Repost: SFO Up Close & Personal


Fifteen years ago

Although it was July already, June gloom still prevailed. Early morning fog, gave each morning a caliginous beginning. But nothing could deter my excitement on this day. It was 4th of July and I was scheduled to fly with my instructor to the San Francisco Bay Area to fly the unofficial “Bay Tour”. Ceilings as low as 100 ft, delayed our early departure. The fog was gradually beginning to lift off, as we stood on the airport tarmac, trying to guess the altitude at which the just the departed aircraft would disappear, giving us a clear indication of the cloud bases. “800 ft, I think,” observed my instructor, which was later confirmed on ATIS. This was a reasonable ceiling for our departure. Seat belts fastened, floatable devices stowed away in the baggage compartment and cameras in hand, we were ready to depart by 10:30 a.m.

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Repost: O Shenandoah


Eight years ago…

The weather this year has been marvelous so far. Winter almost non existent. Who could have expected 70’s in March even before the official start of spring? Unlike previous years, the DC99s were off to a good start to the flying season. Spring not here and already two flyouts accomplished. Quite unlike the last two years.

The day dawned, hazy with fog over much of the Shenandoah Valley. But clearing slowly but surely. Ted and I departed Manassas, on a sunny,calm but hazy Saturday. It was Ted’s first cross country flight since his check ride last December. Clouds and haze still hugged the rugged Shenandoah mountains, as we traced our way west and then south looking for a dip in the ridge to cross over to the Valley. Landing at the airport,we awaited the arrival of the other aircraft that had departed from FDK. It truly was a glorious day for flying!

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Repost: Ten years ago – Planes, Trains and Automobiles


“An evening in Tangier Island”

Rush hour in DC is a nightmare! To think I could get to Manassas airport in an hour was wish full thinking. On a good weekend in light traffic it generally takes me 45 minutes to an hour. The trip out of DC was almost straight forward: a twenty minute train ride out to Alexandria to pick up my car at the metro station. Then the nightmare began. With almost every highway backed up, it was a ridiculous two hours later with endless stop and go driving, trying to find a highway that would get me to the airport fastest, that I finally arrived an hour late for my evening flight to Tangier Island organized by my flight school.

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Avalon: Airport in the Sky


Fly 'n Things

“A Mediterranean resort off the coast of Southern California”
Now that my Instrument training was finally over, I was ready for new adventures. The past few months had been hectic and nerve racking. Instrument training is very demanding and I am glad that, it is finally behind me. Browsing through “Fun places to fly in California” I thought I may as well start with the first airport listed there, which happened to be Avalon. I have wanted to fly to Avalon for sometime now. I had been under the misapprehension that I needed some kind of checkout prior to attempting to fly there. As it turned out, the flying club I rented from had no such restriction.

So it happened, that my friend Michelle and I set out from SBP airport one fine September morning. Low clouds and fog had laced the morning skies over SBP rendering the airspace IFR…

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Lancaster, CA


Mate-De-mate, Mojave, and Mystery

Flying in California was extremely easy. Not only was the weather sunny and perfect for flying much of the year, but also pilots eager and ready for an opportunity to go flying. Most GA airports had restaurants on the field for that coveted ham/veg burger. There were ample events such as airport days, air shows, hanger parties, monthly pilot group meetings, hosting of events such photo rallies, air races, poker runs, safety seminars, and many more. One of the events that I really looked forward to after obtaining my PPL was the Southwest Section 99s meetings.

Held in Spring and Fall, the events spanned from Thursday through Sunday, hosted at locations with plenty of activities to attract large groups of pilots and always fun to meet and interact with other pilots. Southwest Section comprises of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Hawaii, with more than 1600 members and 57 chapters. Section meetings are typically hosted by chapters and in the fall of 2003, the meeting was hosted by the Antelope Valley 99s based at Lancaster’s William J Fox (WJF) airport.

Ever enthusiastic, Grace and I set off for Lancaster for our second attendance at a section meeting after our very exciting experience at Columbia. Friday was a busy day with a trip out to NASA Dryden and Edwards Air Force Base. First half of the morning was spent at NASA Dryden viewing the latest research vehicles such as the heavily modified McDonnel Douglas NF-15B fitted with neural network control systems or Intelligent Flight Control Systems (IFCS). We also got to see and climb partway, the Shuttle MDD (Mate/Demate Device) Facility.  This was where the shuttle was brought after a landing at Edwards AFB, to be mated to the NASA 747 carrier to be transported back to Florida.

Following lunch on the base with the guest of honor, the Deputy head of NASA Dryden, we drove out to Edwards AFB flight-line for a viewing of aircraft parked in the transient/hanger spaces, aircraft such as an F-14 doing touch and goes and others taxing to the runway for take-off. There are at least 18 runways on the base, most of them along the flat lake-bed.

