Archive for August 2006

Aliens and CAT above Devil’s Tower

August 2, 2006

This post is out of chronological order, but was a great memory of the Osh journey, so i thought i’d share it here and now. . .we departed OSH around noon on thurs and headed west. winds were on the nose so the going was slow, and the afternoon heat was kicking up a few bumps.. nothing too bad, but we were buckled in. Landed in the dusty town of Pierre, SD, where we experienced some of the finest FBO service in the business. It was hot, and we climbed slowly out of Pierre full of fuel, sandwiches and cold drinks for the remaining 4 hr push back to KJAC.

For the most part we were tracing route 90 from East to West, enjoying a nice VFR afternoon. As i gazed out and watched the the western plains turn into mountains, i recalled a road trip on Rte. 90. A pal and I were driving my beat up Subaru from Jackson to New Hampshire, east on Rte 90. We had a really memorable stop at Devil’s Tower in Northeastern Wyo. Who in our age group will ever forget Close Encounters. . .that movie mesmerized us all for a long time. I captured the attention of the country and turned our eyes and thoughts upwards. As I was watching Rte 90 below me, it dawned on me that we must be heading strait towards Devil’s Tower. it was severe clear. this would be a great day to fly over it. I quickly pulled out a sectional and found a way to swing over this awesome geological landmark. The course change put us about 60 miles off course to the north, but we had lots of fuel and it was looking like our 630pm dinner reso at Burke’s Chophouse in Jackson would be no problem to make. I turned the Bo’ to the right and headed up to see Devils Tower. From our altitude of 10,500, it was an awesome site. It is big! You can really see it stand out from far away. It is also lonely, and other than a few very small bluffs, DT is all that’s around until you get much farther West to the Buffalo range.
We made a few circles around the tower (i left it on the co-pilot’s side as my step-father had never flown over it). We were admiring the view when we absolutely slammed into a wall of air. . . . literally everything in the cockpit that wasn’t strapped down hit the ceiling. Though i was strapped in, i hit the roof as well. It was a big slam. Seconds later my TCAD started lighting up. We had a target on our tail 3 miles and closing in on our altitude (the TCAD reports differential altitude, so it was showing 500 below, 300 below, 200 below) and closing fast between 2-3 miles. As we were on flight following with Salt Lake Center (and the airspace adjacent to Devils Tower was a hot military area), I called Center and asked if they had any targets close to us. They responded no. The TCAD warnings intensified. . .we changed altitude and course. The TCAD target seemed to follow. I was beginning to get pretty worried that a fighter jock was slipping out of the MOA and thought we were a drone (we were clear of the MOA by 15 – 20 miles, but it was hot that day). That would be a serious bummer to be target practice for a Raptor. Yikes.

After a few minutes of this top gun drama, the target dissappeared. I called center and told them it must have been one of those Close Encounter aliens. . .Without missing a beat, the controller responded by humming the theme notes to Close Encounters (you know, dah dee dah du dummm). . . .which got a huge laugh out of all on freq.

I’d never expereinced clear air turbulence before this episode, and it was pretty shocking. At the time we were flying, we weren’t “in the bumps.” it was pretty smooth, despite being fairly late in the day. We had no warning. It was instant, and served as a great reminder to remain buckled up while in the driver’s seat.

As for the target on our screen? I have no idea, but it was pretty wild for a few minutes.