Posted on June 22nd, 2011 7 comments
I knew from watching the cartoon, The Jetsons that when I grew up, commuting would be fun. Surely, by that time all the technology showcased on that cartoon would have arrived. But sadly, much of the Jetsons technology is still missing, especially the flying cars. But lately, I’ve been using George Jetson’s approach to commuting that has made a 108 mile round-trip commute that I do several times a week not just tolerable, but enjoyable.
Here are a few rules I follow to make my commute more enjoyable:
- Ignore roads, travel in a straight line.
- Don’t take a route that has traffic lights, stop signs, or other commuters.
- Travel at twice the maximum speed limit, say, 150 mph or so.
- Stay 2000′ above other commuters.
I guess you can tell by the images that I’m talking about commuting using my airplane. This works for me because one of my consulting clients is based at an airport so I don’t need ground transportation after I arrive. One of my colleagues actually lives on an airport, so he has the benefit of commuting door-to-door using his airplane alone. I have to drive 10 miles to the local airport first before I can hop in the plane…. but if I could only figure out how to take off from my back yard….:-)
Posted on July 9th, 2008 2 comments
A few days after I returned from the Rutan Brothers Birthday Bash in Mojave, Terri and I were scheduled to go out to San Diego for a vacation. I had investigated various methods of travel and decided that the LongEZ was still the most economical and by far the most adventurous mode of travel for us. Terri has accompanied me on several trips in the LongEZ. She has the dubious task of squeezing into its compact back seat beset with our baggage. It’s a good thing she’s svelte.
We’ve taken several LongEZ trips together to Illinois, Seattle, and Lake Tahoe. She also accompanied me on many trips in our Piper Colt including a 1500 mile trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado, but that plane had side-by-side seating so it was more comfortable for the passenger. It takes Terri time to get over the discomfort of long distance traveling with the LongEZ and so we don’t do it all that often, about once every 2 years. The primary motivation for finishing the Cozy, which has side-by-side seating and much more baggage space, is to make our traveling more comfortable. The seating position and visibility in a canard airplane is much better for the front seaters than for the rear seaters because they have better visibility and can stretch their legs out a lot more. It’s also a lot easier to communicate with someone who is seated along side you than it is with someone sitting behind you.
I try to break our trips up into 2 to 3 hour legs so that it doesn’t get too uncomfortable. When I fly with a passenger, I need to keep the fuel load light, no more than half full, so as not to put the plane over its gross weight and to help maintain a reasonable climb performance.
The night before we were scheduled to leave, we had a Rush concert at Red Rocks amphitheater in Denver. That meant we wouldn’t be getting home until nearly 1:00 a.m. and so we didn’t expect to leave until around 9:00 a.m.. The concert had been rescheduled from earlier in the month because of a weather cancellation so there wasn’t much we could have done short of missing it, and that wasn’t going to happen.
When flying a small airplane, if you can start your traveling at the crack of dawn, you can reduce the amount of time flying in the bumpy air that generally starts around 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately for us, it would have meant getting little or no sleep, so it wasn’t an option. We managed to get in the air about 10:00 a.m.
The climb performance of the LongEZ at gross weight with the 108 HP engine is not great and the continental divide is the first and highest part of the Rockies we needed to clear. It’s just about 15 minutes travel to the west. I have a policy that I won’t fly toward a mountain pass until I can see over and clear it by at least 500 feet well before I arrive at it. Too many pilots get in trouble as they try to out climb a mountain and that’s a formula for disaster, especially when you figure that the service ceiling for many small planes is around 14,000′ and there are mountain peaks taller than that in the Rockies. It’s possible to fly a northern route up around Laramie, WY or down around Albuquerque, NM if the plane can’t safely climb over the mountains and that would be my advice for anyone who hasn’t done much mountain flying and wants to cross the Rockies. The density altitudes tend to be very high around here because the ground warms the air at these high elevations, so a 12,000′ mountain pass may have a density altitude much higher than its elevation, possibly beyond the service ceiling of an aircraft, so you have to be aware of that when crossing the Rocky Mountains in a small airplane. Even taking off from high altitude airports can be a very strange sensation if all of your experience has been close to sea level. Planes tend to accelerate and climb much more slowly when the density altitude reaches 8000′ or more which is a very common occurrence in Colorado and other western states with high altitude airports.
