This post is part of a series in which a new MAF staff person tags along (quite bravely, he is a true hero really) on an MAF training flight. These training flights help prepare MAF pilots for their field assignments overseas. Past posts include Preparing For Takeoff and Engine Failure.
Inky black filled the windows of the Cessna 206 as we cruised over acres and acres of hardened volcanic rock. A lava field looks a bit like a lake from the air—except jagged black rock replaces cool blue water. This particular field lies just south of Leslie Gulch on the lower slopes of the Owyhee Mountains.
My palms were still sweaty from the simulated engine failure in Leslie Gulch and I was thankful for a moment to catch my breath—even if dried lava was not the most comforting of sights. I added volcanoes to the mental list I was keeping of potential hazards to be concerned about on this flight.
We passed over the lava field and the landscape opened up to miles and miles of sage brush and rolling hills. We were soon soaring over two white spots, which Brian Shepson revealed were dry lake beds.
“We are going to practice determining if those lake beds are suitable landing spots,” Brian explained to Chris Ball into the headset.
“We will do that with the three pass, wind lasso,” continued Brian.
LASSO is actually an acronym for Length, Altitude, Slope, Surface, and Obstructions—it does not involve lariats, spurs, or cowboy hats.
For every landing, a pilot needs to know the elements that comprise LASSO as well as wind speed and wind direction. For most of MAF’s airstrips this information is available to pilots in the form of a flight chart—composed by other pilots who have landed there previously. However when approaching a new or unknown strip, the pilot must be able to gather this information to make a safe landing.
Chris tipped the nose of the plane and we began the first pass—at a relatively high altitude—followed by two more passes, each lower than the one before. Each pass gave Chris and Brian the opportunity to determine the length of the landing strip, the altitude they would be approaching the strip, what the surface of the lake bed was composed of, if there was a slope, and possible obstacles in the way like rocks or logs.
After the Wind LASSO was completed, Brian and Chris determined the lake bed could be a suitable landing strip but decided to keep flying toward our destination. As the Cessna gained altitude, I noticed two more white dots in the distance. Unlike the lake beds, these were moving—at a fairly quick rate.
Several small herds still roam the remote Owyhees and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these iconic mascots of the American West.
If only there was a way to cleverly end this blog post with a wordplay on Wind L.A.S.S.O.s and wild horses. Unfortunately, I can’t rein one in. (Thank you! Thank you!)