Ride ’em, Cowboy!

The other day Barbara & I were flying back from Grand Junction, Colorado after taking a wonderfully scenic Amtrak train ride from Denver (definitely worth doing, BTW). Our route home to the Bay Area had us connect through Salt Lake City Airport.

Which I will strive mightily to never, ever, do again. At least during hot weather. What a ride!

I don’t like turbulence on airplanes. I’ve developed a tolerance for it as a result of doing a lot of motorcycle riding on backroads, which are often not in very good condition. But I’m not flying the planes I ride on and the lack of control really gets to me.

The approach and landing in Salt Lake was bad but tolerable. I always expect coming in to be bumpier than climbing out. Planes basically float dynamically in the air — that’s why they don’t fall out of the sky — so, like a balloon, even relatively small wind gusts can move them around (limited by inertia, of course; weight may go away but mass remains). Climbing out the plane is still “floating” but it’s also driving forward, hard, to gain speed and altitude so it tends to “power through” those same gusts. Or so I thought.

The takeoff from Salt Lake demonstrated that theory needs to be adjusted. Because it was the scariest takeoff I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt a big passenger jet (we were on a new Airbus 220) bounce around so much on climb out! Plus, we took a leisurely route up to cruising altitude. Which allowed us to enjoy the sensations longer than usual. OTOH, I wouldn’t be surprised if the slower climb was to reduce stress on the airframe. Because there were a lot of really strong jolts. Up, down, right, left, you name it. With a few brief sideslips thrown in for variety.

I’m not sure what caused this. It was clearly expected by the aircrew (they warned us they wouldn’t be able to turn off the seatbelt sign for at least 15 minutes). From what I could learn online it may have been the result of a stalled high pressure area leading to unusually hot air which then created bigger — and more chaotic — mountain waves than normal.

Or maybe it’s just part of flying out of Salt Lake. In which case it’s a great incentive to never leave, at least by air.

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