Lake Havasu – Anza Borrego State Park

I was looking forward to today ever since that Mooney fly-in at Santa Maria got rescheduled because of bad weather forecast. It would be a chance to meet some of the other Mooney owners from MooneySpace, meet a WWII P-40 fighter pilot, and fly someplace new. All week long the forecast was looking good, that is until the end of the week when it really mattered. Friday night it was looking like it would be IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) which meant I wouldn’t be going. Hoping that it might change I got up this morning and checked again. No luck, the forecast was showing MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules) for five hours but going back to IFR by 3pm. Not wanting to risk going against the forecast I made other plans for a fun flight.

A friend who flies out of Corona and is IFR rated was taking off as we were fueling up for our flight. He later texted that even though he had filed and flown an IFR plan it was VFR conditions the whole way there. The forecast IFR afternoon conditions never materialized either and at 10pm it was still VFR conditions at Santa Maria. However, it has often been said that it is better to be on the ground wishing you were up in the sky, than up in the sky wishing you were down on the ground.

My backup plan was a flight to Lake Havasu for lunch and then flying over Anza Borrego State Park on the way back. We took off just after 11am and climbed up to 7,500′ for the flight east, picking up flight following about ten minutes into the flight. It was a beautiful flight with some bumps as we flew over Needles.

Lunch was great, we saw a C-130 landing in front of us as we sat at the hold short line, and then we were off on our way back. Instead of flying straight back we detoured a little south to over fly Anza Borrego. There was a lot of green on the hills, and when we got to Warner Springs the entire valley was green.

Flightseeing

Not that I need an excuse to go fly, but it doesn’t hurt to have one. A friend sent me a text asking if I had plans for Saturday morning. I told him I didn’t to which he responded that he was going to be out my way and wondered if he helped pay for some gas if I would take him flying. You Bet!!!

His first choice was to go looking for whales off the coast and do a little whale watching from the air. The Mooney is a great plane for travelling places fast, but you can also slow it down and have great loiter time while barely sipping fuel. I figured that we could head out over the channel, look for the whale watching boats to let us know where to look, stay at about 1,000-1,500′ (out of the way of the drones those boats like to use), and put all that “turns around a point” practice to good use. There were just a couple of problems with that plan. First, I don’t have any life jackets, and second I didn’t have enough time that morning. We decided that we would get some life jackets and go whale watching another morning when there was more time.

However, there was a flight to be made so we decided to go up over the ski resorts at Big Bear, transit around the lake, and the overfly Lake Arrowhead. I was a little worried that it might be bumpy given the forecast winds aloft, but the bumps never materialized. With the exception of a short spell on the north side of the lake it was as smooth as can be.

On the way back we detoured over the Lake Matthews training area. I asked if he wanted to fly her for a little bit so he took us on a few circuits around the lake. He later commented that this makes two times in his life that he has been at the controls of an aircraft, and both times were in a Mooney. (He apparently has great taste in what he will fly.)

After landing back at Corona and putting the plane away he asked how much he owed me for fuel. I told him not to worry, I would have gone and burned the fuel anyway, but if he wanted to buy lunch we could call it even, that sounded like a fair trade to me. Lunch was an In-n-Out cheeseburger (animal style), fries, and a Diet Coke along with good conversation. I got to go flying, spend some time with a good friend, and got lunch out of the deal, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Camarillo by Night

I love flying at night! Here in the LA/Orange County area there are so many lights on the ground that even when there is no moon there is enough light to help you keep your bearings.  I have been to the airport a few times and just flown around the traffic pattern to get in practice doing night landings, but I really wanted to “go somewhere” at night for that cross country practice. I’m not ready to head up over the mountains to the high desert at night yet, I’ve been out to the Palm Springs area at night already, and I didn’t feel like going south towards San Diego. However, I thought it would be beautiful to fly past LA at night so I settled on Camarillo.

There was supposed to be clouds and a storm coming in on Thursday with the clouds starting to arrive on Wednesday so I was keeping an eye on the weather during the day. I filed a VFR flight plan on 1800wxbrief.com to get a weather briefing and it showed that I should have VFR conditions for my flight and quite some time after I was done, everything was shaping up nicely.

I got out to the airport and as I was finishing up the pre-flight on the plane a friend with a Viking at the end of the hangars arrived along with another friend that has a Mooney at the field. I walked down to chat with them, they were heading up to Rosamond where they said there’s a nice Mexican Restaurant on the field that’s open late. (A lot of airport restaurants close fairly early). I added it to my list of places to go.

I got my GoPro set up under the left wing so that I could capture the city lights and climbed in the plane. I always monitor the CTAF while doing the run-up to get a picture of where the other traffic is in the area. The run-up looked good and I was ready to depart with just one other plane on the radio. He had entered the downwind as I was doing my run-up and as I finished he announced that he was turning onto the base leg. I decided I would hurry up and take off instead of waiting on him since there was plenty of time for me to clear the runway before he would even be on final. However, it is never a good idea to “hurry up,” you just might forget something…

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, taking runway 07 for a right downwind departure, Corona.”

The take off was smooth, I retracted the gear, turned off the fuel boost pump, raised the flaps, and adjusted the trim. At 1,200′ I made my crosswind turn and then my downwind, announcing that I was leaving the pattern.  As I climbed out over Chino Hills it registered what I had forgotten…

GoPro has a cool app that you can use to control the camera from your phone. You can see what the camera sees, stop and start recording, even turn the camera on and off. It works great, sort of… Once the engine is running above idle speed there is too much interference and the phone can’t connect to the camera. Normally that’s ok, I just start recording right before take off and let it run. The problem is that as I hurried to take off, I forgot to start the GoPro recording, and it turned out to be a beautiful flight. All I was left with was trying to get some pictures with my phone.

Looking southwest towards LAX and Santa Monica.
Coming back from Camarillo with downtown LA just out in front of my right wing. I’m amazed at how small the downtown area is from the sky. If you zoom in the purple light is the top of the Staples Center where the Clippers, Lakers, and Kings play.

I picked up flight following and enjoyed a quiet, smooth flight to Camarillo. It was quiet enough that at one point someone called in with a radio check to see if his radios were working, there had been about five minutes with no transmissions at all on the SoCal Approach frequency we were on.

This was my first flight with my home built Stratux showing me traffic and providing weather and it worked well. Having ADS-B In traffic and free weather for around $100 is right in my price range. It is amazing how many planes are in the air, the constant stream of flights heading into LAX is impressive to watch. Also having access to weather will come in handy on longer cross country trips I have planned.

Just after passing the Van Nuys Airport I began my descent. Watching that airspeed indicator up at 185mph sure is fun. It was quiet at Camarillo too with just one other plane on the frequency. I was given my landing clearance at about 10 miles out on a straight in approach. Leveling out my descent and reducing power for a minute allowed enough speed bleed off and get down to 120mph so I could drop the landing gear. I still slowed down a little sooner than I needed to, but I’m still getting a feel for how long it takes to get the speed down. The route I flew was about 94 miles and it was about 40 minutes from take off to landing, not too bad.

