Thomas – PilotsnPaws – Stockton CA to Phoenix AZ

As I am forever looking for excuses to fly, I registered on the PilotsnPaws website a few months ago. It is a very worthwhile organization that works to get dogs out of shelters and into rescues. (I would like to do Angel Flights but I need 250 hours Pilot in Command and I’m not there yet.) Thomas is a Pomeranian that the shelter had estimated to be about 11 years old which meant that it wouldn’t be long before he was put down. The mission was to get him from near Stockton, CA to a rescue in the Phoenix area.

I already had plans to fly to Phoenix to visit family on November 4th and taking a small dog along for the trip would be easy, but he was about 340 miles north-west of me in the Stockton area. I traded some messages and emails with the coordinator, originally offering to fly half-way there and pick him up in the Fresno area the week before if someone could foster him here in So Cal for the week. A ride south couldn’t be arranged so I offered to make the flight all the way to get him. It was a great way to spend some time flying with my son, he would have the added bonus of having a dog on the flight, and I would get the experience of a long cross country to someplace I had never been before.

Saturday October 28th, 2017

The original  plan was to fly into Stockton. During the flight planning stage I found that fuel at nearby Tracy was much more affordable. I asked if they could meet us at Tracy and found that not only were they willing to do that, but it was actually much closer to the foster home where Thomas was.

The weather cooperated perfectly and we were in the air just after 8am for about a 2:15 flight. As we climbed out over Chino Hills and I saw the marine layer on the other side I was glad I was based inland. Averaging 340+ VFR days a year out of my home airport is awesome.

There were a few bumps as we passed over the hills north of Burbank but it smoothed out once we passed into the Central Valley. Those that live in the mid-west to the east coast they would probably call them mountains as the MEA’s (Minimum En Route IFR Altitudes) for the area run from 7,500-10,400′.

View of the 6-7,000′ “hills” on the way back south, Burbank is just to the right of the nose.

Just a few minutes past the two hour and fifteen minute mark we touched down on runway 30 and taxied to the fuel pumps. I sent a quick text message to the lady bringing Thomas that we were there and before we were done fueling the plane we saw them outside the gate.

Thomas didn’t look anything like his picture. He had been shaved by the animal shelter and did not look like the furball that you expect of a Pomeranian, but he was a sweet little dog. We visited for a little while and they said their goodbyes to Thomas. We took a couple pictures and assured them that we would text when we were back in Corona.

After landing back in Corona I sent a text to the person picking up Thomas with an ETA back in Yorba Linda. A short time later she met us and Thomas was off to a different foster home for the next week. (We already have two dogs and a third for the week wasn’t going to work, but there were some generous people here willing to look after him for the week.)

Saturday November 4th, 2017

I kept a nervous eye on the weather all week. For most of the week the forecast was for rain on Saturday and Sunday. As the week progressed Saturday was looking better but it still looked like we wouldn’t be able to make the return trip Sunday. Yes, I was just bragging about all the VFR days here, but Sunday was forecast not to be one of those days. I was hoping the forecast would be wrong as I wanted to see my family in Arizona and wanted to get Thomas to his new home.

By Friday, Saturday looked like it would be great and while Sunday looked bad in the morning by about 4 o’clock or so it was forecast to be VFR conditions. There might still be some cloud cover but it would be high enough (4-5,000′ overcast) that we could duck underneath after the Banning Pass and still finish our trip home. With a solid plan I asked them to drop Thomas off at 6:45 am Saturday.

At 6:45am on the nose I received a text that she was back with Thomas and we went out front to meet them. His coat had grown back just a little and she had bought him a little sweater to help keep him warm. A short drive to the airport followed by pre-flight and then we were loading up in the plane.

It was a beautiful morning to fly, the sky was clear and the air was cool. The plane climbed well as the propeller took advantage of the thicker cool air, and there was a misty haze hanging in the valleys. A lone hot air balloon stood out against the lighter haze below just south of Hemet.

It was a quick climb to 7,500′ where we were enjoying tailwinds and ground speeds in excess of 170 mph. There was an Airmet for low level turbulence and we found some of that rough air shortly after going through the Banning Pass. I told my wife that if it didn’t improve we would try 9,500′ so after bouncing around for a bit I called up ATC asking for a climb to 9,500′. (I have been told that in some places if you are on VFR Flight Following the controllers don’t want you to bother them with altitude changes. However, here the SoCal Approach folks seem to appreciate it so I always ask. If you have followed my other posts you remember a few times where ATC denied the altitude change because of conflicting traffic so I feel it is a good practice.)

Whether it was smoother because we were higher or because we were further from the mountains I don’t know, but I know that my wife appreciated it.

It was a busy morning in the skies around Phoenix. I heard ATC deny two planes passage through the VFR corridors and a third that was told to hold outside the Bravo airspace.  Chandler tower instructed me to make straight in for runway 4L and to call at a four mile final but as I was passing a five mile final the tower called us up again and cleared us to land.

I stopped at the fuel pump and my wife and son walked over to the terminal with Thomas to meet the lady picking him up. Once fueled I taxied over to the transient parking and tied the plane down.  We learned that the rescue takes in 8-10 dogs a month and that there is a big demand for Pomeranians there in the Phoenix area and a lot of them in shelters in California. She said they used to have a pilot that made regular flights for them but he had moved to another part of the country. I told her that I frequently fly from SoCal to Phoenix and would let them know anytime I was flying to see if they needed help with transport. It was a lot of fun to help out.

Saying goodbye to Thomas

Sunday November 5th, 2017

We had a great time visiting family but there was still one more leg of the trip to fly, the return trip home. I checked on the weather Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. It was looking like we would need to leave by 4:30pm AZ time to be back over the Palm Springs area as the sun went down and it began to get dark. If the skies were going to be clear I would have planned for 30 minutes later but it was possible we would need to duck under a 4-5,000′ overcast layer and I didn’t want to do that in the dark.

The flight back was much slower… That great tailwind we had on the way East was right in our face on the way back West. Ground speeds hung around the 140 mph mark, dropping as low as 115 mph as we approached the Banning Pass. I was glad we were in the Mooney, if we had been in one of the Cherokees I trained in the traffic below us would have been passing us. It was a beautiful flight back, and somewhere north of the Salton Sea I passed 200 hours of flight.

Palomar for Breakfast

The last time I flew was two weeks ago, and I really wanted to get back up in the air. The weather was going to be semi cooperative Saturday so a trip was planned to Palomar. Last time I tried to get there for breakfast I wasn’t successful and had to divert to French Valley because of low overhead ceilings. I say that the weather was semi cooperative because while it was clear skies with incredible visibility, it might be a little bumpy. There was an Airmet for low level turbulence that was to expire about 45 minutes before our flight, but that didn’t mean that it would be smooth when we left.

We took off on 25, made a left crosswind turn and departed the pattern to the south-east along the foothills. It was indeed a little bumpy. My sweet wife suggested perhaps we turn around and opt for the very short flight over to Brackett. I told her I thought it would smooth out once we got past Santiago Peak. She was a trooper and we continued on south. Fortunately once we were past Lake Elsinore it smoothed out and was nice.

I have been asked if ATC (Air Traffic Control) ever has trouble with my tail number. Yes they do. Something about all the sevens and eights gets them mixed up. I try to put in a small pause, 78-878, which helps but isn’t a guarantee. I called up the tower from about 10 miles away.

