One Year Later…

On July 7th, 2016 I met my CFI at the airport and we made three trips around the pattern before I dropped him off at the base of the tower and taxied to the end of runway 26R before taking off into the air all alonemy first Solo Flight!

It is hard to believe that a year has passed.

Since that first solo flight a year ago so much has happened.

  • I had 15.6 hours of flight at the time, I have flown another 124 hours since then.
  • I passed my Check-ride on Oct 15, 2016 and received my PPL.
  • I made my first actual long distance cross country to Arizona and took my dad on a short flight.
  • I bought a Mooney!
  • I made another 197 landings, flew over 7,800 nautical miles, landed in a total of 5 different states at a total of 28 different airports.

It is still like a dream that I have my pilot’s license and I have my own plane. I still get a rush every time I push the throttle in and start rolling down the runway. I hope that feeling never goes away. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Idaho Adventure

My wife said that I needed to get my PPL and a plane as she anticipated her daughters bringing more grandkids into the world so that we could visit them. (That’s one of the reasons she gave and one that I’m going to stick with. We’ll ignore the “I have wanted to fly for as long as I can remember anything reason…) For this trip it turned out I needed the Mooney to visit my wife who had been gone for a couple of weeks for the arrival of another grandchild.

Friday – June 16th, 2017

The destination this time was Rexburg, ID which would again be further than I have ever flown. I kept an eye on the weather all week and the forecast looked pretty good, right up until the last couple of days before departing. On the night before it was showing thunderstorms in the area of Idaho Falls/Rexburg for the evening when we would be arriving. I decided that my son and I would start the flight, even if we would have to stop short of our destination. Delta, UT would be our fuel stop and offer a chance to get an updated weather briefing before starting the last leg.

After a morning at work my son and I got packed up and headed out to the airport. It was in the upper 90°’s in Corona but my homemade air-conditioner was putting out enough cool air that we were comfortable on the ground. I wanted to be in the air by 1:30pm PDT but it ended up right at 2pm PDT when we were wheels up. I picked up flight following and for this flight we climbed to 11,500′. Instead of going around Las Vegas’ airspace we went right over the top and had great views of The Strip and McCarran International Airport. Just north of Milford I called up ATC and asked to begin our descent. ATC approved and canceled flight following so we went back to squawking 1200 and pushed the nose over.

It was 33°C (91°F) and with the barometric pressure of 29.99 the density altitude was 7,800′ which was higher than anything I had landed or taken off in yet. The landing was ok but the taxi took forever…. There are no turn off’s in Delta so you go to the end of the runway and then it is another 4,000′ down the taxi-way to the turn off for the ramp and the gas pump. However, it was well worth it. Delta has some of the least expensive gas around, and they have a very nice air-conditioned lounge with big couches. After a bathroom break I called up a weather briefer to see what our chances were of reaching our final destination.

I often just self-brief with the tools available online, but given the possibility of adverse weather along the route I wanted to talk to someone with experience to give me a better overall picture. The briefer was very helpful and after about 15-20 minutes on the phone with him we decided to make an attempt. He thought that the storms would most likely be dissipating by the time we got there and told us that if necessary we may have to divert west around Pocatello which would then give us a straight shot up the valley. I got in touch with my sister that lives in the Salt Lake area as a backup and if necessary we would turn around, go land at South Valley Regional, and spend the night at her home. After fueling up the plane we took off and I felt good about the plan and the backup option.

With the hot air and 7,800′ density altitude we slowly eased off runway 17 and began about a 200’/min climb. Eventually we had enough altitude to turn back to the north and soon we were climbing at over 1,000’/min riding some of the afternoon thermals over the desert floor. As we proceeded up the valley, past Tooele and over the Great Salt Lake I kept an eye on the Nexrad weather on my tablet ahead.

(It should be noted that although the time stamp on the age of the Nexrad weather may only be a few minutes ago, the actual delay could be upwards of 20 minutes. When you have storm systems that are moving at over 35 knots you can’t just assume that because there appears to be a gap on your screen in the weather that it actually exists.) 

There was a small system a little north of the UT/ID border and a larger one just north of Pocatello, however the system near Pocatello was over an hour away and I hoped that it would have dissipated or at least moved off to the East, driven by the 30-40 knot winds that were forecast for 10,000′.

There was turbulence forecast for southern Idaho but it never seemed to materialize, but the storms were still there. Visibility was excellent, I think you could see easily 75 nautical miles where the sky was clear which made it easy to keep an eye on the storms out ahead. There was one in particular I was watching and noting its progress across the sky. It became apparent that about the time we would be passing the 9,320′ Oxford Peak that the storm would be right on top of us so I turned us to the west to go around it. As soon as we turned west our ground speed dropped to a sad 115-120mph. Fortunately the storm was moving to the east rapidly so it did not take long until we were past it and started heading north again.