After landing the tower cleared me to taxi back and had me stay on their frequency rather than switch to ground. (That late at night chances are tower and ground were probably the same person) I taxied down and took my time while stopped in the run-up area to get configured for take off and the flight back.

For the return flight I picked up flight following again. Again there wasn’t much happening on the radios. Approaching Burbank the did ask me to go up to 6,000′ for a Skyhawk that was circling ahead at 5,500′ (my previous altitude). I climbed up, passed over the Skyhawk , and then was given clearance to return to 5,500′. I took my route down over Yorba Linda, then through the Santa Ana Canyon, and landed back at Corona about 45 minutes after leaving Camarillo. It was nice to get in the night-time cross country, I’m just going to have to do it again with the GoPro to see what kind of video I can capture.

“As long as it’s not in that weather…”

I was looking for a title for this post. That was my son’s response to my question of “So, will you go flying with me again?” In all fairness, my answer to him was “I don’t really want to fly again in that weather either.” What kind of weather was it you ask? Well, let me start at the beginning.

How do you get a kid to get up early on a Sunday morning? You offer to take him flying and to let him do some of the flying… I knew just offering to take him up into the sky wouldn’t be enough of a draw so I had to sweeten the pot. We needed to go early so we could be home in time to get ready for church, so I went into his room and woke him up.

Me: “Hey, do you want to go flying?”
Son: “Where?”
Me: “I don’t know, just go fly around.”
Son: “It’s early…”
Me: “I’ll let you fly it some.”
Son: “Okay…” (Still not sounding entirely convinced)
Me: “Alright, hurry up so we can get going. Wear pants, not shorts, it’s cold outside.”

With that I headed downstairs to make sure I had everything in my bag. He came down a few minutes later, still not quite awake, grabbed a Pop Tart, and we were on our way to the airport.

Rather than go fly somewhere specific I told him we would just head out over the Lake Matthews practice area and I would let him do some of the flying. After pre-flight, which he always likes helping with, we taxied down to the fuel island to get some Avgas. Next to the fuel island is a place they call “The Bench” which… has a couple benches, who would have guessed… They are under a canopy where people can sit and watch the planes. There is also a speaker so you can hear the communications taking place on the CTAF. There was an older gentleman, we’ll call him Joe, sitting there who asked if we were going flying.

Joe: “You guys going up?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Joe: “You know they’re talking about winds later, up to 50mph gusts.”
Me: “The Santa Ana’s are coming today?” (If you live in the area you know about the Santa Ana winds. When you get high pressure over the high desert area it sends winds towards the coast and as they get to the canyons they compress and build speed resulting in high sustained winds with very high gusts.)
Joe: “Be careful.”
Me: “Thanks, we’re just going up for a little bit.”

With that we got in the plane, started up, and taxied down to go through the run-up. I hadn’t seen anything in the forecast about the Santa Ana’s, and usually when they are going to be blowing there is a warm breeze coming from the east that precedes them. The current winds reported were calm and it was looking like it was going to be a nice smooth morning. Looks can be deceiving.

We took off to the west on runway 25 and then turned to the southeast and climbed up to 4,500′ while heading toward the lake. Once we were close I asked him if he wanted to fly it a little.

Me: “Let’s head towards those mountains out there.”
Son: “Where?”
Me: “Those ones right in front of us.”
Son: “I can’t see them.”
Me: “You can’t see out in front of us?”
Son: “No.”

Hmm… He could see out the side window fine, but not over the panel. I was going to have to get a cushion for him to sit on next time. I asked him if he could see the instruments in front of me. He said he could so I started explaining to him what the different instruments did. I told him to watch the turn coordinator and it would tell him if we were flying straight or turning. I would keep us level and he could make us turn. We spent the next little while just making lazy turns around over the practice area. “Hey dad, I’m flying by instruments” he said, “I could be an instrument pilot.”

I asked if he wanted to do some steep turns. We made one turn to the left and he was surprised by how far a 45° bank was and that we wouldn’t just fall out of the sky. Next we made a steep turn to the right but he said that gave him a little bit of a headache. I was trying to follow my wife’s advice of “Quit while everyone is still having fun” so we decided to quit with the turns and head back. There was still plenty of time so I told him we could go over to the Chino airport before going back to Corona.

After today’s flight I have decided that before going to do any practice at Chino I will check Riverside’s winds as well. It was just like a couple weeks ago, the winds at Chino were from 330° at 3 knots but while flying the base leg for runway 26L the winds at 1,800′ were strong and coming from the East. The result was getting tossed around as we turned final and descended through the winds coming from different directions. I reassured my son that it was fine and would smooth out which it did once we were at about 1,100′.

We landed, taxied back, and received clearance for a southeast departure to Corona. As if the rough approach at Chino wasn’t enough, it was going to get worse. Once we turned crosswind I started monitoring the weather at Corona on my second radio. Forty-five minutes earlier we had departed runway 25 with calm winds. We had just taken off from Chino with light winds coming from 330°, but the winds reported at Corona, just five miles to the south, were coming from 040° at 18 knots, gusting 26 knots.  I would have loved to see a graphic of how those winds were swirling around. I plugged the winds into my tablet and it told me I was going to be looking at a crosswind factor of 9 gusting 13, not what I wanted to see. I told my son that it was going to be really bumpy but not to worry.

We overflew the field 500′ above TPA (Traffic Pattern Altitude) and extended out to make a left turn and enter the right downwind for runway 07. When I warned him that there would be bumps, that was an understatement. As we turned onto the base leg and flew past the mouth of the canyon we were really getting tossed around. I looked over at my son who was bouncing all the way off the seat cushion and told him to tighten up his seat belt. If he was taller he would have probably hit his head on the roof.

With the gust factor of 8 knots I made sure to carry some extra speed on final. We came down over the trees and as we approached and had the runway made I pulled the power. The left main touched first, then the right main finally decided to join it on the runway, and last of all the nose wheel. I’m not sure if I was holding my breath or not, but I was glad to be on the ground and more than happy to make the call “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, clear runway 07, Corona” as I rolled off the runway onto the taxiway.

The good news, even after that flight he said he’ll still go flying with me, “As long as it’s not in that weather…”

French Valley Dinner Run

Finally, I get to fly with passengers in the Mooney!!!

It was hazy/misty this morning, the remnants of the rain that never quite materialized yesterday  which meant plenty of time to get some yard work done while waiting for the skies to clear up. A little after noon my wife and I piled in the car with our son and headed towards the airport. There was a slight delay in traffic (a frequent occurrence with the construction) but eventually we were at the hangar, our hangar with our plane in it.

Pre-flight was completed, I pulled the plane out with the help of my son, and my wife put the car in the hangar. Originally we planned to go to Borrego Springs for a late lunch/early dinner.  The airport is right next to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park which is location #9 on the old “Soarin’ Over California” ride at Disney’s California Adventure. It was my wife’s favorite ride there and when we talked about getting the plane one of the first items put on the “flying bucket list” was to do our own flights over the locations in the ride. However, given our later start than intended we decided to just make a quick flight over to French Valley, I’d heard good things about the restaurant there.

