Three Flights to Wrap Up May

Back to Arizona Through the Clouds Math 17th and 19th, 2024 The day after Mother’s Day mom ended up in the hospital. Nobody was sure what was going on, but there we some difficulties and the professionals were needed to try and chase down the issues. I checked in with…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
28 May 2024

Back to Arizona Through the Clouds

Math 17th and 19th, 2024

The day after Mother’s Day mom ended up in the hospital. Nobody was sure what was going on, but there we some difficulties and the professionals were needed to try and chase down the issues.

I checked in with my boss and asked if I could fly to Arizona Friday morning and work from my parents home. Always understanding he said sure, so I checked the forecast for Friday morning and filed an IFR plan. Even without checking the forecast I knew I would need the clearance to get out of the LA Basin in the morning. There’s a reason the weather this month is referred to as “May Gray.” It’s almost a given that there will be a thin marine layer every morning.

The skies were clear when I went to bed Thursday night, but like clockwork it was overcast Friday morning. We headed to the airport, stopping at the Golden Ox on the way for a breakfast burrito.

The reported ceilings were 1,700 broken and 2,500 overcast. After the run-up I called up ground and picked up my IFR clearance. We hadn’t even crossed the departure end of the runway when the tower handed us off to SoCal Departure. Before we took off I had set the frequency for Departure in standby so a quick tap on the screen made it the active frequency.

I made the call up before turning crosswind and was told to ident. To tell you how quick the switch to Departure ocurred, when he radar identified me it wasn’t “one or two miles south of Fullerton. He said, “November 15Echo you’re radar contact off the departure end of Fullerton airport, climb and maintain 6,000.”

Just like on Mother’s Day, it was very quiet in the skies and on the radios. I had responded to his call with “Climb and maintain 6,000” and he immediately came back with, “Correction, climb maintain one-one, eleven thousand.” We weren’t even 700′ AGL and he had cleared us to our cruising altitude. There must not have been anyone on his scope that would be crossing.

At 2,600′ we were in the clouds and a little under two minutes later we were on top in clear blue skies at 3,900′. Breaking out of an overcast into the sun just never gets old.

SoCal had asked for a bottom and tops report so I called him up.

“SoCal Approach, Mooney 1015Echo, bases were 2,600′ and tops 3,900.”

“26 and 39, thank you” was his response.”

As it had been on Mother’s Day, the whole LA Basin, Orange County and Inland Empire looked like someone has spread cotton over everything with just the mountain tops poking up through. A crossing airliner that had departed Ontario was easy to spot below us, outlined against the white clouds. Once he passed us ATC cleared him on his climb and he was quickly above us and disappearing to the east in front of us.

On a Friday morning at Mesa Gateway airport it was busy. The flight school pilots were all out trying to get in time before the heat set in for the day. Coming in for the visual approach on runway 12R Tower sent us out on a longer downwind. His next call had us turn further to the left, widening out the downwind to make the base longer so he could bring a plane in the pattern in ahead of us.

I love the travelling efficiency of the Mooney. My sister picked us up at the airport and took us to mom and dad’s house. I started the day in California and by mid-morning I was setup in my parents office working while my wife and dad headed over to the hospital to see mom. I was able to get a lot done and then joined them at the hospital at dinner time.

I spent the night at the hospital with mom, and all the next day on Saturday. It was good to be there. With a flight home coming the next day I traded off with one of my sisters who stayed with mom so I could get a good night sleep back at their house. Let’s be honest, sleeping on a couch in a hospital room with the staff coming in every two hours to check vitals doesn’t count as sleeping.

Sunday I spent the morning with dad before going back over to the hospital to visit mom until it was time to go to the airport. Thankfully it wasn’t as hot as forecast because we didn’t bring the AC on this trip, only a balmy 95°F. I had considered stopping the climb at 8,500′ where the trip would have been about 5 minutes faster, but with the temperature still in the 60’s I kept climbing to 10,500′.

There was a layer of haze, but at 10,500′ we were on top of it in smooth air. As we approached Blythe, the ribbon of the Colorado was glistening in the sun, and although you could only see about 15-20 miles of ground ahead, the faint outlines of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto were hovering above the haze almost 150 miles away.