Me: “Palomar Tower, Mooney 78-878.”
Tower: “Mooney 78378, Palomar Tower, enter right base runway 24, ident.”
Me: “It’s 78-878 and ident, we are 8 miles north, north-east of the field.”
Tower: “November 378, number 3.”

I didn’t bother correcting him because I knew he had my location on radar. However one minute later, moving along at a good clip in our descent, the Tower called us back up. He had been talking to other aircraft and with him calling the wrong tail number again I wanted to make sure that he was talking to me.

Tower: “November 378, verify you have the airport in sight.
Me: “If you are calling the Mooney it is tail number 78-878, yes we do have the airport in sight.”
Tower: “November 878, roger, fly direct to the numbers, runway 24, cleared to land.”
Me: “Direct 24 cleared to land, 878.”

Rather than line up on final we aimed for the end of the runway. I raised the nose for a moment to get under 120 mph so that I could drop the gear and slow down. We made a turn, lining up on a one mile final and settled onto the runway for a nice landing.

After exiting the runway and contacting Ground we found out that their transient parking was full. About a month ago they decreased the number of transient spaces down to just five because of jet blast from the commercial jets that land at the airport. The tower directed us to park at the Western FBO because it was the closest to the restaurant. We had a choice of paying a $20 ramp fee or buy 10 gallons of their gas. With their gas priced almost $2.50 a gallon more than at Corona we opted of the ramp fee.

The restaurant is nice with a view of part of the runway. The food was good and very reasonably priced.

After a good breakfast we paid the ramp fee to the FBO and I did a pre-flight on the plane. Determining that everything was good we climbed in, started up, and received a taxi clearance from Ground.

The flight back was great with a much smoother ride north of Lake Elsinore. With the winds out of the East traffic was landing on 07 at Corona. It was a little bumpy as usual as we crossed the mouth of the canyon on the base leg but nothing too bad. Thirty minutes after pushing the throttle forward and leaving the ground in Palomar we concluded the 60 mile flight, touching down on the second stripe.

Minor Maintenance

It has been a few weeks since I have written, but there has been some flying, and work done on the plane.

On September 30th I took her up to run the right tank dry. The sump valve under the wing has needed to be replaced for quite some time and after my last flight I was left with just a few gallons in the tank so this was perfect. I took her up over Lake Matthews and just flew around working on some turns. I thought I was paying attention to the fuel pressure but apparently I lost track and instead of catching it as the pressure dropped the engine quit. It was a non-event though because as soon as I reached down and switched tanks it started right back up. I headed back to the airport and got the valve changed out.

Another thing I have wanted to get done for quite some time is to repair the overhead vents. There is a duct that runs from the inlet in the roof above the rear seats to the four overhead vents. However it is made up of pieces of sheet metal and over the years they just don’t fit well together anymore. I pulled the headliner out and sure enough there were a lot of gaps, with a huge one at the front. Repairs were made pulling off old foil tape and replacing with new tape. The old fiberglass insulation was replaced with super soundproofing closed cell sheets.

After getting everything back together I went up for a short flight October 7th to see if there was improvement in the overhead vents. The improvement was amazing! Where before you could barely feel any air movement out of the vents it was now a nice breeze coming through them. As I made the short flight over our house and back to the airport I was wishing I had made those repairs at the beginning of the summer, not the end…

Apple Valley – Borrego Valley

There was not a lot of time for flying this weekend, but I did find a way to sneak some in by leaving for the airport at 6:15am. It was cool and clear Saturday morning, a welcome change from some of the heat I have been flying in. Whenever I get the chance, I like going to airports I haven’t been to before. I like the challenge of navigating there, entering the pattern, and landing while not being familiar with the landmarks. I made and filed flight plans from Corona (KAJO) to Apple Valley (KAPV), then to Borrego Valley (L08), and then returning to Corona Friday evening and checked the Outlook Briefing Friday night before getting a full weather briefing Saturday morning.

I picked up flight following just out of Corona and was assigned a squawk code. Shortly after passing Sliverwood Lake ATC Gave me frequency change and had me go back to squawking 1200. Traffic was landing on 18 so I entered a left downwind and came around to land. 18 has a 1.5% grade down and flying the downwind leg into rising terrain made it a little more interesting. There were a few other planes coming and going, including a Mooney and a Cub that was flying the pattern without a radio.

I took the second taxiway exit and taxied back. After plugging in my route for the next leg and checking the frequency for departure I took off south on 18, turned crosswind, and climbed to the East as I departed the area. A few miles East of the airport I switched frequencies and called up ATC, (Air Traffic Control).

Me: “LA Center, Mooney 78878.”
ATC: “November 78878, this is Joshua Approach.” (I thought I was always handed off to LA Center in that area. My tablet doesn’t tell me who I am talking to, just the frequency. I’ll be sure to look it up ahead of time the next time up…)
Me: “Joshua Approach, Mooney 78878, about 5 miles East of Apple Valley, request flight following to Borrego Valley, Lima zero-eight.”

ATC assigned me a squawk code, let me know they had me on radar, and cleared me to climb to my requested altitude of 7,500′. A few minutes later and I was handed off to another controller. A short time after that and ATC let me know I was going to be below his coverage and he would probably lose radio contact. He gave me the next frequency for SoCal Approach in case he lost me. Sure enough, a little later I called up to see if I was still in contact and received no response so switched to the next frequency.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, 7,500.”
SoCal: “November 78878, Palm Springs Altimeter 29.xx” (I can’t remember the exact number and don’t have it written down.)
Me: “29.xx, 878.”

As I approached the Palm Springs area she called up wanting to confirm my routing. I was trying to work on tracking VOR’s on this trip so that made it easy to give her the answer.

SoCal: “November 78878, will you be going Thermal and then direct Borrego Valley?”
Me: “I’m going Palm Springs, then Thermal, and direct to Borrego.”
SoCal: “Roger.”

After passing over the Thermal VOR and the Jacqueline Chochran airport with its below sea level elevation, the destination of my PPL Training night cross country, I began my descent to Borrego Valley and was promptly sent back to squawking VFR (1200) with radar services terminated because I was below their coverage. It was quiet at Borrego Valley so I made straight in for runway 26. The only other traffic on the radio was a CAP (Civil Air Patrol) plane that was entering the pattern as I was crossing the numbers.

My landings at both Apple Valley and Borrego Valley were very nice. I was hoping that by going up for some solo time without any distractions would help me get back on track and it was working.

After once again setting up my flight on the tablet I took off on 26, turned crosswind, and then downwind without decreasing my climb rate. By mid-field I was at 2,200′ (Traffic Pattern Altitude is 1,518′) and turned north crossing over the field before heading off to the north-west. A short climb to 6,500′ and I settled in for the short flight back. There were some patchy clouds that I was flying above, but I knew that I would need to get below. Corona was showing clear, but I didn’t know at which point between French Valley and Corona it would go from “Scattered” to “Clear” and I didn’t want to arrive close to Corona with 6,000′ to descend. As I approached French Valley I saw a big break in the patchy clouds so I pushed the nose over to head down through it and under the clouds ahead.

