Back in the Saddle Again
By Dan Grunloh, Editor - Light Plane World, EAA 173888
I recently learned how to make the wind stop blowing and how to guarantee excellent flying weather. Put your foot in a cast for seven weeks so you can’t work the pedals of your aircraft. The months of September and October yielded many days of fantastic flying weather that made me wish I was flying an Ercoupe. There are many things that can keep us from flying or reduce the amount of our flying time.
A surgery to repair an old foot injury grounded me for almost two months. Finally getting back into the air again was fabulous. Don’t we all feel a little taller and have more spring in our step after a good flight? The most important thing a pilot can do to continue flying is to take care of your health.
I used my first opportunity to fly in two months to explore the new wind turbine farm going up just a few miles from my home field. I had seen them from the ground level and couldn’t wait to check them out from the air. At nearly 300 feet to the top of the blades, the structures are very imposing when you’re sitting in a little open cockpit. They’re so big it’s hard to judge their distance. Fortunately, most weren’t turning during my visit. The crops had all been harvested, so I felt pretty safe flying low in their vicinity.
This new wind farm isn’t on the sectional chart yet, but when it is, the usual directive to pilots will be to use caution and avoid the area. The airspace isn’t prohibited, and avoiding the area won’t be practical for owners of private airfields or for crop dusters working those fields next summer. Owners of private registered airstrips can block wind turbines off the end of their landing approaches, but unregistered ultralight strips have no such protection. As I flew low between the mostly unfinished towers, it became apparent that for some (or many) aircraft, this place would constitute a congested area.
It wasn’t all that much different than some parts of the open countryside except you have 300-foot towers scattered loosely around instead of 100-foot trees. Cruising 50 mph in a trike, I easily maintained a 500-foot clearance from the structures as they were typically 2,000 feet apart, but it was spooky. Although the fields were bare and I could land anywhere I wanted in an emergency, I wouldn’t want to try it in a wind, or with poor visibility, or while cruising at 120 mph. Later when I drove past them on the highway at dusk I realized some weren’t yet lighted. The off-white towers and blades blended in nicely with the gray evening haze. Flying anywhere near a wind farm with low ceilings and light rain would be extremely dangerous.
Flying low has always been a favorite part of ultralight flying because the proximity to the surface enhances the perception of flight. But it’s always more risky. It’s legal if you have the required clearances from obstacles, but you have fewer options and no room for mistakes. The temptation to fly “nape of the meadow” may be greatest late in the season when pilot skills are higher, so I hope you all take extra care at this time of the year.