The wind blew consistently all afternoon and we could see some serious weather building in the west.
In the words of one pilot, “I think we are going to be snookered this afternoon”.
But… Your not fishing unless your bait is in the water, and so at 4:45 the whole lot of us went down to the airstrip. The wind was 10 to 15 from the south and you could see by watching the flag at the top of the mesa that it was blowing much stronger aloft. Chris broke out the toys and was entertaining us by buzzing around the airfield on his scooter and shooting off a potato cannon.
John Fetz was holding court on a tailgate and the hanger stories were getting older and hairier by the minute. I drifted from one group to another enjoying the moment and watching the skies. As the sun got lower the wind started to abate, we were watching a fairly large cumulus building to the east, a couple of miles past the entrance to Monument Valley and although it was building, it was down wind and moving away from us. At 5:30 or a quarter to 6 the flag on the top of the mesa started to slow way down and soon after, Mo launched in almost no wind conditions. We watched him do a couple of laps around the LZ and there was no question that the air was flyable.
The scramble was on…
Everybody started laying out their wings, Johnny Fetz set up to launch to the south using the runway. He is still trying to “dial in” the buggy, (it can be configured to use either a Delta Wing, Paraglider, or Land Sail), and the thrust line was playing hell with his wing so he never got off the ground. I watched several guys launch including an exciting takeoff by one trike pilot who followed his wing around until he was pointed directly at a beautiful little Citation. He managed to pop it up before it got too hairy, but I was holding my breath the whole time. No harm no done and from the look on his face I could tell the lesson was learned.
A few minutes later the wind was a 4 to 5 mph from the South East so I laid out in that direction and took off. It wasn’t glassy but it wasn’t bad either. I went a mile or so East of the LZ and played around keeping an eye to Monument Valley where the skies were grey all the way to the horizon. After about 45 minutes I came back and started my approach at the far north end of the runway. It was probably the best landing I have ever had, I was 5 feet up when I crossed the end of the runway and with just the slightest brake pressure I managed to stay at that height or lower all the way to the helicopter pads, at least half a mile. Since the runway slopes up from the north I was climbing just slightly the whole way. When I touched down I kept the wing up and taxied to the apron turned off the runway and collapsed the wing. Man, it felt good! Lon was filming and I really looked forward to reviewing my little triumph on video.
Just a minute or two after I landed I watched Alex come in from the North East, He was obviously in some pretty rowdy air and I saw him being swung from side to side. At 50 feet he was hit by a rotor and bounced up at least 50 feet and just as fast as he went up I watched him come down then back up again. He managed to land on his feet during the next downstroke narrowly missing the fence at the end of the apron. I spoke with him later that evening, he said that was the most active piloting he has ever done and the most scared he has ever been in the air and I believe it. In all the DVDs and hundreds of times to the field I have never seen rotor bounce anybody so dramatically. I thought he was going to come down hard and at the very least break legs and wreak his equipment.
Video of Alex in the Gust & Rotor
It is a little over 2 minutes but worth seeing. At 30 seconds listen and you will hear Mo Sheldon commenting on the weather and urging people to secure their wings. Followed by Alex getting caught in the gust front.
here is a link to The Pikes Peak PPG Club website
Shortly after that, Chris Page played it smart and came in at the far North end of the runway. Wow ! It was amazing how fast everything went to hell. One minute I’m patting myself on the back for a sweet landing and the next minute guys are dropping out of the sky in emergency landings.
Thirty minutes later everybody had packed and left for the Banquet, I had lost my keys somewhere and was wandering around the runway apron looking for them when Bill Rowe drove up and told me that we had a pilot down and he had received a text asking for medical attention.