Today I flew N8132Y to the Lake County Airport in Leadville, Colorado. This airport has the distinction of being the highest paved runway in North America, at 9927 feet. The folks at the airport tell me that it is the third highest in the world, after one in Nepal and another in Peru.
It is a beautiful flight on a nice day, although there is no escaping the fact that flying through the mountain valleys you are going to get bumped around a little. For me, this is part of the challenge of learning to fly in the mountains. I have never quite gotten used to turbulence, even mild turbulence. Most of my flying has been over the plains, and all in good weather. If it is turbulent out, mostly I don’t fly (although my private checkride was an exception). But if you go over the mountains at the lower altitudes of these small planes, there are going to be air currents. You just have to expect it, and learn to keep your heart from jumping into your throat. After all, the wings are not going to fall off.
The second thing which makes these flights different is the requirement that you constantly be thinking about where you will put the plane if you have to make an emergency landing. Naturally this is way less of an issue in a turbo-normalized twin like 32Y. If I lose an engine, I have another, and with the turbos I can maintain altitude with one engine, and find a place to put down safely. But I’m still thinking about it. How far am I from surrounding airports? Is there a reasonable straight road around?
Finally, there is the excitement of trying to take off in a fully fueled plane, in August, at 9934 feet! Right now with temp/dp at 19/-1 and 30.46 inches, density altitude is 12,100! The runway is 6400′ for just this reason. Fortunately, with N8132Y’s turbos this isn’t really that much of a challenge, but for a normally aspirated engine 6400′ would seem awfully damn short. I wouldn’t want to try taking off today in a fully loaded 172.