Made Possible by a Mooney

A little over three years ago the wheels were set in motion. Which wheels you ask? The ones that would make a lifelong dream come true. The catalysts: two grand-kids arriving one month apart, one 674 miles away and one 900 miles away, a good friend that has been flying…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
22 Jul 2019

A little over three years ago the wheels were set in motion. Which wheels you ask? The ones that would make a lifelong dream come true. The catalysts: two grand-kids arriving one month apart, one 674 miles away and one 900 miles away, a good friend that has been flying for a very long time who happens to own a Mooney, and my wife’s suggestion that “You’ve always wanted to fly, why don’t you get your license and we can get a plane to visit grand-kids?” Say no more!

I love flying the Mooney, even just on little local flights, hamburger runs, and flight-seeing, but it really shines as a cross country time machine. How else would you get in almost a full work day in Southern California and be in Phoenix before the sun goes down?

I had a niece getting married this weekend in Phoenix and was able to leave work a little early Friday and took my oldest son with me to meet my wife and youngest son at the airport. I had already gone by the evening before to fuel up the plane and look things over so we were ready to go fairly soon after arriving. After run-up I requested flight following from Fullerton Ground and had my departure directions and squawk code. Tower cleared us to depart and we rolled down two-four and began a climbing turn to a heading of 120 and called up SoCal Approach.

It was an uneventful flight (those are the best kind). We were restricted in our climb to 8,000′ passing over Riverside and given a vector to fly for traffic, then cleared to our cruising altitude of 9,500′. There was an airmet for moderate turbulence below 9,000′ but at 9,500′ it was very smooth, and with a nice tailwind component we were seeing 170-180 mph most of the way. Just west of Blythe we were give another vector to keep us clear of the jump-zone there and treated to a C-130 flying over us as he was climbing to 12,000′ to let jumpers go.

About 30 miles west of the Estrella Mountains we began our descent and it wasn’t long after that before we were approaching Mesa-Gateway (KIWA) and Phoenix Approach handed us off to the tower. Initially we were told to enter a left base for 30L and cleared to land ahead of an Airbus that was on a 13 mile right base for the same runway. I set up for about a two mile base leg but then the tower came back with a request.

“Mooney 878, if able, make straight for the numbers.”

He was trying to get us in quicker with the Airbus inbound.

“We’ll go straight to the numbers, 878.”

We turned a little to the left and proceeded right to the numbers, lining up on the runway heading on about a 1/4 mile final. As we taxied to the FBO the Airbus landed and then crossed the taxiway out in front of us and we saw it was an Allegiant flight. Back before my son decided to come home and work during the summer we had purchased him a flight on Allegiant from Provo to Mesa-Gateway so he could come to the wedding. In a crazy coincidence, the Allegiant flight that landed right after us was the flight he would have been on.

The wedding and reception Saturday were wonderful. My niece looked beautiful, her husband was handsome, and everyone had a great time. I even got to run into my best friend from High School at the reception, I hadn’t seen him since I moved to California almost 17 years ago. In fact my wife, who has heard about him for 10 years but never met him said “Hey, you are real!”

Initially we were going to leave early Sunday before it got too hot, but my sister, whose daughter was married on Saturday, also has a son who was called to serve a mission for church in Sweden, and he was to speak in church Sunday morning. Meanwhile, back in California there was a young woman at church (my wife was her youth leader for a few years) who was going to be getting baptized in the afternoon. Is it possible to go to church in Arizona at 9am and be at a baptism in California at 2pm? Sure, if you have a Mooney!

My nephew gave a great talk in church, he’s going to be an awesome missionary! Afterwards we took some pictures, hugs all around, and then my mom dropped us off at the airport. We changed out of our church clothes, I paid the FBO for the fuel, and headed out to the plane for pre-flight. Thankfully, although it was 10:30am in July, it was still under triple digits. Ok, just barely at 98 degrees… Still, by the time I climbed in and everyone else was getting seated I was wiping the sweat off my forehead and trying to keep it from running into my eyes.