The theme for the banquet was 1940s. Several guests had donned costumes. To make matters worse, it was also a Mystery Dinner. There were several nurses, doctors, army officers and more. Who was an actor and who was a guest was a mystery. Is Captain Patton walking about with a batten, greeting everyone in his military voice, an actor or is he someone’s spouse?  There was music with hit songs from Chicago such as “All that Jazz”, great dancing, and some excellent action. Patton it seems might not be whom one thinks he is! Murder and mystery were definitely in the air that night.

The next day in the afternoon we set off to Mohave Airport. The airport is a civilian test training center. AvTech, the company based at the airport manages and maintains commercial aircraft not in operation. There were almost 80 such aircraft parked on the day we visited. According to the AvTech personnel who served as our guide, after 9/11 they were receiving almost 30 aircraft per day. It takes about 7 days to restore an aircraft to make it airworthy and ready for flight. Afterwards we drove to the offices of Scaled Composites and spent almost two hours inside Burt Rutan’s hanger, underneath First Knight his Spaceship One launch vehicle, while Rutan spoke explaining his design, problems encountered and how they were fixed.

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All in all, another fantastic section meeting filled with space, murder and mystery.

Hawthorne


“Hawthorne Flight Service
Press 1 to Speak to a Preflight Briefer”

This almost makes me feel nostalgic. Through out my flight training and initial years after getting my private pilot license (PPL), I dialed 1-800-WX-BRIEF and heard this same recording many a time. Sometimes it was just a planning period trying to gauge what the weather was doing or to get the latest forecast. Sometimes it was the moment before a flight when I chose to speak to the briefer to get the weather briefing or file a flight plan.

A Flight Service Station is an air traffic facility which provides pilot briefings, flight plan processing, en-route flight advisories, search and rescue services, and assistance to lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations. It also can relay ATC clearances, process Notices to Airmen, broadcast aviation weather and aeronautical information, and advise Customs and Immigration of trans-border flights. In the 1960’s, there were 297 flight service stations in operation.  The first automated flight service station (AFSS) was launched in Denver in 1982 and by the end of 1995, existing flight service stations were consolidated into 61 AFSSs. Today’s FSS is more virtual than physical. With apps and flight planning software, much of the charm of using the services of an FSS is fast receding. Pilots these days prefer the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) apps as opposed to call-in or walk-in flight briefer.

Hawthorne Flight Service Center is based at Hawthorne Airport, a stone’s throw away from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Operational since 1985, the station serves the area extending from Orange County to Paso Robles, CA.

It was summer of 2003, when my flying buddy Grace and I set off to visit our friends at Hawthorne Flight Service with whom we spoke so often. Flying to Hawthorne meant transitioning the LAX Class B airspace. There are several VFR routes for the convenience of pilots transitioning through this area: coastal or shoreline route, mini route, Colosseum, or Hollywood Park route.  Based on LAX airport configuration for the day and air traffic density in the region, arrival and destination airport, one of the routes can be assigned to pilots.

On this day, our assigned route was the Shoreline Route. It is quite impressive flying  by LAX, with views of arriving and departing aircraft, busy SOCAL freeways, crowded beaches and downtown LA. After visiting with the Hawthorne FSS, it was time to trace our way back home. The departure from Hawthorne presents some interesting challenges as well.  The proximity t o LAX meant that we had to climb to altitude quickly through a narrow space which meant a boxed climb to cruise of 3,500 ft and this time a transition through the mini route. We headed home enthused after our very successful adventures traversing LAX Class B airspace and visiting Hawthorne FSS.

References:
ATC History
The Evolution of Flight Service Stations
FAA Facility going up at Hawthorne Airport
Helping the GA Community for over 90 years
LAX Class B VFR Transition Routes

Columbia


Camping, Gold Mines, Seaplanes and Taylorcrafts

I learnt to fly in a Cessna 152 (C152), a two-seater high wing aircraft. It is interesting to note as I peruse my logbook, that as I upgraded to a 4-seater after obtaining my license, it was a Piper Archer (PA-181) that was the first aircraft that I got checked out in, which also allowed me to fly the Piper Warrior (PA-161). Although, I did eventually get checked out in a Cessna 172 (C172) six months later, it was almost 1-2 years later, that I started flying the C172 more frequently, not the least because they were newer and better equipped than the Piper aircraft available at the flight school.

It was Spring of 2003, when Grace and I set off in a C172, north to Columbia Airport (O22) for our very first attendance at the 99s Southwest Section Meeting. Columbia airport is located in the foothills, northwest of Yosemite National Park. Airport elevation is 2120 ft and there are two runways with the longest one 4675 x 75 ft. Definitely a challenge for someone who often flies into airports with long and wide runways. This can be compounded, especially summertime, when density altitude can further add to the challenge. It was most definitely a challenge for me. Proof?

