Long Lost Relatives and Close Calls

DNA matching is amazing. A few years back through DNA testing my wife’s extended family learned that there was a cousin nobody knew about. In the years since they have all had a chance to connect. She and her husband were going to be escaping the winter weather in the…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
19 Jan 2024

DNA matching is amazing. A few years back through DNA testing my wife’s extended family learned that there was a cousin nobody knew about. In the years since they have all had a chance to connect. She and her husband were going to be escaping the winter weather in the Pacific Northwest and spending a few weeks in Pismo Beach.

Perfect! While we may be an 8 hour round trip drive away, it is just over an hour in the Mooney.

We had been having typical Southern California winter weather with some clouds and rain coming through and as I was checking the weather mid-week it looked like there might be more on the way Saturday. Oceano (L52) Airport is a great little airport with a 2325×50’ runway and no instrument approaches or instrument departure procedures.

As a backup, I took a look at San Luis Obispo (KSBP) just to the northwest. They have good approaches and even if it was IFR weather we could get in and out. The FBO also has a couple of crew cars on a first come first served basis which they said are both typically available in the mornings. You can take them for two hours, which would work for the 10-minute drive to meet up for brunch and get back to the airport.

At that point in the week, we made a decision we would later regret. Our Doberman had been too long without the groomer, and while I don’t mind (even if she does mind) giving her a bath via hose in the backyard, trimming her nails down is not fun. So, I told my wife to go ahead and schedule the groomer at 3pm, surely with the forecast weather we would be back by then, right?

I filed a VFR flight plan from KFUL to L52 and a backup IFR flight plan from KFUL to KSBP Friday night and went to bed hoping we could get into and out of Oceano before the forecast clouds rolled in on Saturday. Worst case scenario, if it looked questionable, we would go IFR to KSBP.

Saturday morning, I woke up and looked at the weather on my phone. The TAF’s from the day before were wildly inaccurate. That never happens… The forecast cloud cover that was to precede the rain had been pushed back to Sunday and it was going to be a glorious VFR day. I went downstairs, fired up my laptop, canceled the IFR flight plan, and picked up my briefing for the VFR flight.

Out of the 240+ times I have taken off from Fullerton I think I have departed on runway 6 less than 10 times. But, on this particular Saturday morning, as we were looking for a westbound departure, runway 6 was in use. Tower gave us a left downwind and we began a climb up to 4,500’ so we could cut across LAX through the Special Flight Rules Area.

The SFRA is a mixed bag. I know pilots that use it frequently and some that avoid it at all costs. I have always enjoyed the view passing right over LAX. While you must pay close attention to traffic calls, only half believing that planes are where they say they are, I haven’t had any traffic close enough to make me uncomfortable.

I made my traffic call as we approached the SFRA which was followed by another plane announcing he was “just ahead of me capturing the radial.” Hmm… I thought as I took another look at my tablet and out the window. I know everybody doesn’t have ADSB-Out, but considering we were almost directly over a Class Bravo airport the odds are good everyone in my little part of airspace should be broadcasting out.

I had been paying close attention to the traffic on the tablet as well as monitoring the frequency for the SFRA for awhile and there was nobody in front of me. On my tablet I could see two planes tracking northwest at 4,500’ about 5 miles behind me, fairly close to each other.

“I’m just entering the Special Flight Rules Area, I think you’re behind me,” I said back on frequency. I wanted to make sure I knew where he was, and that he knew where I was. He confirmed that he was indeed one of the planes about 5 miles back, which I could have easily known had he used his tail number in his radio transmission rather than just type and color.


I know some CFI’s teach type and color when making calls on CTAF, which the SFRA frequency is like a CTAF where you self-announce, but I wish they would stop with that practice. From a few miles away, you really aren’t going to know type and color, it is basically worthless. With ADSB becoming more and more common it is much more helpful to hear a tail number that you can correlate with a target on a display to help build your mental picture of the traffic.

And, if those reasons aren’t enough, then perhaps a review of FAA AC # 90-66B, Section 10.3.1 is in order.

“Self-announce transmissions may include aircraft type to aid in identification and detection, but should not use paint schemes or color descriptions to replace the use of the aircraft call sign. For example, “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, TWIN COMMANDER FIVE ONE ROMEO FOXTROT TEN MILES NORTHEAST” or “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, FIVE ONE ROMEO FOXTROT TWIN COMMANDER TEN MILES NORTHEAST,” not “MIDWEST TRAFFIC, BLUE AND WHITE TWIN COMMANDER TEN MILES NORTHEAST.”


The rest of the flight there was beautiful, but I was reminded once again that aircraft aren’t always where they say they are. We had begun our descent, and I was lining up for a straight in on runway 29. There had been no transmissions on CTAF, and I wasn’t showing anyone in the pattern on my tablet. I kept in mind that we were far enough away from any airspace that requires ADSB out and that there could also be a NORDO plane in the pattern, but I was watching for them too. If I saw someone in the pattern that wasn’t talking, I would sidestep and fly an upwind leg to enter the pattern.

I was looking out the window for an aircraft that was on my tablet. It didn’t seem to be going any particular direction and presented a possible conflict, depending on which way they decided to turn.

Me: “Oceano Traffic, Mooney 1015E descending through 2,000, 10 miles to the southeast, be making a straight in 29’er, Oceano.”
Traffic: “Oceano traffic, Mike Delta 7, 5 miles northeast of the field, we’re northeast bound 1,600, Oceano.”

