3 Days – 4 Flights – 3 Birthdays

This post is going to be a little different than past posts for a few of reasons. First, I’m writing it a week after it happened. Second, I have a lot of pictures that I want to put into it. Third, it is combining multiple flights, over multiple days, into…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
19 Nov 2016

This post is going to be a little different than past posts for a few of reasons. First, I’m writing it a week after it happened. Second, I have a lot of pictures that I want to put into it. Third, it is combining multiple flights, over multiple days, into one post.

Day 1

I asked my wife what she wanted to do for her birthday and she said “Let’s go fly somewhere.” (Woohoo!) I reserved a plane and scheduled to take the day off work. I had two flight plans in mind.

Plan A: We were going to be flying in the morning and if it was clear along the coast we would fly south towards Lake Elsinore and once past Santiago Peak we would turn towards the coast. Getting to the coast at about San Clemente (just north of the restricted airspace above Camp Pendleton) we would then fly north along the coast past Dana Point and Laguna Beach before either tracing our route back over the hills or heading directly north back to Chino.

Plan B: If there was a marine layer we would take a short flight down to French Valley Airport and have brunch at the cafe.

The day before it was clear all day along the coast and the forecast called for the same thing on her birthday. Sure enough, when I woke up and took a look all of the airports in the area were clear skies and great visibility.

Ready to go
Ready to go

I requested flight following saying that we would be flying to the coast just south of John Wayne. I guess they can only put into the system an airport as a destination. After leaving Chino I checked in with SoCal Approach and then continued South-East towards Lake Elsinore. As we crossed over the 91 freeway and weren’t heading the traditional route to John Wayne SoCal called me up.

SoCal: “November 05Juliet, are you going to John Wayne?”
Me: “No, we’re actually headed towards the coast just south of John Wayne around Dana Point.”
SoCal: “Roger.”

We got past Santiago Peak and turned towards the coast. As we passed over the hills it got a little bumpy and my wife closed her eyes for a minute or two… But, once we were past the hills it smoothed back out and was a beautiful day. We flew along up the coast and it was gorgeous.

Doheny State Beach and Dana Point Harbor
Doheny State Beach and Dana Point Harbor
Catalina Island
Catalina Island


Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach
Balboa Island and Newport Harbor
Balboa Island and Newport Harbor

After the bumpy ride over the hills I decided that I would ask to climb to 2,500′ as we turned north and then later 3,000′ to stay under John Wayne’s airspace, heading along the west side of the mountains on the way back to Chino. SoCal gave me the 2,500′ but told me we would have to cross over midfield at John Wayne to stay out of the way of traffic. It was pretty fun flying right over the airport at 2,500′.

John Wayne Airport
John Wayne Airport

Our route took us to the west so we looped around the no-fly zone at Disneyland before heading back east towards Chino.

Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure

The winds were coming out of the East so the active runways at Chino were 8R and 8L. That was a new experience after 100+ landings on 26R and 26L to be coming into the airport from the opposite direction.

Day 2

Another beautiful day to fly, another vacation day from work, and this time a flight with my boys to Arizona for my Dad’s and one of my little sister’s birthdays.

Ready to go
Ready to go

Again we picked up flight following, it’s always nice to have another set of eyes looking out for traffic for you. The boys had fun taking pictures along the way.

Perris Reservoir
Perris Reservoir



They stayed awake long enough for us to cross the Colorado River into Arizona.

03 04 07

The school says that the Cherokee flies at 123mph true air speed, it doesn’t… It was more like around 115mph and we had a 15-20mph headwind which made for some slow progress. Looking down at the traffic on Interstate 10 we were at times moving just slightly faster than them, but it was still fun. However it wasn’t long before both boys decided that the trip goes by faster if they’re sleeping.

05 06

Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant
Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant

It was smooth air just about the whole way as we were handed off from one controller to the next. We were just approaching the south end of the Estrella Mountains when Phoenix Approach had us start looking for some traffic.

Approach: “November 05Juliet, you have traffic off your two-o’clock, about 5 miles, 4,200′, looks like they are climbing.” (We were flying at 5,500′)
Me: “We’re looking for that traffic, 05Juliet

Shortly after that…

Approach: “November 05Juliet, turn due South for traffic.”
Me: “Due South, 05Juliet.” (Just was we started making the turn I saw the other plane/planes. It was a tow plane and a glider.)
Me: “Approach, we have that traffic and will pass behind them.”
Approach: “Maintain separation and then resume navigation.”
Me: “Will resume navigation after passing them, 05Juliet.”


I pointed the planes out to the boys and explained to them how the one was a glider and didn’t have an engine, that’s why he was being pulled. We watched them go by and as they got near the mountains the glider released.

Son: “Woah! What just happened?”

That was a chance to tell him more about how gliders work.

I had picked up the ATIS information previously and was looking forward to a not so difficult landing. The winds were variable at 4 knots which shouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong, or should I say the ATIS was wrong. The tower had given me a straight in approach and I got stabilized, 1st notch of flaps, getting closer. 2nd notch of flaps, having a hard time staying lined up. Last notch of flaps, now on short final, and I am really having a hard time staying lined up. As I was approaching the end of the runway and getting ready to pull power I caught a wind gust, was pushed sideways to where I was going to miss the runway, and immediately went full power and took out the third notch of flaps.

