Pilot Journal
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lowest To Highest

From below sea level to a Colorado high in a light jet

At 500 feet on final approach, the airspeed is five knots fast and slowing, so I call “stable.” At 50 feet, we’re right on speed so I close the throttles, and the wheels settle gently to the runway. I quickly pull the speed brakes and with firm braking, the aircraft stops about 2,500 feet down the runway. The next challenge is turning around: The runway is only 70 feet wide so it takes a little differential power and braking to pivot the airplane in a tight circle. Not hard, but dropping a wheel into the soft shoulder could well mean a stuck airplane at a deserted airport—not a good idea.

The next morning dawns cool, but the temperature will rise quickly to an expected high well above 100 degrees F by midday. The Mustang performance calculator shows that at a weight of 7,400 pounds, the aircraft must depart before the OAT hits 90 degrees F, or the runway will be too short for a safe departure. Cessna determines the runway requirement by the longest of: 1) the distance required to reach the decision speed (V1), lose an engine and stop; 2) the distance required to reach V1, continue the takeoff on one engine and reach 35 feet; or 3) the ground roll required to lift off with two engines times 1.15. At 90 degrees F, we’ll need 2,650 feet to meet the longest of those requirements at Furnace Creek. Any thought of taking off from here on a hot day with enough fuel to go very far simply isn’t realistic. At this time of year, we clearly can’t make it safely to Leadville without a stop in Las Vegas for fuel.

With the temperature climbing through about 85 degrees F, we taxi to the end of the runway, hold the brakes, work the throttles up to maximum thrust and release the brakes. It may be a light jet, but at light weight and maximum thrust, the Mustang really pushes you back in the seat. We’re off the runway in about 2,500 feet, climbing safely to altitude for a quick fuel stop before facing the next challenge—flying to the highest airport in the continental United States.

The Highest: Leadville, Colo., 9,927 Feet
The city of Leadville has a rich mining history and, at an elevation of 10,152 feet, is the highest incorporated city in North America. It’s surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest peaks—including Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert (both are more than 14,400 feet tall)—and offers abundant opportunities for outdoor activities.

Leadville Airport (www.leadville airport.com) is run by the county; Debbie Benson is the airport manager. A crew car is available for a quick ride into town; rental cars have to be delivered from another town 75 miles away and may be quite expensive.

Views from the airport are spectacular, and visitors should expect changeable mountain weather. The ride into the picturesque town is well worth it—there are several good restaurants, six museums, and walking and driving tours of historical sites. Pilots landing at Leadville will receive a certificate documenting their arrival at the highest airport in the continental United States. Because of its elevation, Leadville is frequented by flight crews working on high-altitude certification projects.


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