We all got in and buckled up and I started the engine. The first stop was the fuel island to get some 100LL Avgas and then it was down to the east end of the field for the run-up. Everything looked good on run-up. I gave them the pre-flight briefing as to what we would do in the event of a problem during/after take off. I also warned my wife that it is usually bumpy when flying crosswind past the canyon, just so that she wouldn’t be caught off guard.

We took the runway, lined up, full power, 2,700 rpm on the tach, and lifted off just after passing 70 mph. Sure enough, after turning crosswind it was a little bumpy, and my wife had a little nervous smile. I asked how she was doing and she said that it would just take a little time to get her “sea legs.”

The flight there was short and uneventful. There was a little traffic on the CTAF and I began announcing 10 miles out.

Me: “French Valley Traffic, white and gray Mooney, 10 miles north west of the airport, I’ll be overflying midfield at 3,000′ and extending out to enter a left downwind, French Valley.”
Unknown: “They’re using a right downwind.”
Me: “Sorry, yes a right downwind for 36.” (Dang it, I knew it was right but my mouth didn’t follow what my brain wanted.)

I made another announcement at 5 miles, 3 miles, and crossing over the field. There was a Cessna inbound from the north and a Cherokee inbound from the north east that had also been making position calls so I was looking for them. After passing over the field and extending out about a mile I reduced power and entered a shallow descending left turn so I could come around and enter the downwind on a 45°.

Cessna: “French Valley Traffic, Cessna entering right downwind for runway 36, French Valley.”
Me: I could see the Cessna as I was coming around through my turn. “French Valley Traffic, white and gray Mooney, entering right downwind on a 45 for runway 36, I see the Cessna and will be number 2 behind him, French Valley.”
Cherokee: “French Valley Traffic, I have the Mooney and will enter right downwind behind him number 3 for 36, French Valley.”

I kept an eye on the Cessna, dropping my gear early to slow down a little more for spacing. We all continued with our calls throughout the rest of the pattern. I watched the Cessna touch down and he was exiting the runway as I was on short final. I pulled power as we were crossing over the numbers and set down harder than I wanted to. My “Sorry” to my wife was responded to “Oh, that was fine.” I told her I thought it was funny that the little bumps bothered her but my sub-par landing didn’t. As we were rolling out and exiting the Cherokee announced short final. One of the two planes that were holding for departure came on the radio with “Nice job to the three of you, well done.” It indeed was nice pattern work for an non-towered airport with three planes joining the pattern around the same time.

We found the transient parking, shut down, and wandered into the restaurant. They have a nice place there with lots of art work and pictures as well as models hanging from the ceiling. We were warned that the portions are “very generous” and they were. I had one of their 1/2 pound burgers, and if all three of us had eaten burgers I may have needed to recalculate the weight and balance… 🙂

The bonus to starting the flight late, was that we were flying back as the sun was going down. Another item on the flying list was to see a sunset in flight and it looked like we were going to check that off. As we headed north west the sun was dipping down behind the mountains with rays of light breaking through the clouds. It looked like the clouds were fairly thick off to the west, and it was getting hazy so we thought that we weren’t going to get much of a sunset. Boy were we wrong. As I made the right turn to enter the downwind for runway 25 we could see west through Santa Ana Canyon and the sky was beautiful!

I ran through my checklist on the downwind and as I turned onto the base leg I took a look to my left at the airport and could see we were going to be in for a treat. We turned final and there was a beautiful sunset in front of us for the end of the flight.

This time I did a better job holding the plane off in ground effect until the stall horn chirped and the mains set down. It was a great first flight with some of the family, looking forward to many more.

“Flightseeing” – Was that Wind Shear?

Ah, finally coming down to the end of the insurance transition requirements. I’m feeling pretty good in the plane, although I still have quite a way to go in learning how long it takes to slow her down. The Mooney really isn’t that different to fly than the Cherokees that I trained in, it’s just faster, so everything happens faster. That, and it doesn’t like to slow down. With the Cherokee you could pull the throttle and push it over into a dive and really didn’t pick up much speed. In the Mooney you can pull the throttle and push it over into a shallow descent and just watch the speed build up. As a result, I have a tendency to slow down too early when approaching the pattern at an airport because I am worried that if I don’t then I won’t be able to slow down in time.

It was windy this morning but at least the winds were fairly steady, unlike yesterday when it was gusty. I decided for my last couple of hours I would fly up around Big Bear to see the lake and mountains with all their snow. One of the guys over on the Mooneyspace forums calls it “Flightseeing” when you’re flying around just looking out the window, and I think it describes the flight perfectly.

It was bumpy leaving Corona as I began my climb to the north-east, but once I got past about 6,000′ it smoothed out. I am still amazed at how “close” places are when you are flying instead of driving. Before I knew it I was looking at the west end of the lake and marveling to myself that I was already there. I flew along the north shore of the lake and then turned south after passing the airport to head west along the ridge where the ski resorts are. It was beautiful with all the snow and seeing the lake partially frozen over.

Big Bear Airport with the lake in the background.
Snow Summit

I thought about heading back, but I had time to burn so I flew over to Lake Arrowhead before turning south-west. Once I cleared the mountains I began a shallow descent and was seeing ground-speeds that occasionally nudged above 200 mph. I read someone say that in a Mooney you can slow down, or you can descend, but you can’t do both at the same time without speed-brakes (and I don’t have any speed-breaks). I only had about 30 miles from the ridge-line to the airport, but I really needed at least 50 miles for the descent, so I made a couple turns around Lake Matthews to bleed off some speed and altitude.

With time left to burn, I dialed up the ATIS for Chino, made a note of the information, and called up the tower. The winds were reported as calm and they were using runways 26L and 26R.

Me: “Chino Tower, Mooney 78-878 (with a little pause between the first and second 8 in the tail number, it seems to help them get the number right) 2,500 over the 91 15 interchange, inbound for a full stop taxi back with information Uniform.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, enter left base for runway 26L.”
Me: “Enter left base for 26L, 878.”

Here is where it got interesting. A left base is at 90° to the runway. If I am landing on 26L, the left base would be flown at a heading of 350°. You rarely are flying the direct heading because the winds will force you to “crab” (fly at an angle to the heading you want) into the wind so that you have a straight track in relation to the ground. Because you always want to land into the wind, on the base leg you are typically crabbing towards the airport. However, I was flying along at about 1,600′ and crabbing away  from the airport at a heading of about 20° which is about a 30° crab angle… I’m thinking to myself “Is the ATIS information old and hasn’t updated? Am I going to be coming in with a tailwind?” Just then another plane called the tower and when the tower answered they also gave updated winds, 330 at 3 knots. Here I am about 1,100′ above the airport elevation being pushed by a wind coming from a heading of about 90-110° and the winds just a few miles west of me on the ground are coming from a heading of 330°…

Tower: “Mooney 78878, runway 26L, cleared to land.”
Me: “26L cleared to land, 878.”

