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Trinity County
Member Biographies

Luke Lucas

Luke Lucas has been flying a long time, and he has been living in our area, in Covington Mill, since 1982. Luke is modest, and when he put together his biography for our website, he wrote, "I know I don't belong in the same category as you airline captains and military fighter jocks, and I am humbled to be just on the same page; but in my career as a Part 135 operator and flight instructor – mostly all in the mountains – I had some great experiences; and I am thankful to be part of the aviation community here in northern Trinity County."

The following is in Luke's own words, and we think you'll find that his story most certainly belongs on these pages. We are pleased to be able to tell his story.

"I, 'Luke' Lucas, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 6, 1928. When I was six years old, we (two siblings, two cousins, mom and dad, and a friend to help drive — totaling 8 people and luggage) moved west in a new '34 Ford sedan. It was Route 66 all the way 'from Chicago to LA...' I lived there through high school days, and married Bobbie in 1947.

"We left Southern California when I took a job as a long-haul, tank truck driver to be stationed in Lone Pine, California in 1957. Five years later, we moved to Mammoth Lakes, California. I plowed snow and ran equipment for CalTrans in the winter and worked in the woods for Inyo Lumber Co. in the summer. In 1964, I bought a Chevron station in Mammoth Lakes.

"I learned to fly at MMH in 1968 by trading gasoline, tires, batteries, and airport fuel truck servicing for flying lessons. I picked up my commercial, multi-engine, instrument and instructor ratings and took over the flying service and flight school at Mammoth Lakes Airport in 1970. The Mammoth Lakes experience stood me in good stead flying the Eastern Sierras and the Northern California mountains totaling some 10,000 flight hours.

"Field elevation at Mammoth is 7,123 feet, and hot, high-density-altitude days equaled the service ceiling of the C150 trainer. You learn soon what to do and not to do in the mountains. Lots of summer afternoons produced a 15- to 20-knot or more crosswind straight across runway 27 so you would wear out the left main gear tires a lot sooner than the right tires. I never believed in (FAA-recommended) full-flap landings in strong crosswinds. I would teach and fly wing-down, power-on, forward-slip landings with minimum flaps. You would roll on that left wheel for awhile. This allowed you to determine while out a ways on final if you have enough rudder to compensate. At full rudder and still drifting sideways, you went back to Bishop.

"I had an FAA inspector who disagreed with me until he crunched a Cherokee doing it 'the FAA way.' (Yes, I know in low-wing airplanes you need to stay aware of wingtips close to the ground.) I know you airline captains have a different ball game in a jet with big engines hanging beneath your wings. While I was at Mammoth, there were many fatal accidents, most all related to DENSITY-ALTITUDE and pilots forgetting what they were taught. It is no fun to clean up burned wreckage with friends in it.

"In 1982, Bobbie and I moved to Covington Mill. We operated the Weaverville FBO and Part 135 service through 1994. We also had a small flight school. While I was away on air attack contracts, Dave Laffranchini flew Part 135 and lightning recon along with Tom Miller, and Bobbie ran the airport. [Photo to the right is Luke on air attack patrol in N1385L. -Ed.]

"Based upon my years of experience, I offer these tips in the mountains:

  • In normally aspirated airplanes with manual mixture control, on high-density-altitude days, lean the mixture during run-up for max takeoff power.
  • Your rate of climb will be reduced, so be aware of obstacles in your departure path. Use your manual to compute performance.
  • When going into a strange, high-altitude airport, a simple phone call to the FBO or local pilots for advisories on unique features and conditions is not degrading yourself, but is smart.
  • When you want to see something in a canyon go to the top of the ridge line and fly down the canyon not up it. Two Siskiyou County sheriffs and a pilot were killed behind Mount Ashland, flying up the canyon and unable to get turned around.
  • Remember: at high-altitude airports, the ground will be going by a lot faster than you are used to before you are ready to lift off. If you rotate too soon you may end up in ground effect while going off the end of the runway.
  • Get yourself lots of extra altitude before crossing a ridge on windy days. Check winds aloft before going.
  • Cross ridges at a 45-degree angle. Should you get caught in a downdraft, it gives you a leg up for turning away.
  • When crossing mountain ranges (or anytime,) tie things down in the baggage compartment. A pilot flying a beautiful C206 loaded a Cat cylinder head in back and didn't tie it down. Flying down the Owens Valley, at times one of the world's roughest stretches of air, he hit a big bump. The cylinder head punched a hole in the ceiling and in the floor of the baggage compartment. Fortunately it didn't tear any of the rudder or elevator cables loose that run under there.

"Between myself and one of my pilots, I have had three airplanes beat up with hail stones. My advice is to stay on the ground when there are thunderstorms around. (I had no choice – it was part of my job when flying air attack for the USFS.)

"Since I am writing this during the winter just one last thing. Don't ever try to take off with frost or ice on your wings or tail feathers. It doesn't take much to spoil the lift. When I was in Mammoth, two airplanes crashed on Hwy 395, in two different winters, trying to depart without cleaning frost off their wings. I was at both sites in time to hear the pilots say, 'I don't understand; she just wouldn't climb out of ground effect.' (Both airplanes were totaled, but thankfully, no one was killed.) Somewhere I have a photo of one of them showing one eighth inch of frost still there.

"Sorry to have been so long-winded, but I hope sharing just a little bit might someday be of help to a fellow pilot.

"Keep the shiny side up."