A backhand slap from ATC, amazing Russian food, and a one minute “Void if not off by” clearance. What a great evening!
How did it all start? In May 2021 another pilot on Mooneyspace was talking about possibly moving from Buffalo, NY to Southern California. I sent him a message with my cell number and told him if he had any questions to feel free to reach out. There were a few texts back and forth and about five months later he texted that he was living here in CA.
Fast forward to April 2022 and I get a text from him that his birthday was coming up in May. He said he had a tradition of inviting pilot friends to fly somewhere and meet up for dinner on his birthday and he was hoping to continue his tradition out here on the West Coast. My wife laughs at me because I’m not a very outgoing person but apparently have no problem meeting up with pilots that I have only interacted with online or via text/email.
The plan was set. An evening flight down to Montgomery (KMYF) field in San Diego, dinner at The Pomegranate, and then a flight back. A year ago, I wouldn’t have attempted the flight with the high likelihood of a marine layer, but now with my IFR rating I was looking forward to it. We also ended up with a passenger. Alex had another friend who is VFR only and was looking for a lift down. We had room and were happy to provide a lift.
I left work a little early to meet my wife and Sam at the airport so we could make a 5:30 departure time. With the possibility of the marine layer moving in before we arrived I had filed an IFR flight plan for the flight there. I also filed an IFR flight plan for the flight back as it was almost a guarantee that the marine layer would move in before we departed on the return trip. I thought with a 6:30pm dinner reservation that filing for a 9:00pm departure would be perfect. It wasn’t, but that is for later in this story.
After the run-up was complete and everything configured for departure, I called up Ground to pick up our clearance.
Me: “Fullerton Ground, Mooney 78878, Southeast runup with Yankee, ready to copy IFR.”
Ground: “Mooney 78878, you are cleared to Montgomery via, on departure left turn heading 120, vectors to Seal Beach, Victor 64, Victor 363, DANAH, Victor 23, Mission Bay, Direct. Climb maintain 2,000, expect 5,000 one-zero minutes after departure, departure frequency 125.35, squawk 4762.”
On my knee-board I had written:
C – MYF CSTP36 (The TEC routing is the Coastal Papa 36 so I had that written down)
R – L120 vSLI V64 V363 DANAH V23 MZB D (With a little arrow through the D)
A – 020 050 10min
F – 125.35
T – 4762
I gave the readback and he confirmed it was correct, then he asked if we were ready to taxi. I told him it would be just a minute. I dialed the original cleared to altitude of 2,000’ into the GMC-507. After verifying everything else was set right, I called back up for taxi clearance.
After taxi and a very short delay at the hold short line we were airborne at 5:35pm, just five minutes after our scheduled departure, not bad. I checked in with SoCal and was told to “climb and maintain 7,000.” I glanced over at Sam and said, “And that’s the end of flying our cleared route.” It is typically busy enough that ATC just assigns vectors and altitudes until you get south of John Wayne (KSNA).
We leveled off at 7,000’ and once past KSNA we were given direct DANAH to join V23. Alex could be heard on the frequency, they had him stuck down at 5,000’. The flight continued uneventfully, but I was about to get a smack down by ATC.
Montgomery was still VFR and landing 23, but there are no approaches to 23, so I requested the RNAV for 28R. Even though it was VFR I wanted to fly the approach for the practice. The controller said, “Five miles south of Oceanside (OCN), direct BAKEL.” I wasn’t positive of the fix he named, but I repeated back what he said and my best guess of the name of the fix. I had plenty of time before reaching the turn and planned to scan the chart for the appropriate fix. My readback must have been close enough, because he moved on to his next transmission. My problem, not his, was that he was speaking 90 miles an hour (busy frequency) and I hadn’t studied the approach plate well enough.
First step, I looked and there was a fix five miles south of OCN, named HURSI. Perfect, I could use that to know exactly when to make my turn. Step two, figure out where I was going “direct to” after HURSI. I scanned the chart for something that sounded like what the controller had said and then asked, “Approach, Mooney 78878, was that fix DEGLE, Delta-Echo-Golf-Lima-Echo?” He replied, “BAKEL, it’s on your plate, look it up.” Yep, a nice backhand to the side of my head from ATC, and it was well deserved.
You see, BAKEL is the Initial Approach Fix for the RNAV 28R into MYF, and had I studied the plate better and familiarized myself with the names I would have recognized it when I heard it. We were given vectors and joined the approach well past BAKEL, intercepting it 5 miles from the Final Approach Fix of PENYY. Our clearance was the RNAV 28R, circle to land 23.
