Flying never to forget (part 2)

Continuing catch up for April 22nd 2018IMG_1353I left Damien, Mark, Michael, Frank and Henry behind, on a high. Following Damien’s advice, I made Shiprock my first goal, just over 120 miles to the north west. During the almost two hour flight, there were many strange looking and fascinating natural geographical land features. Obvious dry river beds could be seen carved into the surface.

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Dry river beds are also fun to fly in!

Many formations are caused by water and wind erosion, with others caused through volcanic processes. Many of the ‘carvings’ are below the high flat plains of the area. The plains exist at around 6500ft above sea level. Most features are hidden below the distant horizon and are not noticeable until much closer. IMG_1398.CR2IMG_1387.CR2.jpgIMG_1404One area overflown is known as the “Bisti Badlands”. The ‘features’ within this area are 200ft > 400ft below the height of the surrounding plains. The area was once a river delta that lay west of the shore of an ancient sea. These ‘badlands’ are little traveled and relatively unknown compared to others, due partially to it’s remoteness. Much of the area is only accessible by foot and is not visible from the main NM371 highway which runs closest to the area.IMG_1413.CR2

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time to have some fun

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I wonder what they were thinking?

One hour forty eight minutes after leaving Cabezon Peak, pushed by a slight tailwind, the BZIM was touching down at Shiprock airfield.IMG_1447Landing at Shiprock was simply for an photo opportunity and to add a log book entry.  There was no wind and it was hot. Much more pleasant in the air, so within minutes of landing the BZIM was airborne again heading towards the infamous throat of a volcano, known as Shiprock. Rising 1,583 feet above the high desert plain, it’s peak is 7,177 feet above sea level.

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Shiprock

After a few orbits of Shiprock, a heading was set towards Bluff airfield. Landing again was only to add an entry into the logbook, this time not even stopping for a photo. After Bluff, routing next was towards the famous Monument Valley. I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw next. Again, the flatness to the surrounding area hides the change of view, until it was suddenly right in front and below. The San Juan river twists and turns, advancing forward whilst carving an ever deepening canyon. Quickly the river is 1000ft below the surrounding area.IMG_1513

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San Juan river gorging an impressive canyon

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Monument Valley in the distance

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towards Monument Valley

IMG_1559Monument Valley airport was an ideal stopping point, to grab a bite to eat and refuel  from the gas station just across the road from the airport. With three portable tanks fill ups and two fuel transfers, it was two and a half hours later before the BZIM was airborne again.20180422_13030720180422_13023520180422_123425Flying conditions, were still perfect as the BZIM got airborne just before 3pm. The wind had increased a little, but this wasn’t of concern. Being aware of the wind direction in flight (thanks to the MGL Discovery Lite), its possible to make an educated guess where any rotor or turbulence may be encountered. This allowed for these areas to be avoided with ease. Only when entering a canyon, was the occasional jolt felt.

The final flight of the day would take me to Marble Canyon around an hour and a half away. Routing would follow the spectacular Colorado river as it meandered into Lake Powell.  I had been warned to expect stunning views, as ever 😉

IMG_1561Words can’t describe the sense of awe, nor the feeling of being so lucky to be experiencing these sights. Flying in an open cockpit weight-shift microlight added a degree of freedom and connection that is unique!

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Overflying Page Municipal Airport

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Glen Canyon Dam

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IMG_1662The final stages of the last flight of the day provided a stunning approach to Marble Canyon airport. Again, Marble Canyon was  chosen due to the proximity of a gas station opposite providing unleaded gasoline.

Today was an almost a perfect day. Meeting everyone from Double Eagle airport NM, perfect flying weather, some amazing photos, videos and memories. Nothing would ever bring me down from the joy I was feeling as I landed at Marble Canyon….

