Last Saturday when I spent all day working on the house and yard I told myself that it was okay to skip flying because we would be flying to Colorado on Wednesday for a ski trip. Then we decided to reschedule the trip to next month.
The good news, there are no cancellation fees from the airline when you are the airline. The bad news is that when Saturday rolled around again it had been two weeks since the last time I flew.
I like to fly once a week. It isn’t a requirement, I just like to because it keeps me proficient. Oh, and I love flying.
I mapped out in my mind the things I wanted to get done at home and how I was going to fit in a flight. It was going to be a warm January day with a forecast of 79°Ff and sun.
I needed to get backyard stuff done and spend some time in the garage and didn’t want to do that in the afternoon sun and heat. (Yes, I’m rubbing in the SoCal winter weather for all you folks that are freezing right now.) That meant I needed to either fly really early, or later in the day. I also get up at 4:40am on weekdays and wanted to “sleep in” until after 6:30am so that ruled out the early morning flight.
After breakfast we were on our way to Home Depot when I noted the winds blowing out of the east. I should have put two and two together but I hadn’t. A warm clear day in January usually means Santa Ana winds, and that can make for some rough air, like this flight seven years ago.
All hope wasn’t lost, that flight was when I was based at Corona (KAJO) and the skies over the Inland Empire get rough when the Santa Ana’s are blowing. However, I’ve been at Fullerton (KFUL) for the past five years, and if the Santa Ana’s aren’t too strong it is sometimes nice in the LA Basin.
As my wife and I worked in the yard and garage I checked the weather reports at Fullerton, Long Beach, and John Wayne along with looking for PIREPS about turbulence. The winds at all the airports I checked were light and out of the west, and the only PIREPS for turbulence were over the Inland Empire.
I pulled up a saved flight plan that I had named “Costal Flightseeing” and filed for a departure time just before sunset. The route involves departing KFUL and heading southwest to the coast, then southeast along the coast to Dana Point, and back the way we came with a short tour of the Port of Long Beach and the Queen Mary before returning to KFUL.
While looking at the briefing I noted the airmets for turbulence and low level wind shear blanketing the whole area. I also noted that while there was a PIREP from a Cessna 150 over Chino for moderate turbulence, there were no PIREPS anywhere in the LA basin for turbulence or wind shear. The winds in the LA Basin were all still light from the west and as long as we didn’t head east I wasn’t worried.
Just like other flights when I want to depart at a specific time I worked backwards mentally checking off the time required for everything to decide what time I needed to leave the house.
Sunset was at 5:15pm and I wanted to be airborne just after 5:00pm. I also wanted to be there before the fuel truck quit for the day. I had left the plane with 18 gallons on board, 10 in one and 8 in the other, which would be enough for what I had planned, but like the buffer of extra fuel. With those things in mind I decided we needed to leave the house at 4pm.
We pulled through the gate at the airport at 4:27pm and I called the fuel truck and received the voicemail. I had seen the truck out on the line fueling a plane as we drove to the gate, so after one more try and the voicemail we drove around to where the truck was.
I asked if they could fuel me when they were done and they said they would be right over. Working on a deadline to be airborne for the sunset, I parked the truck, opened up the hangar, and pulled the plane out so they could fuel as soon as they arrived. Then I went about my pre-flight inspection.
About the time they finished fueling I was wrapping up pre-flight. I grabbed our life jackets and closed up the hangar. After sumping the tanks we put on our life jackets and climbed in.
Taxi, runup, pre-take off checklist, contact Ground, taxi to 24 and hold short for landing traffic, then we received our takeoff clearance.
“Mooney 1015 Echo, fly runway heading, I’ll call your left turn, runway two-four, cleared for takeoff.”
We were wheels up at 5:07pm, eight minutes before sunset. There was a Cessna inbound from the south and he wanted to extend us out to make sure there wouldn’t be a conflict. He called our turn, I let him know I had the traffic in sight, and he gave me a frequency change.
We flew over the top of Los Alamitos Army Airfield towards the coast. There were a few little bumps in the air but once we crossed the coast it smoothed out.
Cruising along the coast at 1,000′ never gets old. Throw in a California sunset and my beautiful wife as co-pilot and it is perfection. The sun was setting behind the northern end of Catalina Island with the horizon bathed in shades of red, orange, gold, and yellow.
The low light spread shadows on the backside of the ocean swells and you could see them lined up all the way across the channel. There was a mixture of container ships and tankers anchored or slowly moving along off the coast, some weighted down and sitting low in the water, others empty and riding high.
We turned around near Huntington Beach to take in the remainder of the sunset. A few miles offshore there was a cruise ship heading out to sea. We flew past the Port of Long Beach and saw the Queen Mary before turning back towards Fullerton.
The tower at Los Alamitos was closed, so just after passing the field I switched over to Fullerton’s tower and made my inbound call. It was a quite evening and I was the only plane he was working. Before we even reached the downwind leg he had cleared us to land.
It was a perfect date night.