I began my turn to final and as I descended the plane was all over the place. It felt like driving a rear wheel drive car on a snowy/icy road with the back of the plane fishtailing back and forth. I had my eye on the ball in the turn coordinator and was dancing on the rudder pedals to try and keep it centered and get stabilized. In my mind I was preparing to abort and go around but once I got down to about 500′ AGL (Above Ground Level) it all smoothed out, what a relief. I was able to set the plane down and exit the runway.

I received my taxi instructions and made my way back to the end of 26L, then went through my pre-takeoff checklist and got everything set. After a short delay I was given clearance to take-off along with an advisory to watch out for the flock of birds that was making its way across the runways.

The tower had asked me where I was headed prior to departing and I told him Corona. I picked up the conditions at Corona from the AWOS shortly after getting airborne at Chino and shortly after that the tower gave me the frequency change. I made the switch and started making my position calls on the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). The reported winds were going to give me a 10 knot crosswind for runway 7. I wasn’t very excited about that… but thought that I would just get lined up and if I could hold the center-line I would land it, if not I would go around until I could. I had plenty of fuel so eventually I would be able to land…

The day before a friend and I had watched a couple of planes landing on 7. As they would come in over the trees on final you could see them getting bounced around and watch the pilot making corrections to stay lined up. The combination of the wind with the buildings and trees makes for some exciting mechanical turbulence. It was no different for me today.

Coming down final approach I would have my nose lined up, and then it wouldn’t be. I would drift a little left, then a little right, and the whole time the airspeed indicator was bouncing up and down +/- 5-10 mph. The wind was not the reported steady speed, it was gusting. The runway at Corona is 60′ wide, which is plenty of space to land a Mooney. The main landing gear on the Mooney is under 10′ wide, so in reality you only need about a 20′ wide runway if you can keep it centered. The problem I was having as I came down final was I wasn’t sure which 20′ of the runway I would be using, the middle section, the section on the right, or the section on the left. It turned out to be the section to the left of the center-line.

I came in with only one pump on the flaps, not even the two pumps for take off setting. Less flaps means a higher approach speed which is good when dealing with a gusty cross-wind. I set it down hard enough that I thought it was going to bounce, but the plane stuck to the runway and I rolled out about half-way down before exiting. It was an exciting finish to my last required solo hours. The next flight will be with passengers.

Smoother Landings

I’m still working on my solo time prior to carrying any passengers. I don’t find cross country to be very difficult at all so I decided to just focus on pattern work and landings today. Cross country basically involves climbing to altitude, going through the cruise checklist to get everything configured, making sure you don’t get lost, and then going through a descent checklist while descending (obviously) prior to entering the traffic pattern at your destination. I haven’t ever had a problem getting lost, and the rest of it is simple if you follow a checklist. Today I really wanted to get my settings and speeds dialed in for the traffic pattern as well as my landings. You can have a great flight, but if the landing is ugly your passengers may not want to fly with you again…

In light of those thoughts, I decided that today I would spend my time just working in the pattern and on my landings at some of the nearby airports. After completing my training at Chino I am very familiar with the runways and pattern there so I decided to head over there for some practice.

There are advantages and disadvantages of flying out of a non-towered airport. The biggest disadvantage is the obvious one, there is no tower and therefore nobody giving you traffic advisories. That is unless you have some helpful pilots on the airport CTAF (Common Airport Advisory Frequency). Fortunately most of the folks on CTAF are helpful and friendly. After taking off (still only seeing 2,550rpm which I need to figure out to get the full 2,700rpm on takeoff) I got the gear tucked away (there’s something about raising the gear up that makes you feel like you’re flying a real plane) and raised the flaps.

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney turning left crosswind, Corona.”
Unknown Pilot: “Hey Mooney, keep an eye out for a Diamond heading westbound towards the pass not on the frequency.”
Me: Looking up and seeing the Diamond about 1,000′ above me and heading west. “Thanks for the heads-up, I see him.”

I then left the pattern and flew along the foothills before turning north and contacting the tower at Chino. They were using runways 8R/L. Out of the probably 100+ times I have landed at Chino, only once was that on 8 coming in from the west. I was determined not to make the same mistake again that I made then. What was the mistake you ask? I had previously landed on 26L a lot… That day in November the tower had given me 8L. Any kindergartner could look at the two runways side by side and tell you which one is the one on the left. There’s two problems with that, first, I’m not a kindergartner, and second, with all the times I had landed on 26L, my mind just translated that 8L was the same runway coming from the other direction. That day I turned final about two miles out, saw that the runway was clear, and then had the tower ask “Confirm you are landing 8L.” My quick response was “Sorry, shifting to 8L” and sidestepped over. This time I was focused to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when the tower gave me 8R for landing.

I made five landings at Chino. One was a touch and go, coming in with flaps set to take-off settings, just to see what a touch and go would be like in the Mooney. Afterwards I decided to just make full stops with a taxi back to give me the repetition of going through my post landing checklist as well as my pre-takeoff checklist. Overall I was very pleased with the progress of my landings. I was able to stay close to the center-line with the stall horn chirping just before touching down. I do need to hold the nose off just a tad bit longer for a smoother touchdown.

After my landings/takeoffs at Chino I headed over to the Lake Matthews practice area and made a quick flight around the lake before heading back to Corona. I have heard repeatedly about pilots not making accurate reports when coming into an un-towered field but I hadn’t experienced it until today. I try to be careful to check the distance on my tablet (I’m still not that great at eyeballing distance from the air) before making my radio calls so that I am accurate.

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, 5 miles south of the field, inbound and I’ll be entering a left downwind on the 45 for runway 25, Corona.”

Shortly after my radio call I heard:

Bonanza: “Corona traffic, Bonanza, 3 miles northwest of the field, I’ll be entering left crosswind for runway 25, Corona.”

I was keeping an eye out for where I thought he should be if he was going to be entering on the crosswind. The rest of the calls were in fairly quick succession.

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, 3 miles south of the field, I’ll be entering left downwind at midfield for runway 25, Corona.”
Bonanza: “Corona traffic, Bonanza, entering left crosswind for 25, Corona.”
Bonanza: “Corona traffic, turning left downwind for runway 25.”
Me: (I was at midfield and ready to enter the pattern. If he’s just turning the downwind leg I should be fine to enter midfield ahead of him.) “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, entering left downwind at midfield for runway 25, Corona.”
Bonanza: “Mooney, do you see us? I don’t see you.”
Me: “I’m looking for you, I have a wing up towards you.” (I was turning which should have given him a bigger cross-section to see me, if he was where he should have been.)

(I had been scanning for him but I still didn’t see him where I think he should be if he had flown a standard crosswind, but then I was looking for a white plane against white clouds… Just then as I am turning into the pattern I see him right in front of me, about 100′ above me making a left turn onto the downwind leg. He hadn’t flown the crosswind leg where he should have been, he had flown the crosswind right over the departure end of the runway.)

Me: “I see you, I’m going to continue on a right 360 and come in behind you.”

I listened to him make the rest of his calls and watched him land while making my calls and coming in behind him. I set it down for an above average landing and got a “Nice landing Mooney” from the Bonanza pilot after touching down and gave him a “Thanks.”