We climbed over the Rockies just to the north of Long’s Peak and got a nice view of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first fuel stop was in Grand Junction, near the western border of Colorado and as we approached it, the afternoon thermals were already starting to make the ride bumpy. I knew we were in for a rough ride across Utah and Arizona. We were planning to spend the night in Sedona, AZ because we had heard so much about it and had never been there. We were eager to see if it lived up to its utopian reputation. After fueling up at Grand Junction, we headed off toward Moab, Utah and then turned southward. I was hoping to cross into Arizona near Monument Valley to get a good look at the famous formations that have appeared in many western films. The terrain below us for much of our journey across Utah was a series of canyons and rugged formations made by the Colorado River drainage. It eventually turned into Lake Powell, which was visible off of our right wing. Monument Valley was just to the left as we crossed into Arizona. We were too far above and to the west of the formations to get any good pictures of them, but they all looked very familiar.
As we got further into Arizona, the thunderstorms had begun to appear on the horizon. I called up Flight Watch on 122.0 and asked about weather developing along our route and the weather briefer suggested that we fly directly west to the Grand Canyon Airport and then head south to get around some cells that had formed just east of Flagstaff and Sedona. I decided that it would be good to land at Grand Canyon Airport and take a break while we looked at a weather radar screen, just to make sure we’d be clear getting into Sedona. This allowed us to fly over the Grand Canyon, which was fun to see from the air. Terri and I had visited the Grand Canyon in 1985, just a few weeks after we got back from our honeymoon. I can still recall how hot it was driving across the Painted Desert in a car that had no air conditioning. The Grand Canyon airport had many commercial aircraft on the ramp taking tourists for scenic flights over the canyon. There were at least a dozen twin turbo prop aircraft parked there and they were leaving at a very regular rate. Most of the visitors appeared to be from other countries. After recovering from our bumpy ride, we got back into the plane for our short flight to Sedona. Flying into Sedona is visually stunning. It’s surrounded by red rock cliffs and formations of all shapes and sizes and the airport is like the deck of an aircraft carrier sitting up on a butte with 400′ dropoffs on all sides. There are many scenic overlooks around the airport and people drive up to it just to take in the 360-degree views of Sedona.
We had reservations at the Sky Ranch Lodge at the airport, and I’m glad I made them a few days in advance, because they were completely booked when we arrived. We also ran into John Lambert and his wife at the terminal. I recognized his name when he introduced himself because he had put together a slide presentation at the Rutan Birthday bash I had attended the previous week. He and his wife were on their way back to Arkansas from Mojave via automobile and had stopped in Sedona for the night. John built a Varieze but had since sold it.
There is a restaurant at the Sedona airport that serves dinner, but we wanted to see some of the town and to do that, we needed to get a ride into town. As we were walking to the hotel, we had been offered a ride into town by a kind stranger who was driving by but we only needed to walk a few hundred yards to the hotel. John Lambert had already offered us a ride to the hotel, but we opted to walk since it was so close. I figured getting a ride into town would be easy. However, the first 2 taxi services w
e called didn’t have any drivers available to take us to a restaurant so we called up a car service operated by ‘Gator’ who gladly showed up in a unique vehicle with horns on the hood and gave us a ride into town. After an enjoyable meal on the outdoor patio of the El Rincon restaurant along Oak Creek in Tlaquepaque Village, we started walking back to the center of town, figuring our odds of getting a lift back up to the airport might be better there. As we were walking, I turned to ask a woman who was walking behind us if she could direct us to the center of town. She asked where we were going and we said we needed to get back to our hotel at the airport. Without hesitating she said she was going that way and offered us a lift. It was the third ride we had been offered since our arrival.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the airport restaurant and took off around 9:00 a.m. The airport elevation is 4800′ and the temperature had gotten high enough that the density altitude was already 8000′. With an uphill departure, we used most of the runway to get airborne and I was grateful that by the time we flew off of this aircraft carrier of an airport, the town was already 400′ below us. We had to turn west to avoid the 6000′ tall cliffs just north of town.
