Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fell off a Tractor in Tennessee, part I


A little bit of absence from the blog, but Rich filled in for me. The last 30 hours have been quite the adventure.

So DC and I headed off to see the wild world of western Virginia, in his CT-SW (pictured above). We were not familiar with the operation of that plane at a high density altitude, so I thought it prudent to test out the performance results on a large, high-elevation airport, before going to smaller ones. So first stop was Hot Springs, VA. In a plane I don't know very well, I keep note of the numbers I see. Upon arrival, we had a density altitude of 5,300 feet at field elevation of 3,792. If you follow that link to the airport, and take a look at the picture, you will see one end of the runway, that is a sheer dropoff. The other end of the runway does the same.

For the sheer beauty of landing right smack on top of a mountain with cliffs on either end, that is one of my favorite airports. There are things to be really careful about though. We were using runway 25, with wind out of 290, at about 10 knots. That is conducive to having a very strong downdraft on short final, so you have to hedge your bets by coming in a little high. You also can't afford to be low in the pattern, because the left downwind for runway 25 passes over a hill that is a couple hundred feet higher than the airport.

We did a couple landings there, then proceeded onward, toward Bluefield, WV. From here on, we were visiting unfamiliar terrain, and airports I had never seen. Bluefield's airport is tricky, for all the hilly terrain around there. DC was not amazingly comfortable, because the wind gusts were really throwing the plane around. I've learned to deal with that, and eventually, you develop a sense of when they are about to hit, so you react as they happen, rather than after.

From Bluefield, the plan was to get to a few other airports we hadn't seen, then find a good lunch. Next stop, Tazewell Co, VA. Gusty, turbulent landing, not a big deal. Touch and go, and off to Grundy, VA.

Now Grundy may well be the most potentially challenging airport I've ever visited. 2,200 feet long, 2,300-foot elevation. Steep drop-offs on all sides. Literally on the top of a peak. 2,200 feet of runway is plenty to work with, in a calm wind. With strong gusts and downdrafts potentially capable of dropping you below the airport and into terrain, you have to come in high, steep and careful. DC knew the landing would be beyond his own limits, so he gave it to me. It was certainly tricky. Downdraft came right on short final as I expected, bringing me from a high final, to right where I wanted to be. Two seconds after crossing the threshold though, an updraft caught me somewhat unexpectedly, and I had to fight it a bit. Then a crosswind gust caught hold, and I had to fight it again. Landed, and immediately took off again, this time toward Lonesome Pine, VA.

Lonesome Pine was our intended lunch stop, so we taxied in and parked. Nice place, nice folks. Very much off the beaten path. The beaten path is nowhere even close to this place. The lunch was a five-minute walk down the road, and we needed to stretch anyway, so we didn't mind.

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