It was a busy day in the air with people taking advantage of a cool Saturday morning to go fly. There were multiple planes in the pattern at French Valley as I passed overhead descending down through 5,000′. Arriving back in the Corona area there was a plane entering the downwind for 25 and another that was doing pattern work and had just taken off and turned crosswind. I announced that I had both of them in sight and would be entering a left downwind for 25, number 3 behind the Cessna. The day was finished off with a nice landing at my home base and I felt great about today’s flight.

Discretion (and diversion) is the Better Part of Valor

I hadn’t been flying, or even out to the airport in almost two weeks. Usually around the 7 day mark I start to get the itch to get back up in the air, as two weeks approached I really wanted to go flying…

Plans were made with a friend to go someplace for breakfast on Saturday morning. We weren’t sure quite yet where we would go as it was dependent upon the weather. The options were Torrance (KTOA) to catch an Uber down to the pier, Palomar (KCRQ) with a restaurant on the field, or Borrego Springs (L08) where there is also a restaurant on the field. Torrance would have had the bonus of flying over the Long Beach Harbor with the Queen Mary and USS Iowa while if we went to Palomar we were going to fly back north along the coast and see it we could do a little whale watching along the way.

Saturday morning began with Corona, Torrance, and Palomar all checking in at MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules) with low ceilings. Knowing the forecast was calling for those low ceilings in the morning we had planned to meet at 8:30am to give it time to clear a little.

A little after 9am after the clouds had lifted some and pre-flight was done we were heading down to the fuel pumps with a plan to go to Palomar which was reporting overcast at 3,400′. After fueling and a run-up we took runway 25 at 9:20am, I pushed the throttle all the way in, and we were rolling along, prop turning at 2,700 rpm and the speed quickly building to 70 mph at which point she started climbing. There was an Airmet for low level turbulence and it was a little bumpy but not too bad. On a clear day I would have climbed up to 6,500′ for the flight which would have been smoother, but with the overcast we were cruising along at 2,500′ while I kept a constant eye on the cloud situation.

As we passed Lake Elsinore about 35 miles north of Palomar I was able to pick up the ATIS. The weather on my tablet was still reporting overcast at 3,400′, however the most current weather from the ATIS had overcast at 3,200′ and broken at 1,400′. Cloud coverage is reported as Clear -> Few -> Scattered -> Broken -> Overcast. As we progressed to the south I monitored the Palomar Tower and the ATIS recording, considering the options. The problem with a broken layer is that it is just one step down from overcast and not something I can fly through.

As we approached the southern end of the valley where the hills begin rising and interstate 15 heads through a pass between a couple of 2,400′ hills I made my decision to divert and began a shallow left banking turn. As we turned I told my friend that we were going to go to French Valley instead and have breakfast there. (Borrego Springs, while reporting clear skies, was not an option because we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough to get over the mountains en-route. Later over breakfast as we were talking about the flight and the decision to turn back he said that as we were flying along he was wondering if I was going to turn back and when that would be.

The landing at French Valley was not on center-line, but the breakfast was good… After a good breakfast and some great time visiting we hopped in the Mooney for the quick trip back to Corona. Another sub-par landing later (I guess they can’t all be greasers) and we were back at the hangar.


CA to UT Race – Mooney in the Morning

I thought the race was all in joking fun, until three quarters of the way through…

Saturday September 2nd, 2017

We had the chance to take a car to my wife’s middle daughter up in UT and the schedule worked out well for Labor Day Weekend, so another weekend, and another flight in the Mooney. My wife and her youngest daughter would drive the car and my son and I would fly the Mooney there. After spending the weekend there we would all fly back Labor Day morning. No doubt I got the better end of that deal, but as I am the only one that can fly the plane it is how it had to be. 🙂

Wanting to get through the desert before it was too hot my wife got up at 3:20am and they were on the road just before 4am. I promptly went back to sleep and woke up at 6am when my alarm went off, got dressed, packed a bag, and ate breakfast while looking at the flight briefings for both legs of the trip. We were going to be surprising her daughter and son-in-law with the car so the plan was to try to arrive close to the same time. They wanted to watch us land (thinking we were all flying there) so we were going to tell them to get there shortly after my wife got there with the car and just say we landed early.

I needed to check the water level in the battery before we flew. You are supposed to check it every 25 hours. I should have checked it when I had the cowling off for the mag inspection but somehow I forgot to do it then. My son and I arrived at the airport about 7am and I went to work taking the cowling off and adding just a little bit of distilled water to each cell in the battery to bring the levels back up where they needed to be. The oil was at 5 1/2 quarts after the flight to Phoenix and back so I added 1 1/2 to it, bringing it up to 7 quarts. Normally I would just bring it to 6 quarts but since it would be around a 4+ hour flight I decided to put a little more in.

Pre-flight was done, the plane loaded and pulled out of the hangar, the car parked inside the hangar, the hangar doors closed and locked, and we started up to taxi down to the fuel island to fill up. After fueling and taxiing I went through the run-up, then sent a text to my wife at 8:19am that we were taking off for what looked like about a 3:20 flight time to Delta.

The saying goes that there are old pilots, and bold pilots, but not many old bold pilots. I am fairly conservative in my fuel planning. VFR daytime minimum is 30 minutes of reserve fuel at your destination. My personal minimum is one hour of reserve. Until I get the RH tank patched I can only put 22 gallons in it which gives me 48 gallons overall, of which 45 is usable fuel. In cruise I burn around 9+ gallons an hour so I can fly just under 4 hours and still have my personal minimum. The flight from Corona to South Valley Regional was showing a little over 4 hours so I opted to stop in Delta for fuel. (Plus fuel in Delta is $0.65 cheaper a gallon than at South Valley so I would rather fill up at Delta and top off at South Valley).

When we had left home for the airport at 6:45 am my wife was just passing Primm, NV south of Las Vegas. Jokingly I said we would race her as she would have about a four hour head start. I did not know it at the time, but my wife really was trying to beat us there…

We picked up flight following, leveled off at 9,500′ about the time we were passing Lake Arrowhead, I slid my seat back to stretch my legs, and we settled in for the flight. As usual the controllers for Vegas’ Bravo Airspace were accommodating, clearing us through at 9,500′.

ATC: “November 78878, what is your destination?”
Me: “Delta, UT, identifier DeltaTangoAlpha.”
ATC: “Roger, November 78878, cleared through the Bravo, maintain niner thousand five hundred.”
Me: “Cleared through the Bravo, maintain niner thousand five hundred, 878.”

About halfway between Las Vegas and Mesquite I had flashbacks of trying to hold a heading when flying under the hood while working on my private pilot certificate. I don’t know if it was smoke, haze, or a combination of both, but there was not much horizon in front of us. To the sides there was still great visibility, probably 20-30 miles, and I could see the ground in front out to probably at least 10-15 miles. However the ground slowly melted into the haze which melted into the clear sky above, and the familiar mountains that I am used to seeing were nowhere to be seen. I would have my heading, glance down at the turn indicator and notice that I had ever so slight a turn to the right and I was a couple degrees off course. A quick correction back on course and then the same thing again. Once I figured out that for some reason I have a natural inclination to drift to the right it was much better.

Before anyone panics thinking I was flying into instrument conditions I could clearly see horizon to the sides, and in front I could see the ground and the sky, the middle section where the horizon was just seemed like someone had taken a paint brush and blurred out the mountains. 