We had a headwind but thankfully at altitude they weren’t as strong as at ground level. As we approached the Coachella Valley, there was a trail of dust beginning far to the west at the start of the Banning Pass and stretching over 30 miles to the east past Thermal.

This may sound silly, but every now and then you have these “huh” moments. As were were approaching Palm Springs I had the thought that my clock must be off, but I couldn’t figure out how that could happen. I double checked the clock in the panel, my watch, and the one on my tablet. I knew what time we took off and how long we had been flying. I knew what time sunset was, and where the sun was in the sky just didn’t line up with the time on the clock.

Then like a light bulb going off above my head it clicked. Down at ground level everything was already in shadows. For them, the sun had set, but for us up at 10,500′ it was still shining. It reminded me of the time we took off from Fullerton on runway 24 just after the sun had dropped below the horizon, but as we climbed, for a moment, the sun appeared to rise in the west.

The tower is still running on short staff with reduced hours and had closed before we even departed Mesa Gateway. We kept well to the north of the field to come around and enter a right downwind for runway 24. The trip had taken us 20 minutes longer to get home than to get to AZ, coming in at 2:46 thanks to a headwind component of about 20mph for most of the flight.

I Needed a NOTAM for the Restaurant

May 31st, 2024

The plane was supposed to go into the shop right after we returned from Arizona but they were backed up so we took advantage of the chance to get another flight in before the engine replacement. The engine is running great but it is getting up there in hours and I want it done on my terms.

It was a typical May morning with an overcast layer, but by the time we arrived at the airport it had almost completely cleared with just a few clouds to the west. I had an afternoon IFR currency flight planned so decided for a short hop over to Brackett field and Norms Cafe. It’s been awhile since the last time we were there and they have good food, so why not?

We made the twelve minute hop over with tower working us into the busy training traffic and set down on 26L, clearing the runway and switching to Ground. In front of us we could see the “Open” sign on the restaurant door, but there was nobody to be seen anywhere.

Me: “Brackett Ground, Mooney 1015Echo cleared 26Left at Echo, do you know if the restaurant is open?”
Ground: “I don’t sorry, where would you like to taxi?”
Me: “We’ll go over to transient and check it out.”
Ground: “Mooney 15Echo, taxi transient via Echo Sierra.”
Me: “Transient via Echo Sierra, 15Echo.”

As we taxied over my wife called the restaurant and the recording said they are closed Monday’s. It dawned on me that I have never been there on a Monday. The next call was to Maniac Mike’s over at Cable to see if they were open. The recording said they were so we planned the quick hop. Without ever shutting down I called Ground back up for taxi clearance.

Me: “Brackett Ground, Mooney 1015Echo at the fuel island, taxi 26Left with Tango.”
Ground: “The restaurant is closed?”
Me: “Yep, every Monday.”
Ground: “Good to know, Mooney 1015Echo taxi 26L via Sierra.”
Me: “26L via Sierra, 15Echo.”

We reached the end of the taxiway and I called up Tower telling them I was looking for an eastbound departure to Cable. Tower had us cross 26L and for the first time ever I was on 26R, taking off for a right downwind departure.

We made the 5 mile hop to Cable, crossing mid-field to enter the left downwind for runway 24, using up most of it as I came in a little fast and floated.

Maniac Mike’s was busy, but we were seated fairly quickly and had a nice brunch before flying back to Fullerton where we relaxed in the hangar on the couch waiting for my afternoon flight.

Keeping an IFR Training Promise

May 31st, 2024

To stay current for IFR flight you must fly six approaches, a hold, and intercept and track courses either in actual or simulated instrument conditions. Keep in mind that is to be “current” and not necessarily “proficient.”

I have had a good amount of time in actual IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) flying departures and approaches, but on the approaches I typically broke out before the Final Approach Fix (FAF) so they can’t be logged for currency.

Technically I am current until June 30th without flying any more approaches, but I made a commitment to myself the last time I flew practice approaches that I would fly at least 3 approaches and a hold every other month. It keeps me well ahead of the currency requirements but most importantly keeps the proficiency needle higher.