After putting the plane away I pulled off the cowling, took a closer look at the prop cable, and could see that it wasn’t hitting the set screw. Now to figure out why that is and see if that solves my rpm issue.

I did put together a short video of a couple of the landings at Chino and the landing at Corona. I need to find a better place to mount the camera as there is some shaking around with it where it is. The video is at 4x speed with the exception of the landings and take-off which are at real time.

Last CFI Flight – First Solo in the Mooney

Before I could fly solo I needed another 1.9 hours with my CFI. We couldn’t make the schedule work last night so we planned to meet this morning to finish it up. I had told him that I wanted to get in some crosswind landing practice. Because I knew Chino and Riverside would probably be too busy to get the crosswind runways for practice on a Saturday morning I suggested we head up to Barstow-Daggett (KDAG) in the high desert. It’s almost always windy up there, they have a couple runways so we should be able to get a crosswind on one of them, and it should be quiet enough to get in some practice. It looked promising, the winds at KDAG when we left would give us a 6 knot crosswind, not much, but a good place for me to start.

The flight there was a little bumpy until we got up over the mountains and passed Silverwood Lake.

Mt San Antonio (Also known as Mt Baldy) covered in snow with the Cajon Pass in the foreground.

After a bit we were close enough to pick up the AWOS for KDAG and heard “Winds calm…” After flying there just to do some crosswind landings, we arrived at one of the few times that there was no wind. So, after landing there I got set up for the return trip and we headed back to Corona. It was smooth flying again until we got past the mountain ridge and then it was bumpy. However the headwind we had on the way there was now a tailwind and we were seeing ground speeds as high as 190mph.

San Bernardino Airport with 11,503′ San Gorgonio (tallest peak in So Cal) in the background.

The winds when we were coming back to Corona were 060° at 12 knots/gusting 16 knots. It was busy on the radio and I was making my announcements as we were approaching. (The following may not be word for word, but pretty close to the actual calls that took place.)

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, 2,000′, 5 miles south of the field flying northwest along the foothills, Corona.”
Cherokee: “Corona traffic, white and red Cherokee, two miles south west of Chino, going to overfly the field and enter downwind, Corona.”
Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney entering right downwind for runway 7, Corona.”
Cessna: “White Cessna, taking runway 7 for a right crosswind departure, Corona.”

Just then I see the Cherokee a few miles out in front of us, a little higher than us, and obviously not going to be overflying at midfield like he should be.

Me: (To my CFI) “You see him there, where is he going?”
CFI: (To me) “Not sure.”
Me: (To my CFI) “Well he’s high enough not to be a factor.”
Me: (On CTAF) “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, turning right base for runway 7, Corona.”

I could see the Cessna lined up and starting to roll down the runway.

Cherokee: “Corona traffic, white and red Cherokee, entering left downwind for runway 25, Corona.”
CFI: (To me) “You should tell him what the winds are.”

The Cessna at this point was lifting off, keep in mind that for the past five minutes there have been a number of people calling out that they are using runway 07, and using runway 25 would have had a 12-16 knot tailwind…

Cessna: “Cherokee, what runway are you going to use?”
Cherokee: “Which runway is the active?”
Cessna: “We are using 7.”
Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, turning final for runway 7, and the winds are 060, 12 gusting 16, Corona.”
Cherokee: “Oh, I’ll turn around.”

We came in and I had a “whoa” moment as the bottom fell out just as I was beginning my flare. But I was able to hold onto it and we floated a little more before landing. After the taxi back to the hangar my CFI filled in the last entry in my logbook needed for the insurance requirements before I can venture out on my own.

I went home to have some lunch and get a few things done. I told my wife that it was still so strange that I can go out to the airport and fly the plane without asking anyone. She replied with a smile, “Except for asking me…” After only flying the planes at the school, scheduling through them, or having to work with my CFI to schedule time, I can just go there and the plane is waiting for me to fly it, whenever I want.

In recalculating the weight and balance without my CFI in the plane I took one of the 50 lb bags out of the baggage area, it wasn’t needed if I’m flying alone. After going through the pre-flight I climbed in (all by my lonesome, so cool) and taxied down to the fuel island to top off the tanks after flying this morning. I taxied down to the end of the runway and went through my run-up checklist.

My plan was to fly to French Valley and then Redlands, two airports I haven’t been to yet. I originally wanted to fly to Santa Ynez, but I was getting a late start, it had been a long day, and I thought it would just be better to keep this first flight shorter. With a few butterflies in my stomach I took runway 25 and pushed the throttle all the way in. Just like the first time I flew solo in July, I was pleasantly surprised by how much quicker the plane was with just me in it.

After a short roll down the runway I was lifting off, raising the gear, flaps up, fuel boost pump off, and then turning onto the left crosswind leg and heading southeast towards French Valley. It was still sinking in that I was flying my own plane, all by myself. I started making my radio calls about 10 miles out and listened to the others on the frequency to try and figure out where everyone was. I overflew the field at what started out to be 500′ above traffic pattern altitude but ended up being 700′ above traffic pattern altitude by the time I was passing over the field due to still trying to dial in the sight picture for straight and level.

After extending out to the east I made a left turn over the green hills below to enter the left downwind for runway 36. As I was even with the end of the runway I lowered the gear, slowed up a little more, and then put in 15° of flaps. After turning final I put in the rest of the flaps and settled down on the runway for a passable, not great, landing. I still have not been able to fully replicate the first landing I made in the plane, that one was beautiful. At least I know that I can grease one on in this plane, I just need to figure out exactly how I did it that first time…

Next on the plan was to head around the east side of March AFB’s airspace and go to Redlands, another new airport for me. Redlands does not have an automated weather system so instead you have to listen to San Bernardino just to the west. Once I was close enough to pick up the weather at KSBD I began revising my plan. According the winds reported by KSBD there would have been an 11+ knot crosswind at Redlands. I thought that if it was fairly quiet there I would give it a try and see if I could hold the centerline flying low over the runway and if I could I would come around again and try to land it. However, once I could hear the radio traffic for Redlands I changed my mind again. I heard maybe 5-6 planes either in the pattern, on the ground, or inbound to the airport and decided that it was late in the day, I was tired, and I just didn’t want to mess with it. Instead I decided to head back to Corona and call it a day. It was a beautiful flight.

Mt San Jacinto

Lake Matthews with its normally brown hills covered in green from the recent rains.

It was busy there when I got back but I worked my way into the pattern and came around to land. Instead of coming across the numbers at about 70-75mph I was at about 80mph, but I still tried to land it like I was slower… From everything I have read and been told about landing a Mooney if you bounce twice you are going around because the third bounce will most likely be a prop strike. There was one bounce, then a second, and then it was full power, carb heat off, flaps coming up, gear up, holding the yoke forward while rolling trim down, fuel boost off, and me saying outloud to myself “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” There was no harm done, but obviously not what I was trying to do.