I have flown circling approaches on VOR and GPS-A approaches, but this was my first flying a regular straight in that becomes a circling to a different runway. It was great practice to do under VFR conditions. When flying the VOR into KFUL the tower tells you to enter a left downwind. I was expecting the similar instructions from the tower at MYF but as we crossed PALOS, 2.9NM from the end of 28R the tower hadn’t given me any additional instructions. I made a right turn to join the downwind and while on the downwind the tower gave us instructions on who to follow and cleared us to land.
Dinner at The Pomegranate was AMAZING! That was my first experience with Russian food, and it was excellent. Alex was a perfect host explaining everything to us, the conversations were great, and the time flew by. Before we knew it, we were well past my planned 9pm departure and still at the restaurant. The food was so good and the company excellent so we didn’t mind, even if my wife and I were by far the oldest ones there and I knew it was going to be an early morning the next day getting up for work.
Eventually we had all grabbed an Uber back to the airport, said our goodbyes, and after a thorough pre-flight on the plane (we would be going IMC and over water at night) we put on our life preservers, climbed in, and I started up.
My filed flight plan had long passed the cancellation point and the tower had closed an hour earlier. Down in the run-up area I finished my run-up checklist, departure checklist, and programmed in the TEC Route that had been previously accepted by ATC into my GNC-355 in anticipation of receiving the same clearance. Then I dialed up Clearance Delivery on my phone with it connected to my headset through the audio panel.
He answered and I said, “Mooney 78878, on the ground at Montgomery, I’d like to pick up an IFR clearance to Fullerton.” His quick response was, “Please call me back in five minutes,” and the line went dead.
I took a glance at the clock and made a note of the time to call back. By this time Alex had taxied up behind us in his Mooney and another friend of his was behind him in a Cirrus. There was no other activity at the airport or on the frequency, so I gave them a heads up that I had called but was told to call back in five minutes.
Five minutes later I called back, “Mooney 78878, calling back, looking for IFR from Montgomery to Fullerton.” This time he said, “Hold on this line,” and he was gone. We didn’t have a choice, it was overcast at 1,400’ so with the surrounding airspace the only way we were getting out of there was with an IFR clearance. Ten minutes later the line came alive again.
ATC: “Mooney 78878, are you still there?”
ATC: “Sorry about that wait, are you familiar with the San Diego Papa Three routing.”
Me: “Yes” (I already had SANP3 along with the fixes written down on my knee pad)
ATC: “Mooney 78878, cleared to Fullerton via San Diego Papa Three, on departure fly runway heading, climb maintain 3,000, expect 6,000 one-zero minutes after departure, Frequency 119.6, squawk 4656, standby for readback,” and he was gone again.
At this point Alex had already shut down his engine. I told my wife and Sam ATC must be slammed, although I couldn’t imagine why he would be so busy after 10pm on a Tuesday night. Five minutes later he was back, I gave him the readback and he confirmed it was correct.
ATC: “Are you number one?”
ATC: “Can you be off the ground in one minute, I have a Cessna that will be crossing.”
Me: “Affirmative” (I was glad I had already gone through all my checklists and configured everything)
ATC: “Mooney 78878, you are released for departure, void if not off by xx:xx.” (One minute from the current time)
I read back the departure clearance at the same time that I was advancing the throttle to take the runway. The phone line went dead and I keyed up the mic to announce on CTAF that I was taking the runway for departure. Less than a minute later we were airborne. I switched over to his frequency and understood immediately why it had taken so long to get our clearance. I’m not sure how many planes he was working but it was rapid fire from one to the next and took some time before there was enough of a break for me to check in.
We climbed up through the thin overcast marine layer into a pitch-black sky. Headed west toward the coast, above the clouds, the only way I knew we were out of the clouds was because I couldn’t see my landing light shining on them anymore. We might as well have been flying in a fishbowl full of black ink, there was nothing to see anywhere. ATC eventually turned us direct Oceanside (OCN) to join V23 and we could finally see lights off our right wing.
The flight down had been hazy, but the flight back was gorgeous. The moon was shining back at about our five o’clock and off our right wing further inland where the marine layer hadn’t settled, we could see lights on the ground. Further along the flight, up in Orange County, where the marine layer had moved inland there were patches of light glowing up through the clouds.
We flew the RNAV 24 back into KFUL although we were never back in the clouds. Fullerton was sitting in a little pocket of clear sky with the marine layer on three sides. Shortly before crossing the Final Approach Fix we were past the edge of the clouds and could see the runway so I called up ATC and canceled our IFR in the air. It was just after 11pm when the wheels touched down on the runway.
A great evening of flying, food, and friendship. All of which made possible by reaching out to a pilot on the other side of the country online and just offering to answer questions. I love flying, and I love the Mooney community.