I know what you are thinking. Who would fly to Phoenix, actually Chandler (KCHD), from SoCal and back in a day, and why? Well, it was literally for the dogs, two of them to be precise. Keep reading, and by the end, just like a Paul Harvey broadcast, you will know “the rest of the story.”
I haven’t seen my parents since last Thanksgiving. Yep, that was a long time ago. I’m not even sure what happened in January/February that we didn’t fly out there, but looking at my logbook I didn’t fly much of anywhere those months, just some local stuff. Next up is March, and we all know what happened in March…
My parents are “older” which I guess makes sense as I’m getting older and closing in on that halfway point on the chart to 100. Because of the risks of COVID to those closer to 100 than 50 we haven’t been to see them. This isn’t the time or place to get into a debate on where everyone stands on the virus, but suffice it to say that while I’m not so concerned about myself, I am concerned about my parents and not wanting to bring it to them.
The weekend plan was to finally fly to AZ. I still can’t believe we haven’t been there yet this year. We would stay with one of my sisters and go over to visit my parents on Saturday, most likely in their back yard before it got too hot. If we left late afternoon on Friday we would be touching down at Mesa-Gateway just as the sun set and then we could fly back Sunday morning before the afternoon heat and bumps.
I have done some work with a couple of dog rescues here in California and in Arizona, transporting dogs back and forth. I originally started working with them through Pilots ‘n Paws but after a few flights with them I have just coordinated directly with these rescues.
Our plans were all set to visit family and there were two small dogs that we were going to take from shelters here and deliver to a rescue in Arizona. However, the plans changed when my wife had a surprise visit from one of her daughters on Thursday. It was a very sweet surprise and caught my wife completely off guard. When your daughter lives in another state 10 hours away you don’t expect to see her when your doorbell rings and you open the door.
How did the sweetest, most well meaning visit derail our plans? Well, she had been placed on leave from work because a coworker had tested positive for COVID. She hadn’t had direct contact, but work sent pretty much everyone home for two weeks. I think the odds of her daughter actually getting it from the coworker (it had been almost two weeks with no symptoms), passing it to my wife, who would pass it to me, and then passing it to my parents is about as close to zero as you can get. I think I have a greater chance of getting it from the grocery store, gas station, work, restaurant, etc… If I went to AZ and saw my parents and they got it, the chances are that they got it from the grocery store, the gas station, etc… but I would feel horrible. So, the better choice was to wait two weeks and then go.
I sent off a quick email to the rescue as soon as I found out and told her if she hadn’t pulled the dogs from the shelter yet to wait, but if she had I would still fly them. It turned out that she had just pulled them that morning and they weren’t at one of their normal foster homes so she couldn’t ask them to hold onto them for two weeks. I had made a commitment and the wheels (or wings) were already in motion. It was now going to be a there and back same day trip.
It’s still hot in Phoenix right now so we hoped to get off the ground early in CA and be one our way back before it got too toasty. Unfortunately, although it is the end of September, it has looked like “June Gloom” and the morning layer wasn’t forecast to burn off until around 10am. It will be nice when I can put the new panel to work with an IFR rating and climb up through that thin marine layer, but I’m not there yet, so we were trapped by the weather.
We picked up the dogs at 8:30am, a cute poodle mix named Woodstock and a Shih Tzu mix named Hushy that the foster nicknamed “Wolfman.” We got to the airport and I started getting the dogs out of the truck when I had the realization that the cooler with the ice blocks and ice packs for my air conditioner had been left at home… We could have just gone to get a bag of ice from a local store but looking at the sky it was obvious that there was sadly plenty of time before we could leave so while I did pre-flight on the plane Kathy ran home to get the AC supplies.
Finally about 10:30am there were patches of blue and the rest of the clouds were getting very thin. I checked the weather to the east and made the decision that we could make it out so we climbed in, started up, and taxied down to the run-up. Everything was working as it should so a call to Ground got us set up for flight following and taxi clearance. We pulled up to the hold short line for runway two-four at Alpha and the tower cleared us for take off.