Once I was climbing back up I took out the second notch of flaps and about halfway down the length of the runway with a free moment I told the tower I was going around (which they obviously already knew). They told me to make left closed traffic and I took out the last notch of flaps while climbing to pattern altitude and entering the pattern. Glancing over at my boys I saw my oldest son with his head bowed (offering what I knew was a quick prayer for safety, and my youngest son in the back seat holding onto the strap by his head. I have done go arounds before in training and during my check-ride, but this was the first time I had to go around because the landing just wasn’t going to happen. As I was on the downwind leg I decided I would give it one more try (there was obviously a gusty crosswind that the ATIS didn’t report) and if it wasn’t going to work we would make the short hop over to Williams-Gateway and I would just tell my sister to pick us up there. They have nice 150′ wide runways, 10,000+’ long, and are oriented differently.

This time I was able to do a much better job staying lined up and although I missed the center-line and landed to the left of it, I was able to put it on the ground and we taxied to the transient parking area.

Everyone is smiling again after landing, although all three of us were a little nervous after the first landing attempt
Everyone is smiling again after landing, although all three of us were a little nervous after the first landing attempt

I had to take a picture of the flag at the base of the Control Tower after we landed. It was standing straight out which was also a direct crosswind. I don’t know how strong the winds were to make it stand out that way, but it wasn’t a variable 4 knot wind…

We successfully surprised my dad by showing up for his 75th birthday. The plan was to take him on a birthday flight, but after the crazy landing I told him I wanted to wait until the morning when the winds should be calm. Later that evening was a fun party for him and my sister who shares a birthday with him.

Day 3

It was a nice calm morning when we got to the airport. I had been talking to a guy about buying his Mooney for about three weeks and he was nice enough to fly it in and meet us there so I could take a look at it. It looks like a great plane and we were able to come to an agreement on it. Pending an annual inspection I’ll be buying it at the beginning of December! That will make the trip so much nicer to cruise along around 160mph instead of 115mph… More information will be forthcoming at a later date. 🙂

One of my sisters had come with my dad and I to the airport. Apparently I was spending too much time with the owner talking about his plane because I got  “Mom just texted and breakfast is going to be ready soon” from my sister. I said goodbye to the owner, we shook hands, and he was nice enough to take a picture for us before he flew off.


After a pre-flight I started it up. On my bucket list after getting my PPL was to take my dad on a flight and land at Williams. My dad was in the Air Force for 20 years and retired as a Lt Colonel. He’s my hero. He spent a lot of time flying as an instructor pilot in T-38’s and then also flew C-130’s and HC-130’s. He spent countless hours flying at what was then Williams Air Force Base and to be able fly him there would be very special.

Williams is only about 10 miles from Chandler so I got the ATIS information for Williams before departing. We departed runway 4L from Chandler and shortly after that I was given the frequency change and talking to Williams. We were cleared to land on 12R. My dad said in all the years at Williams he almost never landed on 12, they were always using 30.




We settled in for a nice landing on 12R (I was relieved that I actually still knew how to land after the gusty crosswind landing of the day before) and I immediately took the flaps out and went full power for the touch n go. After the flight my dad was commenting on how long it took to get to the runway. A final approach at 80mph in a Cherokee is much slower than around the 170 knots (apprx 195mph) that he was typically flying on approach in the T-38’s.

We departed Williams and made the turn to the right, entering a right base for runway 4R and again settled in for a nice landing. My sister commented that it was better than a lot of commercial landings she has had. Both my dad and sister said that it was amazing how peaceful it was, as slow as we were going it felt like you were just floating up there.

Back on the ground, everyone's smiling and want to go again sometime
Back on the ground, everyone’s smiling and want to go again sometime

Still Day 3

After brunch we visited at my parents for a little bit before getting a ride back over to the airport. I was looking forward to hopefully having a tail-wind for the flight back. I pre-flighted the plane and then started it up to taxi over and get some gas. The boys found some shade while I filled the tanks.

Hanging out in the shade under the stabilator

After taking off on runway 4L we turned downwind and started to climb out. Chandler is under the 6,000′ shelf of Phoenix Sky Harbor, but the Cherokee doesn’t climb very fast. I contacted Phoenix Approach and picked up flight following for the return trip. That extra set of eyes came in handy when we were given a traffic alert and a new heading. As we turned left to the new heading I saw the other plane heading straight towards us. He was a little lower than us and off to the right, but had we not turned it would have still been close. As I’ve said before, it’s always nice to have that extra set of eyes looking out for you.

After getting out from under Phoenix’s airspace we climbed up to 6,500′ and that headwind that slowed us down on the trip to AZ was thankfully now a tailwind and we were enjoying 125-130mph ground speed. (Can’t wait to make that flight in a Mooney). My older son stayed awake for the whole flight but it wasn’t long before the hoodie went on to block out the sun and my younger boy was out.

He's somewhere back there in the back seat.
He’s somewhere back there in the back seat.

The desert is beautiful to fly over.


The high, thin overcast made for a beautiful picture of the Salton Sea.

dscn0069 salton-sea

We arrived back at Chino and walked into the lobby of the school at 2:45pm, 15 minutes before the plane was due back. Three days of flying, about 850 miles flown, three birthdays, and memories to last a lifetime.

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