Crazy Winds

by Patrick on December 30, 2010

I’d like to think by now in my flying career that I can read the weather and flight conditions pretty well but I got a surprise on this flight.  The plan was to leave Liberia, Costa Rica MRLB and fly to La Fortuna MRAN a 2600′ gravel strip at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  The weather in Liberia was beautiful with calm winds and the briefer told me the weather 90nm away in San Jose was the same.  La Fortuna is half way between San Jose and Liberia so the weather there had to be good to, right?  When we departed and I had no doubt we would be in La Fortuna in less than 30 minutes.

As we approached the foothills of the first mountain range the wind began to increase, ground speed began to decrease, and our rate of climb increased dramatically.  I should have drawn some conclusions from the wind mills that this was probably a pretty windy region.

The clouds should have been a give-away too, but I was hoping that they were just on the West side the ridge and we could cross over the top and it would be clear.  San Jose just a few miles farther was clear.  I continued flying towards the range climbing through 4000′ MSL to top the clouds but still be low enough to enjoy the terrain.  As we got closer our vertical speed began to decrease and I continued to pitch the aircraft up to try and climb.  I eventually got to 80kts with full power and was sinking at 500 feet per minute.   At this point I realized we were somewhere airplanes are not meant to be and made a 180 turn to climb and try again.  I flew out of the downdraft and then circled up in the updraft that we had experienced just a few miles back to 9,500′ MSL and tried again.   This time we were able to fly over the mountain range with moderate turbulence but the clouds did not clear.  I called Coco Radio and ask the briefer for a weather report and in broken English he told me the weather in San Jose was good.  This conversation went on for a few minutes because I could see that things in La Fortuna were not going to be good, finally he contacted another aircraft that had just left La Fortuna and ask for a pilot report.  The report was heavy rain, high winds, and low-visibility.  The decision at this point was easy, we’re going back to Liberia for a night on the beach.

I have flown extensively in almost every region in the United States and have never experienced such localized weather patterns.  Costa Rica is a very interesting and exciting place to fly and even though I enjoy learning I am looking forward to a day with great flying conditions.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray Stahl December 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm

As a fan of AdventurePilots, I am reassured by the excellent judgement and obvious experience of the Pilot In Charge. I have read too many stories of pilots who, in similar circumstances, would not have turned back, all too often to leading to undesired results. Thanks for sharing the journey.

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Dominic December 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Sounds like quite an adventure. I have enjoyed following along.

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Caitlin & Jack December 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Patrick,
We are following your adventure…and loving it! Can you give a little background information for the elementary school crowd? We are really interested in the Charlie Banana. Why did you choose her?
Your Little Fan Club

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Patrick January 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Hey guys glad your following along! We missed you at Christmas, hope you had a good Christmas and New Years at home. Charlie Banana is a 1953 Cessna 180 that I purchased from a good friend that had owned it for the past 44 years. It is designed for bush flying and can land on dirt roads, fields, or just about anywhere else you want. It can also haul a lot of weight. This is very important because of the amount of camera gear we are carrying. Charlie Banana can carry about 200lbs more than most airplanes it size and we also have a lot of room for baggage. It is a workhorse airplane a little slow but very useful. Next time you come to Arkansas I will give you a ride.

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Edie Stahl December 31, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Patrick, I’m glad Aaron is “flying by the seat of your pants”! Thanks for keeping everyone safe.

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