Birthday Lunch in Santa Maria

A great day for a flight. A late birthday lunch in Santa Maria? Let’s see, it’s 196 miles and 3:44 by car or 182 miles and about 1:20 by Mooney. That’s close enough for a lunch trip, right? We weren’t going to be able to get an early start and…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
15 Sep 2018

A great day for a flight. A late birthday lunch in Santa Maria? Let’s see, it’s 196 miles and 3:44 by car or 182 miles and about 1:20 by Mooney. That’s close enough for a lunch trip, right?

We weren’t going to be able to get an early start and it was supposed to be over 90° outside but that’s okay too, we would just need to put the air conditioner in the plane.

We took off and I called up SoCal approach for flight following.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78-878 (with the pause between the two 8’s to help them get the tail number right).
SoCal: “Mooney 78788, go ahead.”
Me: “Actually 78-878, seven-double-eight-seven-eight, just off from Corona, requesting flight following to Santa Maria.”
SoCal: “Confirm how many 8’s in the tail number?”
Me: (Slowly) “seven-eight-eight-seven-eight.”

He got it right that time and assigned us our squawk code.

Flying around the LA Basin can be a busy affair and it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes helping you out. It still amazes me that even with ATC (Air Traffic Control) calling out other planes to you which you can also see on the tablet how hard it is to sometimes find them in the sky. We were initially restricted to 6,000′ but once out from under the 7,000′ shelf of LA’s Bravo space we were allowed to continue our climb to our cruising altitude of 6,500′.

It was a beautiful flight, fairly smooth, and the AC kept us cool. The winds at Santa Maria were 290 16G23 which is almost straight down runway 30. As we were about a 2 mile final with 80 mph showing on the airspeed indicator our ground speed was only 60 mph, it felt like we were never going to get to the runway…  For the gusting conditions it was a fairly nice landing and Ground Control directed us to taxi to the ramp and remain clear of the TSA area. It was nice and cool, just a touch above 60°.

The food at Pepper Garcia’s was the service was good as well. My wife said “Look, I rented out the entire restaurant for your birthday!” (We were the only ones in there.)

After lunch we headed back to the plane and had to wait for the restaurant manager to come to the gate and let us back in.  I checked the fuel that we had left and determined that we would make it back to Corona and still have my personal minimum of 1 hr reserve left on board. We had 20 gallons in the left tank and 5  gallons in the right tank which meant I would need to run the right tank dry to have all my usable fuel in one tank. If you have 5 gallons in each tank it is just not the same as having 10 gallons in one tank.

I decided that we would take off and climb on the left tank. Once established in cruise I would switch to the right, run it dry, and then switch to the left for the remainder of the flight.  Once clear of Santa Maria’s airspace I called up Santa Barbara Departure and picked up flight following for the return trip. We were cleared straight to our cruising altitude of 7,500′. In the nice cool air we were climbing nicely and soon leveled off. I switched over to the right tank, knowing I had about 30 minutes of fuel left in it. I made a note of the time I switched and after about 20 minutes started keeping a close eye on the fuel pressure gauge. (A week ago flying to Phoenix I wanted to run the right tank dry but did not pay close enough attention to the pressure gauge but the engine let me know it was out of gas but stopping, not a big deal because a quick tank change brought it back to life). This time as I scanned my instruments I saw the pressure dropping from 6 down to 4 and continuing on down. As it got to 2 I reached down and switched tanks, letting my wife know we just ran dry in the right side. Had I not said anything she wouldn’t have known as the engine never skipped a beat.

I mentioned earlier that it is nice to have ATC watching out for you. We were handed off from one controller to the next. When Point Mugu handed us off to SoCal I was told to advise prior to any descent. (Not an uncommon request in the busy LA Basin) Just north of Thousand Oaks we got our first of four course deviations over the next 40 miles. The first was for a 737 that was descending behind us. The next one was for a Lear jet climbing out of Santa Monica. I requested a VFR descent and was told to wait for additional crossing traffic, but was given the approval shortly after that. Next it was a 737 that was going missed approach (it was VFR conditions) at Burbank. Even the commercial guys have to go around sometimes. The conversation on the radio from the pilot was that they were too high and unstable so they decided to go around. The last one was an Aerostar that was overtaking us on his way into Chino so they held my descent at 6,000′ with a 20° turn to the right to fly a heading of 110. It wasn’t long until I had visual on him and let ATC know. I was told to maintain separation and that I could continue my descent.

The first 3 course deviations

It had been nice and cool on the return flight with the vents open and the outside temperature at 60° but as we began descending and the outside temperature started climbing we turned the AC back on. Winds at Corona were 290 at 11, just a touch of crosswind for runway 25. We landed and taxied to the hangar with the engine monitor showing 8.8 gallons of usable fuel left. Dipping the left tank showed about 10.5 gallons left which comes to about 9 gallons usable, right at my personal 1 hour reserve.

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