Power Line Slalom

by Chuck Fairchild

This is the third in a series of Chuck's adventures in a Mite....

Isolated and deserted, Black Mesa was a flat mesa 2 miles wide by about 5 miles long at about 7,000 ft MSL. It had one intriguing feature. A straight, double pole power line extended along its full length. Five high voltage conductors were supported by each dual pole with the lower three at about 30 ft above the ground.

The power line made a very tough 3-D slalom run, even for Mooney Mites. In our two Mites we would take turns making timed runs. One of us would observe from above and to one side, the other would start make passes under the lines between poles, from side to side. It was harder than it sounds. Unlike ski slalom you were limited by the third dimension, the height of the lines above ground. We couldn't be banking much when we passed under the lines because between poles they sagged to about 15 ft above ground, and our wingspans were 28 ft. At cruising speed we had to pull up slightly after passing under, rack the planes into a steeply banked turn around to line up between the next two poles after each pass-under. Actually, for the initial pass we would fly under the line perpendicular to it and as close to the start dual poles as we dared so that we would have more room for our turn back to the next gate. Even so, the spacing was so tight that after several gates we had to really crimp it around to avoid crowding the downstream pole. In fact, unless we did a wingover reversal back toward the lines each time, we couldn't make many gates without skipping one. However, doing a wingover starting at 10 ft AGL and returning to that height before passing under the power lines took some flying and was somewhat scary.

The observer would time the slalom runner and count the number of gates that he made. Generally, we could make only 8 gates or fewer before we had to miss a gate or pull up and over to avoid hitting a pole or cable. Missing a gate ended the run .

Then of course, it was the other person’s turn to run the slalom. During a run a good bit of sweat was generated in the cockpit--but it was exciting, to say the least!

December 13, 2003