Incredible Sunrise at 6,100′

Flying in the clouds is no fun, you can’t see anything. But sometimes when you break out on top it just takes your breath away….
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
6 Sep 2023

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t like flying in the clouds. You can’t see anything and often times it is bumpy. I like to fly because among other things I like the view. I’m that guy if I’m stuck on a commercial flight that is trying to get the window seat and I have my face stuck to it like a little boy.

Even if it is an early morning flight, when everyone has been up since 4am so they could get to the airport and go through the insufferable TSA line where they pick out some 70-year-old grandma for the full “get to know you” pat down because she surely fits the terrorist profile, I still want the shade up so I can look out the window. All while getting dirty looks from those others who don’t want any light shining in the window.

Inside a cloud, all you can see is, wait for it, the cloud. However, the ability to fly through the clouds to the clear skies on top has offered up some of the most incredible views I have ever seen from the air. A Labor Day Weekend flight to Utah to attend my nephew’s wedding and bring home a new puppy served up one of those views.

We had to be there for a wedding at 12:30pm so I did the reverse math. A 12:30pm arrival, time to drive from the airport and get a bite of lunch on the way, change clothes at the airport, get the rental which thankfully would be pulled up to the plane as soon as we landed, plus the flight time meant we needed to be wheels up by 6:30am.

The forecast weather looked like it would be an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight with a thick marine layer in the LA Basin and in and out of the clouds most of the way there. The freezing level was well above our cruising altitude of 11,000’, there was no convective activity forecast, and it wasn’t going to be solid IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) so I was comfortable making the entire flight IFR in and out of the clouds. There was a previous flight that we departed IFR and then I canceled and flew under the cloud bases past Las Vegas because remaining at 11,000’ would have put us in the clouds with temperatures in the -2° to -6° C, a recipe for icing.

I pulled the plane out of the hangar after the pre-flight and we climbed in, picking up the automated weather because the tower was still closed.

“Fullerton Municipal Airport, automated weather observation, one-three-one-niner zulu, wind calm, visibility six, mist, sky condition broken one-thousand niner-hundred, overcast three thousand, temperature two-one Celsius, dewpoint two-one Celsius, altimeter two-niner-niner-six.”

I taxied down to the run-up area, completed the run-up and configured everything for departure before calling up clearance delivery. I knew there was a chance that as soon as we received our clearance we would be departing and I wanted to be ready.

I love the PMA450B audio panel because I can connect it to my cell phone via Bluetooth and make crystal clear calls through my headset. There was some back and forth as he looked for our flight plan. 

I wrote out all the numbers as they are said, for example my tail number of N1015E is read as “one-zero-one-five-echo,” and runway 24 is read as “runway two-four.”

ATC: “Hello”
Me: “Hello, Mooney one-zero-one-five-echo, on the ground at Fullerton ready to copy IFR.”
ATC: “Standby”
ATC: “And you filed the route to where?”
Me: “Provo, Papa Victor Uniform.”
ATC: “Papa Victor Uniform, and what’s your type aircraft?”
Me: “It’s a Mooney M20 Papa.”
ATC: “And you’re at Fullerton, looking, what’s the name of that airport?”
Me: “Provo Municipal, in Utah.”
ATC: “Provo, ok, and you filed, uh, when did you file? I’m looking for it. Right now I don’t see anything, one-zero-one-five-echo.”
Me: “Yeah, one-zero-one-five-echo, I filed yesterday evening, it was showing accepted for a six am departure, we’re a little behind here.” (It was about 6:20am but ATC holds them up to two hours after departure time.)
ATC: “Roger, standby, let me see if I can pull it up here.”

About 10 seconds later

ATC: “I pulled it up, let me double check that it’s good.”
Me:” Thanks.”

Another 20 seconds

ATC: “All right sir, I have your clearance, you ready to copy?”
Me: “Affirmative”
ATC: “one-five-echo, you going to be departing off of runway two-four?”
Me: “Affirmative”
ATC: “One-five-echo, you’re cleared to Papa Victor Uniform via radar vectors to Anaheim One departure, Hector, Bravo Lima Delta, Mike Mike Mike, Foxtrot Foxtrot Uniform, direct. Climb maintain two thousand, you can expect eleven thousand one-zero minutes after departure, squawk seven-three-three-seven, and entering controlled airspace fly heading one-two-zero, off runway two-four and your climb to two thousand you can expect radar vectors to join the Anaheim One departure.”
Me: “Okay, cleared Papa Victor Uniform, on departure left turn to heading one-two-zero, radar vectors for the Anaheim One departure, Hector, Bravo Lima Delta, Mike Mike Mike, Foxtrot Foxtrot Uniform, direct, climb maintain two thousand, expect one-one thousand one-zero minutes after departure, frequency 125.35, squawk seven-three-three-seven.” (He hadn’t given me the frequency but I already knew it from all the other times I have left KFUL)
ATC: “Readback correct, are you ready to go?”
Me: “Affirmative, about a minute to get taxied down to the end of the runway.”
ATC: “Standby.”
ATC: “Alright, one-five-echo, released for departure runway two-four, clearance void if not off by one-three-three-zero (13:30z), time now one-three-two-six and one half (13:26:30z).”
Me: “Cleared for departure two-four, void if not off by one-three-three-zero, one-five-echo.”
ATC: “Talk to you in a minute.”

