Mountain Flying
On March 18, 2009, we headed west, toward the Appalachians. Our first stop was Avery County (7A8), a one-way-in, opposite-way out kind of airport. Although I thought I knew what to expect from our planning, I had never seen anything like it. I think I went around two or three times before I got the modified pattern, steep approach, and short field landing right. After each go-around, we would have to climb out into the valley to the west to get enough room to maneuver to turn around and head back toward the airport. Jesse calmly and succinctly offered his advice each time, and then quietly let me try again. Finally, I set up a stable approach and we landed. I pulled off the runway onto the ramp just to catch a breather before we took back off, and Jesse solemnly nodded.

We practiced more takeoffs and landings at Avery, then headed to Ashe County (KGEV). Along the way, Jesse flew for a while so I could stare out the window and then finally remember to take some pictures ... We practiced an instrument approach at Ashe County (of course with a steep descent gradient), landed, and shut down to take a break. It took us almost an hour to buy fuel because there was no credit card reader, and the process of the FBO calling in my credit card, well... just wasn't working so hot. I remember standing there in the back office with Jesse, both of us mildly but visibly frustrated with the repeated attempts to call in my card, but neither one of us wanting to be rude and interrupt. Finally, we agreed to pool our cash together to pay the bill and settle up once we got back.

We escaped back to the aircraft to review our next leg, which was to Mountain Empire (KMKJ). I thought I was losing my mind because I couldn't find the charts--Jesse reminded me it was in Virginia. We took off for the quick flight, and did a few full stop landings when we arrived. The 1.2% runway gradient sounded like nothing, but was thoroughly mind-blowing during first the taxi-back.

After the last landing, we held short of the runway and set up our oxygen masks. We took off, and picked up our IFR clearance back to Raleigh airborne. Filed altitude for the 50 minute or so flight? Flight level 190. Atlanta Center naturally questioned our sanity, but we confirmed that was what we wanted, and they cleared us up. I remember setting standard on the altimeters, but I know we didn't quite reach 190 before Washington Center needed us to start back down for the arrival. Still, it's the highest I've ever flown, and with the tailwind during the descent, I think it's still the fastest, too.

By the time we got back, we had put 5.0 on the airplane, and a lot of firsts into my logbook: mountain, turbocharged, high altitude, oxygen... and did I mention mountains? Jesse's outstanding training gave me the foundations to eventually build up to trips from Florida to Vermont, from Florida to California, and more importantly to get back in one piece.

I will never forget my mountain adventure with Jesse Collum.

Will Sussman