Marble Canyon airport is located exactly where it says. Within a canyon. Following the cable brake, I found I had no mobile phone reception therefore no internet connection. Quickly booking a room at the hotel across the road from the airfield, I learned they had no wifi access. They did have a single PC available in the reception area, for all guests to use. The BZIM was completely unloaded to gain access to the whole brake cable. I fully expected to be stranded for a few days, so moved everything from the BZIM to the hotel room. Over the next few days, I could sort through the items I had been carrying, whilst waiting on parts for the brakes.

An email was hastily sent to P&M aviation in the UK, describing my predicament. I requested a new cable be sent out to me from the UK. With it being the middle of the night in the UK, I would have to wait til the next day for any reply. With the hotel reception area closing at 9pm, a final check of the messages sent out on Facebook. I noted some comments questioning whether I needed brakes.

After all they were only (for) slowing me down!

Continue reading

Flying never to forget (part 1)

Catching up Sunday 22nd April (part 1)

What a day! What a day!

My thanks, again, to my host Damien and his wife. Awake just after 5am, by 5:30am Damien’s father in law was cooking breakfast for three. Just what was needed for the day ahead!

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What a photographer!

Albuquerque pilots prefer to fly early and be back at base, Double Eagle, by around 9am. This allows them to fly close to the stunning scenery without fear of thermic or gusty conditions caused by the intense heat that builds during  the day. Either that or they all have jobs they need to get to.

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Frank and Damien. Damien’s stance proves he has what it takes.

Today, the weather, and therefore flying conditions, were perfect. These conditions are the reason 5 trike pilots took to the air, just after sunrise (I was told my presence may have been a factor, but I am not convinced). Lead by Damien Beresford, then myself, then Mark Morton, Michael Hyde and Frank Roush, all 5 danced a merry dance through the still air towards the red coloured cliff edges, mesa’s and the many extinct volcanoes.

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Frank taxies for departure

The population is sparse, roads are dirt, long and empty.  This provides ample ‘outs’, landing on almost any road, should a problem arise. As every pilot knows, its wise to practice emergency situations, simulating problems and carrying out the necessary actions. Perfect excuse for  landing on a road somewhere. As a new ‘runway’ is discovered, a name is often given to that stretch of road. “Dirt road” doesn’t look too good in the logbook. Following Michael Hyde’s lead, I selected a stretch of road.

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Michael Hyde lifts after christening another landing spot, Rock Windows Road

As I touched down on the deserted gravel road “Stalkers Landing” was born.  Not sure if it was noticed at the time, but Stalkers landing actually had two runways. A bend in the road, led to the departure being on a different heading (runway) than the landing.Stalkers Landing

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Damien leading the way

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A cloud or Damien’s exhuast plume trailing. You decide!

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Damien approaching the play area.

I have always equated flying a microlight as like having your own personal roller coaster, with added stunning views. The image below goes some way to prove my analogy.

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snippets of the BZIM’s flight path

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No one around for miles, but us trikes.

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A 6th trike, flown by Henry Howe joins in the fun

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5 trikes pull in for a cuppa.

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Frank flying whilst 5 pilots on the ground, look on in envy.

One of the goals of this outing was to try obtain some stunning aerial photography of the BZIM set against the beauty of the New Mexico landscape. Damien scored many goals. The remaining images were all taken by Damien. (click image for larger view)

 

 

Finally it was time to say good-bye to my new flying friends. My adventure must continue. Damien suggested a routing further south than I had initially planned, simply to save time. Visiting the Canyonlands and landing at a dirt strip in a canyon, would no longer take place. I could see the dirt strip landing would be no different from what I had just been doing. Landing at Bluff and the canyons around that area, along with Lake Powell would lesson any disappointment about missing the Canyonlands. I left the remaining pilots around 9:30am, thirty minutes past their usual return time. They were even talking about heading to another area to “play”. Perhaps the cut-off time 9am never really existed, or they are pushing those limits, or perhaps because it was Sunday, they didn’t have to be at work. I’ll let them answer that in the comments!

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Michael, Mark, Me, Henry and Damien