Flying Into Mammoth Mountain Airport
I had the opportunity to fly into Mammoth a week after Thanksgiving to play in the snow for the day. I told a couple people about this flight and they appeared intimidated by the idea of flying into Mammoth Airport.
Mammoth airport sits at an altitude of 7,135 feet which qualifies it as a mountain airport. It also sits in a valley that subjects it to high crosswinds and finally, being in Central California it quite often has a density altitude higher than the airport itself. Even with all of these challenges Mammoth does not have to be a difficult or challenging airport if you have some local knowledge of what to expect. The runway is 7,000 feet long and 100 feet wide. Most private pilots are comfortable landing their airplane in half (3,500) this distance. The problem is pilots are trained to land in the first third of the runway, which at this airport under the right wind conditions, can be very dangerous. Picking a go-around point, which I have always taught my tailwheel students, should be taught to all students. When you are downwind, abeam your intended landing point, pick a visual go-around point that is off the side of the runway. It could be a building, a parked plane, the windsock, it could be anything that you will see go by in your side window. If you are not firmly down and slowing by your “go-around” point, go-around. I was taught this by a good friend when I started flying a single seat Pitts. In this airplane, when you are in a landing attitude, you are blind to anything in front of you, including the runway. I found that as soon as I rounded out for landing and I couldn’t see in front of me, my mind told me I was going a million miles an hour and I would overrun the end of the runway if I continued. I would then go around to find I had thousands of feet of runway left and I had just given away a smooth approach because my brain was playing tricks on me. By choosing a go around point you can keep your heart and head in check and continue a smooth approach to landing, concentrating on the landing instead of guessing where the end of the runway is. At Mammoth this is specially important because if the winds are out of the South at 15 knots or more you can expect strong turbulence and possible wind shear. Pilots are advised to land after the first 3,000 feet of runway on runway 27. Again, this leaves you 4,000 feet of runway which is more than enough for most GA airplanes. Just keep your heart and head in check, being aware of your runway remaining and choose a good go-around point. And of course, check density altitude.