Published: April 29, 2016
The season was over and another beautiful winter was on the way to the Wasatch Front. The long wait for the next skydiving season was about to begin, and we didn't want our plane--"42X"--to have to spend the cold months all alone. After the end of our second season, we decided that she should spend the winter at Piedmont Skydiving, our gorgeous sister dropzone in North Carolina. After a quick planning session, we tapped our head pilot, Joel, and our General Manager, Andrew, to do the job.
Since Skydive the Wasatch is a seasonal dropzone, the two guys showed up to a hangar that had been all packed up for the winter. The plane was buried deep inside, tidily tucked behind another plane, several picnic tables and a mountain boxes. It took Joel and Andrew most of the morning to get 42X out of her cave.
Bad weather looming on the horizon, so the departure was quick: the pair departed on the first leg of the trip right away. Brave little 42X and her crew flew down towards Moab, found the I-70 far below and started following the road eastward. The weather we were running from was making a massive tailwind, which was helpful for getting out quickly -- but also meant lots of bumps and turbulence!
By the time they arrived in the skies over Grand Junction, Colorado, the bumps had settled down, and 42X headed swiftly towards monarch pass. As any pilot will tell you: the Rockies can be a bit challenging to fly through in a small plane, as they're fraught with high elevations and legendarily mercurial weather--but the team was very lucky. There were no issues. Instead, they enjoyed a smooth, beautiful flight over the Royal Gorge Bridge to a fuel stop in Cañon City (where Andrew used to work as a tandem instructor, several years prior).
The sun was setting on our two adventurers at this point, so they called some friends in the Colorado Springs area to mooch a couch for the night. They left 42X parked at the tiny, rural Meadow Lake Airport, managed (miraculously) to get a cab and tried to get some rest.
In the morning, Joel and Andrew woke up bright and early for the midwestern portion of the flight--the long, boring, flat part. Heading slightly northeast, the guys picked up I-70 again so they could easily navigate east, eventually setting down in Andrew's Kansas hometown for lunch. The stop wasn't just picked for sentimental reasons; there was another storm coming at them from the east. Discussion over lunch was a pros-and-cons discussion of the two options: sit and wait for the storm to pass, or divert around.
The decision? Divert. They successfully skirted around the storm to the south, through a town well-known for its turbine engine shop: Hot Springs, Arkansas. The boys ended up stopping in the town for the night.
After getting settled in for the evening, they took another look at the weather and instantly knew that they would have to leave at first light. The day was going to start with low clouds, after all, and continue to get worse and worse. The wake-up call was set for 4AM. As soon as there was enough light to see, 42X scooted down the runway and took off.
The clouds were just high enough to legally fly, but low enough to be annoying: if there were any sort of mechanical issues, it wouldn't leave our adventurers with any good options for an emergency landing. After a tense hour of skirting clouds and hills, the blue skies started to come back and they were able to climb to a comfortable height.
The view of the Appalachian mountains from above was marvelous--and, finally, the weather was cooperating. After a quick stop at Cumberland Regional Airport for lunch and fuel, they bopped over the border into North Carolina.
The plane arrived at Piedmont Skydiving to a round of cheers. Joel and Andrew tidied her up while the Piedmont staff finished up their day, then everyone--naturally--went out for burritos and beers.