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.