I hadn’t been flying, or even out to the airport in almost two weeks. Usually around the 7 day mark I start to get the itch to get back up in the air, as two weeks approached I really wanted to go flying…
Plans were made with a friend to go someplace for breakfast on Saturday morning. We weren’t sure quite yet where we would go as it was dependent upon the weather. The options were Torrance (KTOA) to catch an Uber down to the pier, Palomar (KCRQ) with a restaurant on the field, or Borrego Springs (L08) where there is also a restaurant on the field. Torrance would have had the bonus of flying over the Long Beach Harbor with the Queen Mary and USS Iowa while if we went to Palomar we were going to fly back north along the coast and see it we could do a little whale watching along the way.
Saturday morning began with Corona, Torrance, and Palomar all checking in at MVFR (Marginal Visual Flight Rules) with low ceilings. Knowing the forecast was calling for those low ceilings in the morning we had planned to meet at 8:30am to give it time to clear a little.
A little after 9am after the clouds had lifted some and pre-flight was done we were heading down to the fuel pumps with a plan to go to Palomar which was reporting overcast at 3,400′. After fueling and a run-up we took runway 25 at 9:20am, I pushed the throttle all the way in, and we were rolling along, prop turning at 2,700 rpm and the speed quickly building to 70 mph at which point she started climbing. There was an Airmet for low level turbulence and it was a little bumpy but not too bad. On a clear day I would have climbed up to 6,500′ for the flight which would have been smoother, but with the overcast we were cruising along at 2,500′ while I kept a constant eye on the cloud situation.
As we passed Lake Elsinore about 35 miles north of Palomar I was able to pick up the ATIS. The weather on my tablet was still reporting overcast at 3,400′, however the most current weather from the ATIS had overcast at 3,200′ and broken at 1,400′. Cloud coverage is reported as Clear -> Few -> Scattered -> Broken -> Overcast. As we progressed to the south I monitored the Palomar Tower and the ATIS recording, considering the options. The problem with a broken layer is that it is just one step down from overcast and not something I can fly through.
As we approached the southern end of the valley where the hills begin rising and interstate 15 heads through a pass between a couple of 2,400′ hills I made my decision to divert and began a shallow left banking turn. As we turned I told my friend that we were going to go to French Valley instead and have breakfast there. (Borrego Springs, while reporting clear skies, was not an option because we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough to get over the mountains en-route. Later over breakfast as we were talking about the flight and the decision to turn back he said that as we were flying along he was wondering if I was going to turn back and when that would be.
The landing at French Valley was not on center-line, but the breakfast was good… After a good breakfast and some great time visiting we hopped in the Mooney for the quick trip back to Corona. Another sub-par landing later (I guess they can’t all be greasers) and we were back at the hangar.