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I Learned More About Flying From This

By Jeff Seaborn, EAA Canadian Council and Chapters Council Board Member

December 10, 2018 - I took a neighbour friend up who had never flown in anything smaller than a twin-engine turboprop, but he was really keen to go.

The day was a hot one, and we planned to go for a flight after work. We live on the southwest side of Calgary near the foothills, and the airfield where I’m based is on the southeast side of Calgary.

Since it was such a warm evening, I picked him up in my 1969 Karmann Ghia convertible. What’s better than going for a drive with the top down on a hot summer’s day? It’s got to be driving the convertible to an airport and going for an evening flight. On the drive, I noticed that the sky north of Calgary was brown. It appeared to be the smoke from the British Columbia forest fires that we’d been dealing with all summer. Fortunately, it wasn’t an issue on the south where we were intending to fly. I tend to stay south of Calgary as the scenery is better there, and I don’t have to enter the Calgary International Airport (YYC) control zone.

Wayne was bubbling with enthusiasm the entire way and was full of questions and comments. I did the normal walk-around and preflight answering all of his questions and explaining some of the details that he hadn’t considered. We started up, and as the engine warmed up, we went through the procedures and description of the flight. An RV-7 is a wonderful airplane in which to allow the passenger to control the plane. There is great visibility, and the side-by-side arrangement is very comforting and allows great interaction between the pilot and the passenger.

We took off on Runway 27 and during our climb-out I got a better view of the sky to the north. It was a brown haze from the ground up to a couple thousand feet. I made mental note of it, and we continued our flight. Staying below the YYC control zone, we flew west to circle over our homes. Who doesn’t like to see their home from the air? Wayne was really pleased to get such a view. It’s something that we pilots can easily take for granted.

From there we flew further into the foothills and worked our way south paralleling the mountains. It was a beautiful evening for a flight. Despite the heat of the day, the air was smooth with a 5 mph wind out of the south.

As we circled over Chain Lakes Provincial Park, which is 50 miles to the south of our airfield, I noted that the brown smudge in the sky had crept further south.

Without alarming Wayne, I decided it was time to start heading home. It should have been simple flight, straight back to the airfield in a nice steady descent with a 5 mph tailwind. We should have been there in just more than 15 minutes.

As we approached I could see that the brown smudge had accelerated its progress south. It had already crossed the highway, and it was about to pass over the airfield. I was considering some other landing options — High River, Okotoks — but I could see the airfield from where we were. The visibility wasn’t a limitation. In fact, if anything, the airfield was just being tickled by the edges of the smudge. Two minutes from landing we flew into it. It wasn’t simply a smoke smudge; it was a front! Although I had been reducing power prior to hitting it, the GPS showed that we went from a groundspeed of 185 mph to 120 mph within seconds. The 5 mph tailwind we were enjoying ran into the 60 mph headwind of the front. No wonder the smudge was moving south at such a speed.

It should be noted that when two air masses collide at a combined closing speed of 65 mph, the air masses have to go somewhere. It is like two waves colliding with one another. There’s going to be some vertical displacement. The initial hit caused Wayne to lose his headset. His seat belt had loosened a bit during the flight, and he lifted off his seat during the first impact. It was rough for 10 seconds, and we dropped a few hundred feet in that time. The g meter showed +3.2g, -1.8g. This was well within the limits of the RV, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant for a newcomer.

After the initial shock and discomfort, it was a simple case of pushing through the strong headwind and landing on Runway 16. With this headwind our ground roll was almost nonexistent. We gingerly taxied the remaining length of the runway to the hangar and put the RV to bed.

Along with the winds, the front brought a significant temperature drop. Wayne might have been shaking and shivering — we will blame it on the cold temperatures on the drive home in the convertible.

I have to give Wayne credit. Despite that rough introduction to flying, he’s keen to go again. In fact, he’s described the flight to his friends as epic.

A lesson for me is to always have a look at the weather forecast, even for a short hop around the area. We were in the air for 45 minutes, and we were never more than 15-20 minutes from home. The air that we were flying in was clear, and the wind we were experiencing should have been pushing the smudge away. I noted that it was approaching too late, and although I felt safe the entire time, it wasn’t a comfortable way to introduce a newcomer.

Wayne took the picture below a couple minutes before we hit the front. You can clearly see the brown smudge. The airfield is just below the horizon, just beyond the large canola field. It was within eyesight — we just needed to get there.

Bits 2018
That front as seen by Wayne.