From Sedona we flew over Prescott, then just south of Lake Havasu, Palm Springs, and on to San Diego. Upon arriving near the busy airspace around San Diego, I attempted to contact SoCal Approach to get clearance into the Class B airspace that covers most of the airports around San Diego. The controller was not responding to me and when he finally did, he told me he’d call me back in 5 minutes. My alternate airport was Ramona, which is just outside the Class-B airspace and so I started circling toward it waiting for my call. After 5 minutes with no response I called him again, and got a response that he’d call me back in another 5 minutes, all while sounding overworked and flustered. This appears to be a stall tactic used by controllers that means, “Don’t bother me, I’m busy with more important traffic right now.” The airspace over Montgomery Field, which is downtown in San Diego, was very hazy with only about 5 miles of visibility. By contrast, Ramona was clear and right below me, so I decided to land there and see if we could get the rental car delivered there instead. I called the Ramona tower, got a clearance to land and then taxied over to Chuck Hall aviation. After a few minutes on the phone with Enterprise, they agreed to pick us up and drive us to Poway to pick up a car. So that made the decision to park the plane there instead of at Montgomery Field. Even though it would have been more convenient, Montgomery Field often gets fogged in for several hours each morning in June. Ramona is far enough inland and higher in elevation that it’s not as susceptible to those conditions so I was fine with parking the airplane there while we visited San Diego.
Our Starwood Four Points hotel was next to Montgomery field and with the GPS, we were able to find our way there without difficulty. I should mention that during this trip I used my HP Travel Companion running Anywhere Map software for aerial navigation and then switched to its built in Tom Tom Navigator in the car. We found this gadget to be invaluable both in the car and plane during the trip. We used it constantly. I was even able to send email with it from a free wireless connection at the hotel.
The hotel is undergoing an extensive remodeling project and so we got a new room with a nice soft bed. It reminded us of our the bed we had at a Sheraton in downtown Chicago this past March. Later we’d find out that this bed is called a ‘Heavenly Bed’ and we’ve since put it on our shopping list.
Terri is a beach person, and one of our major goals was to visit the beaches around the San Deigo area, so after a short rest, we headed off for Mission Beach. I’ve only been to San Deigo once before, in 1984, and had visited Mission Beach so I was a little familiar with it. We strolled along the beach and took in the sights. Later that evening, we ate at a restaurant in ‘Old Town San Diego’ and did some sightseeing there as well.
Prior to arriving in San Diego, I had emailed my college roommate, Dave Serhan, who has lived in San Diego since graduating from Penn State to tell him that we’d be visiting the area. Whenever we travel in the LongEZ, I generally try to avoid setting up any meetings that would make us feel like we have to be in a particular place at a particular time. When I visit fellow pilots, they tend to understand the unpredictability of private airplane travel and so I don’t mind telling a pilot in general terms when I expect to be around, because if I show up late or not at all due to weather or some other reason, he’ll understand. Dave was the first person I knew who had his pilot’s license and he took me for an airplane ride at Forty Fort, PA airport when we were both teenagers. I still remember it vividly because he let me fly the airplane while he took some aerial pictures. It was my first experience at the controls. I guess in some ways, I have him to blame for my aviation addiction. Dave also spent much of his military career flying F14 fighter jets off of aircraft carriers, so he parlayed his investment in learning to fly small airplanes into flying multimillion dollar jets before retiring from the Navy a few years ago. I had visited Dave during my last trip to San Diego and he gave us a tour of Mirimar Naval Base and we got to see his F14 fighter jet. It was very impressive.
The following day we decided to visit Coronado Island and I gave Dave a call on my way to see if he was around or if he was off traveling for his job. Dave was home when I called and told me he only checks his home email address once a week and so he didn’t get my message. He invited us over for dinner and to meet his family. I saw Dave last year at our high school reunion, but hadn’t met his wife or daughters.