The storms that were just north of Pocatello were still there too and hadn’t dissipated… so we again made a turn towards the west to go around the tail end of them, and again watched our ground speed drop. At this point the sun had gone down and dusk was settling in, but it was still easy to make out the cells from the dark streaks of rain coming down. Finally we were north of the storms and could turn to the northeast and head up the valley. The headwind that had slowed us was now a tailwind and we were seeing ground speeds above 200mph! The light rain wasn’t enough to degrade the visibility, but it was enough to give the plane a nice wash.

I love flying at night, although flying at night into new places is not at the top of my list. However, knowing that there were no mountains/hills, towers, tall trees on approach, or any other obstacles had me at ease and enjoying the views of the lights. My son asked me what all the blinking red lights were along the distant hillside some 20+ miles away and I told him it must be wind turbines for generating power from the huge number of lights and the seemingly random pattern.

It felt like a great accomplishment, having flown over 700nm (with the diversion for weather) and there wasn’t any time that I felt nervous or concerned. Having the Nexrad weather on the tablet and the great visibility allowed me to make good decisions in the air.

Saturday – June 17th, 2017

There wasn’t any flying done by me today, but there was a lot of flying. The airport in Rexburg has a museum on the field. The Legacy Flight Museum was putting on a pancake breakfast so we went over to the airport along with what looked like a good portion of the folks in Rexburg! The museum really is a hidden gem. They have a number of planes there and they were flying most of them today. We got to watch a WWII vet climb into one of the T-6 Texan’s (that he “had a lot of hours in”) and do a little bit of flying. In addition to the old war birds they have an A-4 from the Blue Angels. Upstairs they have an extensive collection of uniforms from the Civil War to modern times as well as weapons and memorabilia.

My Mooney was parked on the ramp and we went over to show my wife’s daughter, son-in-law, and newest granddaughter the plane. As they were looking at it I turned around to see some other children had gathered and were looking expectantly at the plane. I asked if they wanted to see it and sit in it. They all enthusiastically shook their heads yes so I told them they needed to go ask their parents first. They quickly ran off and some returned with their parents. For the next little bit I had a number of kids taking their turn sitting in the plane and pretending to fly, playing with the yokes while their parents took pictures. Seeing the smiles on the faces of kids when they climb in is awesome!

If you are ever in the area I highly suggest you stop by the Rexburg airport and their museum, which is what another Mooney owner just happened to do. I had arranged to meet a fellow Mooney owner that is based out of Brigham City. He made the flight up this morning. As he was parking I walked over to meet him and was joined by another gentleman who wanted to look at the Mooney. We then went over so they could see my plane. When the “other guy” saw the CO sensor on my dash he asked us if we were on the MooneySpace forums. We told him we were and he told us that he was as well! It turned out that he is from New Orleans, had flown his Mooney to Idaho Falls for work, and today was on his way to see Yellowstone when he saw signs for the breakfast and museum and decided to stop by. So there I was in Rexburd, ID with a Mooney owner from Brigham City, UT and one from New Orleans, LA. We enjoyed chatting about flying, Mooney’s, and wandering through the museum.

Sunday – June 18th, 2017 – Father’s Day

What a great Father’s Day! My wife and youngest son fixed french toast for breakfast and then I got to go to church with them. I also got a surprise when my daughter who is in training at Ft Lee, VA with the National Guard texted me to see if I would be able to Skype her. We were able to work out the timing and had a great visit with her. There was a great little family BBQ at the park with my wife’s daughter and her family, and then I got to go flying with my youngest son.

We took off from Rexburg at 2pm local time and gave a little wing wag to my wife and her daughter’s family who were watching from just past the end of the runway. The first stop of the day was in Logan to drop off my son so that he could spend a week with his friend. We arrived within a few minutes of my planned time and were directed to parking by a gentleman from Leading Edge Aviation. He brought a red carpet for us and a cooler with cold drinks. After giving my son a hug goodbye and a quick restroom stop I asked if there was a ramp fee. The gentleman responded, “No, we just try to treat everyone well.” What a pleasant surprise that was.

A short flight later and I was descending into Delta. The winds there were shifting around and I kept monitoring the AWOS for the weather. Initially I intended to land on runway 35 but then the winds shifted enough that I was planning on a straight in to runway 17. However, before I could get there the winds had shifted again and I changed my plans back to runway 35. What are the odds that when I was headed north on Friday I had to land and take off to the south, and when I was headed south today I had to land and take off to the north.

