Thomas – PilotsnPaws – Stockton CA to Phoenix AZ

As I am forever looking for excuses to fly, I registered on the PilotsnPaws website a few months ago. It is a very worthwhile organization that works to get dogs out of shelters and into rescues. (I would like to do Angel Flights but I need 250 hours Pilot in Command…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
15 Nov 2017

As I am forever looking for excuses to fly, I registered on the PilotsnPaws website a few months ago. It is a very worthwhile organization that works to get dogs out of shelters and into rescues. (I would like to do Angel Flights but I need 250 hours Pilot in Command and I’m not there yet.) Thomas is a Pomeranian that the shelter had estimated to be about 11 years old which meant that it wouldn’t be long before he was put down. The mission was to get him from near Stockton, CA to a rescue in the Phoenix area.

I already had plans to fly to Phoenix to visit family on November 4th and taking a small dog along for the trip would be easy, but he was about 340 miles north-west of me in the Stockton area. I traded some messages and emails with the coordinator, originally offering to fly half-way there and pick him up in the Fresno area the week before if someone could foster him here in So Cal for the week. A ride south couldn’t be arranged so I offered to make the flight all the way to get him. It was a great way to spend some time flying with my son, he would have the added bonus of having a dog on the flight, and I would get the experience of a long cross country to someplace I had never been before.

Saturday October 28th, 2017

The original  plan was to fly into Stockton. During the flight planning stage I found that fuel at nearby Tracy was much more affordable. I asked if they could meet us at Tracy and found that not only were they willing to do that, but it was actually much closer to the foster home where Thomas was.

The weather cooperated perfectly and we were in the air just after 8am for about a 2:15 flight. As we climbed out over Chino Hills and I saw the marine layer on the other side I was glad I was based inland. Averaging 340+ VFR days a year out of my home airport is awesome.

There were a few bumps as we passed over the hills north of Burbank but it smoothed out once we passed into the Central Valley. Those that live in the mid-west to the east coast they would probably call them mountains as the MEA’s (Minimum En Route IFR Altitudes) for the area run from 7,500-10,400′.

View of the 6-7,000′ “hills” on the way back south, Burbank is just to the right of the nose.

Just a few minutes past the two hour and fifteen minute mark we touched down on runway 30 and taxied to the fuel pumps. I sent a quick text message to the lady bringing Thomas that we were there and before we were done fueling the plane we saw them outside the gate.

Thomas didn’t look anything like his picture. He had been shaved by the animal shelter and did not look like the furball that you expect of a Pomeranian, but he was a sweet little dog. We visited for a little while and they said their goodbyes to Thomas. We took a couple pictures and assured them that we would text when we were back in Corona.

After landing back in Corona I sent a text to the person picking up Thomas with an ETA back in Yorba Linda. A short time later she met us and Thomas was off to a different foster home for the next week. (We already have two dogs and a third for the week wasn’t going to work, but there were some generous people here willing to look after him for the week.)

Saturday November 4th, 2017

I kept a nervous eye on the weather all week. For most of the week the forecast was for rain on Saturday and Sunday. As the week progressed Saturday was looking better but it still looked like we wouldn’t be able to make the return trip Sunday. Yes, I was just bragging about all the VFR days here, but Sunday was forecast not to be one of those days. I was hoping the forecast would be wrong as I wanted to see my family in Arizona and wanted to get Thomas to his new home.

By Friday, Saturday looked like it would be great and while Sunday looked bad in the morning by about 4 o’clock or so it was forecast to be VFR conditions. There might still be some cloud cover but it would be high enough (4-5,000′ overcast) that we could duck underneath after the Banning Pass and still finish our trip home. With a solid plan I asked them to drop Thomas off at 6:45 am Saturday.

At 6:45am on the nose I received a text that she was back with Thomas and we went out front to meet them. His coat had grown back just a little and she had bought him a little sweater to help keep him warm. A short drive to the airport followed by pre-flight and then we were loading up in the plane.

It was a beautiful morning to fly, the sky was clear and the air was cool. The plane climbed well as the propeller took advantage of the thicker cool air, and there was a misty haze hanging in the valleys. A lone hot air balloon stood out against the lighter haze below just south of Hemet.

It was a quick climb to 7,500′ where we were enjoying tailwinds and ground speeds in excess of 170 mph. There was an Airmet for low level turbulence and we found some of that rough air shortly after going through the Banning Pass. I told my wife that if it didn’t improve we would try 9,500′ so after bouncing around for a bit I called up ATC asking for a climb to 9,500′. (I have been told that in some places if you are on VFR Flight Following the controllers don’t want you to bother them with altitude changes. However, here the SoCal Approach folks seem to appreciate it so I always ask. If you have followed my other posts you remember a few times where ATC denied the altitude change because of conflicting traffic so I feel it is a good practice.)

Whether it was smoother because we were higher or because we were further from the mountains I don’t know, but I know that my wife appreciated it.

It was a busy morning in the skies around Phoenix. I heard ATC deny two planes passage through the VFR corridors and a third that was told to hold outside the Bravo airspace.  Chandler tower instructed me to make straight in for runway 4L and to call at a four mile final but as I was passing a five mile final the tower called us up again and cleared us to land.

I stopped at the fuel pump and my wife and son walked over to the terminal with Thomas to meet the lady picking him up. Once fueled I taxied over to the transient parking and tied the plane down.  We learned that the rescue takes in 8-10 dogs a month and that there is a big demand for Pomeranians there in the Phoenix area and a lot of them in shelters in California. She said they used to have a pilot that made regular flights for them but he had moved to another part of the country. I told her that I frequently fly from SoCal to Phoenix and would let them know anytime I was flying to see if they needed help with transport. It was a lot of fun to help out.

Saying goodbye to Thomas

Sunday November 5th, 2017

We had a great time visiting family but there was still one more leg of the trip to fly, the return trip home. I checked on the weather Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. It was looking like we would need to leave by 4:30pm AZ time to be back over the Palm Springs area as the sun went down and it began to get dark. If the skies were going to be clear I would have planned for 30 minutes later but it was possible we would need to duck under a 4-5,000′ overcast layer and I didn’t want to do that in the dark.

The flight back was much slower… That great tailwind we had on the way East was right in our face on the way back West. Ground speeds hung around the 140 mph mark, dropping as low as 115 mph as we approached the Banning Pass. I was glad we were in the Mooney, if we had been in one of the Cherokees I trained in the traffic below us would have been passing us. It was a beautiful flight back, and somewhere north of the Salton Sea I passed 200 hours of flight.

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