5K Runway Thump!
I can’t say how excited I was…the thought of getting to land on the runway and then park my airplane there just seemed like too much! Going home to the first airport I trained at, JeffCo, helping Angel Flight West with their 5k Run the Runway…what a dream come true!
But not quite yet sir…The weather during the week before the event predicted a beautiful, perfect, sunny fall Colorado Saturday. Those were the best, a bit of crisp cool air in the morning with the sun coming out and warming things up to the nice high 70’s. It’s what we love about Colorado. By the middle of the week, I began planning my route in Foreflight, a quick 20-minute jump from Northern Colorado Regional Airport (KFNL), where I was based, to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan airport (KBJC) or JeffCo as it used to be called. I’ve done this several times and it’s no big deal. Fly along the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies, over the town of Longmont, pick up Class D ATIS and call in for the clearance. My main concern currently was trying to figure out how we were going to get the airplane to Runway 12R/30L.
As a member of Angel Flight West, and the Colorado Wing Leader, we had been planning for months a fundraiser called 5k Run the Runway for the Angels to benefit Angel Flight West. What a cool idea! JeffCo had very graciously agreed to close one of their runways to allow us to have this event. I had never heard of this before (it’s actually somewhat common) and I just thought this was the coolest concept!
Not only would I get to participate in helping out AFW but I would get to hang out on the runway where I first started training in a Diamond Eclipse! Win-Win-WIN! And, I was now going to land there and park my 182 somewhere on the runway so the runners could have something cool to look at while they ran! Pinch me! (so the weather did!!)
By Friday, the forecast was looking more like the typical Colorado weather with some storm off in the distant Northwest bringing in something by Sunday. Boo! Prediction for Saturday was still sunny but lower temperatures and winds picking up by the afternoon. However, the TAF’s were all saying the winds would not get too gusty until late Saturday, maybe Saturday night. So, although not ideal, I still had a decent window of opportunity. That night however, the beginning of the front moved in and all night I heard the howling of winds, so strong they threw my barbecue off the deck of my house into the backyard. This was not good. Checking the weather again first thing in the morning, the winds were still forecasted to be calm but pick up late in the afternoon. Assuming I could get out of JeffCo by around noon, I still had a shot. Or I could still do the hour drive and forfeit the plane. But I really wanted the chance to park the airplane on the runway. I doubted I would get this opportunity again.
As I drove to the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport, the winds were still strong but seemed to gradually begin dying down. I felt mildly confident that I could take off and land at JeffCo, which was reporting calm winds, with no problems. By the time I finished my pre-flight, the winds at our fair airport had become calm. A good sign. One thing to note though…pilots will fly into NoCo for the first time from the East and want to get Mountain Flying instruction (which you should) and say they are interested in flying the mountains. I’ll laugh because, whether you realize it or not, all along the Front Range of Colorado like Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver or Fort Collins, is mountain flying! You may not be going over 11,000 foot passes to climb over into the Rockies but you still have to deal with density altitude and weather. And the weather typically is winds coming from the west over the mountains and then falling in classical mountain wave patterns right over the foothills into the Front Range towns like Fort Collins or Longmont or Boulder. So, I knew that even though the winds were calm at NoCo, higher up the winds aloft were still blowing hard and that it would be turbulent to go any higher than about 2000 feet AGL (7000 feet). My plan was to take off, point south to JeffCo and get there as quickly as possible and figure out where I would end up being parked for the event.
Once I started climbing out NoCo, oh, there were the winds! Dang, I wasn’t going to get any higher than about a thousand feet AGL and the more I got rocked around, the more I realized I was doing good to stay at that altitude. I pulled my seatbelt and shoulder straps tight as this was going to be a bumpy 20 minute ride. About half-way to JeffCo, there is a lower spot in the foothills to the west where the winds can funnel down over the town of Longmont, my halfway point. I’ve hit turbulence in this area before so I kind of knew it would be coming but not this…Wham! My head hit the ceiling and I lost control of the airplane. I popped back down in my seat and all the documents, manuals, gust lock and pitot tube cover that were in the co-pilot seat pocket in back flew forward onto the passenger side floor. Everything that had been in the right seat was on the floor. I had just hit severe turbulence in a 182! I checked the instruments and controls while trying to hold the airplane steady but still getting some strong buffeting, however everything still seemed fine. I considered turning around, but I was literally at the half-way point so maybe I could just push on forward and get down out of this mess. I picked up the RMMA ATIS and sure enough the winds were now gusting 30 knots, albeit, right down the 30 runways. I called in to the tower and they directed me to the parallel runway, 30R. They also let me know that there had just been a report of a 1000 foot elevation drop on final from a previous aircraft. I let them know as well, about the severe turbulence I had just experienced in my cracking and dried up shaky voice. So, concentrating all my efforts, having landed at this airport many times with some similar situations, I knew I just needed to keep focused and it would be fine. And it was. The landing was relatively non-eventful having about 20 knots of headwind to give me a graceful cushion down. After landing, we ended up parking our lovely 1965 Model H 182 at the end of the runway and preceded to have a grand event!
We had a Cessna 206 parked at the east side and an Angel Flight West member, who flew one of our patient speakers to the event, parked his airplane, a Cessna 205 right on the Taxiway D area!
But, true to Colorado form, the weather never let up and it stayed windy and chilly all day long. Welcome to Colorado!!