It was hot again in Delta, but the fuel was still cheap and the lounge was still nice and cool. The ice block in my homemade air-conditioner had long since melted but the fan was still blowing which helped with the heat in the cabin. After a quick fuel stop I was back in the air heading for California and enjoying a nice tail wind for over half the flight. It was quiet on the radio so I made my initial call at 15 miles and then at 10 miles announced that I was on a straight in final. I continued to announce at 6, 4, and 2 miles final while watching for any other planes in the pattern. There weren’t any and there wasn’t anyone on the radio either. I landed in Corona just after 7pm PDT and then finished up my Father’s Day by calling my dad on the way home from the airport and filling him in on my weekend adventures. Like I said, what a great Father’s Day!

Over 1,400 nautical miles flown in about 11 hours of flying, another state (ID) checked off the list of states to land in, three new airports visited, a Father’s Day BBQ lunch at a park in Idaho, and pulling into my driveway 7 hours later (which included an extra stop at the Logan, UT (KLGU) airport). Just some of the wonderful adventures you can have when you are blessed to have and fly a Mooney.

Memorial Day Weekend

Flying around, punching holes in the sky is a lot of fun, but the real reason to have a Mooney is to ‘go places.’ This Memorial Day Weekend was a chance to do just that. Previously the furthest flight I had made was to Phoenix, about 300 nm. This weekend I flew to the Salt Lake area, about 475 nm away. I was a little nervous because it is further than I had ever been, and over areas that I had never flown. (I don’t think flying commercial there counts.)

My original plan was to fly into South Valley Regional (U42) as that is very close to where one of my sisters lives, and close to my wife’s daughter. However that all changed when I filed a flight plan and took a look a the Outlook Brief on 1800wxbrief.com. As I went through the tabs I saw that there was a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) that showed the runway and airport are closed to fixed wing aircraft until June 7th.

I took a look at the other two options south of there, Provo (KPVU) and Spanish Fork (U77). My wife and I both have family in Utah County so either of those airports would work well. A couple of phone calls and emails later to the airport managers and the FBO at Provo and I had made my decision to land in Spanish Fork. The FBO at Provo would waive their $15 ramp fee if you bought 10 gallons of their almost $6/gal Avgas, but you still had to pay a $10/night parking fee. Spanish Fork would let you park in transient free for three nights if you bought some gas there, and their price for Avgas was much less than Provo’s…

The forecast was for overcast and IFR conditions, improving to MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules), and then to VFR later in the morning. I woke up a little after 5am and took a look out my window to the east and was surprised by the skies.

I thought we would be able to get out earlier than planned, but the picture didn’t tell the whole story. On the other side of the hills where the airport is the clouds were low. Fortunately they were high enough that we were able to launch and head East under them until getting just south of the San Bernadino/Redlands Airports where the clouds started to break up. Once there was enough blue sky we went up and then headed north over Big Bear.

The flight was nice as we passed by Las Vegas and Lake Mead. Shortly after that we were north of Mesquite and further than I have flown from home, flying through Southern Utah and enjoying the new scenery. It had been a fairly smooth flight until we were over the mountains to the north-west of St George and then it got a little bumpy. It seemed odd to be flying along at 9,500′ and still be as close to the ground as when I’m flying at 2,500′ over Corona.

ATC (Air Traffic Control) handed us off from one sector to the next. As we were getting close to Spanish Fork and beginning our descent we were handed off one last time. After trying to contact Approach three times, and hearing them talking to the other planes, I gave up and switched my transponder over to 1200 and changed to the CTAF for Spanish Fork to start making position calls. I think we were probably too low for them to pick us up, and we were only about 15 miles from the airport anyway. There was one other plane in the pattern practicing landings and we worked in behind him.

We taxied over to the fuel pumps, I shut down the plane, and then pulled out my phone. I saw that there was a missed call and voicemail from a random number but my first order of business was to close my flight plan. Eventually I had a data connection and was able to close it. Immediately after that a call came in from that same number that was listed as the missed call. It turned out to be Flight Services calling to make sure that I had arrived. I apologized and told him the winds had been more than forecast. He said it was no problem and that he was just making sure they didn’t need to launch search and rescue. He also said that he saw that I had just closed the plan online. Next time I will build a little more padding into the flight plan. Overall there were some new records set for me. It was the furthest I had ever flown, about 475 nautical miles, and the longest leg I had ever flown, right at about 4 hours.