The next time around I was more careful and landed without much of a problem, although it still wasn’t very good. As I was taxiing to the fuel island to fill the plane before putting it away I thought about making one more trip around the pattern to see if I could clean up my landings. Then I thought, “I’m just tired, no sense trying that now, I can do that a different day.” So I fueled her up, put her away in the hangar, and headed home. I didn’t feel very good about the botched landing, but was happy with my decision to go around and the smoothness of the go around. I was happy with the rest of the flight as well including the landing at French Valley. All in all, a good first solo.

Pattern Work and Airport Hopping at Night

I’m still working on my transition training but starting to feel much more comfortable with the plane. After a few winters here with very little rain, Mother Nature decided that this year was the time to make up for it. It was cloudy and rainy during the day Tuesday but started to clear up a little in the afternoon. I shot a text to my CFI to see what it was like out towards the airport. He said we could give it a try, so after stopping by home to change clothes and grab a quick bite to eat I headed out to the airport.

The skies were still overcast at about 3,500′ above the airport with the clouds hanging lower on the mountains to the south. It was foreboding just about every direction you looked but we decided that we would just do pattern work and if it started to close in or the ceiling started to lower we would quit. I was a little nervous as we took off as over five months had passed since the last time I flew at night. I was glad to have my CFI there in the right seat.

The first time around I came in nice and stable, and then flared a little early, landing with a little bit of a thump. One of the visual illusions of landing at night is that you think you are closer to the ground than you really are. We made five more trips around the pattern and one of the landings was excellent, the other four were just okay.

Going back to the “Old habits are hard to break” saying, I have used “Cherokee” in my radio calls a lot longer and a lot more times than “Mooney.” Tonight it got me on one of the calls. We were getting ready to take the runway and I made my radio call.

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Cherokee taking runway 25 for left closed traffic, Corona.”
CFI: Laughing “You said Cherokee.”
Me: “I did?”
CFI: “Yeah”
Me: “Oh, I’ll have to fix that, I don’t want to hurt her (the Mooney’s) feelings… calling her a slow Cherokee…”

By the end of the night I had logged another hour of flight and six night landings to a full stop which brings me current for night flight. With that additional hour I am only 3.8 hours away from flying on my own.

Wednesday the weather was supposed to be better and it was. As I still have not become independently wealthy (and am likely not going to be anytime soon now that I own a plane) I had to go to work during the day, leaving the evening for flying. Today I headed straight to the airport from work so that we could get an earlier start which turned out to be a good thing.

My CFI asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I was thinking of going airport hopping to some places I haven’t been yet. The plan was to go from Corona (KAJO) to San Bernadino (KSBD), then to El Monte (KEMT), and then one more stop to Fullerton (KFUL) before returning to Corona. I thought it would be a good way to work on navigating to different airports as well as enough distance between most of them to have a short climb, followed by setting up for cruise, then configuring for descent and landing. I was looking for the repetition rather than just making one long cross country.

The ceilings were about 4,000 so I planned to fly at 3,000′ from KAJO to KSBD. We took off and climbed out to 3,000′ to pass over Riverside’s airspace and then between Ontario’s and March AFB’s airspace. It wasn’t long before we could see the beacon for KSBD. I called up the tower about 7 miles out and was instructed to enter a left downwind for runway 24 and report downwind. It was quiet on the radio. In fact from my initial contact with the tower to the time we received our frequency change after departing we only heard one other person on the frequency.

We were approaching  on about a 45° and I kept looking for the runway lights to be able to judge where to make my turn downwind. I finally asked my CFI where exactly the runway was and he pointed it out. At that point I realized that I was looking for the runway to be on the far side of the beacon, not the close side. I should have looked closer at the airport diagram before leaving KAJO to know which side of the beacon the runway was on. Another lesson learned.

KSBD has only one runway, however it is big enough to be multiple runways. I don’t know why they have such a large runway, but it is 200′ wide and 10,000′ long. I set it down for a very gentle landing, using up about 1,000′ of the runway in the process but why not, I had 10,000′ to work with. The tower cleared us to taxi back as we were exiting the runway and we taxied to the end and I got set for the next leg. After working with the 60′ wide runway at KAJO the 200′ wide runway was gigantic. We were cleared to depart and I crossed the hold short line looking for the center-line.

Me: “Is that the center-line way out there?”
CFI: “Yep.”
Me: “Wow, looks far enough away to be the other side of the runway.”

We took off and began a climbing turn to the north west. I had asked the tower if he could get us flight following but he said he didn’t have the capability to but that he would give us an early frequency change to contact SoCAL Approach. Once he gave us our frequency change I contacted SoCal to pick up flight following to KEMT. We would be skirting right along the north side of Ontario’s airspace and it’s always nice to have that extra set of eyes looking out for you.

On this leg we were going to navigate along the 210 freeway at 3,500′ which would keep us out of Ontario’s airspace and well away from the mountains to the north. As we flew along it looked like there were some mountains in front of us a little below our altitude. That seemed odd to me as the foothills shouldn’t extend that far out. As we got a little closer I could see that it was just some low lying clouds and we passed over them.

I had picked up the ATIS information for El Monte and SoCal instructed us to contact the tower which I did. Once we were past the clouds we began our descent to El Monte on a modified straight in approach. It was another nice landing and I was feeling pretty good about my flying so far for the night. Again we taxied back and got set up for the next leg to KFUL.

I have been looking forward to landing at KFUL for a long time because it is only a couple of miles from one of the dealerships I’ve been working at for the past 14+ years. I hear the planes taking off from there and flying over the store all day, and I was finally going to be one of them.

The overcast layer was forecast to get lower as the night wore on and it was living up to it. Fortunately these last two legs would be at a lower altitude. As we departed KEMT we began a climb to the south east so that we could line up for Fullerton as well as stay away from the 2,500′ shelf of LAX’s airspace just off our right wing. There were a few very thin clouds that we were passing through in our climb.

Me: “Are we okay flying up through these since they are thin enough I can still see the city lights?”
CFI: “Yeah, that would just be ‘visible moisture’.”

However a couple seconds later we could no longer see the city lights.

CFI: “Now it’s a cloud.”
Me: (Already looking at my instruments) “Do you want me to turn around out of it?”
CFI: “No, it was really thin, just climb through it.”

It wasn’t another two seconds before we were on top of it and maybe a total of four or five seconds of ‘cloud.’ However as we continued on I could see some thicker clouds out in front of us at our same altitude. We could have climbed over them but we really didn’t need the extra altitude as we didn’t have very far to go. Instead I told him I was going to just take us to the east and go around them. One of the nice things about flying around the LA Basin and Orange county at night is that there is so much light coming from the cities that you can see very well, including being able to see clearly the clouds out in front of us.

As we rounded the clouds I could see the beacon for KFUL out in front of us. SoCal had previously terminated our radar services so I called up the tower for clearance. We were given a straight in for runway 24. It was strange coming in to land there, flying over the streets and buildings that I have been driving around for the last 14 years.

Again it was quiet on the radio and as we were rolling out the tower was asking us where we were parking. When I asked him for a taxi back he gave us our taxi clearance before we had even cleared the runway.

After a short stop at the end of the taxiway to get set up for the final leg home I called up the tower. The only other person on the radio the whole time was a maintenance truck driving around some of the taxiways and I think the guy in the tower was bored.

