My weekend out with the boys started with a nerve wracking night IFR flight through low clouds, ice, hail and the occasional dragon thrown in to make things interesting. At least that’s what the professional weather guessers at Lockheed Martin told me to expect on our first leg from Minneapolis to Watertown South Dakota. What we got was one of the nicest nights for flying I’ve had in a long time with nary a cloud in the sky, I wish I could that wrong and still keep my job. Our two passengers were suitably impressed when we turned the runway lights by remote control but slightly less impressed by my co-pilot’s Sea World landing. You know, he touched down nose wheel first causing a series of bounces down the runway called porpoising…….like dolphins……..And Sea World has a dolphin show……………it sounded better in my head.
Made it to the Black hills airport the next morning, myself fifty five dollars richer from a rare winning session of blackjack and all of us a little less fresh from the effort. The Black Hills airport had a pilots lounge that was exactly like you’d expect to find out west. Elk heads, a bear skin rug and black and white pictures of the old days adorned the walls while and instructor poured over maps with his student. It was just the kind airport I’d love to hang out in.
I won’t bore you with the details of our day and evening in Deadwood. Suffice i to say that money was gambled, steaks eaten and brain cells lost, not that we had any to spare. On the way home we took a spin around Mt. Rushmore and flew over the Badlands National Park.
The new Garmin 796 I used on the trip was defiantly impressive. The touch screen made scrolling through maps fast and easy and I really like the smaller size and weight. The improved screen was supposed to be one of the big improvements but I could hardly tell the difference between the 696 and the 796. The 796 is a great GPS and if I didn’t already have a 696 I would buy one in a heartbeat but I don’t think it’s worth the $700 bucks I’d have to shell out to make the switch.
It was a great weekend out with the guys and being able to fly really made it an adventure for my two non-pilot friends but I’m sure one of them was wishing we’d taken the Queen Air with it’s relief tube as he was filling the juice bottle on the way home.
This is some random island off the coast of Pakistan. This was also about the point in the day that Stu, my co-pilot for that trip, realized that the rumbling in his nether regions he’d felt just before takeoff was turning into a full blown case of food poisoning. We couldn’t go back to Pakistan, and although Iran was just off our right wing I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop there for a potty break. So Stu didn’t have any choice but to do his best and try to keep his precious bodily fluids to himself. For four hours Stu kept the faith and arrived in the United Arab Emirates with his dignity intact. For that I awarded him the golden butt clench award, with oak leaf clusters.
Heading west tonight with three old high school friends to the fabled city of Deadwood South Dakota for classic male bonding, you know drinking and cards. We are taking a Cessna 182 instead of my Queen Air Black Betty because the annual isn’t quite finished. The difference in flight time is almost an hour, bad enough, but the 182 will require a fuel stop as well. These inconveniences alone would be bad enough but loosing the all important relief tube, no that’s not an intercom, will seriously effect on the beer consumption going on in the back seats, at least I hope so. The 182 isn’t a bad aircraft, I’ve owned two of them and have about a million hours flying skydivers in them. It can haul a reasonable load, necessary for this trip, and it’s fast enough, I guess.
On this trip I’ve got the opportunity to compare my three year old Garmin 696 to the new 796. The 796 has a few new bells and whistles like a touch screen and some sort of synthetic vision on it. I’ve been extremely happy with my 696 having flown around the world with it and will have to be really blown away to spend the money and make the change. I’ll let you all know my impressions when I get back.
When last we left our intrepid, daring, young, fearless and yes, devilishly hansom heroes they had just made a foolish mistake based on nothing more than their selfish desire not to spend the winter in Siberia.
The flight up the Kamchatka peninsula, yes the one in RISK, was beautiful but Marcio and I had a hard time enjoying it with the weather in Anadyr hanging over our heads. Thirty minutes after passing the point of no return we checked the weather again and were told that the ceilings had dropped another hundred feet. Neither Marcio or I reacted to the news, outwardly at least. We knew that the weather suddenly changing so quickly meant that the forecast was wrong. The low clouds and rain were early and we were screwed.
As we got closer to Anadyr the weather reports got worse while the sun sank lower. By the time we were with in twenty minutes of the airport the clouds were down to two hundred feet and the visibility was a dismal three quarters of a mile, right at minimums for the ILS approach and getting worse. Marcio was flying that leg so it would be my job to count down our altitude for the last thousand feet and watch out the windscreen for runway lights. We knew the weather was only going to get worse so our plan was to land on the first attempt, no matter what.
Then things got worse,
“November 777BF be advised that the runway lights will NOT be available.”
“Oh shit!” I said, as the radio call from the control tower came in. Without runway lights we would only have the landing lights to guide us in to the runway, at night, did I mention it was freaking DARK! Needless to say we made it clear to the tower that lights would be oh so helpful and would they be so kind as to endeavor to illuminate said strip of concrete so that we may make a landing without putting too big of a divot in the surface, please? Or something to that effect. I don’t know if they’d been trying to save electricity or what but they informed us that the lights were indeed lit.
As we began the approach tower informed us that the ceilings were variable below two hundred feet and the visibility at around half a mile and dropping. I really didn’t want to leave the clear late evening sky with the full moon shining on the mountain tops poking out from the clouds but that’s why they pay us the big bucks so down we went. Things got black in a hurry and as we dropped below one thousand feet in began counting down by hundreds.
900 800 700 600 500 400 300, I risked a quick glance out the windscreen but saw nothing but black, 200 feet missed approach point, still nothing, wait…
“I’ve got the runway.” I said as the green and yellow lights appeared out of the mist and rain. We were under one hundred fifty feet and I estimated the visibility at around one quarter mile. Piece of cake. The hardest part was trying to find the ramp and then some dinner. Afterwards over a bottle of Siberia’s finest wine and some microwaved non-microwaveable pizza Marcio asked me if I had been scared. I told him no and quoted him the old saying “If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”
As with all frustrated fighter pilots I could watch videos like this all day, well not all day, Mrs. Scary still has a long honey do list that I’m doing my best to avoid, but I digress. We all wish someone would give us a multi-million dollar fighter to bust clouds and drop JDAMs with but the closest I’ve come to that playing with the clouds in a jump plane worth literally hundreds of dollars on the way down from dropping meat bombs. The Navy pilots have one other advantage over jump pilots, their bombs aren’t flying around in the pattern when they’re trying to land.
This is Tanya our handler in Petropavlovsk. Tanya was a no nonsense woman who’s job it was to take care of all our needs, translate for us and generally get us in and out as quickly as possible. She didn’t take any crap from the fuel guys and barely put up with my attempts at humor. The look of impatient tolerance in the picture is as close as we could get to a smile. The women in Russia are the most beautiful women in the world. Walking down the street is defiantly a hazardous undertaking, what with all the tongue tripping that goes on. But they have one flaw, they never smile. Maybe it’s because they live in Siberia or maybe it’s because all the men dress like…like…well, Russians. I met a beautiful Russian woman in Reykjavik last year and I asked her about it and she said “What’s there to smile about? That’s the problem with you Americans. You are always smiling for no reason.” What she said of course made me smile.