I took my phone off airplane mode when we were on descent into Delta so that hopefully it would have a signal once we were on the ground. The winds were favoring runway 35 so we made a straight in approach and landed at 3 hours and 31 minutes after taking off from Corona. I pulled my phone out to text my wife that we had landed in Delta and saw she had already sent a text that she was past Delta… I decided a quick fueling turn around was in order. I fueled the plane, my son and I both made a quick restroom break, and we climbed back in. Thirty minutes after landing at Delta I sent a text to my wife that we were taking off and looking at a 40 minute flight time.

En-route on the last leg we only went to 7,500′. That was high enough to clear the mountains on the way and there was no point going much higher because you have to duck under Salt Lake’s airspace just north of Utah Lake. As we rounded the point of the mountain I began making our radio calls. The winds were favoring runway 34 and I was hoping to make a straight in approach. There was a Cherokee on the frequency that was going to be arriving about the same time as us but he was coming from the east and crossing midfield to enter the left downwind leg. I had a quick chat with him on the radio and offered to come around and enter a downwind if needed. He told me my straight in shouldn’t be a problem and he would extend his downwind if needed. (I always try to be accommodating to other pilots and have found that most of them are the same way.) On we continued with our straight in approach to 34. The Cherokee had been accommodating so I wanted to try and get in before he had to extend his downwind. To accomplish that I kept our speed up around 140 mph until on a 5 mile final, then slowed to 120 mph to drop the gear (it’s still really cool to fly a plane that you can raise and lower the gear), then slowed to 100 mph on a two mile final where I put the flaps in and then slowed to an 80 mph approach. (I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to just get in quickly to help the Cherokee… I wanted to beat my wife there too).

Forty-two minutes after taking off from Delta we were on the ground at South Valley Regional. A quick text to my wife determined that she was still 10 minutes away. We added some fuel at the self-serve pump (not full tanks, I’ll explain in a minute) and then started up and taxied over to a spot on the ramp. By the time we had the plane parked I saw my wife and her daughter walking across the ramp to us. That was when I learned that she really was trying to beat us there, having made only one quick stop for gas in Mesquite on the way in hopes that she would win the race. Still, she made great time.

Just an FYI if you are going into South Valley Regional, their Self Service and Full Service fuel are the same price. I supposed I could have known that from checking online, but everyone prices their Full Service higher so I hadn’t even thought to look. When filling out my info at the FBO was when the line guy there told me they were the same price. Next time I fly in I will just taxi straight to parking and let them fuel the plane.

My wife’s daughter and son-in-law met us about ten minutes later with our granddaughter and we “apologized that we had landed early and they had missed it.” They were disappointed, but when we walked out and showed them the car explaining why they had “missed” the landing they were surprised, and very grateful.

Monday September 4th, 2017

My wife prefers to fly in the morning when the air is smoother, and I enjoy the smoother rides too (even though my son tends to like the roller coaster feelings from light to moderate turbulence). We were up at 5 am and at the airport at 6 am. First light was at 6:30 am with the sunrise just before 7 am. The plan was to be in the air by 6:30 am. I did the pre-flight on the plane as well as giving pointers to my wife’s daughter about where to step, how to get in the plane, what to expect, etc… The smallest plane she had ridden in before was about a 15 passenger puddle jumper so this would be a little different.

When I am flying alone, with my son, my wife, or both of them together I know what the weight and balance is from the number of times we have flown. However, this would be the first time I had flown this combination of people and bags so I did the weight and balance which put us right at gross weight without full fuel. Prior to leaving for UT I had everyone get on the scale so I had everyone’s accurate weights and I had weighed bags as well. With all four of us and bags I could only put in 40 gallons of fuel which would necessitate a stop in St. George for more fuel. (Going back to my earlier mention of not filling up when landing at South Valley).

The run-up checked out and with the mountains outlined by the pre-dawn light we were lumbering down the runway. At gross weight it takes a lot longer to get off the ground, and you don’t climb very fast either. Especially when you factor in the density altitude which was close to 6,000′. I could easily see how people get in trouble thinking the plane should be climbing faster, they pull back more and more, and stall the plane. I leveled us off at 5,900′ to stay under the 6,000′ shelf of Salt Lake’s Bravo airspace as we headed south for the gap between the point of the mountain and the restricted airspace over Camp Williams.

As we were climbing out over Utah Lake past the Fairfield VOR I called up Salt Lake Approach to pick up flight following.

Me: “Salt Lake Approach, Mooney 78878.” (There was a long pause as I heard ATC talking to other aircraft, then finally).
ATC: “VFR aircraft that was calling in, say again your type and call sign.”
Me: “Mooney 78878.”
ATC: “Your call is breaking up, I think you said you are a Meridian? And say your call sign again.”
(I sure wish I was flying a Meridian)
Me: “No, a Mooney M20Papa, 7-8-8-7-8 (slowing the numbers way down).”
ATC: “Roger, Mooney 78878, squawk xxxx.”

I put in the squawk, they picked up my radar location, and asked me my cruising altitude. I told them 10,500′ and we continued on our way. As we passed the south end of Utah Lake the sun was just rising above the mountains to the east. I’ve seen the sun set while flying my Mooney, and now I’ve seen the sun rise while flying it.

A side effect of leaving early is that your passengers sleep most of the flight.

It was a little less than two hours to St George and I had everyone wake up while we were on about a 5 mile final for runway 19. I didn’t want anyone, especially my wife’s daughter who hadn’t flown in a small plane, to wake up and be nervous right as I was trying to land… The landing was smooth and we taxied to the fuel pump. I put fuel in the plane while everyone took a quick trip to the restrooms.

I thought that we would have to taxi over to the FBO on the other side of the airport for the restrooms but there was a sign with an arrow for restrooms right above the fuel pump. It turned out to be a little bit of a walk as they are located between the first and second set of hangars to the south of the fuel pumps. (Just in case any of you end up at KSGU and are wondering where they restrooms actually are).

I didn’t want to leave the plane at the pumps in case anyone else needed to use them so I started it up and taxied down closer to the restrooms. Everyone had a bite to eat while I took my turn making sure I wouldn’t need a restroom break between St George and Corona…

I was glad we were there early because it was not hot outside yet. That made it more comfortable since we had to leave the air conditioner at home (no room for extra weight) and with the density altitude about 3,000′ less than at South Valley we were off the ground sooner and climbing faster.

We headed to the south-west, climbing out through the Virgin River Gorge, and picked up flight following again. The air was much clearer than it had been just two days prior and we enjoyed a comfortable ride at 10,500′ as we cruised south-west towards California. As we approached Vegas I woke my wife’s daughter up to look out and see Lake Meade and the Vegas Strip. It was great flight with a broken layer of clouds at about 15,000′ which kept it cooler inside the cabin.

There was forecast an Airmet for low level turbulence for the last part of our flight, an area that covered from about Barstow the rest of the way home. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too bad because I know my wife doesn’t like it, and I was fairly certain her daughter wouldn’t either if she woke up. Fortunately there were only a few bumps as we flew over the mountains between Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.

About 12 miles east of Corona SoCal turned us loose.

SoCal: “November 78878, I show no traffic between you and the field, radar services terminated squawk VFR, good day.”
Me: “Squawk VFR, thanks for the help, 878.”