With that, the phone went dead.

“Alright, that gives us 3 ½ minutes to be off the ground,” I told my wife as I eased the throttle in and began to taxi down to the end of the runway. I had been tuned into the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) the whole time just in case there was someone flying around. I hadn’t heard anyone and hadn’t seen anyone as we taxied down so upon reaching the end of the taxiway I made my radio call and rolled onto the runway.

Me: “Fullerton traffic, Mooney one-zero-one-five-echo, runway two-four departure to heading one-two-zero, Fullerton.”

As soon as I began my crosswind turn I switched over to SoCal and called up the same controller I had been talking to on the phone earlier.

Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney one-zero-one-five-echo, just departed Fullerton.”
SoCal: “Mooney one-zero-one-five-echo, SoCal Approach, ident, climb maintain niner-thousand, say altitude leaving.”
Me: “Ident, climb maintain niner-thousand, leaving seven hundred.”
SoCal: “Mooney one-five-echo, radar contact just west of Fullerton Airport, the last tops report I have was about 25 minutes ago and it was over Seal Beach at six-thousand one-hundred.”

I knew to expect we would be into the clouds around 3,000′ from the weather report and we should break out around 6,000′ or so. ATC radar identified us and cleared us to 9,000′, giving us some vectors in the climb before finally putting us on the Anaheim One Departure.

As we passed through 6,000′ it started getting lighter signaling we would break out soon, and what a sight when we did break out. There was still a higher level of overcast but the rising sun was shining in between the layers. We climbed through another very thin layer and flew along in awe as the rising sun bounced oranges and yellows off the clouds below us onto the clouds above.

Mother nature was putting on a show!

“Wow, I can’t get over the sun and the clouds,” I said.

Kathy was taking pictures on her phone and video with the GoPro. She turned her phone around to show me the last picture she took.

My response was, “Oh wow, that is beautiful.” 

Up ahead as we approached the mountains north of San Bernardino the clouds pushed higher.

“Back into the clouds,” I said,  “these ones might be a little bumpy, I don’t know.” It turned out the ride through them was smooth and we broke out into another beautiful view over Apple Valley with the still rising sun shining off the clouds and standing water on the ground about 8,000′ below us.

SoCal Approach handed us off to LA Center who then passed us along to Las Vegas Approach who had an amendment to our routing.

ATC: “November one-zero-one-five-echo, slight amendment to your route after Boulder City, advise when ready to copy.”
Me: “Ready to copy one-five-echo.”
ATC: “November one-five-echo, after Boulder City, join Victor two-one, Victor two-one to Mike Mike Mike, rest of your route unchanged.”
Me: “After Boulder City join Victor two-one to Mike Mike Mike, one-five-echo.”

It was essentially the same route, but put us officially on a victor airway. North of Vegas ATC advised that there was an area of moderate to heavy precipitation about 50 miles ahead and that if we needed to we could deviate to the right.

I had been watching the radar returns on my tablet for awhile while also looking out the windscreen at the clouds ahead. The returns looked like it was dissipating and visibility was great, so I told ATC I would let them know if we needed to deviate.

ATC called up again before we reached that area and asked how it was looking. We were still above the solid overcast with a lot of space between us and the layer above and I could see ahead well past the rain which was mostly off to our right. I said, “We’re above the layer, it looks to be at about 10,000′ and looks clear.”

Three and a half hours after lifting off the runway in Fullerton we were on the ground in Provo and shutting down the engine in front of Signature who pulled the rental car right up next to the plane.

No waiting for everyone to get their carry-ons before getting out of the plane, no waiting for luggage, no rental counter, just telling the line guy our fuel order, putting our bags in the car, and driving away. It is a beautiful thing.

We changed clothes in the FBO for the wedding, and still had time to stop by Kneaders and get sandwiches on our way.

Enjoy the video from the beginning of this flight!

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