We spent the weekend with family and then went back to the airport on Memorial Day. I got to give two of my wife’s brothers a ride around the pattern as well as a one of her nieces and a couple of nephews. For one brother and the kids it was their first time in a small plane. I always want it to be a good ride so they will want to go again. The only excuse I can give is that U77 is at 4,529′ elevation, it was about 80°F, so the density altitude was over 6,500′. The plane performs much differently than at home and is something that I need to get used to. It took a lot of runway to get off the ground, and then it was only climbing at about 500’/min, not the usual 1,200’/min or more that I see at home. The first trip around the pattern was fine with a below average landing, but everyone had a fun time. I shut the plane down so that we could change out passengers and then made another trip around. This time the landing was very sub-par… If you count the bounces there would have been credit for multiple landings… The only saving grace was my wife’s brother has flown in small planes before and my nephew emerged from the back seat to say it was “awesome.”

After saying goodbye, we loaded up and began our flight home with a planned stop in St. George to see my wife’s dad and have some BBQ Ribs. The climb to 10,500′ was slow, but we eventually got there and the air was cool, if a little bumpy. After passing Cedar City we began our descent into St. George and noticed the air getting warmer. Soon we were close enough to pick up the AWOS report which informed us that the temperature was 33°C (91°F). The winds were coming from the north so instead of a straight in on runway 19 I announced that we would be joining a left downwind for runway 1. There was a regional jet inbound behind us and he was just going straight in on 19 (the jets don’t really care about the tailwind) so I told him we would extend out our downwind for him and got a “Thank you” back. I have to be honest, extending out while cooking in the cabin in the mid-day sun was not was I wanted, but it was the right thing to do.

Her dad was there waiting for us and took us home where his wife had a nice meal ready. Inside in the nice air conditioning…. 🙂

Eventually it was time to head back to the airport to get started on our last leg home. After fueling up we took off for a slow climb out… St. George (KSGU) only sits at 2,831′ elevation, but the combination of the heat and the current barometric pressure had my tablet showing it at just over 6,500′ density altitude. The afternoon thermals made for some interesting flying. We would be struggling along at 3-500’/min climb, then suddenly see 1,500’/min climb, and after passing out of the rising column of air would drop to either no climb rate or losing altitude, all while maintaining the same airspeed. Eventually we made it back up to 10,500′ but it wasn’t until about 30-45 minutes into the flight that the cabin finally cooled down. The remainder of the flight over the afternoon desert was a constant adjustment to try and maintain 10,500′. Moving through rising and falling columns of air meant there was always something to do.

I had been keeping an eye on the weather at the airports near Corona as we flew along. The briefing had showed Corona was supposed to be VFR until long after we arrived and the current report confirmed that, but San Bernardino (KSBD) was showing MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules) because of low clouds and haze. As we approached the mountains north of San Bernardino I could see the clouds ahead so decided to go a little further to the East over Big Bear and then loop around the clouds. The ride had been bumpy off and on so as we passed over Big Bear and I began my descent I warned my wife it might be a little rough going over the mountains. Boy was I wrong, and glad to be wrong. I pushed the nose over and trimmed for a 1,000’/min descent. (There isn’t a lot of room to get down from 10,500′ on the way into Corona). As the airspeed indicator climbed up past 170 mph indicated it felt like we were just hanging in the air. It was as smooth as it could be, like we were on rails, slowly moving forward even though ground speed showed over 180 mph. I remarked to my wife that I couldn’t believe how smooth it was.

ATC restricted us above 6,500′ because of traffic ahead but eventually we were past them and got “altitude at your discretion.” I told him that I had the airport in sight (knowing where to look on a clear day meant I could see it from over 20 miles away) but he offered to let me stay with him a little longer and he would call out traffic if I wanted. I told him that would be great so stayed with him until about 10 miles out. I started making calls and the radio was quiet. I continued to make my calls, looking for traffic, and made straight in on runway 25 for a nice smooth landing. Maybe it was landing on a familiar runway, maybe it was not landing at high density altitude, and maybe it was a little bit of both, but it was my smoothest landing of the weekend.

Over 1,100 miles flown and a new state checked off the list of states landed in. We had breakfast in Lehi with family, gave family some plane rides, left Spanish Fork after noon, stopped in St. George to visit more family and have a late lunch/early dinner, and we were still home before the sun went down. It sure is fun to travel in your own plane!

Harris Ranch, CA (3O8) Fly-In

Shortly after deciding that I ultimately wanted to buy a Mooney after getting my PPL I came across the MooneySpace forums. They are an excellent online community with a passion for aviation and Mooneys. From them I have been fortunate to make some friends and receive invaluable advice on aviation and my Mooney. Why do I bring up MooneySpace? One of the CA members has been organizing some fly-ins recently with the goal of having a “quality excuse to have fun flying your Mooney someplace.”

