October 5, 2005
Jean, Nevada to Mesquite, Nevada to St. George, Utah
The Last Day
It seems the closer we get to the end of this trip the more difficult it
gets. We have been stuck in Jean for 2 days now with strong winds here
and along the route to our final destination. A cold front has been
slowly moving through dumping snow on northern Utah and leaving us
with winds gusting up to 33 knots and more.
I'm up ready to fly at 7am when it should be calm but it's already
blowing and Las Vegas just 30 miles north has gusts to 19 knots. My
destination at St. George has only 6 knots of wind which is great, if only I
can get there. I debate what to do and decide to take off and land at
the North Las Vegas small plane airport if its too windy to continue up the
mountains into Utah.
Las Vegas' approach control for McCarran International airport has a
reputation for not treating small planes well and since my speed is so slow
if I do ask permission to transit their airspace I'll be in their way for a
long time. I decide its best if I can avoid their space altogether by
staying far below the heavy jet traffic and skirting around the edge of the
valley where Las Vegas sits.
I take-off from Jean facing north and climb quickly to 1,500' above the
ground, but when I level off the north winds have my speed down to 35 knots
and the cars on the freeway are leaving me far behind. It seems to
take forever to get to Las Vegas.
The winds are gusty and bumpy but not much different than some other days
I've had so I pass North Las Vegas and continue on my way. I am about
8 miles past the airport and hugging the mountains that ring the valley when
suddenly the gusts get severe and constant. If I could fly out over
the valley it would smooth out but that would be in the controlled airspace
for Las Vegas so I just persevere and fly thorough the heaving and bucking
winds near the mountains. Normally I can fly with just my thumb and
forefinger on the stick but now I have a death grip on the cyclic to keep
the gyroplane under control until I get far enough north to where I can move
into the center of the valley without infringing McCarran's flight path.
Finally the bouncing eases off some though I must constantly adjust for
updrafts, downdrafts and cross winds. My speed has improved to 48
knots but it still takes 2.5 hours to go the 100 miles to my fuel stop at
Mesquite. St George is only 25 miles away and still reporting only 9
knots so I had hoped to be in calmer winds by now but no such luck.
The wind on the ground here is easily 20 knots and just ahead is a narrow
slot canyon where I had intended to follow the highway through the mountains
without having to climb high above them. The slot will act like a
venturi and increase the wind speed by at least 50% making it much too
Only 25 miles to our 48th state and the end of this 10,000 mile journey
and I'm stopped again. I call Dee and tell her not to continue to St.
George but instead to come to the Mesquite airport and that we may have to
spend the night here. If the wind dies towards sunset we can make a
quick hop to St. George and if not perhaps it will be calm early tomorrow
Dee has to call the newspaper and TV station in St. George who have been
waiting for us for 3 days now and she informs them we are stopped again.
Then while we wait the Mesquite newspaper comes out for an interview having
been alerted by the airport manager.
By noon it is blowing so hard in Mesquite that our
motorhome is rocking and rolling while parked and walking across the airport
ramp requires leaning into the wind. We resolve ourselves to the long afternoon of waiting
but inexplicably by 2 pm the wind dies down to only 12 knots and I decide we
can head out. Dee calls the media folks again then takes off in the
motorhome. I give her a 20 minute head start and I too head out.
The first few miles are OK but as I near the slot canyon that holds
Interstate 15 I again get rocked and buffeted. Looking at this narrow
canyon on the map was one thing but now that I see it for real I realize
that flying in there could
be disastrous so I turn around and circle a moment while I review an
alternate route. It is over fairly rugged terrain and
requires me to climb much higher but the really big mountains are farther
apart and will not create the venturi effect of the slot.
The good news is that this route is fairly direct and I will only be over
the mountains for 10 minutes. As I climb up I pass through a shear
layer where the winds are tumbling down the mountain towards me but moments
later I hit smooth updrafts and the remainder of the trip while tense is not
overly difficult flying.
I snap a few pictures then get on the radio to monitor the St. George
traffic. I had thought this a not very busy airport but the frequency
is packed with landing and departing aircraft announcing their intentions.
There are two helicopters with students aboard practicing maneuvers and
several jets landing as well.
The St. George airport sits high on a bluff so
landing on it is like landing on an aircraft carrier. There is a
single north-south runway and today the wind is directly from the west at
about 12 knots with
gusts to 16 knots.
I have promised the TV crew that I will do a few flybys before landing so
I announce that is my intention. I follow two other small planes ahead
of me that are landing to the north. I do one fly-by heading north
which goes well then some confusion sets in.
Airplanes always take-off and land into the wind but today the wind is
almost exactly perpendicular to the runway. If it were just a little
bit Northwest or Southwest it would be obvious which runway was favored but
in these conditions it is nearly a toss up. I had followed the
northerly direction of the small plane just before me but now a Skyways
commuter jet comes in from the opposite direction and lands heading south.
Not far behind him is a Piaggio corporate jet who also prepares to land to
the south. As this is happening the two helicopters and I are
circling to stay clear of the approaching jets. The helicopters and I
are communicating where we are so we don't get too close to each other, when
the corporate jet either confused by our conversation or unhappy with the
gusty crosswind decides not to land but to climb up and come around again.
This makes everyone else jockey position some more.
After one helicopter lands and takes-off again I do
another flyby for the TV cameras then the corporate jet lands and another
jet takes off. Someone on the frequency says St. George is never this
busy and he jokes that we need an air traffic controller.
I now come in to land again to the north and instead I see a plane
taxiing across the runway to a hangar on the opposite side. He should
have clearly heard my calls but he has taken the runway anyway. I
power up and fly above him climbing to clear the hills nearby, then I come
back around to land to the north but as I near touchdown the winds swirling
around the bluffs upwind of me are
gusting me all over and I decide I do not like the looks of things so when I
am only 3 feet off the runway I give it full throttle and climb out again.
If I had been in my own gyroplane I would just pick a small open spot on
the ramp and land directly into the wind, but I am not familiar enough with
Randy's borrowed Sparrowhawk to be able to spot land it so I need the
At this point I realize why the locals have been landing to the
south. If I land to the south that end of the runway is slightly more protected
from the very gusty cross winds by another bluff. The helicopter student in front
of me has some trouble with his approach so I slow behind him then come in
high and drop down to the runway. It is still a gusty crosswind
but things go better this time and finally the wheels kiss the earth for my
final landing of this epic trip.
I turn off the runway and taxi up to where I see Dee and the camera crew.
Dee rushes up to hug me before I can exit the gyro and moments later we are
kissing, celebrating and toasting each other with champagne.
We've done it!!