The Friday after Thanksgiving was windy. It wasn’t “terrible” and was definitely flyable. I have flown in much stronger winds, and if I was planning to go somewhere like Arizona or Utah to see family I would have flown, it just would have been bumpy until we got above probably around 5-6,000 feet. However, to just go up and fly around for fun, it wasn’t the kind of winds I like to fly in, so we stayed home.
Saturday was the perfect day to fly. The winds on Friday had cleared out all the haze we flew in on Wednesday and then by Saturday morning just like the haze they had disappeared. Our friends were going to fly to Gillespie (KSEE) for lunch and invited us to join them. I had only been to Gillespie once before right after we got the Mooney when I was doing my transition training with my CFI. On that adventure we ended up high and approaching the airport and held a full forward slip for almost a four mile final.
Our plan was to fly the coast which meant two things. First, everyone had to have life jackets on. And second, I wanted to have the camera running under the wing. After pre-flight and pulling the plane out all four of us put on our life jackets, I turned on the camera which I had attached to the left tiedown point during pre-flight, and started it recording.
As we came to a stop in the run up area I heard Ken on the radio, they were about to depart. We watched them depart as I waited for the engine to warm up so that I could do my run up. Everything looked good so with my pre-takeoff checklist complete I called up Ground for taxi clearance and to pick up flight following and then we taxied to the west for a rare departure on runway 06.
We climbed out, made a turn to 120° and called up SoCal Approach when Fullerton Tower gave us a frequency change. It was quickly apparent that there were a lot of others taking advantage of the perfect flying weather this Thanksgiving Weekend. Shortly after contacting Approach we were told to turn 10 degrees left for traffic and about fifteen seconds later told “Mooney 78878, turn another 10 degrees left for traffic.” I made the additional turn and then called out that the traffic was in sight. As that plane passed behind us we were cleared on course and to our cruising altitude of 3,500′.
Shortly after leveling off we were handed off to the next Controller. I checked in, “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, three thousand five hundred.” I waited and got no answer, just calls between the controller and other traffic on the frequency. I checked in again, with the same result, no answer. I flew along, waited for another break in the radio traffic, switched to my other radio, and tried checking in again, still no answer. The radio chatter was clear, I checked my tablet to make sure that I had the right frequency, flew along some more, and tried again.
“SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, radio check.”
At that point I heard “Mooney 78878, loud and clear, contact Departure on one two four point one.” We had flown all the way through his sector.
I called up the next controller who told us to advise her when we had information Echo at Gillespie, which seemed odd to me because we were still about 60 miles away and it would be awhile before we would be able to pick up the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) for Gillespie.
We flew along off the coast and marveled at how blue the water was and the beauty of the sun shining off the ocean. The visibility was incredible!
Planes kept trying to check in on the frequency and the Controller finally said “Everyone checking in, I hear you and know where you are.” Just south of Palomar ATC called out traffic off our left side.
Me: “We have that traffic in sight, 878.”
ATC: “Did you want to go direct to Gillespie or over Montgomery?”
Me: “We’ll go direct if we can get cleared through the Bravo.” (I was planning on continuing to Mount Soledad and then turning inland).
ATC: “Sorry, I thought I had cleared you through the Bravo earlier, November 78878, cleared through the Bravo, direct Gillespie.”
Me: “Cleared through the Bravo, direct Gillespie, 878.” (As I thought back to the initial call with her I thought I had heard her say we were cleared through the Bravo but at that point we were still about 25 miles away from the Bravo airspace so I thought I had heard wrong.)
We made a left turn and crossed over the shoreline at Del Mar. I mentioned to my wife that they must not be flying out of Miramar because we were flying right through the approach for runways 24L and 24R, about three miles from the end of the runways.
Me: “Approach, Mooney 78878, we have the field in sight.”
ATC: “Mooney 78878, maintain VFR, keep your squawk, contact Gillespie Tower on one-two-zero point seven, have a good day.”
Me: “Maintain VFR, going to tower one-two-zero point seven, thanks for the help, 878.”
The tower at Gillespie was busy. Among the planes inbound were at pair of Yaks that wanted to fly an overhead break. Initially we were told to enter a right downwind for runway 27R and report midfield. Before we got on the downwind that was changed to cross the departure end of 27L and enter a left downwind for 27L. That was shortly changed to cross midfield and enter a left downwind for 27L, and before we got to the point where we would turn and cross midfield the tower came back with, “Mooney 78878, actually just fly a right downwind for 27R and I will call your base.”
We continued on the downwind, level at pattern altitude and he made sure I knew he hadn’t forgotten me with a “Mooney 78878, continue on the downwind, I will still call your base.” However, with the hills in front of us getting closer and me wondering at what point he was going to actually call my base turn I increased the rpm and eased the throttle in to start a climb, just in case we were going to have to clear the hills. We had gone from 1,350′ to 1,675′ when he finally called our base turn. I slowed down to drop the gear and we turned final about two and a half miles out. A nice stabilized approach led to a smooth touchdown right on centerline.
Tower: “Mooney 878, say intentions.”
Me: “Taxi to the restaurant.”
Tower: “Mooney 878, left on Alpha, cross two-seven left, contact Ground two-one point seven.”
Me: “Left on Alpha, cross two-seven left, going to Ground, one-two-one point seven.”
After clearing 27L we stopped and I called up Ground.
Me: “Gillespie Ground, Mooney 78878, clear two-seven left, taxi to the restaurant.”
Ground: “Hold position for a pair of Yaks on Delta, taxi behind the Yaks on Alpha to the restaurant.”
Me: “We’ll hold here and taxi Alpha behind the Yaks.”
We were treated to them taxiing right in front of us and turning away. We followed behind before turning off to a parking spot on the ramp.
Our friends were there waiting and we had a great lunch and then took a walk along looking at the hangar homes there on the airport. For the return flight Ken wanted to fly up the valley over Temecula so we told him we would follow. They were off first and by the time we finished our run-up and departed he had an 11 mile head start.
Ken had mentioned the frequency he would monitor for inflight so after we were given the frequency change by the tower I switched over and heard, “Richard, are you on frequency?” I told him I was and he said we were a bit faster than him, maybe we would catch him. “I’m going to try to reel you in” I replied.
The flight was every bit as beautiful as the one along the coast, in a different kind of way. I thought it might end up being bumpy but it was actually pretty smooth, with just a few bumps along the eastern slopes of Palomar Mountain. We had about a 20-25 mile an hour advantage on the Moose but it took all the way until we were over Corona to reel them in to about 2.5 miles. Ken asked if we wanted to pass him and go in first but I told him we would slow it down and while he headed straight for the airport I swung wide to the north for some more spacing.
Again, it was obvious that a lot of folks were enjoying the great flying weather. When I called up the tower he told me to remain outside his Delta airspace because he had four planes inbound in my area. I told him we would make a right 360 and remain outside the Delta. As we came around the turn he called us up and told us to make straight in and we would be number five for runway 24. He asked us to slow down for spacing so I reduced power and dropped the gear.
I am still amazed how hard it is to find another small plane when they are lost in the ground clutter. When we were just 2.5 miles behind Ken even though I knew exactly where to look because I had him on the tablet I couldn’t find him. Now here we were on approach to KFUL, two miles in trail of a Cessna, and I couldn’t pick him out until he was on short final.
Either I’m getting better or it was a lucky day because I set it down gently for the second time today. A beautiful day of flying and lunch with good friends.