Hemet at Night

It isn’t good for an aircraft engine to sit for too long without running, and it probably isn’t good for pilots to sit too long without flying either… Keeping those two things in mind I wanted to get out and back in the air, it had been about 10 days…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
11 Apr 2018

It isn’t good for an aircraft engine to sit for too long without running, and it probably isn’t good for pilots to sit too long without flying either… Keeping those two things in mind I wanted to get out and back in the air, it had been about 10 days since the last time I flew.

I took a change of clothes and my flight bag to work and went straight to the airport after . The winds were blowing from the west and as I was looking out to the coast on my way there was a very thick marine layer that was moving in. As long as it didn’t make it past the mountains or through the pass it wouldn’t be an issue.

I took my time doing pre-flight on the plane and then taxied down to the fuel island since I hadn’t fueled up when we returned from Arizona last week. Before I got out of the plane I could feel a couple of wind gusts hit the plane and knew it was going to be a little rough. There were two Cessnas flying the pattern working on their landings and they were getting quite the workout. The Mooney handles crosswind and gusty conditions much better than the high wing Cessna.

As I finished fueling and climbed back in the plane I made a note of the clouds coming over the top of Santiago Peak. They were tight to the top of the mountain and it looked like a foamy wave had just washed over the peak and stopped. I kept checking them as I taxied down to the run-up area and also kept an eye on the Cessna on final approach. He was bouncing around just trying to stay lined up with the runway in the gusty conditions. I would report what the winds were but the automated recording said that the winds were “missing…” Oh well, I knew where they were coming from and that they were gusting, I also knew from the way they felt while fueling that I had flown in stronger winds so I wasn’t worried.

As I finished my run-up I took another look at the clouds on the mountain and tried to tell if they were moving or stationary. It looked like they were moving a little but not too fast. I planned to land at Hemet (KHMT) and the land at Redlands (KREI), both airports that I had not been to before. The sun had set so it would be good practice to navigate to and land at unfamiliar airports at night.

I took off on 25 and made a left crosswind departure to the south-east, climbing and bouncing my way up to 3,500′, the bounces coming courtesy of the winds coming over the top of Santiago Peak. I backed the RPM’s down to 2,400 and pulled the power back to 22″ to settle into a nice low altitude/low power cruise but was still showing 145 mph IAS (Indicated Airspeed) and was showing t 138 mph over the ground at those reduced power settings.

I was able to pick out the airport beacon from the other lights on the ground from about 15 miles out and made my first radio call at 10 miles. At about 7 miles I activated the runway lights. If you have never been in  a small plane at night looking for an airport it is hard to describe how cool it is when you activate the runway lights. You are flying along and where a moment before there was just a sea of blackness there is suddenly a row of parallel white lights appearing out ahead in the darkness.

I entered a left downwind for runway 23, dropped my gear as I passed the end of the runway, started putting in the flaps, and then came around to land. I was a little high but  had plenty of runway to work with and held it off until I touched down just past the 1,000′ markers and exited the runway to taxi back.

As I was flying east toward Hemet I could see low clouds in the fading light coming up from the south. I thought about continuing on to Redlands but considered that if the clouds were coming around from the south of the mountains it was possible they could start coming around through the canyon pass by Corona so I decided to just head back to Corona and not risk getting stuck landing and leaving my plane somewhere else.

I took off on 23 for a straight out departure and could see the runway lights at French Valley to the south with the clouds steadily advancing north. The thin layer of low lying clouds with the city lights glowing below was a beautiful sight. By the time I would land in Corona about 15 minutes later French Valley would be reporting IFR conditions.

The winds were still missing from the AWOS recording but I knew they were still coming out of the west and that I would be landing on 25. I also knew they were still gusting from the way the plane was handling.  On short final I was dancing on the rudder pedals and there was plenty of work with the yoke to keep the plane lined up on the center-line. Considering the gusting conditions and landing at night it was a nice landing.

It was a great little night of flying, a trip to a new airfield, a couple of night landings, a little bouncing around in light turbulence, and beautiful city lights glowing beneath the clouds.

It turned out that I could have made the flight to Redlands as well. The marine layer never made it that far north and inland, Corona stayed clear conditions all night. Still, better to play it on the conservative side.

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