate to abort a landing if it’s not clearly within my abilities. There were several airports with lovely weather at hand to the south that would have served if I couldn’t comfortably get down in time. Of course, sharing that makes the story a little less dramatic, but I wouldn’t want anyone thinking of me as a flying cowboy, would I?

5 Replies to “A New Chariot”

  1. Super cool. Flying an airplane that is as old as your parents makes for a venerable experience, no doubt! Love hearing the details spoken in aeronautical language. I can’t catch her tail number…but maybe that’s private.

  2. That sounds so exciting!!! I’m so proud of you. Following your dream of flying for a living. Not many people take the leap, but you did!

    I trust you to use your good common sense and flying skills to stay safe and not take dangerous chances. I will share this with Grandpa in the morning. He will be so proud! I will send you a PM to let you know how he is doing. Take care and keep the stories coming. Love you. Auntie Jen

  3. Nice Aaron, you moved up to the Aztec pretty quickly. Sounds like the work is challenging, but quite rewarding. Be safe. I really enjoyed reading this, thanks !!

  4. Wow. Reminds me of my youth flying the same aircraft 45 years ago in Africa as Captn Fred. Of course the Piper Aztec was new then. Now we are both antiques! Well done Aaron!

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