I took another glance down at my tablet to see the tail number of the aircraft in between us and the field.

Me: “Did he say Mike Delta 7?”
Wife: “Yeah”

I was scanning out the windscreen, no longer looking at the tablet, not wanting to miss finding this guy who was within a couple hundred feet of our altitude and somewhere in front of us.

“He’s 5 miles southwest, er southeast, in fact he’s right there,” I said as I spotted the helicopter.

“We’re gonna go this way,” I said.

“Woah!” my wife replied as I rolled into a left bank.

“He is not…” I began to say.

“Where he thinks he is?” she finished my sentence.

“Where he thinks he is,” I repeated.

My wife hadn’t spotted him yet, but she was about to.

Wife: “You gotta move out of his way? Oh dude! He’s right there!”
Me: “I know!”
Me: “What the heck, he is not where he said he was.”
Wife: “Well it’s a good thing you moved.”

He made a mistake that I, and I think probably every other pilot has made at one point or another. He said northeast when I am sure he meant southeast. In his mind he may have even thought he said southeast. I’m not pointing out his transmission error for any reason other than to remind everyone to always confirm what you heard with your eyes outside the plane.

When I replayed the flight, we passed within about 2,500’ of each other, and had I not turned it would have been much closer. Given our flight paths and speed perhaps just a few hundred feet from each other.

If the approach wasn’t exactly uneventful, the landing was smooth and boring. We easily turned off at the second taxiway, 1,800’ down and could have made the 1,200’ turn off if I wanted to get on the brakes a little.

They were there waiting for us, and it was great to meet my wife’s cousin and her husband. As I said in the beginning, DNA is amazing. My wife’s cousin looks just like her sister. And since you never give out a lady’s age, we’ll just say that even though they are both somewhere north of 40, and grew up in different places with different families, if you were to close your eyes and listen to them talk their voices are virtually indistinguishable.

We walked over to where they have their beautiful 5th wheel camper setup and they gave us a tour, then we climbed in their truck to head to Pismo Beach. We found a parallel parking space that he expertly stuck his 3500 GMC Sierra into, and we strolled down to the pier and restaurants. It was the most beautiful day on the beach.

We stopped for a selfie in front of the Pismo Beach sign and beat the lunch rush at Wooly’s Beach Bar & Grill. There are a lot of restaurants packed in there, along with food trucks out on the pier, and I am sure that many are good, but you won’t go wrong at Wooly’s. My wife and I split their Carne Asada Fries and a ¼ lb Burger. It was all delicious. We could have just split the fries, it was amazing.

After lunch we took a stroll along the beach and under the pier where my wife snagged a picture of a surfer riding a wave right down the center of the pier between the supports. Impressive, crazy, or maybe a little of both.

Pismo is also known as a wintering spot for Monarch butterflies. We stopped by the Monarch Butterfly Grove, enjoying the scent of the eucalyptus trees and marveling at the butterflies. They were fluttering around all over, but the most amazing was seeing the clusters of them resting in the trees. You thought you were looking at a branch with a big clump of leaves, but then put your eye to the spotting scope the volunteers had set up to see that clump of “leaves” was hundreds of Monarch Butterflies.

I said I regretted having my wife schedule the dog groomer, but we had canceled on him once before and we were going to have to get back quick not to miss him, so we headed back to the airport. They walked out with us to see the plane, and after I finished pre-flight we visited for another 20 minutes. It was hard to say goodbye and leave. The 3+ hours we were there felt like just a moment, and we could have easily spent the rest of the day visiting.

The one other time we landed at Oceano it never cleared up over the bay, so I wanted to make a quick flight out over the bay before heading home. The water was a brilliant deep blue with the contrasting browns of the sand dunes and lighter blue of the sky creating an incredible scene.

We climbed up to 5,500’ and enjoyed a brisk tailwind most of the way home with ground speeds of 180-195 mph most of the way.

Again, we took the LA SFRA route and again I was closely watching and listening for traffic. As we approached the Santa Monica VOR from the west there was another plane approaching from the northwest. We had descended to 3,500’ to stay below the 5,000’ Bravo shelf and be at the proper altitude to transit the SFRA southeast. The other plane was also at 3,500’ so I was operating on the assumption he was heading to the same point in the sky over the SMO VOR where you pickup the radial to track outbound.

As we got closer I spotted him and turned slightly to the right to pickup the route just south of the VOR. We were about 45 mph faster than he was so cutting the corner would easily put us out in front of him. The rest of the flight was my favorite kind, uneventful, with the exception of a flock of seagulls we crossed paths with on descent just east of the Compton Airport. They were close enough that the camera under my wing picked up 8 of them as they flashed by us at about 180 mph.

“Did we hit one?” my wife asked in shock at how close they had been.

“No, we would have felt it,” I replied. Glad that they had all dove out of our path and I wasn’t looking at damage to the plane.

Surprisingly the pattern was fairly quiet for mid-afternoon on a beautiful VFR day. We landed and after taxiing to the hangar and shutting down made record time tucking the plane away and heading for home. Traffic was light and we rolled into the driveway two minutes before the groomer was supposed to show up.

How can you not love travelling in a Mooney?

Weeks later I still regret that appointment robbing us of the rest of the afternoon in Oceano and Pismo Beach. I should know better at this point in my flying than to schedule things that might interfere with flight times. I guess we are always learning…

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