I switched over to what I thought was 122.70, the CTAF for Corona. (Always double check your radio frequency…)

Me: “Corona Traffic, Mooney 878, 10 miles east of the field, straight in for two-five, Corona.” (Nothing on the radio and SoCal had said there was no other traffic so I made my next call at five miles).
Me: “Corona Traffic, Mooney 878, five mile final, 25, Corona.”
Unkown: “Last aircraft to call in, say again?”
(That’s odd, then I glanced at the radio and saw I was on 127.00 instead of 122.70. I quickly switched to the correct frequency).
Me: “Corona Traffic, Mooney 878, five mile final, 25, Corona.” (Still nobody on the radio, and I was at least on the right frequency now… After getting home I did a search of that frequency and can’t figure out who I was talking to. I had a quick flashback to my night flight a few weeks ago after having the mags serviced when another plane that had left Corona thought he was calling the Riverside Tower but hadn’t changed frequencies yet.)
Me: “Corona Traffic, Mooney 878 on a three mile final, 25, Corona.”

There was still nobody on the radio and I didn’t see anyone in the traffic pattern so I continued on. I made one more call at a one mile final and then we were on short final, the power was pulled, and we were settling in for the landing.

The rest of the day was spent with a short nap on the couch, a trip to the store for some yard stuff, dinner at The Habit, stopping by another store for some dress shirts and a pair of slacks for my son who is serving a mission for church, and then some yard work before visiting friends. At the end of the evening, looking back on the day, I told my wife I couldn’t believe everything that we had done today considering we woke up this morning in Utah. Just another day with the Mooney time machine, giving you back what Winston Churchill once said is “one thing that can never be retrieved,” time. (I guess he didn’t have a Mooney…)

It’s Hot in Phoenix

Saturday August 26th, 2017

Why you can fly there, everything is closer. Since having the Mooney I have seen a lot more of my family, which really was the main reason to get the Mooney in the first place. A weekend trip to the Phoenix area to see my family would mean a lot of driving for the amount of time spent visiting. By car it is about 6 hours each way, but by Mooney it is between 2-2 1/2 hours each way, which makes a weekend trip perfect.

Due to some plans that changed my wife wasn’t able go so it was just my youngest son with me. I had to think back because I couldn’t believe that this would be the fourth time I have flown there and she hasn’t been able to make any of the trips. She has made multiple flights to Utah and Idaho with me, but we will have to remedy the lack of Phoenix trips soon…

My son and I headed out to the airport about 6:30am knowing it might not be clear yet, but I wanted to change the tint on the front windows before we flew. I wrote up a post on tinting the windows about a week ago. I didn’t have tint on the front windows before but decided to give it a try when I replaced the tint on one of the rear windows. After flying with the fronts tinted I decided I didn’t like it. One of the things I love about flying is just looking out the windows. While I was able to see out with the tint, even at night I could see well, it made it just a little hazy and everything wasn’t as crisp. I love flying and looking out the windows, and having it a little hazy just wouldn’t do, so I wanted to pull it off and just go back to having a strip along the top to help with the sun.

When we got to the airport, the morning mist/fog was lifting. It only took about 10 minutes to change the tint on both front windows and by the time we had the AC all set in the luggage area and everything else loaded up the skies were clear enough to fly. The sound of a plane taking off said the skies were clear and it was time to go.

We fueled up and were soon on our way eastbound into the rising sun.  I have said it before, but SoCal Approach is always helpful, even when they are busy.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878.” (A couple of minutes went by as I heard the controller giving instructions to quite a number of planes.)
SoCal: “I think there was someone calling in with a VFR request. State plane type and destination.”
Me: “SoCal, Mooney 78878, we are a Mooney M20Papa, about 2 miles south of the Paradise VOR, requesting flight following to Chandler, identifier Charlie Hotel Delta.”

SoCal proceeded to give me my squawk code and call out my position. They asked for my cruising altitude and I told them 9,500. Initially they held me to 6,000 for traffic, which was okay because before I got there they had lifted that to 7,500, and before I got there cleared me to 9,500.

It was an uneventful flight (that’s always a good thing) as we were handed off from one sector to another. About 40 miles west of the Estrella Mountains I called up and asked to begin a VFR descent. With thae descent approved I pushed the nose over and trimmed it out.

West of he mountains the sky was empty, but on the East side of the Estrella Mountains it was very busy.

Phx Apprch: “November 78878, I need you to fly heading 090 for traffic.”
Me: “Fly 090, 878.”

A little bit later they cleared me to resume my navigation, then:

Phx Apprch: “November 78878, actually I need you to fly 060 for traffic, I’ll call your turn.”
Me: “Fly 060, 878.”

It was good to be on flight following and have that extra set of eyes looking out for us.

We had gone past the extended centerline when the controller cleared me to resume navigation and contact the tower. I switched over to the tower frequency, waited a moment to make sure the frequency was clear, and made my call.

Me: “Chandler tower, Mooney 78878, about 10 miles south of the field, inbound and we have Victor.” (Victor was the identifier for the current weather which let them know I had listened to it.)
Tower: “I have too many calls stepping on each other, nobody call, I will call everyone in turn.” (Turns out when I was calling in there were a few more trying to at the same time.)

The tower started with those that had a specific squawk assigned. There was a Cherokee that he cleared to land on 4R, another plane that was stumbling around with his call that was asked to stay clear of the Delta airspace for a few minutes so he could get some departures out (sometimes when you are struggling with your calls they will basically tell you “hold on, I’m too busy to try and figure you out right now), then he got to me and cleared us straight in for 4L. When we were about 3 miles out he cleared us to land and we settled in for a nice landing. The flight time it was showing when I filed was 2:20, with the vectoring around for traffic we actually landed at 2:30, not bad for a 350 mile trip.

Sunday August 27, 2017

Summer time in Phoenix means a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Saturday there were some nice ones that built up east of the valley. I was checking the forecast Saturday evening to figure out when I needed to be in the air Sunday. The outlook was that I would probably need to take off by 5-6pm to be ahead of any storms. We made tentative plans to stay for an early dinner, pending checking the more specific forecast that I would be able to get later on Sunday.

At noon Sunday I logged into to get a standard briefing. It was showing that if we left at 5pm the weather was good, but by 6pm the forecast for all of the airports in the area showed “Thunderstorms in the vicinity.” The schedule was set.

We got to the airport about 4:15 and put 20 lbs of ice in the AC, turned it on, and started the pre-flight. The temp the car showed on the way over was 110° but I think it was hotter than that on the ramp. I had to wear my leather gloves to do the preflight inspection because even though it is a white plane the skin was too hot to touch. It turns out that at 90° the AC unit does really well, but at 110° it just can’t keep up. I may do some modifications to it and add a second heater core so that the air passes through two of them.

With the preflight done we gave my dad a hug, told him we loved him, and climbed in. With sweat running down my back and dripping off my chin (yes, I know that is an ugly picture) I finished my checklist and got the plane started up. Soon we had our taxi clearance and were rolling along, waving to my dad who was still standing just outside the door of the terminal.

After run-up we didn’t have to wait for anyone else to get our take off clearance, apparently we were the only ones crazy enough to be taking off in that heat. In the initial climb the temps climbed over 400° which I was expecting given the outside temp, but as we got a little altitude I pushed the nose over some to get the speed up to 120mph which gave more cooling and brought the temps back down.

Once clear of Chandler’s airspace I called up Phoenix Approach to pick up flight following. After giving me my squawk code and verifying my position they wanted to know the specifics.