We spent the afternoon in Coronado Island and even rented a pedal-car called a surrey to travel around the island to get a better feel for the place. We really got a good workout as a result of our 6-mile pedaling adventure. Previously, I had thought that Coronado Island consisted of just a Naval base, but quickly realized that it had a beautiful beach and surrounded by many quaint neighborhoods. We ate lunch there and then went to walk on its beautiful beach that had sparkling golden flakes mixed in with the sand as it washed in on the beach. We also took a quick tour of the The Hotel del Coronado which was built in 1888, and it was quite spectacular. Terri has decided that on our next visit to the area, that’s where she’d like to stay.
After a day touring around Coronado Island, we headed up to Dave’s house north of the city. Our GPS led us right to his door. We really enjoyed getting to meet Dave’s lovely wife, Anita, and his two beautiful daughters, Lindsey and Kristina who are ages 19 and 15 respectively. Dave and I spent some time catching up while Terri and Anita became engaged in lively discussions on topics involving pets, furniture, and clothing. Anita is an expert in furniture and when we described our Starwood hotel bed to her, she immediately knew that it was called a ‘Heavenly Bed’ and that you can order one for your home. Part of its incredible comfort is a result of the high thread count sheets and blankets.
I learned that Dave has become quite a skilled pool player and is top ranked in his league. He recently built a billiard room and so I played a few games of 8 ball, all while feeling quite outclassed as he demonstrated his considerable skills. In a few hours, it was time for us to leave, but we hope to get back in the area and pay them another vi
sit. I am confident it won’t take us another 24 years to get back to San Diego again.
On Sunday we decided to visit the aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, which is docked at a downtown pier. First launched in 1945, the ship has undergone several retrofits and saw action right up until Operation Desert Storm in 1992. It’s been a museum/tourist attraction since 2004. An aircraft carrier is an engineering marvel and neither Terri nor I had ever seen one up close. I’ve seen plenty of TV programs that describe them on the Military Channel, but getting to walk through one is quite an experience. It took us about 3 hours to take the full self-guided tour which included an audio recording of many of the ship’s features. I won’t go into all the details of what we saw, but there are some pictures linked below and about half of them are of this tour. If you’re ever in San Diego, I suggest you spend a few hours to tour this ship.
There were still a few beaches we wanted to check out, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon comparing the beaches in Del Mar and La Jolla with the ones we saw closer to downtown San Diego. I had ventured into La Jolla during my first visit to the San Diego area, up in the hills and was astonished at how beautiful all the homes looked. So Terri and I took a short ride up Hillside Drive to see if my recollection fit what I had remembered. We found a dream home there offered for $12.1M which looked quite nice, but a bit out of our price range.
We liked all of the San Diego beaches, and Coronado was our favorite because it seemed the most accessible and the least crowded.
On Monday morning we headed home, taking off around 8:00 a.m. and heading to Falcon Field in Phoenix as our first stop. I knew that it would be hot in Phoenix, but it also has a low elevation at only 1400′ MSL and so the density altitude would be more manageable in the heat of the midday than most other Arizona airports. It was close to 100F when we arrived, and we had enjoyed a pretty smooth and comfortable ride at 9500′ prior to our descent. After leaving there, we headed to Albuquerque, so that we could cross the Rockies at a lower altitude and to better avoid the isolated thunderstorms that form just about every summer afternoon in the Rockies. When we landed at Double Eagle airport, there was a jet getting ready to take off. It looked like an Czech L39 Albatros military jet trainer and had a very loud jet engine to match. I was surprised to see the name ‘Eclipse’ on its tail. Last year Eclipse surprised everyone at Oshkosh with a small single engine ‘Concept Jet’ now called the model 400 and so I was wondering if they had some new aircraft they’d be showing this year. I searched the Internet for any mention of this new single engine jet and could find nothing. Eventually, I found out that Eclipse uses an L39 for training and as a chase plane, so that was what we saw.
We borrowed the courtesy car from the FBO and drove a few miles north to get something to eat since the restaurant on the field had closed at 2:00 p.m.. I checked weather upon returning and it appeared that if we flew toward Las Vegas, NM and then east of Pueblo, we’d miss some monster thunderstorms forming over the mountains. In a little over 3 hours after our departure from Albuquerque, we were descending through Denver’s Class B airspace showing a ground speed of nearly 180 mph. We were getting our first significant tailwinds of the entire trip.
