To earn my certificate of navigation, all’s I had to do was emerge unscathed from LuAnne’s 160 HP C-172. That certificate says I’m a pilot!
Yesterday, my good friend LuAnne piloted a 160 HP C-172. She soloed for the first time in her hometown of Sacramento on September 1 and wanted to test out her mountain flying skills here in Colorado. Veteran pilot Howard “Search-and-Rescue” McClure rode shotgun, and I took the backseat. It was my job to (1) take pictures and (2) not inadvertently cause a crash by screaming “We’re going to crash!” and pulling LuAnne’s hair as we crossed 12,000+-foot mountain passes and landed at five separate airports between 5,900’ and 9,927’ in altitude.
The first flight was from Broomfield’s Rocky Mountain Metro Airport to Granby-Grand Airport. It was a helluva ride. First off, it was a perfect day, cloudless, no wind, and apparently a perfect day makes for poor lift. After we passed Nederland, we had to clear the Rockies, which involved 842 circular passes in order to gain sufficient altitude. After the fifth pass, I verbally committed to future acts of goodwill in exchange for my life, making promises to God, Buddha, and an as-yet unnamed female deity (in case God turns out to be a girl—it’s important to cover all the bases). I shielded the mike on my headset to keep LuAnne from overhearing these negotiations.
Upon landing safely in Granby, I recalled that the world is indeed a beautiful place. From Granby, we headed west to Kremmling’s McElroy Field, then took off again southwest to Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport. Our next scheduled stops were Gunnison and Salida, but we scratched that plan as the hour grew late, landing instead at Leadville’s Lake County Airport.
At 9,927′, Leadville’s airport is the highest paved airport in North America, and the airport’s head honcho, Bob Penner, rewarded my existence on the planet with a certificate of navigation testifying to my “demonstrated ability in maneuvering the skyways of the Rocky Mountains.”
That’s right. Apparently I’m a pilot. But then an individual as directionally astute and talented at driving as myself wouldn’t necessarily require ground school or cockpit experience, right?
In Leadville, LuAnne and Howard mapped out a plan for our return home. Drawing upon my newly established piloting expertise, I interrupted them several times to weigh in. Our intent had been to return to Denver by around 4:00, but by now it was getting dark and we still had a long ride ahead of us. Luckily the wind picked up, which meant faster speed. And turbulence.
We took off, and I snapped a zillion gorgeous sunset shots. As the skies darkened, LuAnne kept her calm in the bouncy plane while I brainstormed names for the female deity. Just in case. Nearing a mountain pass, Howard decided that now was as good a time as any to test LuAnne’s navigational skills, thus prompting me to amp up my backseat prayers to an audible volume.
Howard: One route heads toward Denver; the other heads far down south.
LuAnne: Which route is which?
Howard: You tell me.
LuAnne: I think we should head right. Carolyn, are you praying back there?
LuAnne: Are you sure?
C: Yes. By the way, the Goddess Landtheplana thinks Howard should pick the direction.
Howard: Head left.
C: The Goddess Landtheplana praises you both.
LuAnne: Ut oh. The nav lights aren’t working.
C: Sweet Baby Jesus. And sweet baby forms of other potential deities, as warranted.
LuAnne: Double ut oh. There’s a big plane heading our way.
Howard: I’m sure the other plane sees us.
C: Oh good.
LuAnne: Carolyn, stop pulling my hair!
LuAnne: And stop screaming.
C: I’m doing my brest.
Exactly 17 hours later, LuAnne landed the plane safely in Broomfield. She swears we landed like an hour later, but I’m a very accurate observer of detail. It was 17 hours, I’m sure of it.
All in all, a fabulous, thrilling day. LuAnne and I were both exhausted on the drive home.
LuAnne: Can you go any faster?
C: You’re one to talk. Anyway, stop pressuring me. I have a certificate of navigation now, after all.
LuAnne: And for Landtheplana’s sake stop pulling my hair.