I missed the first one in Santa Clarita because of the weather and you might recall my post on flying to Lake Havasu for lunch instead. The next fly-in was set for Harris Ranch in the Central Valley. Part of the description was “Harris is a neat strip.  If you haven’t been in, you’ll enjoy the narrow runway.” The first thing I did was to pull up the information on Harris Ranch which listed the runway at 2,820′ long and a narrow 30′ wide. Yep, that’s right, only 30′ wide. I thought to myself that the length doesn’t worry me at all, but 30′ sounds a little narrow. Corona is 60′ wide and while I am usually close to the center line, sometimes I miss it a little. Nevertheless, I responded that I would attend and then spent the next few flights really focusing on trying to hit that center line.

Yesterday my son was asking what the plans were for today. He was going to be at a Scout merit Badge day and my sweet wife said “Your dad is going to have a play date with his friends.”

Me: “Now you’re just mocking me.”
Wife: “That’s not mocking.”
Me: “Sure it is.”
Wife: (looking up the definition of mocking on her phone) “No, it says right here ‘Making fun of someone or something in a cruel way.'”
Me: “Hmmm… I’m still going with mocking.”

(Really it falls in the category of teasing, but that is only because she knows I’m not really a people person and she thinks it’s ‘cute’ when I am going out to do something.)

The forecast was clear and it turned out to be accurate. My friend and his son met me out at the airport and we got ready to go. (Still not used to the fact that I can just go to the airport and fly my own plane somewhere.) My friend’s son had never been in a small plane before so I gave my analogy that while flying in an airliner is like riding a bus down the highway, sometimes flying in a small plane is more like driving a truck down a dirt road. So, if there are some bumps, he shouldn’t worry. The plane will keep flying.

We took off to the west and began our climb over Chino Hills to the northwest, staying under the 7,000′ shelf of LAX’s airspace. I was already monitoring the SoCal frequency I would be talking to and heard them vector another plane because there was a “VFR plane, type unknown, heading northwest climbing through 6,500′” off their 12 o’clock. I looked at my friend and told him they were talking about us. Just after that we came out from under the Bravo airspace and I called up SoCal to pick up flight following. They gave me my squawk and cleared us to 8,500′. It was a fairly smooth flight with just a few bumps going over Mt Wilson and the mountains to the north of Burbank. However, once we were over the central valley the air was very smooth.

Some pilots don’t like picking up flight following. One of the most common reasons I hear is that they don’t want to be bothered by having to monitor the radios and just want the peace and quiet, or to listen to music. Personally, I actually enjoy being “in the system” and listening to the chatter on the radios. Also, as I have said before, I like having an extra set of eyes out there looking out for me. We were about to hear another really good reason to be on flight following. A little after getting handed off to Oakland Center the following conversation took place.

Center: “November xxxxx (I don’t remember the tail number or type of plane) are you aware of the rocket launch area ahead and to your right?”
Pilot: “I wasn’t, but I am now!”
Center: “It is surface to 17,000, as long as you remain on your heading you will pass clear.”
Pilot: “Roger, thank you.”

A few minutes later the lady at Oakland Center was warning another pilot about the rocket launch area, and then a third. When she told the third she added, “I think they must have missed posting the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) because I have been warning planes all day.” I know that when I had gotten a briefing online at 1800wxbrief there was no mention about the rocket launch area, nor was it listed on my tablet. I thought, what if someone was just flying along, not knowing about the rocket launch area, and not listening to ATC (Air Traffic Control)?

We began our descent and headed in for a straight in approach to runway 32, calling out at 15 miles, 10 miles, 5 miles, and a 3 mile final. I remember the first time in my training after landing on the 150′ wide runways at Chino that my CFI took me over to Corona with its 60′ wide runway. I turned final and thought “Wow! that’s not very wide!” The closer we got to the runway at Harris Ranch, the runway didn’t get any wider. Michael told me later that he kept thinking it was going to get bigger but it didn’t. I was happy with the landing as I put it down very close to center line in about a 5 knot crosswind and rolled to the end, just touching the brakes to turn off into parking.

There were already a few Mooneys on the ramp and folks standing in the shade under a big tree. As we shut down Mitch came over to introduce himself. Introductions were made and everyone visited while waiting for a couple more arrivals. We ended up with three J’s, two D’s, and an F model. (Somehow a Cirrus managed to sneak into the pictures…) 

Around noon we took the short walk over to the restaurant for some lunch.

