By Greg Brown
Black clouds burdened Sedona when we departed Flagstaff that Sunday afternoon—clearly we’d need to detour before turning south toward Phoenix. Jean had just tuned in Albuquerque Center for guidance when “Cessna Skylane 10100” signed on.
“What an unusual N-number,” I thought. After the center acknowledged the other plane, I checked in our Flying Carpet, and proposed circumnavigating the thunderstorms to the east.
“Looks good,” said the controller. “You should have no trouble getting around the weather in that direction.”
“We’d like an instrument clearance to Double Eagle Airport at 11,000 feet,” radioed Cessna 10100, when I’d finished.
“Where’s Double Eagle Airport?” asked Jean.
“Just west of Albuquerque,” I replied, and reminded her of once landing there. We steered east and then south around evil shafts of rain off our right wing.
“Have you received any interesting reader letters lately?” asked Jean, getting settled.
“Actually, I have. Marine MSgt. Drew Radford wrote me the other day from Okinawa. Drew recently earned his private pilot certificate through the Kadena Air Force Base Aero Club. He sent a fascinating letter and photos detailing his adventures flying light airplanes around Japan’s southern islands. (The Radfords’ wonderful aerial photos illustrate this column.) Apparently, there’s virtually no civil aviation in Japan, so piloting anything other than a military flight or an airliner makes him a curiosity wherever he flies. Interestingly, Drew grew up in Flagstaff. We’re meeting for lunch next time he comes home on leave.”
“That’s a pretty amazing connection given the size of Flagstaff,” said Jean. “Which reminds me—did you ever hear back from that guy in Colorado who wrote you about flying to Arizona?”
“You mean Brian Brandfas from Buckley Air Force Base, who emailed last month for Arizona flying tips?” Instead of just boring holes in the sky to build flight experience for his commercial, Brian had planned a Southwest aerial adventure via Sedona and the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. He shared good questions about flight planning, worthy destinations and local weather hazards. “No, I haven’t heard back from him; I wonder if he ever made that trip.”
By now, we could finally see around the weather to where we wanted to go.
“It’s amazing all the new sights you discover flying just a few miles off our usual course,” said Jean. “Look at those canyons!” One by one, she identified them from our sectional chart. Soon we coasted clear skies toward our destination of Falcon Field.
“Who else has written you lately?” asked my wife.
I described a recent email from Neal Trombley of Ft. Meyers, Fla. “Neal flies Cessna 172s with a nonprofit ‘patrol club’ called the Sundowners that scouts local waters for stranded boaters. Very different from our Arizona desert flying, eh?”
By now, we were approaching our destination, and refocused attention on landing.
Back home a few days later, I received an email update from Brian.
“I completed my trip to Las Vegas this past weekend,” he wrote. “Other than one $100 hamburger run with my wife and daughter to Scottsbluff, Neb., I sadly enough have never used my license to go anywhere. This was the first time I have ventured anywhere far from home that was not a training cross-country. All during the flight, my buddy and I kept saying how cool this was. Nothing beats the Las Vegas strip filling your windscreen as you cross the ridge south of the Henderson airport. The experience was so awesome that I don’t even care that I ran into some real poker pros in Vegas and got taught some serious lessons by them.”
Brian had also learned from the adventure.
“During the trip back I got some priceless experience. We picked up an instrument clearance en route and I now have .7 logged hours of actual instrument! Living in Colorado it is very hard to get actual, because either it’s too cold and you have ice to worry about or there is convective activity in the clouds. The trip rekindled my desire to own a plane someday so I can do this more often.”
“I’m bummed that we didn’t get a chance to meet since I was in your neighborhood,” he wrote in closing. “I had planned to stop in Sedona or Flagstaff on the way home. But when we flew out of Las Vegas Sunday afternoon, Sedona was getting thunderstorms and the XM weather showed more hits ahead of us, so after picking up that instrument flight plan near Flagstaff, we pressed on. It turned out to be a good decision, as with only a few diversions, we made it all the way to Double Eagle at Albuquerque.”
Huh? Bypassing thunderstorms over Sedona? And flying on instruments from Flagstaff to Double Eagle Airport? It was hard to believe—but could our flight paths have possibly crossed? Incredulous, I left a phone message at the number listed on Brian’s email.
“Does the airplane you flew have an odd N-number that’s all ones and zeroes?” I asked.
Long hours passed before I got my reply. Sure enough, Brian had made his first-ever Southwest flying journey in a Cessna 182 named 10100, and had indeed collected his instrument clearance over Flagstaff precisely as Jean and I departed there for Phoenix. Our proximity seemed astonishing, given that Brian had never flown west before. What’s more, had his binary N-number not attracted my attention, and had Jean not asked about Double Eagle, we’d never have identified our overlapping courses.
Jean and I marveled at the odds of intersecting with new pilot acquaintances Drew and Brian from so far afield.
“Now all we need is for Florida aviator Neal Trombley to save us from a stranded boat in bone-dry Arizona—that would be the ultimate coincidence,” I joked.
“I’ll say,” said Jean, “especially since we don’t even have a boat.”
Read Brian Brandfas’s trip log at [http://brianb10.blogspot.com]. Author of numerous books and articles, Greg Brown is a columnist for AOPA Flight Training magazine. Read more of his tales in “Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane,” available through your favorite bookstore, pilot shop, or online catalog, and visit [http://www.gregbrownflyingcarpet.com].