Me: “Fullerton tower, Mooney 78878, holding short runway 24 at Alpha, requesting an eastbound departure.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, cleared for a right downwind departure, runway 24 cleared for takeoff.”
Me: “Right downwind departure, runway 24 cleared for take off, 878.”
Tower: “That tail number is a mouthful, have a good night.”
Me: “Yeah, people mix up the 7’s and 8’s. Thanks for your help.”

With that we were taking the runway, then climbing out and turning to the east. The clouds were continuing to get lower but it wasn’t going to be a problem. We only climbed to 2,500′ and made a fairly straight track to the east. The clouds were hanging on the mountains to the south and Chino Hills to the north but the area through Santa Ana Canyon was clear. It was really beautiful flying along with clouds off each wing and the city lights below and in front of us.

I was able to get the plane slowed down before entering the pattern and had my speeds nailed down, at least for this landing, on the base and final legs. After landing we fueled the plane up so it would be ready for our next flight and put her away in the hangar.

It was a great night of flying. I was able to check three more local airports off the list of places I want to land at. Also having the separate legs where I could get configured for the different phases of flight was very helpful. It seems I am finally getting a feel for how to slow the plane down, how long it takes to slow it down, and how to hit my speeds in the pattern which has been one of my biggest concerns since I started flying it.

I’m down to just another 1.9 hours with my CFI before I get to go venture out on my own. If the weather will cooperate we are going to knock that out with some more night flying on Friday.

Cross Country, Repairs, Airport Introductions

Saturday brought more new experiences in flying the Mooney, a MP (Manifold Pressure) gauge that decided to stop working, and an adventure through the airport community. The names have been changed, some of them because I don’t remember all of them, and others because I don’t know if they would want to be named in my story. So, have a seat, grab a snack, and settle back for the adventure.

Friday was a beautiful day, the skies were mostly clear, visibility was great, and I was stuck at work… Saturday was looking like a toss-up between clouds/rain showers and maybe some partly sunny skies. I headed out to the airport (still seems crazy in my mind to drive to my own plane at the airport) and sent my CFI a text that it looked like the weather might cooperate.

I began doing the pre-flight, and listened to the rain showers on the roof of the hangar. The rain that was forecast looked like it was moving around to the north of us on radar and looking outside there were dark clouds to the north and clearing to the south. My CFI had arrived and we discussed our options while watching a flight of 6 RV’s flying a tight formation around the traffic pattern. I wanted to do a little cross country to someplace I hadn’t been before so we decided to fly to Gillespie (KSEE) down in San Diego, a flight of about 64 nautical miles.

Everything looked good so I pulled the plane out of the hangar, we climbed in, and started it up. We listened to the AWOS and with the winds reported as well as the visual of the windsock I decided we would take off on runway 07. (This despite the Cessna that had we had seen going around the pattern using runway 25. I figured we could chat with him on the radio and make sure he knew what we were doing.) The Cessna was at the far end of the runway and we listened to him and watched him take off on 25 and head around the pattern as we were doing our run-up. They landed and turned off the runway next to us, then turned around and asked if we were ready to depart. We both had a chuckle when they said “Looks like the winds shifted and we’ll use 07 as well” as the winds hadn’t changed at all, I just think they hadn’t paid much attention to it. I told them to go ahead in front of us as we were still finishing up some things. They thanked us and then took off and left the pattern for some other destination.

I pulled up a little too much initially as we left the runway and got a quick chirp from the stall horn but quickly corrected and after turning onto the crosswind leg we were climbing out at about 110 mph and departing the pattern to the south-east. Climbing up to 7,500′ was great and provided a beautiful view over the mountains to the Pacific and the skies were clear enough that we could see downtown San Diego which was well over 50 miles away. Somewhere along the way I was playing with the throttle to see if I could back the MP (Manifold Pressure) down to get the fuel burn that I was looking for from the performance charts. However, the MP wasn’t dropping even though I was backing the throttle out, instead the RPM started to drop so I mentioned it to my CFI and pushed the throttle back in. We thought maybe the gauge was just stuck.

About the time we were over Temecula I called up SoCal Approach to pick up flight following so we could hopefully get clearance through San Diego’s Bravo Airspace instead of having to duck under it. I know I’ve said it before but the folks at SoCal Approach are always helpful. We were cleared direct through the Bravo to Gillespie with a temporary altitude restriction. I looked on my tablet at the direction the airport was and tried to pick it out through the low haze. My CFI has been there a number of times so I asked him where exactly I should be looking. He pointed out a small mountain in the distance and told me the field should be off to the right of it.

I have to mention that although he has been to KSEE a number of times with students, it was always on IFR flight plans and in much slower Cherokees. Travelling along at 160 mph in the Mooney meant we were a lot closer than he thought we were. This would lead to learning a little more about my plane and my abilities which is what the transition training is all about.

I began my descent, thinking that I still had quite a way to go before reaching the airport.

Approach: “Mooney 78878, current information at Gillespie is Romeo, keep your squawk and contact tower on 120.7.”

I thought, “That’s odd, normally they tell you to let them know when you have the current information and the field in sight, then then hand you off to the tower.”

My CFI took a quick look at his iPad and I looked at my tablet at about the same time and we realized we were almost to the field. We were still at about 6,500′ because I was in a nice leisurely descent. I switched frequencies, pitched over to a steeper descent, and called up the tower.

Me: “Gillespie tower, Mooney 78878, 6,000′, 4 miles north of the field, inbound with information Romeo.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, enter right downwind for runway 27R.”
Me: “Right downwind for 27R, 878.”

I continued with the steep descent, watching the airspeed indicator flirt with the Vne (never exceed speed) of 189 mph and asked my CFI if I should ask them for an extended downwind. I was looking back at the field that was still about 5,000′ below us and thinking there was no way I could get the plane down that far that quickly. Just then the tower asked us to extend our downwind and they would call our base. (Good, I needed that extra time on the downwind.) That thought didn’t last very long because the tower came back and called my base turn.

Me: To my CFI “Should I ask to extend a little further?”
CFI: “No, you can get down there.” (Was he serious? At this point we were still 4,000′ above the field elevation and would be on about a 4 mile final.)
Me: To Tower “Turning right base for 27R, cleared to land, 878.”
CFI: “Take your power back to idle and you can slip it if you need to.”

I pulled power back to idle and when I turned final we were still about 3,000′ feet above the field on a 4 mile final. I pulled back a little to get below 120 mph and dropped the gear, then held the nose up until dropping below 100 mph and put in the flaps. There were the PAPI lights, all bright white letting me know I was above glide slope, as if I needed the reminder at that point. I pitched the nose over, gave it full right rudder, and played with enough left aileron to get a nice forward slip, dropping altitude without picking up airspeed. Slowly over the next two miles on approach I got one red light on the PAPI, then another red light and I was on glide slope. I held the slip a little longer, then straightened out and settled onto the runway.

It was nice to see that if necessary in an emergency situation that I could lose that much altitude and make the landing in that short a distance.  I didn’t think the plane nor I could do it, but my CFI knew that both the plane and I were capable and it was a good lesson to learn.