Michael ordered the 14oz New York Strip, I ordered the 7oz New York Strip, and Jonathan ordered the Chicken Fried Steak…

Me: “Really, we come to a steak house and you order chicken fried steak? (Pause) Well, I guess it does have the name steak in it…”
Michael: “Yep, it’s just ‘chicken fried.” 🙂

Lunch was amazing and the company was great. It was a lot of fun getting to know some of the other pilots from MooneySpace.

Eventually it was time to let the restaurant have their tables back so we headed back out to the planes and everyone got ready to depart. We thanked Mitch once more for organizing the fly in before we left.

We picked up flight following again for the flight back, and once again it was worth it. I had warned my friends that it might be a little bumpy on the way home because there were some Pireps (pilot reports) that showed some turbulence close to our altitude, although the reports were a little old. As we were coming up on the area where the first one was ATC called us up.

SoCal: “November 878, there was a report of light to moderate chop about an hour ago there, are you experiencing any?”
Me: “No, it’s pretty smooth. It is a little bumpy but it’s only because of the hills here.”
SoCal: “Roger, thank you.”

It was probably only a couple minutes later when we started to get bounced around.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878.”
SoCal: “878, go ahead.”
Me: “We are getting that light chop now.”
SoCal: “Roger, thank you, I’ll update my files.”

The conversation continued inside the plane…

Me: “It’s good Kathy isn’t here, she wouldn’t like this much.”
Jonathan: “I’ve gotta be honest, I’m not liking this much right now.”
Me: “You have to remember, we only weigh about 2,200 pounds right now so we are going to feel a lot more than in an airliner that weighs 100,000+ pounds.”
Michael: “And remember, the plane wants to fly. It’s not going to fall out of the sky, it will just keep flying through the bumps.”

As we got closer to Burbank/Van Nuys the benefits of flight following made their second appearance of the day. We received vectors from ATC because of some hang gliding in the area. Even though we were up at 7,500′ ATC said the hang gliders had been reported at 8-9,000′! Eventually we were past them and told to continue on course.

The winds back at Corona were 20° off the runway heading at 10 knots, gusting 20 knots. I warned them that it might be a little rough coming in because of the gusts. I find that if people are expecting it that it doesn’t seem as bad. I carried more speed on final to account for the gust factor. As we settled into ground effect and I let the speed bleed off Jonathan said “That was nice.” My response was “We’re not on the ground yet…” We were still about a foot or so above the runway. We touched down, and then lifted off slightly (I think courtesy of the gusts as this time I hadn’t let it touch down too fast) before settling down for good.

They both had a good time and Jonathan (first ride in a small plane) said he would go again. It’s a lot of fun when you can go someplace that’s about 200 miles away for lunch and it is only about 90 minutes each way.

A big thank you again to Mitch for organizing the fly-in.

Sunsets and Steep Turns

With a free evening I took my son out to the airport and we headed to the practice area so that he could do a little more flying. It was a beautiful Southern California sunset.

Now that he has his cushion and can see over the panel he wanted to try steep turns (45° bank) again. So what happens when you turn the controls over to a 13 yo and tell him he can do what he wants? Well, you better not get motion sickness easily, because he may just want to fly in circles… because the flight path may just look like this…

We had a great time!!!!!

Camarillo – War Birds – LA Tour

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.”
Tower: “Roger.”

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.”

78878, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, and P-51 Mustang visible in the picture.
B-24 Liberator departing.
78878 and a B-17 Flying Fortress

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.

A Budding Pilot?

My youngest son loves to fly. Not only that, he actually enjoys it when you are getting bounced around. We haven’t been in what I would consider severe turbulence, and I hope to avoid it if at all possible, but we have been in moderate where I saw his bottom bouncing off the seat cushion and I made him tighten his seat belt, it didn’t even phase him.

We went flying once where I let him take the yoke, but he couldn’t see over the panel so it wasn’t that exciting for him. Since we got him the cushion all we have done is cross country and there isn’t much for him to do. He would keep asking if he could help fly, but when you are just flying a heading and trying to maintain an altitude it doesn’t hold much of a “fun factor” compared to maneuvers.

This evening we finally had some spare time to just go out and fly. The clouds at home looked threatening, but they were hung up on the hills and east of the Santa Ana Pass where the airport and practice area are, the skies were clear.

He was excited as we did the pre-flight.

Son: “Am I going to get to land it?”
Me: “Nope.”
Son: “Why?”
Me: “A couple reasons, there is a lot to learn before you are trying that, and I’m not a CFI with training on how to help you do that.”