We began the climb out, made the turn to heading 120°, and the tower handed us off to SoCal Approach who was very busy. I leveled off at 1,000′ to stay under the clouds and by the time there was a break in the radio traffic for me to check in we were almost flying over Disneyland. There is a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) which in reality is permanent but if you are on with ATC (Air Traffic Control) you can fly through it so we got a rare view of Disneyland from 1,000′ up. News flash, it’s not very exciting from the air. SoCal cleared us to climb to our requested cruising altitude of 9,500′ but I told them we were going to stay at 1,000′ for a bit until we got past the clouds.
Disneyland Lake Matthews
A couple minutes later the clouds had thinned out enough that I dialed the prop control back in to get 2,700 rpm, eased the throttle all the way back in, and began the climb. We leveled off at 9,500′ and settled in for the flight.
It was everything you look for in a flight. The air was smooth and up at 9,500′ it was just over 50° F which kept it nice and cool in the cabin without the need for the AC. Once we began our descent we did turn it on and enjoyed the cool air blowing on our backs. On descent into Chandler we were cleared by Phoenix Approach through the Bravo airspace direct to Chandler which shaved a few minutes off the trip. There were the normal bumps as we came over the Estrella Mountains and a few minutes later we were on a right downwind for runway two-two right and touched down for a nice landing.
Blythe – Colorado River KCHD Tower from 22R
Once parked in transient I shut down and Kathy carried the small kennel with Woodstock in it over to the terminal building to see if the pick up people were there. She left Woodstock with the rescue pickup and came back with a leash for Hushy. I put the kennel on the wing walk so I could open it up and get the leash on him and then carried him over to the terminal, the tarmac was too hot for his feet.
Hushy, aka “Wolfman”
With the delivery complete and only about 20 minutes before the restaurant at the airport closed we decided to just relax in the air conditioning at the terminal and had a lunch from the snacks we had brought along, Skinny Pop Popcorn, wheat thins, and Cheez-Its. There was also a piece of leftover cake from my birthday that had been in the freezer, it still tasted great.
I check the weather for the flight back and with a difference of only about 3 minutes to fly at 10,500′ instead of 8,500′ I planned for the higher altitude where it would be a little cooler. I taxied over to the fuel pumps and topped off the left wing and then Kathy met me at the plane. The temperature on the ground was just over 100° F so we had the AC on as soon as the engine was running, and while it didn’t make it cold inside it did provide a nice breeze of cool air.
Ground cleared us to taxi and after a run-up the Tower cleared us for a straight out departure to the south-west and we were on our way home. In the afternoon heat I didn’t try to maintain a vertical speed, I kept the indicated airspeed just above 100 mph (Vy) and watched the vertical speed fluctuate between almost nothing and 1,000 fpm as we flew through the various thermals. The average vertical speed through the climb was 470 fpm which is respectable.
Again at altitude the air was smooth and cool so I turned the AC off to save it for the descent and landing. I know I have said it before, but it still amazes me how close we are in terms of time left when we are still a long way off in distance left. When we were 52 miles from Palm Springs it showed 55 minutes left in the flight, over Palm Springs there was 24 minutes left in the flight and over downtown Riverside we had just 12 minutes left before touching down.
Crossing over Chino Hills SoCal Approach turned us over to the Tower and the Tower gave us a straight in approach for runway two-four. At six miles out I leveled off to bleed off speed and get slow enough to drop the gear and then continued the descent, touching down just past the numbers. The AC was still blowing cool air so we didn’t even pop the door open as we taxied back to the hangar.
We found out later that Woodstock had been abandoned, he likely wasn’t being shy, he was just stressed and in shock. We don’t know the story behind Hushy/Wolfman but once they get his skin cleaned up he is going to be a good looking dog and he is very friendly. I received a thank you email from the rescue that had pulled the dogs from the shelters saying that hopefully they would now have another 6-7 years of life ahead of them. It was sad to have to postpone visiting my family, but it was nice to help those two little dogs get a new lease on life.
“And now you know the rest of the story…”