What Scud-Running Looks Like on Google Earth

My geologger tells the whole story.

Everyone who reads this blog or knows me understands that I am a gadget queen. I have all kinds of little gadgets that I use daily.

My GPS logger, described in some detail here, is one of my multi-purpose gadgets. Although I purchased it primarily to geotag photographs, I also use it when flying to get an exact record of where I’ve been.

I had my GPS logger running for the entire length of my flight from Seattle, WA to Page, AZ last week. As I discovered this morning when I looked at the tracks on Google Earth, it faithfully documented my Pendleton, OR area scud-running attempts.

Scud-running, in case you’re not familiar with the term, is a pilot’s attempt to get around bad weather in order to travel from point A to point B. Normal pilots do not attempt scud running unless they really need to get somewhere — this isn’t something you do on a pleasure flight. It’s also not something a pilot attempts unless he really thinks there’s a way through or around the weather in his path. Scud running is infinitely easier and safer in a helicopter than an airplane. We can make tighter turns and land without an airport when things get really bad. You could argue that scud-running is dumb and I don’t think I’d argue with you very much.

Here’s what my September 9 scud-running attempts look like on Google Earth:

Scud Running near Pendleton

The red line is my arrival in the area the night before. I landed at the Pendleton airport, fueled up, then flew a few more miles to the Bi-Mart parking lot next door to the Red Lion hotel where I spent the night. The Bi-Mart was closed and its parking lot was empty. It made a good LZ that would ensure an early departure the next day.

In the morning, I made my first attempt to get across the mountains. That’s the white line and it tells a pretty good story. I headed southeast, got up into the mountains, and attempted to find a way through. The lower line that comes to a point and doubles back is where I made my first U-turn in a canyon. I followed a canyon back out of the mountains and tried again by heading northeast. Again, I couldn’t get through and had to make a turn in a canyon. The yellow line, by the way, is I-84/Hwy 30; I’m pretty sure parts of the road were in fog. I returned to the airport and started waiting. That attempt took nearly an hour and 13 gallons (1/4 tank) of fuel — obviously, scud running isn’t something you attempt without a lot of fuel on board. (Makes for a bigger fire when you crash, though.)

At noon, I tried again. The blue line indicates my attempt to follow some railroad tracks up into the mountains. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to make it and doubled back. The post here about my new Hero camera (another gadget) includes video of this attempt shot as a time-lapse.

The green line is where I finally made it and got on course. It was 1:45 PM when I left the airport. I made it as far as North Salt Lake City before dark, dodging rainstorms and clouds a good part of the way.

Scud Running in a HelicopterScud running is dangerous and I don’t do it without full understanding of that danger. Not once did I ever lose sight of the ground or immediate surroundings. When I realized I could not go forward the way I was going, I went back. As you can clearly see by shape of the white line U-turns I made, I was required to turn in two very tight places. These are turns that an airplane could not accomplish, especially since they were made in narrow canyons with no view over the canyon walls. The photo here shows how low the clouds were on that third attempt — the successful one. At several points, I was 200-300 feet below the clouds.

I did a lot of scud running this past summer. That’s probably the nicest part of being back in Arizona: I seldom have to run the scud here.

What do you think?