I realized Sharalyn and my mom were not much worried about flying with me as I took off from the bleak and windy airport at Bullhead City. My passengers all have headsets and each headset has a mic. I can’t imagine flying around in one of these little tin cans without being able to talk to everyone, pilot included, or being stuck listening to the howl of the engine for hours on end. It was an expensive investment but right after I got my pilot’s license I found three Lightspeed headsets on EBay and snapped ’em up. This means my passengers are allowed to chat while I fly, and chat they do.
I was relieved when Colin explained that air traffic can only hear what is coming out of my mic. I no longer live in fear of Alex pointing out a cool formation just as I ask for flight following: ‘Excellent butte… is that how you say that?’ In any case I just talk over, and listen through the constant stream of observations and remarks that come from my loved ones who are willing to risk life and limb to scoot about the sky with me. As we neared rotation speed out of Bullhead the peanut gallery in back were loudly discussing the differences between dropping a stitch and binding one off. Apparently there was a knitting circle in full swing back there as I coaxed the 172SP to defy gravity once again.
All in all the Grand Canyon trip was just that: grand. There was not a blessed thing I would change except the stop in Laughlin/Bullhead City. We arrived to find that the FBO is a trailer with a coke machine outside. We ate a small but fancy picnic in this tin shed then headed for Grand Canyon West. This is a little airstrip in Indian country. The river is just leaving the canyon so the walls and the plateau are quite different than the country further east. The views were predictably amazing as we cruised over the Grand Canyon and some surprisingly large, complex and striking canyons that lost the naming lottery. Marble canyon, Supai canyon and a few others were almost more intense because we were flew over them at lower altitudes and were able to appreciate just how remote they really are.
The altitude at the Grand Canyon Airport (GCN) is such that getting a loaded C172 full of fuel up to the legal ten thousand feet needed to transit the canyon is no easy feat. I nursed the plane into a right climbing two-seventy turn that missed being level by a mere fifty feet per minute. We had gained the requisite thirty-five hundred feet of altitude when we were fifteen miles from the airport so I headed across the chasm. It is like inching your butt up to the edge of a bench that overlooks a one mile drop off. I kept checking the vertical speed indicator to make sure I was not headed hypnotically down. The FAA mandates the height above the rim. It is both a noise pollution issue and a safety one. The FAA was formed when a couple of planes tried to occupy the same bit of air over the Grand Canyon, so they take that little bit of airspace rather seriously. This has not led to accident free flying though, with distressing regularity helicopters and planes come together for a moment before tumbling burning loads of tourists into the gap. At first I was bummed we would see nothing at the exalted height of 10,000 feet, then I was worried that the plane simply would not fly that high. Finally, I was completely okay with the whole thing because it is only three thousand feet above the higher rim and that seems a bit close when you are actually doing it. Flying in the canyon itself seems the work of madmen, though of course it is done. I bet no one has tried it on a moonless night though.
On our way back I dropped us into Havasu City. This is the weird little town at Lake Havasu built by the fellow who bought the old London Bridge and transported its rocks to Arizona to make a car bridge to an island. After circling the bridge we flew up to the airport and I found that I could rattle this passel of unflappable passengers if I tried. I did a very steep and short turn to final and had far too much altitude. Everyone had been so happy with turning and so forth that I figured a little slipping would be good for the soul. That may be so, but as the plane dropped down sideways towards the very edge of the runway I heard faint mutters of worry. When I straightened out were were about twenty feet up and over the gravel next to the tarmac. I wrestled the plane rightwards and we dropped softly onto the centerline courtesy of a stiff headwind.
The plane erupted in exclamations about the near death experience. They like flying so much though that rather than laying the blame on me for a crappy approach they did the completely irrational thing and complimented my skills in getting us out of a tight situation. Now I have 99.9 hours of flight time. I am almost to the point that Colin said we should consider carrying passengers. I have to say that these last twenty hours have been some of the best times of my life. I’ll never forget my parents’ expression as they climbed out of the plane at Catalina. Utter joy at the feeling of having swooped in to perch on this lovely mountain top. My mom with her nose pressed against the window frantically sketching the scenery. Sharalyn taking in the familiar sights of the Los Angeles basin from a new perspective. What a blast. I hope the landings continue to be soft and that the problems in flight remain some else’s.