Logbook entry reads:
“Perfect day! 2 go-arounds. Flew formation in Taylorcraft with Charles Ross”

Columbia airport also quite conveniently has a campground attached for that fly in and camping events. While the Section Meeting itself was hosted at a nearby hotel, Grace and I planned to camp by our aircraft. It was the first weekend of May (Mother’s Day) and a group of Taylorcraft owners had flown in for their annual fly-in and camping event and we had good company.

The highlight of the Section Meeting was the Safety Seminar Seaplane Operations out of High Sierra Lakes and attendees had the option to sign up for a flight if interested. The seminar certainly sparked an interest in Seaplane lessons, and I hoped to return sometime in the future to get that rating at Sierra Lakes. Another highlight of the trip was the tour of a Gold Mine.

Visiting Columbia is like traveling back in time to the sights, smells, and sounds of a nineteenth century mining town. Columbia State Historic Park, located in the heart of the California Mother Lode, is a living gold rush town featuring the largest single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in the state. In 1850’s, after gold was first discovered thousands of people arrived and the town grew in size. It is noted that about $150 million in gold was removed from the surrounding hills between 1850 and early 1900s.

About that formation flight? Grace and I had made friends with our Taylorcraft neighbors and on Sunday morning, had the opportunity to fly with Charles in his Taylorcraft while he and his friend wanted to do some practice formation flying. It was a perfect spring day and Charles even let me do some flying, although he thought my taxiing skills sucked!

 All in all, a perfect weekend with a lot of fun: Camping, Gold Mines, Seaplanes and Taylorcrafts.

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SEZ Who?


The earth has music for those who listen
— William Shakespeare

Sedona,  a land of timeless beauty, surrounded by magnificent, natural red rock sculptures and pristine National Forest. Standing about 4,300ft above sea level, centrally located less than two hours north of Phoenix and just two hours south of the Grand Canyon, it is one of the most spectacular secrets of the world. Erosion has sculptured this masterpiece for over 350 million years.

As we drove north, I was almost disappointed. All that we saw were pine trees and the landscape looked no different from other countrysides. When we had set off it was hot and 90 degrees.

“Isn’t early morning better for a flight?” I had asked.
“No, anytime is fine,” was the response.

Checking the forecast that morning, I wondered how the day would play out. With thunderstorms in the forecast, chances of pulling off this flight were diminishing. I weighed the odds of planning something else as opposed to keeping the afternoon open and have my flying plans cancelled.

We arrived at Flagstaff (FLG) airport a little early, eager to take to the skies. Fred, the instructor at Wiseman Aviation who was going to fly with us had assured us that thunderstorms in the forecast were not a factor. In no time we preflighted and departed with me at the controls and Fred’s able guidance. He made sure to remind me about the the departure procedures, density altitude and other necessary details. Fred was also our tour guide, as he pointed out landmarks along the way – painted dessert, canyons, native American dwellings, dormant volcanoes, Sun coast crater, ski areas and more.

When I put together my flying bucket list a few years ago, I had added Sedona and Grand Canyon as an after thought. My interest had been sparked by the beautiful aerial images that Greg Brown had posted on his blog and in articles he has written over the years. Despite seeing the images, and reading the articles, nothing really prepares one for the incredible views not just from the air, but even from the ground.

We looped around flying turns about a point over key landmarks, awestruck by the natural beauty of the land, painstakingly etched over millions of years. With lots of help from Fred, I made my first landing at Sedona (SEZ). Taxing back, we took off again and this time climbed slowly to 10,500ft as we overflew Falgstaff airspace to make our way to the Flagstaff Snowbowl, a ski area very popular during the winter months. With spring here, the ski areas were deserted. But we could easily identify the ski slopes, the ski lifts and resort area.

In good time we retraced our path back to Flagstaff and all too soon the flight ended. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend looking up Wiseman Aviation. If you have the time, you can do an aircraft checkout and rent an aircraft to fly. If not, take Fred.

Sedona does have a restaurant on the field: Mesa Grill. Although we did not stop on the day of the flight for a meal, we did have breakfast there. And I highly recommend staying at the Sky Ranch Lodge that is next to the airport and within walking distance to the Mesa Grill. While there, hike the airport loop for some spectacular views of the Sedona red canyons!

And that bucket list item, I think I will leave it on.

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Fresh on Fridays: Niagara Falls


Two years ago finally flew over Niagara Falls

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Note: Some photographs courtesy my co-pilot Gert.

See Also:

Where is Goat Island?

Fresh on Fridays: Countdown to OSH#3


Hee Haw! Great Balls of Fire!

See you in OSH!