I got a text from a friend on Thursday asking “Any chance we can fly this weekend?” My schedule appeared to be open, but I thought I should double check with my wife. The beautiful Mrs. Brown confirmed that yes, the schedule was open. (I guess I’m bragging a little, but I must have the best wife in the world.)
I told him that we could fly down to Palomar for breakfast or head West to Camarillo for breakfast. The final plan was to fly to Camarillo for breakfast and then some sightseeing on the way back, dropping down over the hills along the coast near Point Dume and Malibu, then flying past Pacific Palisades, the Hollywood Sign, and Dodger’s Stadium before making a pass around downtown Los Angels. If the weather would cooperate without any morning marine layer it should turn out to be a great trip.
Friday was hot… up in the 90°’s and Saturday was supposed to be more of the same. The one good thing about the heat is that it almost always means clear skies. I filed a VFR flight plan Friday so that I could get my online weather briefing from 180wxbrief.com and after looking at the outlook brief Friday afternoon I sent my friend a text saying it looked like a go.
We met at my hangar and after pre-flight taxied down to the fuel island. There was a Piper that had been practicing landings and it pulled up next to the island and two CFI’s got out while the engine was running leaving the pilot in the plane, the trademark of someone getting ready for their first solo. We watched him taxi away and take off. As I was finishing fueling it up he was coming around and set it down nicely for his first ever solo flight. As he taxied back past us he had a huge grin on his face and all of us were giving a thumbs up, which he enthusiastically returned.
We took off, heading west and then turning towards the northwest over Chino Hills State Park. I called up SoCal Approach and picked up flight following for the trip and we settled into cruise at 6,500′, keeping an eye out for traffic and enjoying the sights. We were settled into “Sunday Driving” mode, not in a rush to get there, with the prop back to 2,400 rpm and 22″ manifold pressure. Around the time we were over the Rose Bowl ATC called me up and restricted us to 6,500′ because there was a Beech at 6,000′ flying the same heading as us, 2 miles behind that was “overtaking” us… I guess that’s what happens when you are in “Sunday Driving” mode.
The Beech wasn’t going much faster than us because it was almost 15 miles later before we could finally see him down off our right wing. He slowly slid in front of us on his descent as he joined the RNAV approach for runway 26. With our altitude restriction cancelled and VFR descent approved I pushed the nose over and trimmed for descent, however there was a small problem. Because of the prior altitude restriction I needed to lose about 1,000′ per minute and that had me pushing 160-170mph on the air speed indicator. I started a turn to the right to keep the Beech in sight.
Camarillo Tower: “November 878, you are overtaking the Beech, advise if you have him in sight.”
Me: “We have him in sight.”
Tower: “He is only doing 120, you are much faster.”
Me: “Roger, we are going to do some s-turns to slow it down.”
After all the practicing of s-turns for my PPL, that’s the first time I have actually put them to use. The app on my tablet is pretty neat and allows you to download your flight and view it in Google Earth.
We were cleared to land on 26, #2 after the Beech. After a few descending turns we had given enough space between us and I lined up on final and dropped the gear. As we cleared the runway, and just before we switched to the ground frequency for taxi clearance Michael heard a plane identifying himself as a B-17 on the frequency. (Having already received my taxi clearance I had mentally tuned out the radio chatter somewhat. When I hear my tail number it registers but much of the rest of the chatter just goes by.)
Michael: “Did he just say B-17?”
Me: “I don’t know, I missed that.”
Michael: (Pointing towards the end of the runway) “He did, there’s a B-17!”
Sure enough, down there in the run-up area was a B-17 Flying Fortress and what looked like maybe a Piper.
Michael: “How cool would that be. You are cleared for takeoff, number 2 after the B-17.”
I called up Ground.
Me: “Camarillo Ground, Mooney 78878 cleared 26 at Charlie, request taxi to transient.”
Ground: “Mooney 78878, taxi Waypoint Cafe via Foxtrot.”
Me: “Taxi via Foxtrot, 878.”
It just kept getting better. As we taxied past the Commemorative Air Force Museum there was a B-29 Superfortress parked on the ramp in front of it. Then was we passed the last row of hangars and turned into the transient parking we taxied past a B-24 Liberator, a B-25 Mitchell, and a P-51 Mustang. It’s not everyday that you get to park your plane next to some amazing War Birds. Before we shut down we heard the Superfortress on the radio.
