Tom Ross: Single-engine adventures |

Tom Ross: Single-engine adventures

Tom Ross

— I felt completely secure and safe during my flight over the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area with pilot Bob DelValle on Friday, but I spent a portion of the weekend recalling some semi-hairball flights I've made in light aircraft through the years.

By far the most exciting was a flight from Grand Junction with a commercial flying service that delivered our group to a dirt airstrip on top of a mesa overlooking the Green River.

I was on my way to embark on a multi-day whitewater float trip with a psychiatrist from New Jersey and a dozen of his patients (I wasn't among the them, although my wife has never been certain of that). I signed on to take photographs and write a freelance magazine story.

Here's the kicker — before we landed we flew up the river and inside the canyon walls. While the pilot executed wingtip-to-wingtip turns, the stall indicator issued a steady beeping.

The atmosphere in the cabin was tilting toward "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." But we flew over Desolation Canyon.

I still have a mental image in my memory banks of a rafting party flashing moons beneath us as we buzzed their rafts. It wasn't pretty.

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And that was just the beginning of a trip I'll never forget.

Going back to the 1970s, while I was still attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my father, some friends and I boarded a floatplane in the little harbor at Houghton, Mich., (in the U.P., eh) for an 80-mile flight across Lake Superior to land next to Isle Royal for a backpacking trip in the national park.

The plane appeared to be ancient, but the flight was uneventful once we cleared the Portage Lake lift bridge. The old bridge was built in 1959, and its tower stuck high into the air. I don't know if I was imagining things, but it struck me that the floatplane's engine struggled to get us up and over the span of the bridge.

Early in my career at the Steamboat Pilot & Today — it might have been 1980 — a crew of local pilots and skydivers were thoughtful enough to invite me along on an aerial adventure they were hatching for Easter Sunday.

Their plan was to use a hot-air balloon to deposit two skiers on Sleeping Giant for what may have been a first descent.

My role was to go aloft in the jump plane based at Steamboat Springs Airport and record the balloon flight and ski descent from the air.

The jump plane was another metallic aircraft with no paint job and ideally suited for my mission because the side cargo door had been removed. It meant I had a clear field of view for my telephoto lens.

It also meant that I sat on the floor of the plane (I don't recall any seats) with cargo straps secured over my thighs so that I wouldn't slide out the door when the plane banked steeply (which it did).

I'm older and more conservative now. I don't know if I'd board that metal bird again for such a goofy reason. But I'm ready to go on a scenic flight with Mr. Delvalle any sunny day that rolls my way.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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