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Authors: Christopher David Petersen

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BOOK: Hidden Courage (Atlantis)
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Flying a southerly course, Jack watched the heavy mountainous terrain on the horizon to his east. Occasionally he saw snow that capped the rugged peaks. It was exciting to see. The landscape below along the coast was barren desert. It gave him a feeling of extreme isolation; scary, yet exhilarating. He wanted to land and spend a day on one of those beautiful deserted beaches, but felt he needed to take care of business first.


Halfway through the flight, the coastline became very jagged. Gone were the smooth lines of the straight beaches. The coastline now consisted of scalloped bays, jagged and irregular. Just beyond the bays, inland, the land was flat and very dry, almost looking like one large riverbed with enormous drainage ‘streaks’ in the sand that stretched out for miles. Other times the bays flowed into beautiful green farmland, and still other times the bays were cradled by high cliffs, dangerous and magnificent. Around every turn the sights changed dramatically.


What felt like minutes were actually hours. The coastline was so entertaining that Jack hadn’t noticed the time literally flying by. He was snapped back to reality when ATC radioed him to contact the tower at
’s international airport.


“Wow, that was fast.” He said to himself, “I’ve got to stop there on my way back,” referring to the one of the exciting isolated beaches he had just flown over.


As he was being vectored over the city to the airport, he was amazed at the size. It had everything that the large cities of the
had: large parks; sports complexes; huge industrial parks.


“Even a few slums thrown in for color,” Jack said loudly.


He could see the Spanish influence clearly as he flew overhead at low altitude.


The airport was directly ahead of him now. His fuel wasn’t on empty but was fairly low. Not wanting to take any chances of having a larger commercial plane cut in front of him on his approach, he kept his speed up as high as he dared, nearly ninety-five knots. About a half mile before the runway, he reduced power and slowed to about eighty knots and lowered the flaps.


With his nose pointed to the beginning of the runway, the tower radioed him to ‘land long’. Jack was familiar with the maneuver used by tower controllers in order to get a pilot to the end of the runway faster. Their reasoning for the maneuver was that flying the two mile-long runway at seventy knots was faster than taxiing it on the ground at 5mph, thereby freeing up the tarmac for the larger commercial jets.


Jack pulled back on the stick and raised the nose of the plane a bit, pointing it now to the end of the runway. As his speed bled off quickly, he added a touch of power to compensate for the new flying attitude. He was essentially flying straight and level above the runway at fifty feet. Just before the end, he lower the remaining setting of flaps, cut the power and settled onto the runway at the end. He then turned onto the taxiway and awaited further instructions.


“Nice job,” the tower radioed Jack.


Surprised by the compliment, he radioed back a “Gracias.”


The ground controller gave him directions to general aviation, where he purchased fuel, checked the weather again and ate a sandwich, as he readied himself for his last leg.


His final destination, the point that he had been flying to for the past seven days, was only about an hour and a half away. It was the
San Ramon
, just east of Tarma. He would be flying into the heart of the
and would be subjected to all the unpredictable and sometimes violent weather that mountains of that magnitude produce. The weather along his route of flight read clear skies and relatively calm winds, but he knew this could change in an instant.


He filed a detailed flight plan with ATC and departed to the east. He could see the jagged, snowcapped peaks that held his destination. It was very intimidating. The man at the FBO in
told him to follow the main highway out of the city and into a valley that separated the mountains. He could see it clearly now.


As he entered the valley, he felt irregular buffeting that made Jack a little nervous.


“Damn, if I’m feeling this now, what am I going to see when I’m deep inside these mountains?” Jack said to himself.


He could see that some of the mountain peaks were above his elevation of 8,000 feet. There was nowhere for him to land as he flew between the ranges. Again, another jolt of turbulence rocked his wings. He stabilized quickly and maintained his course. He tried to keep himself composed as he flew, but noticed his hand kept slipping off the stick.


Looking down, his hands were covered with sweat. He wiped them on his jacket, which was also quite sweaty. He realized then that he was really scared. He checked his engine gauges and the
receivers, trying to stay focused.


Moments later, the mountain range relaxed a bit and opened up into a larger valley of rolling hills. He felt a little better as he saw the small city of
nestled inside a ‘pocket’ of one of the valleys. He had only a half an hour to go.


Shortly after passing Tarma, the rolling hills raised up into larger mountains again. The turbulence was steady now, bouncing the small plane around. Every now and then, Jack had to contend with a larger shot of turbulence that really got his attention, rocking the wings and hitting his head on the ceiling.


He was now in the heart of the
. They were as beautiful as they were dangerous. He could see snowcapped peaks high above him as he flew.


Jack took no chances with this final leg of his flight. He had ATC follow his every move along his course. He radioed them to help pinpoint the exact location of the small airport he was now on the lookout for. It was no more than ten minutes in front of him, but the mountains blocked his view of it. In the previous six days, his GPSs had worked flawlessly during the whole trip, guiding him everywhere he went, but this was not the time for self-reliance as far as he was concerned. He felt a sense of relief to have a second set of eyes guiding him through the mountains.


