Monday, July 28, 2008


There's a lot of restricted airspace in Utah. The salt flats are inhospitable and useless for agriculture so the military use those big flat salty spaces for bombing practice, and secret alien experiments. It's always a good idea to heed such restrictions. Even if you aren't directly in the line of fire of a bomb or alien death ray, they will send up interceptor airplanes. You might get shot down. You might just be required to land, interrogated, and have a lot of paperwork to do. Pilots will do things to avoid paperwork that they wouldn't do to avoid death, so it's a serious threat.

The straight line flight to my destination would take about an hour, but I will be an hour and a half en route, because I have to go the long way around to get into the unrestricted space between two vast chunks of restricted airspace. I depart from an uncontrolled aerodrome, bid farewell to the people in the pattern, then call the centre controller (or "center," I suppose) to ask for flight following to Wendover.

"What is your planned routing?" asks the controller.

I tell her "Direct Lucid, outbound on the Lucid 230 radial for 25 miles, then using visual landmarks to avoid the restricted airspace." The boundaries of the restricted airspace will show up on my GPS, and it will warn me if my track will intercept a restricted area, but I don't just depend on the GPS to stay out of trouble. I have planned a route around the restricted airspace that I can fly visually, in case the GPS fails, or the data in the GPS doesn't match the boundaries on the current chart. Twenty-five miles out on the 230 radial from the lucid VOR there is a place where a railroad track approaches a road very closely, just before a ridge. At that point I can fly due south to the other side of the ridge, and I'l be clear of the restricted area as long as I remain west of the ridge until I'm past a particular peak, and then I can fly direct the aerodrome. This kind of flying is called "pilotage," so it's clearly in my job description.

"I'm just checking that you were familiar with the restricted airspace," she says, "You're obviously very familiar."

Nice work, controller. "Are you familiar with the restricted airspace?" has a nagging "Did you remember to go to the bathroom before you left?" kind of feel to it. It's my job to be familiar with the airspace where I'm working, but it's her job to make sure pilots receiving flight following don't blunder into it. If I'd told her I was planning direct, she'd probably have said, "I recommend you fly heading 280 to avoid restricted airspace." Or maybe she would have had an even more diplomatic way to put it. Also if she had asked if I was familiar I would have said no, because I'd never been there before.

Some controllers mean "familiar" to mean that you can find the place on a map, while others expect that a pilot who claims familiarity will know all the local landmarks, quirky clearances and other oddities of the local environment. Like being told to fly direct the Lagoon, outside SLC. Now it was marked on the chart, but looking for a lagoon at your twelve o' clock, you'd tend to be watching for a body of water. This Lagoon is an amusement park.

As I continue around the north of the lake over this deserted land, I find myself wishing for more fuel. I have plenty, but this desolate landscape engenders the same desire for extra extra fuel as the barren north. The nearest usable airports with fuel aren't even in the same state.

The flight goes as planned, with the landscape unfolding just as the chart did, only much bigger and without the creases. I can see what look like guardhouses on the roads leading into the restricted area. Makes sense. Pilot Peak, the mountain I mentioned that was used by the pioneers for an earlier form of pilotage, is inside the restricted area, but visible as I circumnavigate.

Wendover appears right behind two welcoming rocks on the ridge north of the city and I go around them to the west to make straight in for the into-wind runway at the big but mostly deserted airport. There's a single parked on the apron. I think it was a Bonanza. I park next to it, but no one comes out of the FBO. It's six twenty-seven p.m. as I pull on the locked door of the FBO. The sign on the door says they close at six-thirty. They let me in, and agree to waive the ramp fees when I tell them how much fuel I'll be taking in the morning, and daily for the rest of my stay.

I feel like a high roller.


chris said...

As I'm writing this comment, this blog post is the top google hit for "lucid vor". Strangely, not for "lucin vor". :-)

Sarah said...

Aw, cut her some slack. It's not a typo, it's just an example of why pilotage is better than blindly following a VOR or RNAV needle. :) Who knows where "LUCID" would take you...

Aviatrix said...

My getting the name of the VOR wrong should have been her clue that I wasn't familiar, eh? I imagine she would have heard Lucin even if I had said "loose change." It was the only nav aid in the direction I was going.

Or maybe I got it right at the time but it drifted in my memory since the flight.

zb said...

Lucid or not, this post was fun to read. I guess I'm repeating myself, but the language in this blog is a beauty.

zb said...

Wow. I just checked Wendover Airport on google maps and it really looks like you get a free choice of the into-the-wind runway no matter where the wind is coming from. This airport looks, um..., drastic.

Ed said...

Looks to me like it's only got two runways now though it probably was pretty drastic once.

The airport and the stuff to the SE look white on Google Maps. I'm going to ask a really naive question: is it really white, as in salt lakes, or is it whited out somehow 'cause it's secwet or something?

Aviatrix said...

It really is that white. I think no matter how many times someone tells you, you're still going to go, "whoa, it looks like there's salt all over the ground!" when you see it.

And yeah, when they built this airport, airplanes weren't as crosswind tolerant as modern aircraft, so they covered all their bases. It was funny to come through all the desolation, bank around the corner and see all that. Winds were light the whole time I was there. I only ever landed on 8 and took off on 12. I'm too lazy to taxi that far!

Sarah said...

You don't realize how little people have done to 99.999% of the Earth's surface until you fly over it. There's a whole lot of "nothing", that is nothing man-made in most of the western US.

I've flown in Utah, but only in relatively populated areas - the area around Cedar City & Parowan Utah. (Soaring paradise!)

Actually, I've heard Ely Nevada is even better but I'm not prepared for such magnificent desolation.

Nicely written, as usual, Aviatrix.

zb said...

Having grown up close to an airport like this one (you can still guess where the single 07R/25L runway with a length of 2804 m used to be) that was serving a fairly large city, it amazes me to see a small town like Wendover with such a large airport -- even though not all of its runways are in use any more.

Anonymous said...


Completely off topic here, but what are those huge hangar-like buildings just to the west of the ex-runway in that map you linked?