This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Nov. 2005.We all have so-called "personal rules" we use to help us make decisions when everyday challenges arise. In aviation, they are sometimes called personal minimums and are used to help us decide whether this morning's low visibility and cloud cover -- even if legal VFR -- will prevent us from getting that $100 hamburger. Having flown my share of low-powered, fixed-gear airplanes on long-distance flights, I've developed a few such rules, most of them as a result of getting myself into one "situation" or another. For example, I don't care what the legal alternate might be after a long IFR flight; I'll file legally but I really care about the weather at the nearest ILS and how tired I might be when I get there. I place less emphasis on an airplane's maximum demonstrated crosswind capability than I do the direction of the wind, the runway's orientation and its physical dimensions. Another rule I have, before doing something in an airplane, is to think about how the NTSB's accident report might read if I screw up something. Often, that one by itself helps keep me out of trouble. As another example, I know only enough about mountain flying to be dangerous and, after getting myself and a 160-hp Skyhawk into a mountain wave downwind of the North Carolina mountains several years ago, make it a rule to avoid using any airplane with less than 180 hp for a "serious" cross-country flight. That "rule" served me well a couple of years ago when I helped a friend ferry her 180-hp Skyhawk from Virginia to its new home in Las Vegas. Waking up one morning in Phoenix to find the winds aloft along our route to be greater than the Skyhawk's stalling speed, I opted to keep the airplane tied down and spend another day in Arizona. While I'll never know how easy, hard or dangerous the flight might have been the day of 50-knot winds, I do know the following day was smooth and delightful. Recently, while bouncing my way into Scottsdale through winds of substantially less velocity, I was reminded of that decision's wisdom. Mountainous terrain isn't found just in the western U.S. -- everything's relative, and there are some sizeable hills east of the Mississippi River, also. In addition to influencing a lot of the eastern seaboard's weather from time to time, the Appalachians, the Catskills and other "bumps in the road" can make our flying dangerous or merely unpleasant. As we shall see, any time there are mountains along our flight path, it's a good idea to fully inform ourselves of the flight conditions they can generate.
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