This video was flown and filmed by Tyson Rhame (Ty Rhame) in late winter in the high country of Wyoming flying an Extra 330LT (2 Person tandem seat aircraft). The weather was absolutely perfect with little wind and very low moisture levels resulting in incredible visibility and very “Blue Skies.” The elevation of the terrain in this video is as high as 13,000ft which creates some unusual challenges.
All piston aircraft lose performance as altitude increases due to the thinner air. Even high performance competition aircraft have significant challenges at altitudes this high. One advantage for the Extra 330LT over other aerobatic aircraft is that it has an asymmetrical wing instead of a symmetrical wing. The symmetrical wing allows the Extra 330LT to cruise at higher speeds and create more lift/performance in high altitude environments. It also seems to hold its energy better than aircraft with symmetrical wings.
Another challenge associated with high altitude flying is the cold temperature and lack of oxygen. Both of these factors affect the mind and body causing slower reaction times, less endurance, mental impairment, dehydration, and other potential problems. It is imperative that a pilot flying in the frigid high altitude environment be properly trained and experienced to recognize these conditions and adjust to the effects on their body, mind, and equipment. Any moisture will quickly freeze in the bitterly cold subzero temperatures associated with high altitude winter flying; this requires a pilot to thoroughly check his equipment and self for any potential problems. Even something as simple as a pressurized can of fluid can have devastating consequences in the wrong place or at the wrong time—like running low over a frozen mountain lake high terrain all around.
Rapidly changing weather conditions can seriously affect a flight in the high altitude environment. Although it is generally easy to see clouds and precipitation as they “move in,” it is often very difficult to “see” the winds as they change or increase. The mountain terrain can often make predicting winds almost impossible; they often change from one canyon to the next, and from one hour to the next. Winds can channel through mountain peaks and valleys creating all sorts of down drafts, up drafts, side drafts, and turbulence (often severe). It is incredibly important to know the detailed weather forecast and to be able to identify signs of change such as snow/trees blowing in certain areas and in specific directions. Pilots need to watch for lenticular clouds and roll clouds forming in the areas they are flying and what those clouds mean and how they are moving. Knowing how the uneven heating of a mountain/cliff can affect winds and temperatures needs to be learned and observed; pockets of warm rising air can greatly affect aircraft performance.
Visual illusions can often be more pronounced in the high altitude environment due to the varying terrain, lighting, and weather conditions. Mountain shadows can often hide shaded ridges and cliffs that are difficult to see because of sun/snow glare in particular areas at different times of the day and year. Terrain and clouds can often inaccurately present the illusions of climbing or descending. Extreme glare/reflection in a canopy can hide obstacles and change rapidly as the aircraft maneuvers creating disorientation which can be afforded when flying close to terrain. Significant preplanning is absolutely essential prior to flying in any high altitude environment close to terrain; Caltopo.com is a valuable tool for route study in order to anticipate what you might encounter on your flight.
About Tyson Rhame:
Ty has been flying since 1984. He originally started flying and teaching flying in glider aircraft at the United States Air Force Academy. Following the Air Force Academy, Ty attended Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training(UPT) at Reese AFB in Lubbock, Texas where he flew T-37 and T-38 aircraft. Upon graduating from UPT, Ty was immediately back as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) and taught new air force pilots until 1994. Following his FAIP assignment, Ty was assigned to the C-130 aircraft and flew on active duty and in the Georgia Air National Guard until 2005. Ty transitioned to the Air Force Reserves in 2005 and eventually retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2014 with over 30 years of military service.
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