B-29: “Camarillo Ground, B-29 Superfortress, pushing back.”
I knew that next weekend was the AOPA Fly-in and that they would have a bunch of planes there for that, but I didn’t know they would already be there at the airport this weekend. And, they weren’t just sitting around, they were giving rides, if you had the money… The cheapest seat on the B-29 was $595, and if you wanted to sit in the bombardier’s spot (maybe the best seat in the plane) it was $1,595 for a 30 minute flight…
The Waypoint Cafe was busy, but it was only about a 20 minute wait to get a table outside. It’s a nice little place right on the ramp where you can watch the planes. They have a small mock-up of the airport with the runway and a control tower next to it. A speaker in the tower plays the actual radio feed from the tower. Breakfast was excellent, and I don’t think I will need to eat until tomorrow. I had the french toast, eggs, and sausage while Michael had the carnitas omelette.
After breakfast we wandered back out onto the ramp were we were quickly approached by someone asking to see our hand stamp. I told him I didn’t have one but that was my Mooney parked “right over there” on the ramp. He said that we couldn’t be out there without a stamp. I asked him why, when we had just flown in that morning and that was my plane “right over there.” After a short chat it was determined that we could “walk around a little, but not too much.”
Keeping that advice in mind, we did “walk around a little” and then wandered over to the Commemorative Air Force Museum and saw the planes they had there. We also got to watch them push back the B-29, start up the engines, and taxi away.
When we got back to my plane I was glad that I had put the tow bar in before we left Corona. The B-17 was blocking where we would have pulled out so I pushed it back to where we had a clear path to taxi. There was a large group of people at the fence by the Cafe that were looking at the planes and taking pictures. As I started pushing my plane back I heard a young kid shout “Wow! How is he doing that?” For just a moment, I had superhero strength in the eyes of a kid. 🙂
We got our taxi clearance and went to the run-up area. After run-up we found ourselves 5th in line behind a couple of twins and singles. As we sat there the plane was shaking from the prop-wash of the twins out in front of us. I switched over to the tower and it was busy. At other towered fields I have always called in to let them know where I was at, so once there was a break in the radio chatter I jumped in.
Me: “Camarillo Tower, Mooney 78878 holding in sequence 26.”
Tower: “Mooney, I don’t have time for you, call when you are #1.”
Different procedures for different fields. The tower was juggling arrivals and trying to get in some departures. The B-29 called in as he was arriving back in the area after their latest flight and the tower asked him to extend downwind so he could get some departures out. Yep, the tower was asking a B-29 Superfortress to extend his downwind so we could take off… Finally we were #1 for departure.
Me: “Camarillo Tower, Mooney 78878, #1 at 26.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, stand by for landing traffic.”
After the next two planes on final landed and cleared the runway we were given our take off clearance with a right downwind departure. As we were climbing out we watched the B-29 pass under us on his base leg. It’s not every day that you get to be on the radio with a B-17 and a B-29 and share some airspace with a Superfortress.
I had mapped out our flight path for the way back making notes of altitudes I needed to be at to remain out of LA’s Bravo airspace but still picked up flight following for an extra set of eyes in what I knew would be busy airspace. I know that I have said it before, but the controllers here in Southern California are great. VFR traffic is not their responsibility, but they have always seemed to make time when I’ve been flying. Traffic along the coast was busy with SoCal calling out multiple planes as we flew along. I had planned to skirt around Santa Monica’s airspace but SoCal handed me off to their tower and they cleared me through so we took the shorter route through their airspace from the coast to the Hollywood Sign. After passing Hollywood Hills we turned over Dodger’s Stadium for a pass around downtown Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Tower had handed us back off to SoCal and I let them know where we were headed and that we would remain at 2,000′. (The Bravo shelf there is at 2,500′) After one pass around downtown we headed northeast to get out from under the Bravo and then climbed up to 3,500′ for the rest of the flight back to Corona.
What a great day of flying. What started out as a breakfast run with some “flightseeing” turned into an adventure with old War Birds and an unplanned airshow.