Monday, December 1, 2003

The British Chairwoman’s Challenge

As I fly along, there is no sign of any of the daily thunderstorm build-up. Probably this is due to the cooler than normal temperature. I flew students a couple of summers for my son's Survival Training Program located at Escalante, Utah, in the remote Utah mountains, and learned all about flying around the summer thunderstorms. I notice, however, that I have about a 10-knot head wind. I hope the winds do not slow me down too much, as I have very little extra time in order to complete the flight in the required 120 minutes. I take comfort in the thought that I will have a tailwinds on the return half of the flight.

I begin my flight from Bullhead City Airport at 9:57 a.m. flying north to Hoover Dam. I have about a 10 knot tailwind and make very good time. However, it is very turbulent over the mountains, which range from approximately 3,000 to 6,500 feet AGL (above ground level). I climb up to 6,000 feet AGL to be able to fly over Hoover Dam. I am not able to get very close to the Dam because, one, the mountains are quite high and, two, the dam is still restricted by security regulations from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

I make a wide turn around the dam and take some pictures that I think might be pretty good. I turn into the wind as I start back down the river. The terrain is quite mountainous between Hoover Dam and Davis Dam and is made up of rugged, rocky, purple, black, and gray mountains, making the landscape look like a scene from the moon. I try to take some pictures along the way ,but it is so turbulent that I cannot keep the camera still. I need both hands to hold onto the yoke to fly the airplane.

I check my time and find to my horror that I am running almost 5 minutes behind schedule. I decide that I need to add more power, if I am ever going to catch my time up. As I leave the mountains and enter the large valley around Davis Dam and Bullhead City, the air is much calmer. I am picking up speed as I start a descent to Davis Dam in order to try to get the required picture of the dam. Lake Mojave is so small that it is little more than a wide spot in the river. I have to watch for numerous other traffic in this area as I hear several airplanes on the radio heading for Bullhead City Airport. Bullhead City has become very popular because it is directly across the river from Laughlin, Nevada, which has developed into a "little Las Vegas gambling area".

I have descended down, only to 3,500 feet AGL. It had been my intention to decend to at least 2,500 feet AGL, to take my photos of Davis Dam. However, as I am still running almost 3 minutes behind my planned time, I do not have time to descend and climb back to get over the next mountain ridge at Topock Gorge. I think that I have taken a pretty good picture as I pass over Davis Dam, but notice that I only have three photos left. Next, I discover that I have forgotten to bring an extra roll of film. This means that I am going to have to get my required pictures on the first try. Not easy to do when you are trying to take a picture at 160 mph, from several thousand feet in the air, in a bumpy airplane, while at the same time trying to pilot the plane.