Learning Experiences: 11/04


Changing Weather
After a beautiful morning of flying in a 300-hp Cessna 182 from Steamboat Springs, Colo. (SBS), to Telluride and back, my flying buddy and I decided to have breakfast at a local restaurant then return to our home base of Fort Collins, Colo. It had been an incredibly smooth and uneventful flight. The aspens were already turning their fall colors despite it still being late August.

After breakfast, we proceeded back to SBS, pre-flighted and observed some ominous-looking clouds coming from the southwest. The skies over SBS and eastward looked very clear and promising and a call for a weather briefing indicated that our 40-minute flight over the mountains to Fort Collins would be completed long before serious weather was expected at our destination. There should have been at least an hour grace period built into our flight plan.

Later, we were approaching the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park when the weather decided to close in from our north, south and behind us. Flight Watch indicated that Laramie and Cheyenne were definitely not an option so we climbed to 14,000 feet to clear the mountains and give us a margin of altitude safety.

On approaching the downtown Fort Collins airport, the winds were intense from 340 with serious gusting. That was almost a direct crosswind landing for us. We finally landed during a brief lull in the gusts after two go-arounds. My buddy, with well over 2000 hours of experience who was in the right seat was white-knuckled as I.

It was a little of get-there-itis since the Fort Collins-Loveland airport is due south by five or 10 minutes in that plane and has a runway heading of 330. It would have been wiser to divert there, wait for the storm to pass (which it did) and then return to our home field.

I could have never left SBS but the weather briefing indicated there was plenty of time to fly safely. The weather in the west can change incredibly fast and I should have been more flexible in my choice of airports.


Intersecting Traffic
Although being a fairly new private pilot (6/03), and have owned a Cessna 172 since 9/03, I fly on a regular basis and to date have accumulated just over 200 hours including my training. I realized early on that the quote my examiner gave me after issuing my ticket consider this is your license to learn was very true. I consider myself a good, safe pilot and look forward to issues of Aviation Safety and other publications to enhance the learning process.

On a beautiful summer evening, my husband and I decided to go for a local flight that ended just after dark. With no particular destination in mind, I decided to do a landing for practice at a non-towered airport. I base at a towered airport, but quite a bit of my flying takes us into non-towered airports. After listening to the airports ASOS, I announced my southwesterly position about eight miles out for intended landing on Runway 27. The winds were light, but were favoring 27, even though that meant landing into the setting sun.

I again announced when on downwind, base and final. When on final, about 400-500 feet from the threshold, a plane passed in front and in our flight path that had taken off on Runway 18. Runway 36/18 intersects at the beginning of 27. After my heart skipped several beats and I successfully landed, the first thing I did was to make sure I had the right frequency, which I did. There was no response from the FBO for a check. I know my radio was working properly as it was used afterwards for landing at my towered field.

I never heard any communications from the other pilot and know that none is required at a non-towered field. What I learned that day is to have both myself and husband scan any non-towered field for activity on taxi-ways, ramps, etc. all the way to final for any possible conflicts. I also learned to break my habit of becoming fixated on the runway on final. If you are set up for a stable approach, theres plenty of time to scan for any conflicting traffic.


Flapping Around
I was still a Student pilot at the time, out practicing takeoffs and landings in a well-worn Cessna 150. Back then, I regularly dropped in on several nearby airports for the experience.

One airport was a private landing strip adjacent to a commercial resort lake in a rural area near my hometown. When I got ready to depart, I peered at the trees lining the far end of the runway and decided to try something different.

I dropped ten degrees of flaps, stood on the brakes, added full power and let er rip. Soon, I was airborne and watching the trees as they got closer. Though the little 150 was beating its heart out, the combination of increased drag from the flaps and the high density altitude generated little climb ability. I did clear the trees, but they were closer than I had ever seen them before.

Later, I whipped out the meager manual and discovered the distance to clear a 50-foot obstacle was roughly double the ground roll. Then I found the manuals statement that flaps are reserved for takeoff when there are no obstacles ahead. Since then, I make it a point to review procedures anytime I plan to do something different.


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