Phx Approach: “What is your cruising altitude?”
Me: “One-zero thousand five hundred.”
Phx Approach: “What is your on course heading?” (They were trying to figure out if they wanted to clear me through the Bravo shelf I was under)
Me: “Currently 250, I’m going to fly that until I am west of the Estrella Mountains.”
Phx Approach: “November 78878, cleared through the Bravo on course, VFR climb approved.”
Me: “Cleared through the Bravo, VFR climb, 878.”

We climbed to 10,500 and leveled off. About 30 miles west of the Estrella Mountains, cruising along at 10,500′, we weren’t in Phoenix’s airspace, but we were on the approach path. Time after time ATC (Air Traffic Control) would call out a plane opposite direction, a 737 descending to 12,000′, or an Airbus descending through 13,000′, and a few more. Each time I would respond that we were looking, but they were all coming “out of the sun” and I would finally see them when they were about 3-4 miles away.

We definitely made the right decision to leave at 5pm. At 6pm I decided to take a look at my tablet and see what the weather showed back in Phoenix. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway (I’ll always think of it as Williams from when it was an Air Force Base) just east of Chandler was showing 1 1/2 miles visibility from the dust moving in front of a huge thunderstorm that had built up to the east and was moving west, along with winds from 090, 15 knots gusting 25. Fifteen minutes later Williams was 1/4 mile visibility, winds 090 18 gusting 35, with lightning and that same storm moving further west. By 6:30pm Chandler was IFR conditions, winds 060 18 gusting 28, 1 mile visibility, with blowing dust. Yes, we got out of there at the right time.

Again it was an uneventful flight, but it was good to be on flight following. Just east of Palm Springs I asked to begin our descent.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, we would like to begin a VFR descent.”
SoCal: “November 78878, traffic, 12 o’clock, 5 miles, eastbound at 9,000′, type unknown.”

We were at 10,500′ and there was another plane headed our direction at 9,000′ who was not talking to ATC and there was a chance that we could descend into his path.

Me: “Okay, we’ll stay at one zero thousand five hundred until we are past him.”
SoCal: “I’ll let you know when you are past.”

Very soon after that I saw a small plane just lower than us passing by off our left side.

SoCal: “November 878, traffic passing off your left wing is no longer a factor, VFR descent approved.”
Me: “VFR descent, 878.”

At this point I pushed over for a fairly steep descent and watched the indicated airspeed climb to about 170 mph and our ground-speed hanging around 199 mph. When you are moving that fast and the air is smooth it is soooo fun. We were handed off again and restricted to 5,500′ or higher as we were going to be passing right over March Air Force Base so I leveled off at 5,600′. About the time we were directly over their runway the altitude restriction was lifted and we began our descent again. I was monitoring 122.70 (the CTAF for Corona) to get a feel for the traffic around the airport, there wasn’t any.

SoCal canceled radar services at 7 miles out so I went back to squawking 1200 and called a 7 mile final for runway 25. I made another call at 5 miles and 3 miles, there were no other planes on the radio and I couldn’t see any in the pattern that might not have had a radio or been on the wrong frequency.

We were landing on 25 with the winds coming from 300 at 9 knots, that would give us about a 7 knot crosswind which actually isn’t much. (I do remember when I thought 7 knots crosswind was a lot…) I crabbed the plane down final until on short final and then kicked in some left rudder and right aileron to get the nosed lined up with the runway and keep from drifting to the left. With the runway made I pulled the throttle and just kept trying to hold the center-line.

I know I am bragging now, but it was a beautiful landing. The right wheel touched down, followed by the left wheel, and then about a second or so later the nose wheel touched. If only all of my landings could be like that. I proceeded to let my 13 yo son know how pleased I was with myself, and he responded the way most 13 year olds respond.

Me: “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Son: “But what if it does?”
Me: “It doesn’t.”
Son: “But what if it does?”
Me: “It really doesn’t, I greased that one on.”
Son: “But what if the airline does.”
Me: “They don’t get better than that.”
Son: “But what if they do?”
Me: “Really, they just don’t.”

That is honestly the conversation that took place as we were rolling down the runway to the west end of the field where my hangar is before turning off onto the taxiway. The flight time it showed when we took off was 2:10, and 2:15 after taking off we were shutting down in front of our hangar.

It was a great visit to family that would not have happened this weekend without the Mooney. I love flying that plane!

French Valley Friend Dinner Fun Run

It is always fun to take someone else flying. It was a slow slog on the freeways to get to the airport, but as always it was worth it. I have a friend who has been in a small plane before, “a long time ago” to use his words, but I have wanted to take him up for quite awhile. We weren’t sure if today was going to work out because of his work schedule, but thankfully it did. The plan was to let him do a little flying over Lake Matthews before going to French Valley (F70) for dinner.

He met me at the airport and I did my best to explain everything as I was going through the pre-flight inspection. Those of you that haven’t taken someone new up for awhile should do so. The fun started with the pre-flight and lasted until we put the plane back in the hangar.

After pre-flight we pulled the plane out and climbed in. I had warned him that there is “no good way” to get in or out of the right seat in a Mooney, but he did well. I went over different instruments and some of how a little bit of the aerodynamics involved in flight. He has flown, and landed, some big planes in the simulators that FedEx has, but cruising around in a small plane is different.

Once the run-up was done we took the runway, pushed the throttle all the way in, and were soon in the air. As we were climbing out at about 100 mph he looked over and said “This is so cool.” We turned cross-wind and then departed along the foothills to the south-east while climbing to 3,100′. As we approached the quarry to the west of Lake Matthews I flipped over to 123.5, the Lake Matthews frequency.

Me: “Lake Matthews traffic, white and gray Mooney, 3,100′, just west of the quarry, inbound will be maneuvering along the south edge of the lake, Lake Matthews.”

It was quiet with no one answering back which isn’t unusual for a weekday evening. I gave him control of the plane and told him to just fly us around keeping it close to 3,100′ and once we got to the end he could turn us and bring us back along the north shore and dam. After a bit there was another plane inbound on the radio from Chino but we were higher than them and departing the area before they arrived.

At one point he asked if we were turning too steep. I told him we were only at about 20° and that we could go up to 60° but not past that. After explaining that you have to perform steep turns at 45° for your check-ride I asked if he wanted to see one. A 45° left bank and 360°’s later I rolled it level and he commented that “that’s pretty steep.”

I gave the plane back to him and told him to take us over the 15 freeway and just navigate along it to the south keeping us at about 3,100′ which he did very well. I had pulled the prop back to 2,400 and the throttle to 20″ just to cruise leisurely along at about 150 mph true air speed and our ground speed was hanging around the 140 mph mark. The winds at French Valley were coming out of the south so we maneuvered so that we could make a straight in on 18. He flew us until we were about 5 miles away.

I had been announcing our position starting at 15 miles out. As we were about 7 miles out I heard a Cessna that had taken off on 18 making his crosswind turn. I had missed whether he was staying in the pattern. (Maybe he announced it before taking off and maybe he didn’t, I’m not sure).

Me: “Cessna, I missed your first call, are you staying in the pattern?”
Cessna: “Yes, you’re making a straight in approach?”
Me: “We’d like to if we can, not sure if you would be ahead of us or want to extend out.”
Cessna: “We’re just turning downwind, not sure how fast you are, we’re looking for you.”
Me: “I’m about five miles out.”
Cessna: “We are close to turning base.”
Me: “Ok, I have you in sight, I’ll swing to the east and come in behind you.”