It was a great relief to land back in Greeley after a long day of flying. Terri is a great sport for spending all that time in the back seat with hardly a complaint, although I think it may be another year or two before I can convince her to take a trip like that again in the LongEZ. But…. maybe if I can just get that Cozy finished …
You can find some photos of this trip here.
Posted on July 4th, 2008 1 comment
The first trip was to attend a birthday bash in Mojave, CA for the Rutan brothers. This was a huge event with more than 500 attendees. I had seen pictures of the last birthday celebration event that took place in 2003 and thought that if they were ever to do that again, I must try to get out there. A few weeks ago I received an announcement through one of my canard mailing lists that a big birthday bash was planned for Saturday, June 21st, 2008 and mentioned it to Terri. “You should go!”, she told me, so that I could participate in this historic event. That’s all the encouragement it took. Soon I was planning the trip and looking forward to flying there.
I had some other things that I wanted to do and see in California, including a business meeting with a potential client at Van Nuys airport just north of LA. I also wanted to visit my friends Marc and Deanie Zeitlin, who live in Tehachapi a few miles from Mojave. Marc and I met in 1996 after he had started the Cozy mailing list which has been going on every since. He and Deanie have been out to visit us a few times and we usually see each other at Oshkosh each year. Marc moved from Massachusetts to California when he went to work for Burt Rutan at Scaled Composites about 3 years ago and has been busy working on the SpaceShip 2 design. He and Deanie just completed building their dream home in Tehachapi and so I was eager to visit and see it firsthand, after reading his report on his website about the design and construction of the house. Seeing it up close and staying with them for the weekend gave me a whole new appreciation for this beautiful home with its fabulous view and many unique features.
I launched on the morning of June 20th about 7:45 a.m.. My friends Curt and Gail were also flying their Varieze to the gathering and planning on stopping in Grand Junction, CO for their first fuel stop after climbing over the Rocky Mountains. I figured I’d be able to raise them on the air-to-air frequency and hopefully catch up to them in St. George, Utah for lunch. Shortly after takeoff, I heard a familiar voice on the frequency of Rob Martinson who flies a Varieze out of Denver. He was also planning to stop in St. Geroge for lunch so it was comforting to have some company that I could chat with on the radio enroute. Rob just won the prize for the most efficient airplane at a new contest called FuelVenture where he managed to get 66 mpg from his Varieze while flying along at 137 mph.
I cleared the Continental Divide just to the south of Long’s Peak at an altitude of 12,500′ and stayed at that altitude for the majority of the trip across Colorado and Utah. Rob took a more circuitous route so he could fly over Lake Powell in southern Utah. By the time we got near Moab, Utah I found Curt on the frequency as he and Gail had just taken off from Grand Junction after their first fuel stop. I should mention here that the LongEZ carries twice the fuel load of a Varieze and could easily make it to California with no fuel stops, but I generally only fill the tanks half way to give me better climb performance and because I like to land and take a break every 3 to 4 hours. I’ve only rarely taken advantage of the full 52 gallon fuel capacity which gives the LongEZ a 1150 mile range.
The scenery across Colorado and Utah was beautiful and I’ve linked a few photos below. We touched down in St. George, Utah around lunch time and Rob, Curt, Gail and I all walked over to a restaurant at the north end of the field for lunch. There were already 4 other canard planes on the ramp that had arrived about an hour before we did and they were fueling up and getting ready to leave. Everyone at the airport was curious how so many canards had landed at the same time. I generally run into at least one person at each fuel stop who has never seen a canard aircraft, despite the fact that more than 2000 of them are flying today. So having 7 come in at once to a remote location like St. George is a very rare sight.
