On a coast-to-coast cross country in my 160-hp Warrior, my wife and I made a planned stop at Grand Canyon (GCN) while enroute to Camarillo, Calif., via Las Vegas. We arrived in the late afternoon, intending to leave the next morning for LAS. Instead, we decided it would be fun to see the canyon in mornings light, and we decided to remain overnight an additional night and leave at 6 a.m. local time since the density altitude was reaching over 8,500 feet msl by mid-morning at the airports 6,600 ft elevation.
Having experienced the Warriors abysmal climb in high density altitude conditions the previous day at El Paso, I was anxious to be in the air no later than 6:30.
We arrived at GCN at 5:45 with the temperature at 45 F, and I felt confident wed be able to take off from GCNs 9,000-foot runway. After pre-flight and engine start, I tuned the radio and called for my IFR clearance to LAS. Nothing. The radios were dead.
I tried all the tricks I knew to coax life into the radios, but to no avail. I was forced to try to find someone to fix the problem.
A mechanic at the FBO told me that one of their employees did some radio work, but he was not due in until 9 a.m. He arrived a few minutes after 9 and went with me to check the radios. Master on, radios on … they worked perfectly. We hurriedly loaded our gear and I called the tower for my clearance. We were cleared as filed to LAS.
The ATIS advised, Caution, density altitude 8,500.
Taxiing to runway 3 to take advantage of the 6-knot wind, I informed my bride that if we were not airborne by the 4,000-feet-remaining sign, I would abort the takeoff. With full fuel and baggage, we were 50 pounds below max gross.
I lined up one runway 3 and leaned the mixture for maximum RPM, applied one notch of flaps, held the brake until full throttle, and then away we went. At the Warriors lift off speed of 60 knots, I raised the nose and the nose wheel came off, but we continued to roll down the runway with the mains glued to the ground.
As we approached my predetermined abort point, there was still no indication we were going to fly anytime soon. I cut the throttle, called the tower for taxi instructions, and we spent the remainder of the day taking in the sights of the Grand Canyon. The following morning at 6:30 and 45 F we departed runway 21 for Camarillo, unable to fit LAS into our delayed schedule.
The poor climbing ability of the Warrior and the high density altitude experienced at El Paso did not prepare me for the total lack of performance a high altitude airport and hot day could inflict on an underpowered, normally aspirated aircraft.
Wings Should be Level
I was flying out of Merill Field in Anchorage one beautiful day when I was a low-time pilot. I was just planning a solo flight in a Cessna 152 to practice slow flight, steep turns and other maneuvers.
When I was returning to Merill Field, I got information Tango from the Anchorage ATIS, called Approach and was cleared through the Class C airspace. I contacted Merill Tower for touch and goes and got the clearance for a right base to runway 24.
The first touch and go was great, the one that followed was, um, not. As I was on final I felt a little crosswind from the left. As always, I was trying to hit the centerline of the 4,000-foot runway. When I touched down I was heading off the runway, so I gave it some right rudder.
The airplane went up on two wheels and the right wing almost hit the ground. I tried to keep calm and somehow got the airplane under control. My mistake was: I did not turn the yoke into the wind. Until then, Id usually landed with the ailerons neutral, even in crosswinds, but hadnt yet been burned by it. As I learned this time, it is not optional.
The Hard Sell
I have the good fortune to both own an aircraft and have many clients within a 500-mile radius of my office. Hence, I fly about 250 hours per year. I hold a commercial, instrument ticket, which I use for flying in most weather.
I left Memphis Downtown and flew north to Madison, Wisc, my home base. There were numerous heavy cloud cells along our route, but only a few scattered thunderstorm cells, which had not formed any lines. The wind was fairly neutral and I expected no more than light chop and a few moderate bumps.
My two passengers were company employees and friends, and they were familiar with riding in light aircraft. We were flying GPS-direct and making great time. I had filed for 7,000 feet to make best use of the winds.
All around us were various heavy clouds in different stages of development. It was late afternoon and ATC was in a constant state of accepting diversions as we and many others skirted around the heavier rain showers.
I noted that a long but thin cloud would soon force me to divert several miles in either direction. The sunshine was bright on either side of the visible rain, and I estimated that the rain was less than a couple of miles across at its thinnest point.
It looked like a classic illustration of a mature storm cloud, and I guessed wed spend at most two minutes under the cell. Off we went.
As soon as we reached the leading edge of the rain, the temperature immediately dropped and the VSI fluttered and dropped a little. Ten seconds later, the altimeter started indicating an alarming descent, unwinding at a steady rate with the VSI pegged at the maximum descent rate. I could not believe how quickly we were dropping.
At 2,000 feet per minute, I estimated we had less than three minutes before we struck the ground. I immediately put in a climb at 25 squared and the VSI made a slight quiver off the peg line.
A very long minute passed and we descended through 4,000 feet. I added full throttle, full prop forward, added flaps and climbed at maximum performance airspeed. Ground speed dropped to 70 knots.
As the hills below loomed closer, a passenger said, Ive never seen a drop like this before. There was hardly any sensation of movement.
Mercifully, the rain lightened and the VSI picked up with the airplane at about 3,000 feet. I resumed normal flight and soon was back in brilliant sunshine on my way back up to my assigned altitude. I looked back at that innocent-looking rain cloud and told myself, Next time youre tempted to squeeze in a shortcut, plan on some textbook review.