As a distinctive place name, Coyote Flats is right up there with Deer Creek, Fish Lake and Pine Mountain. Seems there’s one of each in every local area. Coyote Flats airport, though, is unique. A mil-spec landing field exactly 10,000 feet above sea level hard beneath year-round snowcaps, it was highly obscure even in its heyday, and has now become forgotten trivia. After construction in 1958, it was officially closed and removed from sectional charts by the turn of the century, yet still lies there in the wilderness, tempting as ever even now.
Its original purpose, in that time of unlimited budgets, was not transportation or defense, but high altitude research and testing. Army, Air Force, Marines, and Forest Service all had turns at the place, so there must be rich info somewhere in official archives awaiting proper research. The most I’ve found so far is this one item on a website folks like us ought to be familiar with, Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
Nothing flashy, but draws you in the further you scroll. One surprise, forty some years ago this runway was paved. Imagine the logistics and cost, either hauling all that asphalt and equipment up miles of 4X4 roads, or airlifting it 6000 feet above the valley floor! Not a scrap of pavement there today.
How do I know? Do what I did and see for yourself. First, on Google Earth, locate 37.205, -118.478, and stimulate it so to speak. Then go there in the air and do it for real… Dare ya.
Anyone with the capability to reach Coyote Flats in soaring flight can easily make a low pass there, inspect the runway, and regain enough in the zoom to continue on. It’s a trick likely performed hundreds of times over the decades. My first try, a hay bale X at the north end loomed large on video, but that was it for seXy footage: a close-up of some hay bales! Having to glide farther than expected for lift and then work out a laborious save bought time to rethink the concept and deduce what’s outlined below, which for the price of only a little more altitude guarantees a jewelry box of bingo visuals you’ll never see any other way.
The key is to never pull up! (Well, except when you really need to now and then.) This is not a touch-and-go mind you, but an uultra long missed approach with more than one twist. Call it Gaia’s Own Overshoot. And its easy as falling into bed.
Coyote’s rectangular boundary is no longer well defined from aloft, but midfield surely is, and that’s your aim point. Approach SE to NW – runway 31 if there were numbers – and carry only a little more speed than usual. You shouldn’t need the extra punch, but may as well have it up your sleeve out of respect. Going too fast, on the other hand, shows a dangerous lack of respect! Simply fly a normal final until one breath before flare, then close spoilers, lock ‘em, and settle in for… mile after corrugated mile combing the gnarly nap of the good earth!
Even if you’ve already flown a zillion landings and more than your share of low passes, it still feels chez peculiar to neither land nor pull up. The closer you fly the more energy you’ll absorb, so use these first seconds as the runway slips behind to calibrate a careful blend of proximity and speed. You need something between, say, fifty knots at fifty feet AGL, or eighty knots at ten… Exceeding either only makes the effortless difficult; higher forfeits the power of ground effect and lower is downright deadly. From here on it’s mostly zen.
The overrun fades off, matching L/D for five hundred yards before a dry streamlet creases the surface, drawing everything a few degrees right. The little creek descends three hundred feet in its first mile, good for another knot or two, plus a bit more separation that’ll soon vanish spanning the next full mile, a swampy headwater nearly level but hardly smooth. The challenge is making yourself do nothing, holding steady as stone while the bird whispers on and on.
Margin narrows, eyes widen, and pucker begins to factor as you close on the brow of a wide bluff where the ground finally gives way, revealing panoramic Owens Valley. Even if you’ve managed to remain stupidly suitably down and dirty to this point, you still have twice the juice needed for your failsafe, Bishop airport. Only after exploring the entire mountainside at close range down to the 7000-ft profile out of sight below, need you pull away to find lift and set up another run. Think whole buckets of Silly Putty, your choice of flavor! (BTW, there’s no tow service at Bishop, so unless you do intend to dig it out and eventually soar home, the most sensible time for this caper is day’s end — and there’s no better way to finish any flight than flying the camera into your shadow, video on request😜)
This next leg is more like floating through the woods on skis than soaring in the sky, so long as you hold your speed down. You’re apt to have gathered a surprising amount of it by now and, honestly, it’s important to be SLOW at the top of this pitch. Don’t hesitate to crack spoilers, maybe circle back once, before… ‘jumping in’ as powder hounds say.
Suddenly ravines multiply and deepen between stony knolls, a tangled staircase that like all righteous ski runs, steepens halfway down. Where it plunges too fast, cut across the fall line, damping speed with traverses to hug your scratchy margin. Skip to adjacent ravines, or warily over and back in a ridgetop kind of dutch roll. Even turn uphill for a beat to contain the inertia, just don’t get sucked into a dead end!
As between trees or moguls, or on a chessboard, you’re always either two moves ahead or falling behind, and these aren’t fir boughs rushing by, they’re rocks. In this realm sky is not the limit, they are. When their pace exceeds yours, pop up like a retriever in high grass to reconnoiter, then swoop nose first into some other underbrush. Or not. The mountain merely sits, a sanguine Buddha, as ready to let you die as set you free. Both at once? Depends on thee.
It’s easy to lose yourself in this vertical labyrinth and even more fun when you do, ‘cause it won’t matter either way! All paths lead to wherever you happen to be when the altimeter nears 7000 and it’s time to bail. From there, Bishop is straight ahead easily in range, with height sufficient to hook any lift you find, climb all the way back up and go for another missed approach…
So, you in?