After eating lunch and refueling, we headed out again. Rob and Curt were going to go directly to Mojave, but I was heading to Van Nuys. However, we needed to take the same route to get around the restricted airspace near Edwards Air Force base in Mojave. We flew directly over the top of the Las Vegas airspace at 10,500′ which gave us spectacular views of the entire city. Nevada is exceptionally dry with hardly any vegetation from one end of it to the other, as is western California where it borders on Nevada. It’s a very stark landscape to see from the air. At 10,500′, the air was cool and a little bumpy. The flight went quickly and in a few hours I bid my goodbyes to Rob and Curt and headed into the busy airspace over southern California. There was a heat wave in progress and when I landed at Van Nuys and the temperature was 43C on the ramp (109F) and it felt unbelievably hot. Even a stiff breeze didn’t seem to help, except to make me feel very parched and in need of some lemonade. I met with my client at the Airtel Plaza Hotel restaurant and discussed a project over dinner. After we finished up, I picked up a little more fuel and headed up north to Tehachapi. In just over 30 minutes from the time I took off, I was threading my way through the mountain passes that had hundreds of wind turbines of all sizes. The wind through Tehachapi pass is some the most consistent and steady wind you’ll find in the U.S.. Marc tells me that it’s rare to see the wind turbines standing still.
I had a very enjoyable evening with my friends Marc and Deanie and caught up with what had been happening with them since the last time we met. The new house exceeded all of my high expectations of it. It has numerous features that would fit right in at Architectural Digest. It has gorgeous views in every direction and I stitched together a view from the deck that seemed to go on forever which you can see below. Perched up on a slope, it has a consistent breeze that cools down at night so that the air conditioning was hardly needed despite the heat wave going on all around us in southern California.The spectacular view from Marc and Deanie’s deck. Click on image to get the full view.
The next day we headed down to Mojave by car since it was faster and more convenient to cover the 20 miles than it would be to use our airplanes. The ramp at Mojave was hot and so I was happy to be in an air conditioned car upon our arrival, despite not having my LongEZ parked among the dozens of other canard aircraft lined up on the ramp. The celebration went on for 4 hours with lots of stories being told by the guests of honor, Burt and Dick Rutan, who turned 65 and 70, respectively, this summer. There was a lot of good food and camaraderie amongst the loyal following of canard builders a
nd fliers and I got to see a lot of folks who I run into each summer at Oshkosh. One lucky guy and 4 of his friends won a 30-minute ride in a Rutan-designed Beech Starship, which was parked on the ramp. I also got to go in it and take a look around its interior which was very spacious.
At the party, we were joined by Bill and Marilyn Seibold, who had flown their Cozy from Bisbee, AZ that morning. They also stayed with the Zeitlin’s that evening.
It’s always fun to be immersed in a group of fellow aviation enthusiasts. I never grow tired of talking about airplanes and the adventures we have in them. After a nice dinner, I went to sleep, knowing that I would to wake up early the next day without rousing the other guests or my hosts so that I could have the maximum amount of smooth morning air for flying across the desert. Marc let me borrow his car for the drive to the airport and so I left the house around 6:20 a.m.. By 6:50 a.m., I was in the air and on my way to my first fuel stop in St. George, Utah. I had hoped to get fuel at the self-serve pump at Tehachapi, but it was out of service. After doing some calculations, I figured I’d still be able to get to St. George with a reasonable reserve.
Upon landing at St. George, I ran into Curt and Gail again, who had just finished fueling their Varieze. We took off at about the same time and flew together for a while. They only had about 2.5 hours of fuel, so they’d need to stop before getting home to Longmont, CO, but we weren’t sure of our route because we knew that there would be thunderstorms over the Rockies by the time we reached them, which may have required us to divert north or south of a direct route. They decided to stop in Grand Junction and I pressed on figuring I’d land at an alternate airport if the thunderstorms grew too dense to fly around. Fortunately, the thunderstorm coverage was only about 50%, leaving a lot of room to fly around them, although it was a bit bumpy as a result of the convective activity and virga nearby. I have some pictures linked below and the last 4 photos show the various thunderstorms in the area as I was crossing the Rocky Mountains. After looking at the radar picture on the ground at Grand Junction, Curt and Gail decided to spend the night there. I couldn’t blame them since the storms are not predictable and what looks passable one hour may grow in intensity the next hour. Had I seen the radar picture, it might have been enough to convince me to wait for the clear and smooth morning air to pass over the Rockies.
It was a great trip. I’ve never had the LongEZ over that part of the country and found the experience to be a wonderful way to take in lots of beautiful scenery in a very short time. The entire flight time to and from California was just over 6 hours each way. If I had driven the route instead, it would have been more than 1100 miles and would have taken 16 hours of driving each way and used twice as much fuel. It was a good warm up for the follow-up trip that I took a few days later to San Diego, CA with Terri. I’ll write up that trip later.
