Emilie Phillips updated January 12, 2017
After 3 days of cross country and lift serve skiing on the fresh noreaster snow, it was time to go ski flying. With winter just begun and neither of us experienced ski pilots, we chose our destinations carefully.
There wasn’t enough snow to cover rocks and bushes in unimproved fields. Only 4″ to 8″ according to the snow depth map. The lakes froze over a few weeks ago, but then it rained and stayed warm and finally snowed on top. We had seen snowmobiles on local lakes, but no trucks. Tyson won’t land an airplane on a lake unless the ice is thick enough to hold a truck. So the safe plan was to stick to unplowed grass runways.
As usual, we got a late start. I needed to fly the RV-4 over to Jaffrey for gas. Tyson needed to do an extra thorough preflight on the newly reinstalled skis. And we had to say our goodbyes to my parents who were headed back to Virginia. By the time we were in the air, it was unequivocally lunch time. So we flew to our favorite airport diner, Hampton.
There is no skiing at Hampton. The runway is paved and plowed. And besides that, there was only an inch of snow on the ground. To find snow we flew north and west over the Epping cornfield to Cooper farm just east of Concord NH. Tom Ford from the Super Cub group and his parents recently bought part of the airport and an adjacent house.
Tyson flew the landings there. It’s hard to perceive depth on an untracked field of white. I thought Tyson’s descent rate was quite steep. To be fair, I always think that since the Bearhawk has more drag than the RV-4. This time, though, he slightly misjudged the runway height and bounced the landing a little. We taxied around in a plume of snow and parked by the house where Tom and his parents watched from their porch. In their front yard there was over a foot of soft snow. We made first tracks in the snow. They haven’t mounted their skis yet this winter.
Tom went up for a ride with Tyson while I took photos from the ground. They flew a low pass and a landing. Tom flew a few turns up in the air. Tyson had no issues with his landings or takeoffs. There were 4 tall taxiway makers that he had to slalom around when turning.
Meanwhile Isaac enjoyed a mug of hot chocolate with Tom’s parents. I think he made friends with their dog too. Tyson asked Tom if he knew the condition of lakes in the area. He had seen two trucks on lakes — both of them broke through the ice.
From there we flew to Plymouth. I wanted to try ski flying, so I sat left seat. Tyson flew the takeoff from the right and then handed the controls to me. Flying to Plymouth was uneventful except for Tyson wishing he had a longer telephoto lens to capture Mt Washington. Most of the lakes had long slushy cracks.
I landed at Plymouth with plenty of coaching from Tyson — both on ski technique and on Bearhawk flight profile. Someone had plowed a strip down the middle of the runway during some previous snow storm. Hiding under the new snow were ice banks. Luckily we landed short of the serious banks. Next time, I’ll watch for faint depressions in the snow. I felt a ridge nudge us sideways during the first landing. We saw tracks from another ski plane which stayed entirely off to one side.
Then it was time to turn the airplane around and taxi back. Tyson gave me lots of instructions. I did half of them right and half of them wrong which resulted in us heading straight towards the bushes. I pulled the throttle, lower the tailwheel and waited for the Bearhawk to coast to a stop. There are no brakes on skis, so you can’t stop on demand. Luckily, we stopped soon enough. Tyson took over and turned us around. He stopped the airplane pointed 90 degrees to the runway and handed the controls back to me. Full power to get the airplane going and turning. Lighten the tailwheel so the airplane can pivot. Back off the throttle once the airplane starts turning. Lower the tailwheel to stop the spin. Add power to get the airplane moving forward and to blow on the rudder so it can help stop the turn. I did it. I was now taxiing back down the runway for takeoff.
After the next landing, I did more taxi practice. We used cones for reference. For the center of the turn, we used one of the 200ft spaced runway marker cones. For the outside of the turn, we used a dense line of cones an airplane’s wingspan behind the center cone. I went around the center cone three or so times, the first time with lots of coaching from Tyson, the last one all on my own.
At that point the sun was setting, so we swapped seats and flew home. Tyson flew the twilight approach into Brookline.