June 2000 Issue

Big Pile of Trouble

Flying where the ground is high taxes the plane and the pilot, and challenges your presumptions about performance

One clear, smooth night about 35 years ago, I was flying a load of passengers over Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains enroute from Dayton, Ohio, Washington, D.C. Suddenly, the Convair started losing altitude – big time. The airspeed dropped 60 knots in what seemed like just a couple of seconds.

I jammed the throttles as far forward as I could get them, heard the throaty roar of the two Pratt & Whitney engines as they ramped up to full power – but absolutely nothing happened.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the combination of winds and jagged terrain below were teaching me my first lesson about mountain flying.

Just as suddenly as it began, the airplane stopped descending and righted...

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