He flew past a large mountain on his right and a small valley opened up.


ATC radioed him and asked if he had made ‘visual contact’ yet.


“Still looking,” Jack replied.


Jack looked around but still couldn’t see the airport. Alternating between his search and his gauges, he frantically searched for his destination.


“Dammit, where the heck is the freakin’ thing?” Jack blurted out loudly in frustration.


Moments later, he spotted it: a tiny single runway. Far in the distance was the
, nestled at the base of a mountain on the far side of the little town of
San Ramon


He reduced his power, and started to circle the city, trying to lose altitude.


“I have visual contact,” Jack radioed ATC.


“Roger, proceed at your discretion,” ATC responded.


Slowly, Jack descended from 8,000 feet. A few minutes later, he made a standard left-handed approach into the airport.


“WHOA!” Jack yelled.


Suddenly, out of nowhere, a shot of turbulence rocked the plane just as he was about to touch down. Jack threw the control stick toward the left and stomped on the rudder, now banking the wings sharply into the wind.


Jack heard a loud screeching siren.


“Dammit, the stall indicator,” he shouted.


Thrusting the stick forward and adding full power, the piercing siren quickly silenced, but now Jack was flying far too fast for the landing. He pulled the power to idle and held a stable attitude while the tiny plane streamed down the runway.


Jack’s mind raced. He felt conflicted. He knew he should abort the landing, but something compelled him to land. As he watched the end of the runway approach, he felt his wheels begin to touch down.


One hundred feet, eighty feet, sixty feet …


Jack was running out of runway. He felt sick in the pit of his stomach. He knew he had made a bad decision and was now paying the penalty for it. As the plane’s full weight settled onto the tarmac, he frantically stomped on the brakes.


Thirty feet, twenty feet, ten feet …


Jack could hear his brakes screeching as he watched the nose of his plane dip forward. With inches to spare, he came to a stop at the end of the runway. Drenched with sweat, he was relieved his adventure had not ended in disaster.


“YOU FREAKING IDIOT!” Jack yelled to himself. “Next time, go around.”


“Having a little trouble, señor?” Jack heard a voice over the intercom.


Jack was stunned. He knew someone in the FBO had witnessed his near-miss landing and was now making good humor of the situation. Jack felt embarrassed. He searched his mind for something to say, but could only think of one thing.


“I was merely testing my brakes,” Jack radioed.


After a moment of silence, the man responded simply, “They work.”


Smiling slightly, Jack accepted his humiliation as penance for his mistake, knowing the lesson would not be wasted.


Jack shut down his plane. He jumped out, turned it around by hand and jumped back in. As he taxied to the FBO, he realized he had made it. A feeling of euphoria replaced his feeling of humiliation, and he let out a loud whooping yell.


“Woohoo! I made it!”


Jack stepped out of the plane and stood for a moment, looking at the mountains all around him. The air was incredibly fresh and clean. The mountains were green and vegetated at some locations, and brown and jagged at others. The town was actually a city, much bigger than he imagined it to be. This would be his home for the next couple of weeks, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.





Jack inspected his plane before takeoff. As he moved from control surface to control surface, his mind nervously drifted off to the larger task he was about to undertake. Realizing his distraction, he forced himself to focus on his preflight walk through.


Finishing up, he stood for a moment and stared at the rugged mountain pass he was about to fly through. His stomach felt as if there were a circus performing deep in its pit. He tried to lower his anxiety with a few deep breaths, but it was of no use. This flight was just too treacherous and risky.


Jack opened the door and jumped in. He laid out his flight map in front of him. This map was much different than the sectionals he was used to looking at back in
New England
. The sectionals back home were mostly green, showing elevation changes with varying shades of color. For the most part, the shading went almost unnoticed due to the subtle rolling hills that never really made dramatic elevation changes.


The flight sectional for San Ramon, on the other hand, showed wild elevation gains. He could see the low level greens change to high mountainous brown colors with occasional white patches at the highest elevations signifying year-round snow. The flight sectional he laid out in front of him looked scary.


Jack started his engine and readied himself for departure. He taxied to the beginning of the runway, preparing to take off into the wind. After running through his final checklist, he took one last look around and advanced the throttle to full.


The day before, Jack had secured storage at the FBO for his belongings he’d been carrying for the past week. With everything now removed, the small plane was substantially lighter. With only Jack as cargo, the tiny plane rolled forward a few short feet and leaped into the stiff headwind that blew down the runway. He gained altitude much fast than normal; nearly 2,000 feet per minute. The tiny plane felt like a rocket to Jack as he headed down the valley and into the pass that meandered through the mountains.

BOOK: Hidden Courage (Atlantis)
9.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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