We were given an intersection departure, but with a 10,401′ runway we still had 5,400′ in front of us when we lined up and I pushed the throttle in. We picked up flight following from Phoenix Approach and then were were handed off to Phoenix Departure. After asking us our on course heading we were cleared through the Bravo to our cruising altitude of 10,500′, which was nice not to get held below 6,000′ and to just continue our climb. After sweating it out on the ground it was a pleasant 64 degrees when we got to 10,500′, and as we got further west it cooled down to 61 degrees for a nice cool, smooth flight home.

We began our descent east of Palm Springs and were given the usual restriction at or above 4,500′ until we got past March AFB.

One of the advantages of flight following is that as you get handed off from sector to sector and eventually the tower, they all know you are coming. I knew the next handoff was going to be the Fullerton tower and I was monitoring that frequency so when the handoff came I would know if I could just jump right in or if I would need to wait for another conversation to be completed. As I was listening I caught the call of a Cessna also inbound to KFUL.

Cessna: “Fullerton tower, Cessna xxxxx is over the Brea Pass and inbound with Quebec.”
Tower: “Cessna xxxxx, I have a faster plane, a Mooney, inbound, two miles east of the water treatment plant. Fly to the water treatment plant and let me know when you have the Mooney in sight.”

Right after that SoCal gave me the handoff to contact the tower.

Me: “Fullerton tower, Mooney 78878, two thousand eight hundred feet, at the water treatment plant, inbound with Quebec.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, make straight in, runway two-four.”
Me: “Straight in, two-four, 878.”

Apparently, from the ensuing events, either the Cessna guy had no clue how to fly his plane, or he was just bent out of shape at being put behind us (and told that he was slow). I’m leaning toward the latter. The truth was that even though I had begun slowing down from our descent, our ground speed had just dipped under 150 mph (flying into about an 8 knot headwind) while the Cessna (flying with a tailwind towards us) was showing 117 mph on the tablet.

Anyway… we easily spotted the Cessna and continued on our approach. Eventually, after the tower asked him multiple times if he had spotted us, he said he had us in sight and the tower told him to follow us on a straight in final. This is the point when either his ineptitude or attitude made its appearance. He was a fixed gear, single engine, Cessna. I should have made a note of his tail number when we saw him land as we were taxiing, but it looked like a 172. There is no reason why he shouldn’t have been able to follow us at a reasonable distance and speed.

I looked for the liveatc.com feed to pull it but the one for KFUL was down… That would have been entertaining.

At a five mile final I had slowed to 120 mph and dropped my gear and continued to bleed off some speed so that I could get down below 100 mph and put some flaps in. At this point the tower starts telling the guy behind us to slow down, that he is overtaking us. Remember what kind of plane he’s in, it’s not a high performance single or twin, there is no reason he can’t fly as slow or slower than us. In fact, to overtake us on approach he actually has to try to… After probably the third time of telling this guy to slow down (not sure the exact number of times, but it was more than a couple), the tower asked one of the funniest things I’ve heard.

“Sir, do you have an instructor on board?”

Really, what the tower was saying was “Either you don’t know how to fly your plane or you are purposely flying like an idiot, which is it?” The guy responded that he did not have an instructor in on board, and that he “had the power pulled all the way out.” Seriously? If he had actually pulled power all the way he would have dropped like a rock… This guy was trying to make a point after he had initially been told that he was going to be behind the faster Mooney. Regardless, the tower told him to make an s-turn for spacing and asked me to keep my speed above 90 until short final if able. I told him we would do that and I made the power/pitch adjustments to stay at around 95 until we were at about a 1 mile final at which point I pulled the throttle to slow down or we would have floated halfway down the runway.

Despite the distraction of a guy running us down (I could see on the tablet that at one point he was less than a mile behind us with the tower telling him to slow down) we still settled in for a nice landing and turned off at Echo, just over 1,700′ down the runway. As we were taxiing back to the hangar we watched the Cessna come in, float, wobble around, and bounce once before settling down on the runway much further along than he should have, all signs that he was coming in way too fast on final.

We got the plane tucked away in the hangar, the boys headed home and my wife and I headed for the church, getting there just in time for the baptism.

This incredible trip, made possible by a Mooney.

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