What’s it like flying in minimum VFR conditions? Not nearly as fun as flying with unlimited visibility. Go snorkeling or scuba diving when you have a 20′ visibility, then go somewhere in the Caribbean or Hawaii where you have hundreds of feet visibility and you get the idea. Both of them can be enjoyable, but one is much better than the other.
Everything looked good when I left home to drive to the airport, but once I got through the canyon and heading up the 71 to Chino I started wondering if I was going to be able to fly today. It was extremely hazy, lots of dust in the air. Before I even got out of the car I pulled up the current weather at KCNO and it said visibility was 3mi and there was a 3,000′ ceiling. A little further south at KAJO it was 3mi and 3,300′ ceiling while at my destination of Palomar (KCRQ) it was 12mi visibility with 12,000′ ceilings. The weather was going to be getting better the further south I went, and it was supposed to be improving here at KCNO as the afternoon progressed so I decided to make a go of it and headed inside.
My CFI was off on a long XC IFR flight with a student so it was just me for the pre-flight and heading out on my own. It still seems a bit strange to me that there I was, a grand total of 17 flights, 26.4 hours, 73 TO/Landings, and the school was just letting me fly away in one of their planes…
Pre-flight was done, I hooked up the GoPro, started up the engine and taxied to the end of the hanger row. After checking the ATIS and getting taxi clearance from ground I went to the run-up area, performed run-up, everything looked good, rolled out to the hold short line and called up the tower.
I had requested Flight Following and the tower assigned my squawk before take off. I received clearance, took off, and shortly thereafter contacted SOCAL.
Me: “SOCAL Approach, Cherokee 4132Juliet, 1,800 2 miles south of Chino, climbing 2,500.”
SOCAL: “32Juliet, you have rising terrain off your 12 o’clock, please advise if you have it in sight.”
(At this point I was heading SE towards the 91/15 interchange and the only terrain I had in front of me were the hills South of Lake Matthews, which were still quite a ways away.)
Me: “I don’t have the terrain in sight yet.”
SOCAL: “If you don’t have the terrain in sight, suggest changing heading 10 degrees to the East.”
(That doesn’t make any sense as it just points me more directly at the hills, maybe he’s talking about the mountains to the SW of Corona?)
Me: “I see the mountains of to my 2 o’clock.”
SOCAL: “Okay, if you see those then you can continue your present course.”
(Yep, those were the ones he was talking about…)
SOCAL: “What altitude are you planning?”
Me: “I’m going to stay at 2,500 for now.”
(I know that the ceiling was 3,000 over KCNO and 3,300′ over KAJO but I really have no way of knowing where the haze ends and the overcast begins and I have to stay 500′ below it. I can see a little sun starting to peek through, but want to get a little further south before climbing up.)
SOCAL: “Ok, you’re going to be below our radar coverage, squawk 1200, frequency change approved.”
Just like that, kicked to the curb…but not a big deal at all. Without flying at a higher altitude they weren’t going to be able to see me once I got past the mountains. I had planned for not having Flight Following just in case and had all the frequencies for everything along the way on my flight plan so switched over to the Lake Matthews frequency and made a radio call with my position. Others in the area chimed in with their positions and I continued on, keeping eyes peeled for traffic. As I approached Lake Elsinore the haze went away and I switched over to the frequency there and continued making radio calls.
The rest of the flight down was uneventful, if a little bumpy in places where the hot day was creating some decent thermals over the barren hills. I got close enough to get the ATIS from KCRQ and contacted the tower. They gave me a “modified straight in approach” and I began my descnet. After the night practice with my CFI the landing was much better than on my last XC solo.
A short stay on the ground and I was back on my way up into the sky and heading NE towards Temecula. I love taking off from Palomar and seeing the ocean.
I switched over to SOCAL to see if I could get Flight Following for the way back but they were really busy. Before I even got a chance to call in I listened to them deny two others requests for Flight Following so I decided to skip it and just kept my squawk of 1200 and monitored frequencies on the way back, making calls when I was approaching Lake Elsinore and Lake Matthews. By the time I was back at KCNO the visibility was up to 6mi and much more enjoyable. The landing there was one of my better ones, I used the trim to help stabilize my approaches today instead of just using the yoke and that made a big difference.
I’m looking forward to my night XC next week.