Lesson 147
27 November 2000
1.3 hours

Mellow Late Afternoon

The weather was very pleasant today, with a stiff breeze aloft at 60 degrees to the runway, but almost none at ground level. Chris (my elder son) came along.

Right after takeoff, at about 600 feet AGL, Chris's door popped open.  Oops.  It struck me as funny because I had run through my pre-takeoff emergency checklist for him aloud.  That included "doors closed and locked," and he elbowed his door to show that it was indeed closed and locked.  It also included "belts and harnesses secure" and sure enough, both of our shoulder belts had come loose from the lap belt by the time the door popped open--so there wasn't much holding ol' Chris in the airplane but his lap belt.  And, of course, the wind created by our 80 mph climb at full power--probably something like a 150 or 200 mph wind on the door. sufficiently strong that he couldn't get the door open far enough to latch it by slamming.  Or fall out.  So I just stayed in the pattern and landed.  His door handle had been in the locked position.  The only trouble was that the airplane didn't seem to notice.

There was enough crosswind aloft that I had to crab 15 degrees on final.  But at ground level it was essentially zero, so I can't say I made any crosswind landings today.  Damn good crosswind approaches, though.

We took off again and we flew south, with the setting sun on our right, then turned west to look at some smoke plumes that the low sun lit up and the wind held down on the ground. The visibility to the west was good and we could see the Shenandoah Mountains, about 80 miles away, but close to the city it was hazy and smoky.

Here's a view of a smoke plume in the sunset, one of many, all upwind of the city.  We were at 3000 feet, so it looks minor here, but down lower there was a lot of smoke, and as we approached from the northwest the setting sun made it glow against the dark earth and pines.  The smoke was blowing fiercely almost at ground level directly toward most of the oxygen breathers in the region, and we wondered what effect it was having on them. The white line parallel to the horizon is a dammed up portion of the Appomattox River between the smoke and the horizon. The pale whitish thing in the right side is a reflection on the inside of the window, but the bright white thing there is a lake.

After circling one particularly large trash fire in the back yard of a farm, we flew east to PTB, Petersburg Airport (which also now seems to be called Dinwiddie County Airport).  As we crossed the airport at 3000 feet, it was easy to see which runway was active--because there were two trash fires  across the road from the approach end of runway 23, with the smoke streaming directly away from the runway.

And maybe you can make out this quarry, which is just northwest of the airport, with the turquoise water in the bottom and the last rays of the sun lighting up the far side.  The light brown areas are where the sunlight was striking the bare earth and the trees.

Too bad about the shoulder belt cutting across the photo.  Just imagine it's not there.  It was a hard shot for Chris to get because we weren't in quite the right place, and the sun was setting so fast then that there wasn't time to come around for another pass.  The colors at that moment were almost sublime--but the quarry itself is like some immense acne pit on the face of the earth.

We entered the pattern on downwind, with the airspeed at 85 mph and the GPS saying that our ground speed was 110 because of the wind.  On final we were in the trash fire smoke until crossing over the road.

Then we flew back to FCI, Chesterfield County Airport. The sun was well below the horizon by the time we got there, and the runway and taxiway lights were on, outlining the field in white and blue, and the rotating beacon on top of the big hangar was flashing its white and green signal--quite a lovely sight there, too, although without the same natural beauty as the sunset.

It was an altogether mellow flight (if you shut the trashfire smoke and the quarry pit out of your mind).  The air was perfectly smooth, despite the stiff breeze, not a single bump the whole time.  We had a little fun with the door, and the late afternoon landscape was lovely.  And as always Chris was excellent company.

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