This past weekend I found another perfectly good excuse to spend a Saturday flying across Arizona. Ivan, a friend from the old continent, sent me an email during the week, he was in Arizona for company training but stuck without a car in Tucson for the weekend. Could we meet? And when a friend calls, how can you not listen?
The trip by car would have been a couple of hours (each way) of absolute boredom driving across the desert for hundreds of miles assuming perfect traffic conditions (an improbable assumption on this stretch of highway). By airplane, it would have been less than 50 minutes. There were no doubts in my mind on which way to go except for the weather. A cold front was supposed to cross the state right that day. Precipitation was not part of the picture, this is Arizona after all, but a fair amount of wind (variable direction and gusting to 25knots) was showing in the Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs) on Friday night. Saturday morning, an update showed that the front was late and would have crossed Arizona only in the afternoon and off I went to beat the wind and reach Tucson by air.
KTUS (Tucson international airport) is a class C (Charlie) airspace (which means pretty big and busy) but it is still a friendly place to visit for a general aviation pilot like me. Sure the procedures to get in are a bit more strict and complex than my home base (Chandler Municipal) but, with a little practice and planning, it is definitely possible to mix in with the commercial traffic without causing any trouble. As usual, it is the human factor that counts more than many other things, and in Tucson the controllers are definitely among the best and the most friendly I have encountered in my little experience flying across the West.
They had me parking right under the tower in front of the executive terminal where I met Ivan, incredulous and a bit in shock just before 11 am. Checking the weather again, we soon realized that the wind forecast had been exaggerated quite a bit and was now dialed down to a mere 18knots (although still gusty) but right along the main runways.
So we decided to head back to Chandler where Sara, my wife, was preparing lunch already (fetuccine al pesto, how could we resist?). The afternoon we would have decided how to return by car or, once more, by air depending on the conditions.
This was a first flight for Ivan, at least on a small airplane like mine, and he could hardly keep his camera still while we were zipping across the desert sky and passing by some pretty picturesque landmarks like Picacho Peak, whose summit was peppered by the white shirts of the Saturday morning hikers.
Back in Chandler(KCHD), the type of airport traffic was quite different…
We had lunch and we spent most of the afternoon discussing passionately about … everything, but mostly about how this same experience would have been simply impossible in the old continent with all its rules, its restrictions, the user fees and the current price of fuel!
In the evening the wind had almost completely died out and the front had passed almost without us noticing. The flight back at the sunset offered new views over a land that seemed completely changed.
I am sure Ivan won’t forget about this weekend in Arizona, as for my logbook it shows two more entries now:
KCHD – KTUS – KCHD, XCountry, 2 take offs, 2 landings, PIC(Pilot in Command) 2.1 h
KCHD – KTUS – KCHD, XCountry, 2 take offs, 2 landings, PIC 2.0 h