We took off on 25 from Corona and headed south-east along the foothills before turning east for the Lake Matthews practice area. Once we were close I let him take over and started giving him instructions on what altitude he was aiming for and what direction to go. His legs aren’t long enough yet to touch the rudder pedals with his seat cushion so I kept my feet on them and kept the ball centered. I kept my hands lightly on the yoke as we made our first pass around the lake but by the time we were on our second lap he was doing all the flying with just a little nudge here and there on the yoke by me.

Was he having fun?

Yep, there’s the smile!

After the second trip around the lake I had him head back over town and then turn south toward lake Elsinore. The sun had gone down which made it easy for him to fly along I-15 heading south. Once near Lake Elsinore I had him turn us back towards Corona. (It was getting late and it was a school night so I figured I should probably get him home and to bed at a fairly respectable time… He would have wanted to keep flying for hours…)

Once we were about 13 miles south of the airport I told him that I had the plane again. The winds were blowing steady, straight down 25 which made for a nice landing.

On the way home we talked about the flight.

Me: “You know that after the first time around the lake I didn’t hardly touch the yoke at all.”
Son: “Really?”
Me: “Yep, that was all you.”
Son: “That’s cool.”

That about sums up my feelings when I was able to take the controls of a plane the first time. I think we may have a future pilot on our hands.

You can see our flight and the sections that he flew in the screen shot.

CA Poppy Preserve – 100 Total Hours of Flight

We decided to take a flight over the California Poppy Preserve near Lancaster today. At the height of the bloom a few weeks ago we weren’t able to go as there was an airshow at the Lancaster Airport and a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) that extended almost to the edge of the Preserve. I probably could have worked around it but decided to just stay clear and go a different time. There were still some patches of orange/gold left but most of the blooms were gone. Looking down at the lines of cars on both sides of the road and the packed parking lot I was glad to be flying above all of them.

The hills of Chino Hills State Park were still covered with the yellow mustard flowers, but portions of the hills that were bright green two weeks ago were already starting to turn brown. A not so gentle reminder that soon all the hills would be brown and remain that way until the winter rains return again next year.

As we flew over the mountains to the Antelope Valley we passed by the Mt Wilson Observatory. On the flight I was amazed at the number of lakes and reservoirs there were scattered around through the hills and mountains.

Later as I was entering the flight into my logbook I found that I now had 100 hours of flying! Another milestone passed. I’m at 39.4 hours in the Mooney and with another 20 hours will have surpassed the time I spent in the Cherokees.

Mooney Time Machine to Phoenix

Many people when they are thinking of purchasing a plane start by looking at the cost to own, fly, and maintain an airplane. Of course that makes sense, one must know what one is getting into. However the next step, when they start trying to justify the expense and they try to explain to themselves how it really does make sense economically is where they seem to go astray. The problem is that for most of us that fly and own a plane, it doesn’t make sense economically. We fly and own because we love to fly and love the freedom of knowing we can go to the airport anytime we want and our plane is waiting, just the way we left it. We also own and fly because it gives back the one thing that we all have the same limited amount of, time.

It still seems surreal to me that I can go to the airport and fly my plane wherever I want.

One of the reasons I bought a Mooney is because they are fast, which means that I can visit family in Arizona in the same amount of time it would take me to drive to San Diego. Maybe you are asking yourself, “Why did he say he traveled to Phoenix in a Mooney Time Machine?”

The answer is simple. If I was driving to Phoenix I would have had to wake up and get on the road by 6am to get to my parents home before lunch. However, by travelling in my Mooney Time Machine I was able to wake up at 6am, have some breakfast, spend some time helping my wife get the home and backyard set up for a baby shower before heading to the airport, and still arrive at my parents before lunch time. “Time Travel.”

We got to the airport and spent extra time on the pre-flight as we had time to kill waiting for the ceiling to lift. Finally the ceiling was high enough for VFR flight, and reports from Riverside and March AFB had higher ceilings with the skies becoming clear prior to the Banning Pass. We watched a couple of planes depart as we pulled the plane out of the hangar. We climbed in, started up, and taxied to the fuel island to top it off. There was another pilot fueling his Beech and I chatted with him about where each of us was flying to. He was headed to Twenty-Nine Palms. After finishing fueling up and a quick bathroom pit-stop we took off, about 5 minutes after the Beech.

Heading East we normally would be above Riverside’s airspace by the time we got t0 it, but we had to stay no more than about 1,000′ AGL (Above Ground Level) to stay below the overcast so I called up the Riverside tower to request transiting their airspace. They asked my altitude and cleared me through.