I planned the usual route. Depart Fullerton (KFUL), fly the RNAV 26R at Chino (KCNO), go missed returning to the Paradise (PDZ) VOR for a hold, then the GPS-A at Corona (KAJO), and go missed to finally fly the RNAV 24 back into Fullerton for a full stop landing. IT would end up nothing like “the usual.”

To start, the tower at Fullerton was closed when we were ready to depart so rather than picking up flight following on the ground, which is easy, I had to do it in the air under the hood. IT isn’t difficult, but not as easy as while sitting motionless on the ground.

We climbed to 3,000′ which is the intercept altitude for LINDN on the approach into CNO where ATC typically vectors you to intercept final. After then next handoff I made my request for the approach and was instructed “climb maintain 5,000′.” It was a Saturday afternoon and there were a number of planes around Paradise that he needed me above. That was the first change in “the usual.”

I had on my mind that I was going to need to get down, hoping it wouldn’t be a slam-dunk as we approached Paradise. The normal instruction before approaching the VOR is to “depart Paradise on a heading of 080” which establishes you on a downwind leg. I was counting down the distance to the VOR when ATC only said “November 15Echo fly 080.” That is a clear, concise, easy instruction, but not what my brain was looking for and it didn’t register right away. I asked my friend “what was that?” 

“He said fly 080,” she replied and I got the response back to him before he made a second request, then turned to the new heading. I was flying everything by hand which is my normal routine while shooting practice approaches which requires additional brainpower above what is needed when flying with the auto pilot and the instruction that wasn’t packaged the way I was expecting me threw me for a second.

ATC gave a left turn to put us on a base leg and a descent down to 4,000′, but it was still going to be a slam dunk. Before reaching 4,000′ he turned us to intercept final and I was trying to get down to 3,000′ by LINDN while intercepting and lining up on final. We were descending between 700-900fpm and still crossed LINDN 300′ high but managed to get lined up on final and center both needles settling into a stabilized approach before the Final Approach Fix at DEWYE.

At minimums I tilted my head back to see under the hood with the runway in front of us and added power to stop the descent before raising the gear as we climbed out. Tower called my turn and sent us back to approach who directed me to “climb maintain 3,500′ direct Paradise.” I went through the buttonology of removing the KCNO approach, adding in the KAJO approach, and setting up the hold while climbing to 3,500′ and trying to maintain a heading direct to the VOR. It ‘mostly’ went well, again stretching my mental muscles.

By the time we were in our second turn in the hold I finally felt like I was settling into the groove of instrument flying by hand. Getting ready to turn back west I told ATC we were inbound and would begin the approach. “The usual” has me at 3,000′ in the hold so I will climb to 3,100′ on the inbound leg to cross the VOR and begin the approach to Corona. This time I was descending and leveling off to slow down enough to drop the gear before turning to the airport.

It was busy in the pattern at Corona but I made my calls inbound announcing that we would stay north of the airport. The pattern for runway 25 is left traffic so remaining on the north side keeps us out of the way.

The descent rate to get down to the MDA (Minimum Descent Altitude) is steeper than normal, but the goal is to get down and level off so you can look for the airport. One mile to the northeast of the airport I leveled off at the MDA, looked out, saw the airport, and turned west climbing back up to clear Chino Hills State Park on the way back to Fullerton.

Even the approach back into Fullerton wasn’t “the usual” today. When the tower is open it is an easy approach straight in to landing. With the tower closed and multiple planes in the pattern I could have announced we were coming straight in, but that comes with some issues. In addition to inconveniencing the planes already established in the pattern, requiring them to accommodate your straight in, there is the chance of a conflict with someone not on the radios and it is easier to spot traffic established in the pattern than on a straight in final.

I made position calls and included that we would break off the approach and circle north of the field to enter the right downwind. Three miles east of the field we had reached the MDA and I broke off the approach and circled north, entering the pattern and settling in to land. 

It was a great flight, all hand-flown, which stretched me and improved my proficiency. I think I like the minimum of every other month schedule for approaches.

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