Thursday June 14, 2006
Toward the Raton Pass
Michael woke us up at the unGodly hour of 4:15. Sigh.... The WX briefing wasn't great. Outside (at Las Vegas) the wind was already over 5 mph, according to the briefer it was 10 mph, and the wind at Raton (RTN) was already at 5. Winds aloft (9,000 msl) were forecast for 27 from 240, quite an eye catcher, considering that Las Vegas is already is 6,800+ msl. The up side, if we flew, was we'd have a nice tailwind. But... what would the conditions for landing be at when we arrived at Raton?
The decision was mine, and we flew. Once Voyager was warmed up, the wind, which hadn't stopped all night, died. A good omen. Fearing we'd run into head winds, I'd put 15 gallons into Voyager's tanks the previous evening, more than I would normally put in for a 2 hour flight. And that came back to haunt me. Believe it or not, the density altitude at 5 am was already 8,400 feet. And the sun hadn't even come up. After kiting the chute I "wallowed" down the runway, that extra fuel making its presence known. Finally I left terra firma, and slowly climbed out.
True to forecast, as soon as I'd reached climbed a few hundred feet the tailwind kicked in. Ground speed for the 2 hour 12 minute flight varied from a little over 50 mph to 34 mph. Virtually no turbulence.
My only concern was what the wind would be at Raton. Once again the wind Gods smiled, and it was calm. After an uneventful (gentle) landing, I taxied to the FBO, dropped the chute, and watched Michael land a few minutes later.
I looked around and wondered if perhaps we should refuel and fly over the Raton Pass. This is the highest pass of the trip, with an altitude of 8,100 msl, through a fairly narrow gap. But once through it's a downhill all the way to the Appalachians. And there was no wind to be seen. A call to flight services revealed that the wind at Perry Stokes (TAD), the airport on the other side of the pass, was already at 17, gusting to 25. So much for landing there. Luckily the FBO facilities at Raton are superb, and we're having a very enjoyable day, including interviews with the two newspapers in Raton.