We taxied back and stopped in the run-up area to get set up for the flight back, but the MP was reading 30 at idle. He looked up what could cause it to be stuck and there was no easy fix so we decided to fly back to Corona and hope it may get unstuck on the way. We picked up flight following shortly after departing KSEE and had an uneventful flight back to KAJO.

The MP gauge changed as we climbed, reading the ambient air pressure. It wasn’t stuck, but it was obviously not working properly. I had wanted to finish up as much of my dual required as possible today but that wasn’t going to happen. I had also wanted to do some pattern work to try and nail down my MP numbers for each leg in the pattern but that wasn’t happening either. The weather was perfect, but without the MP gauge working we were done flying for the day.

We chatted about the flight, he filled out the entry in my logbook, I pushed the plane into the hangar, and then went to work trying to figure out what was wrong with the MP gauge. This is where the airport adventure begins, and how I learned that the community there at little Corona Municipal Airport is alive and well, and very friendly.

The next few hours reads almost like a comedy, but it all really happened.

The first thing I did was text a fellow Mooneyspace member who has an M20E there. He asked if it was reading ambient pressure. When I told him it was he told me to look and see if a fitting had come undone. I opened up some of the panels and quickly saw that the vacuum line from the gauge to the engine had broken right at the fitting where it attaches to the engine. Awesome! It’s just a broken line, not something wrong with the gauge.

I took the side panel off so I could get to it and took the line off. It’s just a very small aluminum vacuum line. After texting my friend and telling him what I had found he told me to look and see if there was a blue mini-cooper around the corner, because if there was then Joe would be in his hangar and could help. Sure enough, the car was there so I walked over, introduced myself, and showed him my problem. He cleaned up the end of the line and then we walked next door to see if Jimmy  was there because we needed a flaring tool to flare the end of the line. Jimmy must have been gone to get some lunch so Joe walked me over to another hangar where he introduced me to Bob who was working on one of his experimental planes. Unfortunately Bob, who has a lot of tools, didn’t have what we were looking for. Joe asked me if I knew Ron down at the other end of the airport. I told him I had only been here a month and didn’t really know anyone. He said “He’s another A&P on the field and if he’s there he’ll have a flaring tool.” Then he gave me directions to Ron’s hangar and off I went.

When I got down there Ron’s  hangar was closed, but a few doors down there was an open hangar so I drove over to it and introduced myself to the guy who was inside polishing his plane. I showed him the line and asked if he happened to have a flaring tool. He said “No, but have you checked with Jimmy?” I told him Jimmy wasn’t at his hangar to which he responded “Go check again, I just saw his car go by.” So, it was back to the other end of the airport where sure enough, Jimmy  was there in his hangar.

Jimmy is a super nice guy with just about every tool you can imagine, but he couldn’t find his flaring tool… I decided to run over to Aircraft Spruce which is about 2 miles away (helpful that it is so close, and expensive that it is so close) thinking that it would probably be about $20 for the tool. I was wrong, it was over $100. There was no way I was going to pay that so it was back to the airport where I stopped by the row of hangars where Corona Engines is located. The first hangar I walked into was not Corona Engines but I met a nice guy named Dan who had a flaring tool, but the attachment that was the size needed was broken…

“Do you know Matt and Robert?” he asked.

I told him I didn’t.

“They’re in the big white hangar over there, just go ask them if they have the right tool and bring it back and I’ll fix it for you.”

I went over, introduced myself, and showed them my problem. They not only had the right tool, but quickly fixed the line for me. I thanked them, went back and thanked Dan, and then was off to my plane to reinstall the line. It would be great if my day at the airport ended there, but it didn’t…

While putting the line back on I noticed that one of the spark plug wires was rubbing on the engine and so I decided to try and re-route it a little so that it would stop rubbing. (Having it wear through would have obvious negative consequences.) The plug wires have a large nut that screws onto the plug, and there is a smaller nut that holds the wire in place. While looking at the wire I noticed that I could turn that small nut easily with my fingers. In fact, as I turned the nut it slid right down the wire, it was sheared off. That meant that the wire could pull right out, again a bad thing.

I walked around the corner to ask Joe, an A&P if there was a way to fix it. The quick answer was no, it would have to be replaced. So with 36 minutes before Aircraft Spruce closed I was back there buying a set of plug wires. There is a list of things that a plane owner can and can’t do to their plane if they hold a Private Pilot Certificate. It doesn’t specifically mention spark plug wires, but it does specifically allow you to change out the spark plugs. Then there is the “catch all” which says that you can do things that do not involve “complex assembly operations.” In Joe’s words, changing plug wires requires a wrench and a screwdriver which isn’t complex. I spent the next few hours contorting my hands into positions they probably should never be in so that I could clip all the zip ties on the wires and draw myself a diagram of which wire went from which mag to which plug in each head. There are only 4 cylinders on the engine, but each one has two spark plugs in it and I didn’t want to mix any of them up.

With my diagram mapped out, I decided it was time to take a dinner break so I headed home and got some dinner with my wife and son. Then I grabbed some more tools and went back out to the plane. Once there I tired to loosen a screw on the cap holding the wires to the mag, but it was obvious that the phillips screwdriver I had was not what I needed. There is not a lot of space there to look and see, so I held my cell phone down there and snapped a picture. To my dismay it was a torx head on the screw. That’s great, because they are much easier to work with than a phillips head, but not so great because I hadn’t brought any torx bits with me. According to Google Maps the nearest HomeDepot was 20 minutes away. Well, my house was 20 minutes away as well so it was back home to grab some more tools. This time I brought my whole ratchet set as well as all my torx bits.

Back at the plane I was glad to see that not only did I have the right size bit, but the screws were also easy to remove. I eventually got all the wires installed and secured with the retainers and some zip ties so that they wouldn’t be rubbing on anything. It was just after 11pm when I had everything back together, the cowling back on, and pulled her back out of the hangar to see if I really did have them all going to the right places.

I went through my pre-start checklist, crossed my fingers, turned the key to both mags and pushed it in to start it. There was a big smile on my face as the prop turned over and the engine came to life. I was also pleased to see that the MP gauge was again working properly. The day doesn’t end quite there…

I taxied down to the fuel island to fuel the plane so it would be ready for our next flight. When I got there (about 11:15pm) I found an old guy putting 100LL in his old hot rod. (“It just runs better than the stuff at the gas station” he said.) He was a super nice guy, with a bushy beard and a Viet Nam Veteran hat. I thanked him for his service to our country and he told me some stories as he was filling up his car. Once he was done I fueled up my plane, taxied back to my hangar, and tucked her away just before midnight.

It’s still hard to believe everything that was crammed into one day. I learned that the plane, and myself, can do more than I thought either of us could do. I met over half a dozen great folks wandering around the airport trying to flare the end of a vacuum line. I now have first hand knowledge that what every other owner of 50+ year old planes says, that their planes always need something done to them is true. And, I got to know my plane a little better than I wanted to at this early stage, but it was all good.