After a short turn to the east for spacing behind the Cessna we turned back, got lined up on final and came right down the glidepath to settle in for a very nice landing. (It is always nice when you can make a nice landing the first time you have someone new in the plane).

I’ve said it before, French Valley has a nice little restaurant. I had their chicken/bacon/avocado sandwich this time and it was excellent.

After a great dinner and great conversation we headed back outside to the plane at about 8:45pm. As I looked up at the sky I saw the clouds rolling in from the south. Above the airport and to the north (where we were headed) you could still see stars. After taxiing down to the end of 18 and a short run-up we were taking off. I made an early crosswind turn and then turned downwind heading north. As we slipped through the night sky, looking at the lights, I told him that if we had finished eating 30 minutes later we would have been leaving the plane at French Valley and taking an Uber back. (I checked the metar when I got home about 45 minutes after we left French Valley and it was socked in with an overcast at 700′).

A short flight later we were landing at Corona. It wasn’t as nice as the previous one at French Valley, but it wasn’t terrible either. We put the plane away, and decided we needed to do it again. I just need to make sure that it doesn’t take as long before we go again.

500 Hour Mag Inspection – Night Flying

I have Slick Magnetos in my plane, which means that every 500 hours they are supposed to be sent out for inspection to replace anything that is worn out. From the log books I was at 530 hours on the mags, but I really wasn’t positive how many hours were on them. The entry in the log book when they were put in as part of an engine tear-down after a prop strike 10 years ago just says “swapped out” but does not say if they had just been inspected at that point or not…

The mag checks during the pre-flight run-up were still fine, but when you are talking about what supplies the power to the spark plugs it is best to not push things too far. I talked to Procraft Aviation out at the airport and got a quote for having them removed, sent out to Aero Accesories at Van Nuys, an then reinstalled. It was a reasonable quote so the next week I taxied the plane over to their shop on a Wednesday and left it with them. They pulled the mags, shipped them out, and put my plane back in the hangar while they waited for them to come back. I got a call that the plane was done and back in the hangar the following Monday. Had I gotten the plane to them on Tuesday it would have been a two day turn around, ready on Thursday, that’s quick! As it was I wasn’t in a hurry as I would be hiking 11,503′ Mt San Gorgonio on Thursday and Friday with my son and the Scouts.

The first chance I had to get out to the airport was Wednesday after work. I wanted to make sure I was there and could take her up before it was dark. If something went wrong I wanted to make sure I could clearly see my off field options for putting the plane down.

I spent extra time looking over the plane and their work prior to putting the cowling back on. Then I spent extra time on the pre-flight inspection because someone else had been working on the plane and moving it around. Everything looked good so I pulled it out of the hangar, closed the hangar doors, climbed in, and started it up. The engine came to life and I taxied down to the fuel island. After fueling up I taxied down to the run-up area and went through an extended run-up. Again, everything checked out so I took the runway for the first of two trips around the pattern. The sun had just gone down but there was still plenty of light so I felt good knowing I could see possible landings sites if something went wrong.

After two trips around the pattern I felt good about everything so I took off for a round robin trip to Riverside and then Chino. It is still amazing at how quickly you can get from place to place when you are going 140-150 mph (I had backed off the power a little since they were just short hops) and when you don’t have any traffic, lights, or stop signs to slow you down… It was just over 10 minutes from taking off at Corona to landing at Riverside, another about 8 minutes from taking off at Riverside to landing in Chino, and then 7 minutes from taking off in Chino to landing back at Corona.

It was a lot of fun to just make some short little flights over the city lights. It was also fun to go back to Chino. After doing my initial PPL training there it is always fun to go back.

It seemed that I was off the ground a little faster than before the mags were done. Perhaps it is all in my head, but I am looking forward to taking a longer flight, getting up to 9,500-10,500′ and seeing what it does in cruise. It would be great to get another few mph out of it. 🙂

Oceano, CA (L52) Airplane Camping – Santa Ynez (KIZA) to Solvang, CA

Check lists aren’t just for flying and diversions aren’t just for airports…

Camping is fun. It can provide a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and just relax for a little bit. There are a few airports that have campgrounds on them so we thought we would give it a try. On the list of potential destinations is Kern Valley (L05) by Lake Isabella, Columbia (O22) north-west of Yosemite, and Oceano (L52) right near Pismo Beach, south of San Luis Obispo. In the summer the highs at Kern Valley and Columbia are over 100° while the highs at Oceano are about 75°, the decision was made.

Thursday July 27th, 2017

My youngest son was away at Scout Camp for the week which turned my wife and I into temporary empty-nesters and a chance to get away. Thursday morning I got the grass cut and then we packed up and headed to the airport. There was not point in getting on our way too early because we would have to wait for the marine layer to clear so we could land at Oceano. With sleeping bags, a tent, air mattress, etc… in the plane we were ready to go. After fueling the plane we took off on runway 25 into the wind and headed north-west over Chino Hills State Park.

I tried calling up SoCal Approach for flight following but he was buried and denied the VFR request. (I think that’s only the second time I have had that happen, but he was very busy with all the traffic.) It was no big deal, about the time we came out from under the Los Angeles Bravo Airspace we were in a different sector and SoCal Approach there gave us a squawk code and we were in the system.

We flew over the Rose Bowl and west roughly along the 101 freeway while getting handed off. Shortly after passing the Van Nuys I was watching a plane on my tablet and picked him up headed towards us. SoCal called us out to him and he to us. It is hard to pick out small planes in the sky, even when you know where to look. However I could see this one from a long way away, he was a 737. We were vectored to a heading of 180° for a couple of minutes, not that we were going to pass that close to him but as a precaution against wake turbulence.

I was keeping an eye on the weather at Santa Maria (KSMX) just south-east of Oceano to see when it would be VFR. (Oceano doesn’t have weather reporting yet although they are having it installed). I had planned our arrival time for when it was forecast to be VFR but with KSMX still showing IFR I pulled back on the throttle a little. It was beautiful flying along the coast past Ventura and Santa Barbara. The mountain just north-west of Santa Barbara was bare from the recent fire and an ashen-gray color outlined in red where the tankers had dropped the fire retardant.

Once past the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) for the fire we turned north and headed up the valley. KSMX at this point was clear skies and I was hopeful that we would be able to get into Oceano. We began a descent and it wasn’t long before we could see the clouds ahead from the marine layer looming off shore. Still about 20 miles out I “thought” that it looked like they were just off-shore and figured that if we got closer and couldn’t get in we would just turn around and go have lunch at the Santa Maria Airport.

We flew north until we were on the extended centerline with the runway and then turned to a heading of 290° to be lined up with runway 29. At about 10 miles out I could see the runway and that we would be able to get in, but if we were to have to go around it would have put us into the marine layer. While it didn’t make a go-around “impossible” it did make me think of the stories my dad tells of landing C-130’s at Sparrevohn Air Force Station in Alaska. The runway there has a 5% uphill slope and you land uphill into a deadend valley where a go-around is impossible.

