The Power Of Sudden Downdrafts

A friend of mine survived over 100 bombing missions in Vietnam.

He was nearly killed in 1986 flying a Cessna over the mountains near Black Canyon City, Az. His plane got caught in a blue sky downdraft, and he hit the rocks at 30 MPH. Spent the next three months in the hospital with practically every bone in his body broken.

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14 Responses to The Power Of Sudden Downdrafts

  1. au1corsair says:

    Something like that may have happened to Steve Fossett–I played a small role in the unsuccessful rescue efforts.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/us/03fossett.html?_r=0

  2. Billy Liar says:

    Mountains and underpowered planes don’t mix very well.

    • Gail Combs says:

      Yes, My fathers company lost most of the top brass when the pilot flew into a mountain with the corporate jet.

    • It takes skill and experience to fly small planes in the mountains. I’ve been over the divide in a small single engine plane on a hot summer day. The pilot knew his stuff and was watching his altitude and climb very closely since the air was even thinner than normally. He was ready to abort and turn around if it he couldn’t get enough clearance over the saddle but we made it to the Western Slope and back just fine.

      On a different flight along Front Range some decades earlier, we got caught in a very sudden downdraft over Rocky Flats. I don’t remember the exact vertical feet loss but it was a major drop. We were not even in the mountains but I don’t think it would have mattered how big the engine was.

    • dp says:

      I owned and flew a 1946 Ercoupe over the Cascade mountains between Seattle and the Columbia river many times. 85hp, fixed gear. It isn’t the plane – it’s the plane and pilot against nature and nature often wins. But not always. The guy I sold the plane to crashed and destroyed it. Pilot error can be a bitch, too.

    • Tony B says:

      Turbulence and up/downdrafts over the mountains are not by themselves, significant hazards to aviation. The much larger issue is loss of situational awareness: whether that be loss of visual cues, or the loss of awareness of the relationship of the pilot/aircraft to nearby hazards when already in cloud. By nature, mountains and loss of situational awareness often go hand in hand.

  3. tom0mason says:

    Yep, crazy stuff that air. One minute it’s up, next it’s down, and if Trenberth energy balance is to be believed, no energy is expended (transferred) in doing it.
    It that why they say windfarms provide ‘free’ energy?

  4. Steve Case says:

    As a Cessna 152 owner, I’m taking note.

  5. redc1c4 says:

    my understanding is that pilots should always try to give cumulo-granite as wide a berth as possible.

  6. norilsk says:

    Speaking of being near the mountains, Calgary has been getting blasted with snow for the past three days. Crops are being flattened as well. Power outages and the works. There is some kind of circulation pattern near the mountains that causes these things, as the Caesna owner found out.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-snow-knocks-out-power-to-thousands-during-storm-1.2761664
    http://www.calgaryherald.com/Snow+flattens+crops+southern+Alberta/10192344/story.html

  7. rah says:

    Yep while at 1st Bn 10th in Bad Tolz we were allotted 3 new Blackhawks but never got them. Seems SOCOM was afraid the theater commander would commandeer the new helicopters. So we continued to use Hueys. For those that don’t know the difference think of the Huey as a VW and Blackhawk as a Cadillac. Would have been nice to have the Blackhawks during night infils through the Alps. One moment crushed in your seat the next dirt flying up around your face. Some pretty interesting and bumpy rides. Thankfully we lost none during my three years there but they had lost some before.

  8. Keitho says:

    I fly a powerful trike. 100HP with a climb rate full up of 1200fpm. I hate rotors/roll over in mountains. Those dangerous winds are impossible to see so I am always watching airspeed vs groundspeed but every now and again I get hit by big updraught or worse downdraught. The power gets me out of trouble along with my high maneuverability unlike GA planes with marginal power like the C152 mentioned above.

    Flying around mountains is dangerous, but exciting and rewarding, and where I live unavoidable.

  9. R. de Haan says:

    The reality is that “sudden downdrafts” in the mountains are not as sudden as we think.
    In fact they have become very predictable.

    Depending on the wind strength and direction, the position of the sun and the cloud cover airflow patterns emerge that in general are very predictable and limited to relative fixed locations.

    Glider pilots have been mapping those patterns like they have been mapping thermals during thousands of flights under different weather conditions.

    Today the Mountain Wave Project is mapping the massive up drafts that appear over mountain tops and ridges often market by “Lenticularis clouds” and the Rotor Clouds in the valley’s
    http://www.mountain-wave-project.com/

    Mountain flying is something for specialists and I always recommend unexperienced pilots to get in touch with a specialist for a local training course and at the very least a good briefing before you enter the mountains flying a light aircraft.
    What I also can recommend is to get the book from Jochen Kalkreuth “Segeln über den Alpen” about moutain flying with gliders. The great drawings in this book explain a lot..
    Also visit sites like this: http://www.mountainflying.com/pages/mountain-flying/do_dont.html

    Flying a bombing mission in Vietnam and flying a Cessna in the Mountains are two different things.

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