Salty Lookin' Lake
Jan 3, 2009
A snow-painted landscape reveals monochromatic beauty. Just needs
some help from the Fahrenheit brothers.
This should rightfully be in the
log but it was over one
of my favorite soaring sites so here it goes. The trip that brought me
to the point of this picture could have actually been a most unpleasant
experience but alas, it really wasn't. Maybe it's why this job is so
well suited to me, this stuff just doesn't stress me.
Paramotor flying is done when we want, when the weather is good and
when our time allows. Not so flying for work. Yes, the weather has to be
good enough, but what's passable for the Boeing is a darn lot
broader than what's passable for other craft.
Oh, and about that bit on airlines canceling flights due to a
lack of passenger? Set it to rest. Certainly not Southwest! You'll see
why on this story of my final 2008 trip, supposedly a two-day affair.
Leaving Chicago wasn't pretty. In fact, we had to get deiced twice.
First to clean off the aircraft then again with a longer lasting green
slime. Arctic Shield they call it—its green color, no doubt, coming from
concentration of pureed $100 bills that it takes to make it. Honestly, I don't know how an airline makes money during
Soon enough we launched, slicing our way through the gloom and into a bright blue sky—winter's undercast
receded below. One of the job's great benefits: nearly always seeing
Our first stop was nice, California nice. Kind of chilly but
that's relative. It's always chilly in Oakland, even in July, it seems.
Two more stops were planned, one to Salt Lake City and then terminating
An early arrival in Oakland would be our last early anything. After taking on fuel, food, and fares, we launched eastward, heavily
laden with extra fuel.
The extra fuel was because Salt Lakes weather was forecast to go from
yucky to really yucky. Those meteo terms aren't tossed about loosely,
either. At departure it was raining. Not hard, but moderate rain showers with occasional thunderstorms.
Yucky. The forecast called
for a cold front to pass by, the winds to increase and precip to freeze. That
easily qualifies, in my metoroligic mind,
as "really yucky."
Enroute it was still raining. Good. Maybe we'll beat the freeze.
Other Shoe Drops
When we got the weather report to start approach planning, the other
shoe had dropped. And it was a boot.
Snow was blowing right
across the now-slickened runway, dropping visibility to a half mile. Not
good. It was still within our limits but barely. And I wasn't confident
it would remain so. Our alternate was Boise whose weather was perfect,
further decreasing my thrill-level to deal with SLC's rapidly changing runway condition.
Crosswinds were 30 to 40 mph and the
barometer was 29.17 inches, the lowest I've ever seen it in my flying
Sure enough, holding instructions ensued and, in short order, we were
flying racetrack circuits in the stack. We listened as one runway closed
while another opened for a brief time while plow crews struggled to stay
ahead of moderate to heavy snow. Airplanes may have made it in but
I didn't hear any. Didn't matter, the refrain echoed in my mind "just because
airplane 123 landed successfully doesn't mean your conditions will be as
After getting established in the hold we determined how much fuel
we'd be willing to burn down to. "Bingo Fuel" as the military says. We'd
leave holding at that fuel level and go to the alternate. Bingo fuel
would allow getting vectored around, shooting the approach, missing,
flying to Boise (our alternate) then an additional 45 minutes (required
reserve). I came up with an amount, made sure the First Officer
concurred then called dispatch.
It's an awesome capability to converse with someone having so many
resources at their fingertips. They also come up with a fuel amount that
they think we can hold down to, always lower than our own number. I
never argue, though, that's silly. But when I'm ready to leave hold, I
do so. And in this case, I just didn't like the rapidly changing
conditions, the unlikeliness of improvement, and the fact that the
weather would probably expend it's worst in a mere hour or two. So we
were the first ones to bolt, well before our fuel or holding time was
On climb out, we were offered a turn back for the approach. What's
the vis? "1/2 mile in snow." Legal yes, but no thanks. It
wasn't the vis, it was the chance of ending up on an unreported slick
spot with 30 mph worth of crosswind.
Vindication came about 10 minutes later when they announced the
airport was closed. Even without that vindication, I think of how much
cheaper it is to refuel in Boise than to slide off a
runway. And mind you, I (along with probably every other pilot) harbor
the delusion that I could handle about anything the weather could throw
at me. But I'm also a realist and know better. This is about
probabilities and the probability of a mishap in such conditions was
probably 1 in 1000 which may seem low but that's about 1000 times more
likely than a mishap in better conditions.
The flight into Boise was beautiful. Clear and a million miles of
visibility. F/O John performed a flawless landing.
Now mind you, Boise was our original destination. Half our passengers
were going there anyway. They were, of course, one happy group. Salt Lake
weather was still lousy so I figured we were done and
they'd cancel the flight. Especially since we were, by now, over two hours late
and there was a reasonable prospect of holding again. No dice, we were told
to head back. Back it would be, then. By the time we refueled, SLC
weather reports showed improvement. Snowy yes, but the wind had mellowed and was more directly down the
Off we went into the clear night.
On arrival into Salt Lake's terminal area, while getting vectored for
the approach to runway 35, the instrument approach went out of service.
Oh great. Back to holding. But we had plenty of fuel so it was no worry,
but still went through the fuel calculation drill and came up with a
After only 10 minutes of holding, they fixed the problem and we got
vectored in. It took a long time for approach control to work all the
aircraft in, but nobody had to divert. Landing was routine. We saw the
runway probably 300 feet high, comfortably above minimums, and taxied clear
well before the end of its very long runway. Runway surface conditions
but the taxiways were another story. Everything was white.
Everything. Only blue lights poking up through the drifting snow gave us
a clue as to location. That was one very slow taxi with frequent
admonitions to keep watching for any signs of going off the pavement.
There was no yellow centerline to follow like normal.
When we finally got into the gate, flaps left partially down due to
slush, it was a relief that we weren't having to go back out in that
mess. I felt bad for the next crew.
Not so fast, Boeing breath. There was no next crew.
We'd put in 8.5 hours of flying in a 12 hour duty day and I assumed
the flight time made us illegal to continue. A call to scheduling
educated me on the finer points of interpreting crew rest rules. I'd
always thought that "legal to start, legal to finish" applied as long as
you remained on your originally scheduled flights. Having added a leg, I
figured, would negate that allowance. But it turns out that if you divert and
simply return as the same flight number it's still considered to be the
same series of flights. Ergo, we were legal to go back.
Our airline has a great safety culture and I wouldn't have hesitated
to beg off the flight if I, or my First Officer was fatigued. But we
weren't. Not wanting to deal with sub-prime weather is not fatigued. Back
It was actually fascinating to partake of the process. They had to do
the two step deicing again, including a good spray of the flaps. Then a
final coat of green goo is applied that lasts for almost an hour even in
the moderate snow that was falling.
Taxiing out was slow but the distance wasn't too long. Flying to
Boise was another exercise in routine. This is one time where routine
is oh so welcome. We got our load of only 50 or so people into Boise
late but safely. They understood.
So the next time someone suggests that airlines cancel flights just
because of light loads, refer them to this story. If ever there was
a time to do so, this would have been here.
My hat's off to the deicers and ground crew that had the ugliest job.
Great work guys!
Now on to some warm PPG destination where the only ice to be seen is in my glass
of Diet Coke.