The runway at Oceano is 2,325′ x 50′ which while not the narrowest runway I have landed on (that would be Harris Ranch 3O8 at 30′ wide) it is the shortest. Coming in was a beautiful sight with the clouds hanging along the coastline and the sun reflecting off the dunes onto the clouds above. I had my speeds nailed down and touched down almost on the numbers. I was still a little too fast to take the first exit onto the ramp but easily made the second turn at 1,600′.

It would have been over a five hour drive to get there from home, but even pulling back on the power to slow down it was just at an hour and a half to fly there in the Mooney.

I mentioned earlier that checklists aren’t just for flying. We taxied to a parking spot, I shut down the plane, my wife looked at me and said “Did you remember the beach tent?” (Instead of the beach umbrella we were going to take a little pop-up beach shelter for shade). My response was, “No… I forgot it” followed by the realization that “Dang, I forgot my rain jacket too.” I was going to bring it for a lightweight windbreaker when it cooled down in the evening. She asked, “Did you grab the beach towels?” I responded “I remember seeing them on the bed but I didn’t grab them…” I looked at her and said “I should have made a checklist for packing…”

Quick PIREP (Pilot Report) on the campground:

  • Pros
    • It’s right by the transient Parking
    • Only for use if you fly in (probably will always be able to find a place and it cuts down on the noisy neighbors you get at a lot of public campgrounds)
    • Walking distance from Old Juan’s Cantina and the Rock & Roll Diner
    • Bikes for your use
    • Close to the beach and tons of rentals of ATV’s if you want to ride the dunes
    • Restrooms right by the pilot lounge
    • Fire pits
  • Cons
    • $12/night transient parking and $15/night camping fee. (Neither one waived even if you buy fuel)
    • If you like hanging out at the campsite, there isn’t much to look at besides old hangars…
    • Daily irrigation from 12-2pm… If you want to stay more than one night you have to break camp or risk the sprinklers soaking your tent. In fairness, if you were to watch the sprinklers for two hours you could probably find a place to pitch your tent where the sprinklers don’t hit, but I didn’t want to watch for that long.
    • Dogs on the other side of the fence bark all night long… (You can’t see them through the bushes and trees, but you can hear them)
    • Oh, and bring bug spray, the mosquitos are huge!

After setting up the tent we decided to walk over to Old Juan’s Cantina for some lunch. We had heard that their Fish n’ Chips were amazing so we ordered that along with a Carne Asada Burrito. The Fish was amazing, the Chips (fries) and Burrito were average.

While eating lunch we decided there would be a diversion from our camping plans. If we had to break camp we might as well go somewhere else tomorrow, and the Santa Ynez (KIZA) airport was nearby along with Solvang, CA where my wife has wanted to go for a very long time. So, I pulled out my phone and booked a room at the Solvang Inn and Cottages for Friday night.

After lunch there was time for a nap and a bike ride down to the beach. Later in the evening we walked over to the Rock & Roll Diner. The atmosphere was great and the food was great too. Tri-tip for dinner and a cinnamon roll with ice cream for desert!

I think I slept well, except for the incessant barking of the neighbor’s dog. However eventually my mind tuned it out and I slept. (I’m fairly certain my wife slept well also.)

We will go again, but will be better prepared next time.

Friday July 28th, 2017

In the morning it was completely socked in with no chance of leaving, which I knew would be the case. Having brought the big 8 man tent for the two of us we set up the beach chairs inside and enjoyed a breakfast from the food my wife had packed in the cooler.

A little before 10am I could start to see patches of blue sky so we packed up camp and loaded up the plane. There is about a 3-4 hour window when the clouds are pushed off enough that you can land on 29 or take off on 11. By the time we were ready to go there was blue sky to the east even though there were still patchy clouds overhead and westward towards the beach it was completely socked in. That left us taking off with about a 5-7 knot quartering tailwind on the 2,325′ runway, but that is the typical departure from Oceano. We were off the ground by just past the halfway point on the runway and had no problem climbing fast enough to easily clear the palm trees and the small hill to the east.

We stayed down at 3,000′ for the short flight which really gives you a feel for how fast you were going. Cruising along at 160 mph doesn’t feel very fast at 7,500-9,500′, but at just a couple thousand feet up it is a lot of fun. Thirty minutes after taking off we were coming in to land at Santa Ynez.

As we were coming in over the Solvang we had seen what looked like a new forest fire coming up. The smoke had barely started rising for a valley to the south. As I was tying down the plane I heard a turbine spooling up and looked over to see a fire crew loading up into a helicopter which quickly departed to the south-west to knock it down. They must have been able to make quick work of it because when we left the next day there was no trace of smoke.

We were going to catch an Uber ride into town but there was another couple that had landed just before us who were taking a courtesy car into town to pick up their rental car and they offered to drop us off. She had lived in the area years ago and it was like having your own private tour guide on the way through town.

The Solvang Inn and Cottages sits on the west end of “down town” within easy walking distance of everything. It is also right across the street from the #1 restaurant on Tripadvisor in Solvang, Paula’s Pancake House. We were hungry, it was lunchtime, and while I like eating breakfast in the morning, I enjoy breakfast at lunchtime and breakfast for dinner just as much! The “World Famous Danish Pancakes” there were excellent! I had the combo with eggs and sausage (the Danish Sausage was not so excellent) and my wife had hers with fresh strawberries and whip cream. The real maple syrup was delicious.

The rest of the day involved wandering around town, a short spell in the pool, and more wandering around town. If you get the chance to go by the Solvang Trolley Ice Cream Parlor and they happen to have their “Chocolate Covered Strawberry Ice Cream”… get some! There was a local band playing classic rock in the park in the evening so we stopped to listen for a little bit before heading over to the Solvang Brewing Company, the #2 restaurant in town on Tripadvisor. The Sliders there were delicious and there was a steady stream of plates going by to other tables and it all looked good.

After sleeping last night in the tent in Oceano and listening to the dulcet tones of a dog that apparently doesn’t know its supposed to go to sleep when it’s dark, I slept like a rock tonight.

Saturday July 29th, 2017

There are a lot of advantages to not drinking alcohol. One of those is that you typically wake up earlier than the crowd that was drunk the night before. This meant that we walked across the street into Paula’s Pancake House for breakfast and were seated right away. I’ve never been one to change up a good meal so I had the same thing for breakfast that I had for lunch yesterday. My wife had the Danish Pancakes again but with cinnamon apples instead of the strawberries.

After breakfast we walked down the street to the Jule Hus to get a Christmas Ornament (we like to get ornaments from places we’ve been) and the obligatory fridge magnet.

Even though it was low overcast in the morning by a little after 9am it had almost cleared up and by the time we were checking out at 10am it was blue skies. As we waited for our Uber ride back to the airport we looked across the street at about 30 people waiting to be seated at Paula’s Pancake House and we were glad we had been there before everyone else got up.

Back at the airport I pre-flighted the plane and then went over to the fuel island to get some gas. We could have made it back on what we had, but if you buy fuel they wave the overnight parking fee. After a run-up we took runway 26 and we were climbing to the south-west towards the mountains along the coast. Shortly after take off I picked up flight following from Santa Barbara Approach and once above the elevation of the mountains began a turn to the south and then east. We cut the corner across the Santa Barbara Channel, cruising above the marine layer at 7,500′ with the mountains to the north and catching glimpses of the coastline through the clouds that were slowly breaking up.

A short hour and ten minutes after taking off from Santa Ynez we were touching down in Corona. I am still amazed at how close everything becomes when you can fly there…