The Twelve Minute Flight
Once you're comfortable with the airplane and familiar with the short legs, though, they can be pretty fun. It's airline flying distilled down to the interesting parts - takeoff, climb, descent, landing, with no hours of boredom in cruise involved. It's an exercise in efficiency.
Late last night, I flew the last leg of the day, the 57 miles between Bozeman and Butte. The weather was good VFR. Poor weather, while increasing the stress of the flight, gives you more time to think about it because you'll have to fly the departure procedure, fly further to the initial approach fix, slow down early for the approach, etc. In the short time from takeoff to touchdown, here's the tasks to be accomplished:
1. At 400', start climbing right turn on course. Keep up a steep climb at 200 kts so we can get to cruising altitude of 14,000 quickly. PNF retracts flaps at 1000'.
2. At 2500', PNF accomplishes after takeoff flow and checklist.
3. PNF checks in with Salt Lake Center; both pilots look for traffic that SLC points out.
4. PNF calls off times to Bozeman station.
5. In climb, both pilots reset airspeed and altitude bugs for landing, and set up nav radios for approach into BTM. PNF performs 10,000 foot flow.
6. Brief VOR/DME-A approach into Butte, with circle to Runway 15. Although the weather is good, the approach lets you get descend early so you're not caught insanely high.
7. Level at 14,000 feet. PNF gets Butte weather via ASOS. Accelerate to 280 kts.
8. PNF requests approach from Salt Lake, copies approach clearance and frequency change to CTAF. PNF reads descent checklist.
9. A few miles before Whitehall VOR, slow down in preparation for rapid descent. PNF performs early 10,000 foot flow. PNF makes in-range radio call to Butte station.
10. Crossing Whitehall, retard power levers to flight idle and begin descent to 9000'. PNF reads approach checklist.
11. A few miles past Whitehall, airport appears behind ridge. Call "Landing"; PNF reports position on CTAF.
12. Since it looks like it'll be tough to make the pattern altitude while going this fast, level off and have the PNF increase the condition levers for 1020 rpm. The extra drag helps you slow down to 200 kts, where you call for "Flaps 5, Gear Down, Landing Checklist."
13. PNF reads landing checklist. Aircraft rapidly descends to pattern altitude of 7100 as you cross midfield for the righthand downwind for Rwy 15.
14. Increase torque to maintain pattern altitude; keep wide enough to avoid 6400' hill just before turning base; call for Flaps 15, then Flaps 35 at 1000' AFE.
15. Stabilized approach at Vref by 500' AFE, touch down at exactly midnight, call it a night.
This flight reminds me of something my first flight instructor told me: - "Never take an airplane anywhere your brain hasn't been five minutes ago." My instrument instructor told me to always be thinking about the next three steps. Good advice on both counts.