Flying down low is a lot of fun (although it doesn’t leave you as many options if you have problems) because when you are down lower you really get a feel for the speed you are travelling. We flew along the 91 freeway and headed between the hills to the south of the San Bernardino Airport. The clouds had broken up by that point in the flight so we started our climb to a cruising altitude of 7,500′ and called up SoCal Approach for flight following.

I had seen that there was an Airmet for low-level turbulence when I got my weather breifing so I was expecting a bumpy ride. As we were handed off to the next controller I found out how soon I would be seeing the bumps.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, 7,500”
SoCal: “Mooney 78878, Palm Springs Altimeter 29.91, expect light to moderate chop.”
Me: “29.91, 878.”

Right after that was one more call for traffic.

SoCal: “November 878, traffic 12 o’clock same direction, 5 miles, a Beech, also at 7,500, you’re about 20 knots faster.”
Me: “Thanks, we’re looking for him, 878”

It was the Beech that took off before us at Corona, and it was fun to be told I was overtaking him. We didn’t end up seeing him but we did hear him on the radio requesting a VFR descent to Twentynine Palms.

I thought we were maybe going to be in the clear on the bumpy air because going through the pass it was smooth. I was wrong… Once we were through the pass we found “the chop.” We spent the next portion of the flight bouncing around but the Mooney handled it well and my son enjoyed the “roller coaster” feeling when we would hit an air pocket and bounce up or down. As we were getting ready to leave that sector and get handed off ATC checked in to see about our ride.

(If you’re wondering, I couldn’t remember all the specifics of the conversations so I pulled up the recording. It still seems odd to me to hear my own voice on an ATC recording.)

SoCal: “November 878, how was your ride through my airspace at 7,500?
Me: “It was pretty bumpy.”
SoCal: “Would you classify it as moderate?”
Me: “Yeah, I would give it moderate, is it any smoother up at 9,500?”
SoCal: “Let’s find out, hold on a second. Shuttle 5720 how was the ride for you?”
Shuttle: “We’re in light to moderate right now, it’s getting a little heavier as we get closer to the hills.”
SoCal: “Do you happen to remember when it started?”
Shuttle: “It was below 11,000 but above 11,000 it was okay.”
SoCal: “878 did you hear that? It was mostly smooth above 11,000, do you want to try maybe 95, see what it’s like there and make the decision?”
Me: “Yeah, I’ll go up to 9,500, 878.”
SoCal: “Roger.”

I trimmed it out for a shallow climb and told my son what we were doing.

Me: “We’re going to climb up to 9,500.”
Son: “Why?”
Me: “To see if we can find some smoother air.”
Son: “But I like the bumps.”
Me: “Well, I like it smoother so we’ll try it up higher.”

I guess he can be my flying buddy on the windy, bumpy days…

Once up at 9,500 and a little further East the air was smooth and we were clipping along with a nice tail-wind, showing a ground speeds between 195-201 mph. What a treat that was compared to the 120 mph ground speed I saw when I rented the Cherokee to fly to Phoenix back in November. We landed in Chandler two hours after taking off from Corona.

It was a great visit seeing family and showing the plane to my sisters, nieces, and nephews later in the afternoon. The kids climbed in and grabbed the yokes, pretending to fly with big grins on their faces. We talked about going up flying, but when we got to the airport in the afternoon the winds were strong and getting stronger. I told them that we could wait and go the next time I fly out so we could go flying in the morning when the winds are usually lighter. I knew it was going to bounce us around and wanted their first flights in a small plane to be enjoyable, not a rough ride that might leave them not wanting to fly again…

The next day, Sunday, we climbed back into our Mooney Time Machine to head back home. The winds that were pushing us along upwards of 200 mph across the ground on our trip East were now working against us. We stayed lower at 6,500 where the winds were lighter and we were seeing ground speeds of 145-155 mph.

We had left later in the day, taking advantage of the plane to spend more time with family. I didn’t feel like I was ready to make the whole flight after dark over the un-populated desert, but knew if I could be back to the Palm Springs area before dark I would be fine for the rest of the flight. I’ve flown that area before at night and a comfortable with it.

As we were approaching Palm Springs nature laid out a beautiful sunset for us. The sun was going down right off our nose, framed by the Banning Pass and the high clouds towards the coast. We began our descent and once we had the airport in sight ATC canceled our flight following. There was no traffic in the area or on the radios so we made a straight in, landing with some gusty winds. As we touched down my son looked at me…

Son: “Not your best work dad.”
Me: “Really? Not bad for the winds.”
Son: “It wasn’t that bad, just not as good as the others.”

Everyone is a critic… 🙂

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.