Flying from Missoula to Hot Springs, almost


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Daryl is ready for the flight, complete with coffee
Big D and the 152
Departing Missoula
Departing Missoula
Katt and I
Pilot and Co-pilot
Heading toward Arlee from Missoula, over Evaro hill
Evaro Hill
Flathead River
Flathead River
Glacial Lake Missoula's shoreline ripples can be seen where the cloud shadow is
Camas Prairie
Kerr Dam, just south of Flathead Lake
Kerr Dam
Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake
Polson and Flathead Lake
Polson and Flathead Lake
Flying south from Polson, Mission Mtns on left
Flying south from Polson
Pablo National Wildlife Refuge
Pablo National Wildlife Refuge
Mission Mountains and small ponds created by the last glaciers
Mission Mountains
This is the route, from the aviation Sectional map, that we were taking to Hot Springs
mso-to-s07

 
On October 2nd, Katt and I decided to fly the Cessna 152 up to Hot Springs, Montana to spend the day soaking and relaxing. Renting an airplane is as easy as renting a car, especially if you’re already “checked out” at the FBO (Field-based Operation) and have all the requisite flying credentials. A week or so earlier, I did my BFR (Biennial Flight Review) at Minuteman Jet Center in Missoula, where I learned to fly about 11 years ago. Lucky for me, my primary instructor, Art Dykstra, still does BFRs despite the fact that his main occupation is flying corporate jets these days. Art is about the best flight instructor anyone could hope for, a true professional with an easy-going, relaxed demeanor that makes anyone comfortable in the cockpit. Art’s personality was especially welcomed since I had not flown an airplane in almost 13 months! (That was the only way Katt and I could save enough money to be ski/cave/camping bums this year!) The review was quite thorough, covering everything from steep turns, stalls, slow flight, and emergency procedures to airspace regulations, cloud clearance, and instrument flying. Needless to say, I felt invigorated getting in the air again, especially over the mountains of Montana!

After getting “re-upped” to fly again, I was eager to exercise my updated skills. So, “weather permitting,” we decided quickly on a trip to Hot Springs, normally about a 35 minute flight north of Missoula. The weather in Missoula was beautiful, but we were aware of the gusty conditions that were forecast for the afternoon, so we decided to only stay in Hot Springs for an hour or two.

However, after climbing out of the Missoula valley and heading over Evaro hill, we were soon greeted by some consistent light turbulence, annoying but safe. I climbed a bit more so we were above the ridgelines, where the wind tumbles over hills like waves crash on a beach. A little smoother, and we could surmise the headwind was at least 20 knots since the cars on the highway were passing us! The 152 only cruises at 90 knots (104 mph), but still, how embarrassing!

Between Perma and Hot Springs is the Camas Prairie, where the Glacial Lake Missoula National Natural Landmark is located. Glacial Lake Missoula was an enormous ice-age lake that covered present-day Missoula and the edge of the lake left giant ripples on its shoreline, still visible today as 50-foot high by 300-feet long ridges. Although I’ve known of this phenomenon for years, I had never seen it. The ripples are clearly visible in the photo below! Wow!! (Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacial_Lake_Missoula)


Just past the Prairie is Hot Springs, so we called traffic and began our approach – 1500 feet overhead, mid-field crossing to check the windsock, then we entered a right downwind for runway 24. As we turned base, and then final, I realized that the airport sits just east of a little bowl (that the town of Hot Springs is in), and the winds coming over the ridge and into the bowl were most likely producing enormous down drafts. Taking off to the east, with a good tailwind, is clearly a bad idea, especially in such a low-power airplane with marginal climbing abilities. This 1981 Cessna 152 only produces about 105 horsepower – and that is at sea level. Here we are at roughly 2700 feet, so the effective horsepower is even less.

One of the things that I learned right away in my primary training is that lots of pilots crash otherwise perfectly-good airplanes because of a desire to get on the ground. That’s why learning and practicing a “go-around” is such a fundamental part of primary training. If you fly and haven’t done one lately, you’re probably getting rusty on this potentially life-saving procedure. We are taught that if you are coming in too fast, descending too quickly, or if something just dosen’t feel right, then just GO AROUND. Sometimes gusty winds and wind shear occur near the ground, and all you have to do to salvage your bad landing is firewall the throttle and go around for another shot at it.

Looking at the terrain, and realizing the winds were only forecast to increase in the afternoon, something just didn’t “feel right.” We were on a perfect approach with winds right down the runway, but I just didn’t like it. I thought that we may have a hard time climbing out to the west if the winds and down drafts got stronger later, and, again, taking off with a tailwind on a 3500-foot runway is just plain stupid. So I firewalled the throttle at 50 feet, and away we went…. in a perfectly good, flying airplane! Discretion is the better part of valor, right??

Our second choice was to land at Polson which is at the southwestern edge of Flathead Lake. A short flight later, we passed overhead the airport and saw the windsock indicated a 90-degree crosswind to the only runway. Again, off we went! I’m comfortable with crosswinds but there’s no reason we needed to land there, especially after being pretty green in the airplane lately. So, we headed back south to Missoula! By time we were on approach, the winds were gusting to 25 knots – not for the unskilled or faint of heart. With 11 years and nearly 400 hours under my belt however, it wasn’t as challenging as it was fun. Missoula has intersecting, wide “cross-wind” runways, the longest stretching 1.6 miles. And I made a “greaser” landing. Imagine that!


Click on any of the images above to enlarge and read the captions! Click anywhere on the photos at top to advance the photos! (I’m still fine-tuning my gallery plug-in, hang in there, it’ll be better soon!)

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