Flight of Two

ms80831

PRA member since 1973
Published (with Photo's page 11-12) in the September issue of Western Rotorcraft at:

http://www.utahrotorcraft.org/WR/Western_Rotorcraft_2013_09_hires.pdf

Flight of two

ABOVE THE BLACK FOREST FIRE

It was a warm summer morning in the Pikes Peak Region a few days after the devastating Black Forest Fire (BFF). It would grow to be a hot summer day, dry but thankfully mostly free of the choking thick smoke the area had experienced for over a week during and after the BFF, after because there were 2 other fires still burning in Southern Colorado.

But today was clear, and Todd and I were opening every vent to keep cool in XenonCopter 9MB as we taxied to Toni and Larry Wright's hangar where Thomas Fenandez keeps his single place Gyrobee. Thomas had not flown over the fire area yet, and today it was to be a flight of 2. After meeting Thomas, we briefed the flight carefully, agreed on radio frequencies, and Thomas suited up.

The density altitude was being reported as nine thousand eight hundred on the AWOS. As I taxied onto the active runway, and began my take off roll I could already see it was hot, and we were heavy, full of fuel, near max gross weight. The runway and terrain rises quickly to the north. Just in the length of the runway the ground gains over 100 feet. If you gain 200, you net just 100 agl when you cross Hwy 24. I was glad I had installed the variable turbo boost control a few weeks prior.

I increased it to just below the red line as we climbed in the summer heat. Thomas was just ahead waiting for us as we climbed up to his altitude and made a bee line to the Black Forest, just 7 miles away. Flying a little slower than normal, we could see the devastation rolling under our floor windows and sliding slowly by our cockpit windows. The beautiful Black Forest that had not had a serious fire in 100 years had caught fire late Tuesday afternoon, and whipped by 40 mph winds, and fed by tender very dry vegetation roared across the forest, burning over14000 acres, first west to east, and then with a shift of wind, south to north. What we were witnessing below was the still smoldering aftermath.

The fire was now 100 % contained, but the clean up was just beginning. Todd kept his eyes on Thomas's bright green tail as we turned and followed the path of the fire. In all, over 500 homes were destroyed making it the greatest loss of homes in Colorado state history. Thomas's voice crackled on the radio now as we joined up to turn southbound on the western edge of the fire damage, near where it began. As we traveled first south, then turned east a flash of white in the morning sun revealed a low wing airplane circling the fire area. We saw him first and took evasive action as he turned in a circle probably fixated on the ground taking photos.

I asked Thomas how his fuel was doing and if he had ever flown over the corral bluffs. Thomas confirmed his fuel was OK, and he was game. We exited the forest on a southerly heading weaving a path between the class C airspace restriction and the bluffs. I watched my GPS moving map to be sure we did not violate COS towers airspace, leading our flight of two right over the sharp cliffs of corral bluffs. Up and over the bluff, and a sharp turn to a North east heading had us pointed to Meadow Lake Airport ahead just 6 miles.

We broke formation and I landed on the crosswind runway next to my house. Thomas returned to the Wrights hangar where we met for a post flight de brief. We all enjoyed it so much, Thomas asked if we could do it again in a few days, this time using my transponder to allow us as a flight of 2 to fly over the city of Colorado Springs. Thomas had never flown over Garden of the Gods or the other sights of our city as his gyrobee does not have the required transponder. So the date is set, our next adventure will be , a flight of 2 in Class C airspace over the city.
 
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