It was a hot, sweltering summer day in Las Vegas. Las Vegas, New Mexico that is.
Running a little low on fuel, our pilot decided to make a quick stop at the Las Vegas Municipal Airport. There’s not really much to do but get fuel at KLVS, so the stop was quick and the tanks were full in about 15 minutes.
Our pilot had spent all Spring operating in the Mid-Western United States, mainly in temperatures around 80 degrees. His trusty Cessna 172P had proven itself capable of carrying him and his cargo anywhere he desired.
Today the temperature was around 90 degrees, and KLVS sits at 6,877 ft above sea level. Nothing on the approach had indicated any issues, and the wind was favorable for Runway 14 which is over 8000 feet long, which is plenty for a small Cessna.
Our pilot taxied out to the runway and started the takeoff roll. As the aircraft reached about halfway down the runway, he noticed that his airspeed was still nowhere near takeoff speed. He made a small note, but elected to continue the takeoff roll anyway, figuring it was just a few seconds until he was airborne.
With about 1000 feet of runway remaining, the 172 leapt into the air and started a slow climb. Slow in this case was about 25-50 feet-per-minute.
And then they came into view. In the gently up-sloping pasture ahead was a herd of hundreds of cattle, grazing the country side.
“Oh, my god, I’m going to hit a cow…”
It was right about then our pilot remembered a small piece at the end of the ASOS which stated the density altitude was 10,500 feet. Combined with the aircraft being at near gross weight, the pilot started to put it all together.
He leaned out the mixture a little bit, got a little more power and just skipped over the cows, missing them by about 20 feet. He circled in the valley until he could climb over the mountains and on his way west.
Would you have caught the density altitude recording on the ASOS?
What was the first warning sign and what could have been done?
Could it happen again to the same person?
Do you have a direct experience with high density altitude?