Sunday, July 12, 2015

What An Entrance!

It is a rare chance when one gets to observe someone who is truly a master of their craft exercising that mastery in unusual ways. Saturday I was lucky enough to be part of something that was quite fun and special (to me anyway).

My CFI and I were returning from a training flight at "full rental power" via the most direct route possible over the hilly terrain between RHV and the central valley at 4500 feet. We were racing to arrive before RHV closed at 1215 local for an airshow. We using flight following and the last TRACON controller we talked to asked if we were aware RHV airport was closing. We said we were. My CFI muttered something about "Why else are we flying direct at 4500 feet right over mountainous terrain?" then another pilot said, "What's closing?!" He was caught by surprise, but it turns out he wasn't going to RHV.

When we were 6 minutes out at 12:05 when we contacted RHV tower. We expected to be cleared to land and to hurry up about it, but the tower told us to remain clear of the airspace. We said we were less than 6 minutes out and the airport wasn't supposed to close until 12:15. After some quick negotiation they said we could enter the airspace but if we weren't there in time we'd have to go elsewhere. No problem. A Cessna called in over UTC (about 10 miles south) after that and was told to remain clear.

At this point we were clear of the mountains and I'd handed the controls to my CFI. He had the plane in a power dive at 160 knots ground speed and more descending towards RHV. (Arrows don't normally go that fast!) We were told to cross midfield at or above 2000 feet and then land on 31L. The beginning of the airshow would be doing a low pass at 1000' about the time we arrived and then another pass at 500'.

We crossed at 2000' (that's 1870 feet AGL) and confirmed we were cleared to land. Then he did the most awesome maneuver. It was a combination of emergency descent and power off 180. He cut power and started an aggressive slip. The moment we got below gear extend the gear was down to help drag up the plane to loose altitude. He swung the plane towards the runway, just as the airshow planes passed over 31R with smoke on. He pulled full flaps at 120MPH pitched up and slowed the plane for a perfect soft field landing, precisely on the centerline on 31L. It was *awesome*!

We were both grinning ear to ear as we taxied off the runway. We figured the people there for the airshow may have thought we were part of the show! After all, we came in for landing in a very unusual way right after the first pass of the real air show... of course if you aren't involved in aviation maybe you wouldn't know how unusual that approach was.

What an entrance!

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