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Weather Article

Weather and Flight Experience

Mountain Flying in Turbulence

Tickets to a Seahawks game in hand, myself and three others climbed into the Cessna 206 for a quick trip up to Seattle from our homes in central Oregon. The weather was locked into a typical pattern, southwesterly winds pushing wet clouds up against the Cascades and up into the colder air aloft, making the perfect conditions for some really spectacular icing. The east side was, as usual, clear and dry with a few scattered cumulus at around eight thousand feet. I filed the usual winter route to the valley; up the east side bypassing the fifteen thousand foot MEAs in favor of a lower seventy-five hundred foot crawl down the Columbia Gorge to Portland, then a rainy ride into Seattle. I'd flown this route several times and it had served me well.

Once up and talking to Seattle Center I noticed that on top at ten thousand feet we were getting about a fifty-knot tail wind, much higher than forecast but welcome. Then came those magic words, "I can give you direct Battleground, if you want it." I was being offered a significant short cut, and the luxury of letting down through the crud well west of the areas of uplift that spawned the icing, and over several options for an emergency landing if it got really bad. I quickly answered, "We'll take it."

I rolled out onto the vector and was smugly informing my guests about our shortened travel time when we suddenly ran into a wall and then started dropping like a stone. I knew what I had done as soon as it happened, but was busy keeping the wings level and trying to wring another ounce of power out of the engine. I had flown in the wave coming off of Mt. Jefferson, a ten thousand foot peak in the Cascades. We quickly lost the two thousand feet that separated us from the cloud deck and were soon hearing the sound of super cooled droplets hitting the plane. I knew that the terrain was around six to seven thousand feet along our route, and we were now dropping through eight with no sign of stopping. I had the throttle firewalled and the nose pitched up about five degrees, we should have been climbing around five hundred feet a minute but were going down at around six.

I told Seattle what was up and I could tell from the controller's voice he realized his offer of help was partly to blame for my predicament. He vectored me to a canyon and told me if I could hold seventy-five hundred feet for another ten miles we would be good. A long ten miles later we got the welcome call, "Cleared to descend and maintain five thousand." We hit rain at six and by five we were nearly ice free. I will never jump on a shortcut again until I consider all the implications.

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Topics: Mountain Flying, Technique, Weather

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