If you’d like to see some photos I took on the trip, you can find them here.
Update 2008-07-09: Chris, who was flying as part of the 4-canard flight out of Colorado Springs, posted some more great pictures including air-to-air shots on the way to and from the Birthday Bash.
Posted on October 5th, 2007 1 comment
I traveled back to Pennsylvania last week for my high school reunion. As you may have noted from some of my recent posts, I’ve been investigating energy, particularly renewable forms of energy. It had been three years since we’d been back in the Wyoming Valley and so I was quite astonished to see 12 large wind turbines plainly visible on top of the eastern ridge of the valley up near Bear Creek. Each 2MW Gamesa turbine provides enough electricity for about 600 homes.
I’ve written about wind turbines before in my blog because they started springing up in Colorado a few years ago and whenever I travel across Nebraska and Iowa in the LongEZ, I seem to find more of them each year.
I had yet to get up close to a wind turbine so Terri and I decided to take a drive up to the site. As you may know if you’ve ever traveled around this area of the country , the closer you get to something, the harder it is to find. In other words, you can’t see the forest through the trees. We drove up Route 115 into Bear Creek and the wind turbines all but disappeared behind the mountains and trees. We continued to drive in the general direction of the turbines, and every once in a while, we’d catch a glimpse of a blade to help reorient us toward the wind farm. After driving in a circle, we eventually found the access road to the wind farm, just off Bald Mountain Road. We saw a lot of no trespassing signs, but felt it wouldn’t hurt to go up to the maintenance office to see if we could get permission to drive up to the first tower. I found a friendly engineer there and we began to chat and he said we could drive up to the first tower and take a look around. I was most interested to hear one of these wind turbines from up close.
We were able to get quite close to the turbines and found that the noise they made was hardly noticeable and certainly not objectionable. I asked the engineer why there is controversy when it comes to wind turbines and he felt that people have been conditioned by those who have a vested interest in non-renewable forms of energy attacking them for various reasons that border on being ridiculous. For example, a common objective I hear is that wind turbines kill birds. More than 100 million birds are killed each year flying into windows in the U.S. alone, yet you don’t see anyone trying to ban windows. A similar number are killed by house cats and cars. Wind turbines kill only 1 or 2 birds per turbine per year. Even with the thousands of wind turbines deployed and planned, this number will always be at least 3 orders of magnitude less than the other causes I listed, and so bringing up one’s concern for the well being of birds is a rather odd objection.
Opponents also say that wind turbines kill bats, which eat mosquitoes, that may carry West Nile virus. Again, I think this is really reaching by people who are unaware of the benefits of renewable energy and afraid of any unlikely downside potential, such as lowered property values. I’ve also heard of people fearful that wind turbines cause audible noise but I can attest from my own experience that the noise was not very noticeable. I’d gladly trade wind turbine noise for the noise that comes from the highway 1/4 mile from my house.
I can understand the people who live a few hundred feet from a wind farm being concerned about noise, but I grew up less than 300 yards from a working coal breaker that operated 24 x 7 and it made quite a racket, yet I never knew of anyone complaining about it. It also released plenty of coal dust into the local environment as well as the final product which has significant environmental hazards. So maybe I have a different perspective on environmental noise and pollution than someone who has built a house on a mountaintop.
On the way back down the access road, we came across a large flock of wild turkeys crossing the road which you can see in the picture below. Click on it for a better image of the turkeys.
Later in the week, we traveled up to Scranton and saw the Waymart Wind Farm which has 43 GE 1.5MW turbines.
I think that wind farms along the ridges of Pennsylvania will become a more common sight as time goes on. People should not consider wind turbines as eyesores, but rather see them as examples of majestic beauty that benefit all of society.
I believe people will come to understand we need to eliminate our dependence on exhaustible fuels to provide our electricity. There is no argument that we will run out of them eventually. At some point people will realize that when they turn on a light, a TV, or computer, the energy may be coming from a silent wind turbine spinning in the distance powered by a clean and inexhaustible energy source.