A 760 Mile Round-Trip is “In the Neighborhood”

This might be my most rewarding flight ever. My wife and I walked into my parent’s house in Queen Creek, AZ on Mother’s Day morning, and I said to my surprised mom, “We were in the neighborhood so thought we’d stop by.” She gave me a smile that said “I’m…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
1 Jun 2024

This might be my most rewarding flight ever. My wife and I walked into my parent’s house in Queen Creek, AZ on Mother’s Day morning, and I said to my surprised mom, “We were in the neighborhood so thought we’d stop by.” She gave me a smile that said “I’m so glad to see you” with just a touch of “yeah right” for the in the neighborhood comment.

I hadn’t been to see my folks in AZ in 11 months. Saying that out loud sounds ridiculous. We bought the Mooney specifically because I wanted a plane that was fast enough for trips to Arizona, Utah, and Idaho to visit family. Oh, and because it is just a beautiful airframe that is a ton of fun to fly. So, the fact that I hadn’t been to AZ for 11 months seems almost sacrilegious.

It isn’t that I didn’t see my parents in the previous 11 months. There were two weddings and a funeral that we flew to and spent time with them at, but those were all in Utah, not Arizona. Originally, we were going to fly to Idaho to see my oldest son and then stop by Salt Lake and St George on the way home to visit more family for Mother’s Day weekend. But as it got closer, I told my wife I really felt like we should go visit my parents.

My wife being the amazing woman that she is gave up visiting her daughters and grandkids in Utah so I could see my mom. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful my wife is. I talked with my sisters in AZ and worked out so that I could surprise mom and dad. I figured that we could just do it as a day trip, flying out in the morning and back in the evening.

Without the Mooney I would never consider making a day trip out of it. Who wants to spend 12 hours round-trip in a car to just get a few hours to visit? On the other hand, 4-5 hours round trip in the Mooney? Here’s my rationale for the trip. If my parents lived in San Diego, I wouldn’t think twice about driving there to visit on Mother’s Day and driving home the same day. It would be at least a two-hour trip each way that could easily stretch into 2 ½+ hours each way with traffic.

Essentially it is the same amount of time it would take to fly to AZ and back.  But there is the added bonus that the views on the trip are much better from the air, and I don’t have to deal with all the other drivers on the road. All I have to do is sit back and watch the world slide beneath me.

Here in the LA area, we are well into what is affectionately referred to as “May Gray.” There is a marine layer almost every day from May through June (June Gloom) that typically burns off by mid-day to early afternoon. I filed an IFR flight plan for Sunday morning and looked at the forecast Saturday evening to let my sister know what time we would be arriving.

The ceilings at 7am were supposed to be about 100’, way too low for me to even consider a departure. By 8am they were forecast to lift to about 900’ which is typical. 900’ is high enough for me to take off and have plenty of time to transition to instruments before going into the muck, and also high enough for me to fly the approach back to KFUL if needed. I told my sister we would be taking off about 8am and be there about 10:30am allowing for a crosswind enroute.

Sunday morning when I woke up at 6am the first thing I did was look out the window and saw that I could clearly see the hills to the east, it wasn’t a low overcast. That doesn’t always mean that it isn’t much lower to the west, so I checked the weather at KFUL which was reporting overcast at 1,200’. Perfect.

1800wxbrief had sent me a text about an expected change to my flight plan so I went online and amended my filed plan to match. Sometimes it works and I’m told “As filed” when picking up my clearance and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always worth a try. I had the plane fueled earlier in the week knowing we would be there before the fuel truck was running. I don’t mind pumping my own gas, but KFUL has a deal if you are a member of the Fullerton Airport Pilot Association (FAPA) you get self-serve prices from the truck. When I learned that little nugget of information, I paid for lifetime membership which has more than repaid itself in fuel discounts and convenience.

Pre-flight, loading up the plane, pulling it out of the hangar, climbing in, starting up, and taxi put us in the run-up area just before 8am. After run-up and configuring the plane for departure I called up Ground for my clearance.

Me: “Fullerton Ground, Mooney 1015Echo southeast run-up with Mike, like to pick up our IFR.
Ground: “Mooney 1015Echo good morning, Fullerton Ground, cleared to the Williams Gateway airport, upon departure turn left heading 120, radar vectors Seal Beach, then as filed, climb and maintain 2,000, expect one-one thousand one-zero minutes after departure, SoCal departure frequency 125.35, squawk 7257.”

Ah, those beautiful words “As filed.” Amending my flight plan to the expected this morning worked this time. I repeated back the clearance and then punched in the squawk and dialed in the first assigned altitude into the G5. With those tasks complete, I called up ready to taxi.

We taxied to the end of the runway, but before we came to a stop and I called up tower, he cleared us to depart. We took off and at about 300’ AGL tower handed us off to departure, it was a quiet morning in the skies over the LA Basin. I realized how quiet it was when after checking in departure we were told “climb maintain 6,000 followed shortly after by “climb maintain 11,000.”

When briefing an instrument departure, I always pay close attention to the reported ceilings and say out loud, “ceilings are xxxx so we should be going into the clouds around xxxx.” In this case the ceilings were reported at 1,400’ so mentally I was preparing myself to be in the clouds by about 1,200’ or so. I talked to myself out loud as we climbed and approached the base of the clouds to make sure I was on the instruments before everything faded away.

“There’s 1,300… there’s 1,400…” As things started to fade away, I was looking at the instruments. “So, bases are about 1,400 no 1,450…”

It was a very thin layer and we quickly started to see the clouds get brighter as we got closer to breaking out until just over a minute after going into the clouds, we were suddenly in the brilliant blue sky looking down at a solid layer of white. What looked like a blanket of cotton stretched from the mountains to the north and east as far west and south as far as we could see, hiding the coastline and the ocean.

As we climbed higher and could see the Inland Empire and was surprised to see the solid layer extended all the way east to the San Jacinto Mountains and south to Palomar Mountain. Typically, it is just patchy in those areas, but today it was like someone just poured a huge thing of fluffy white cream that filled up all the low-lying areas, it was beautiful.

We were on V64 passing south of San Jacinto over Idyllwild but could see to the north and it looked like there was a dam in the Banning Pass holding the clouds back from spilling into Palm Springs. They just stopped right there at the pass. We settled in for the flight and at one point had ATC call out traffic to our 9 o’clock.

SoCal: “November 101Sierra-Echo, traffic 9 o’clock and about 5 miles, southeast bound altitude indicates one-zero thousand four hundred showing a code of twelve fifty-five, could be a firefighting tanker.”

I thought changing my tail number for 78878 to 1015E would ease the ATC confusion, but I suppose they are used to seeing two letters on the end of a number and their brain tells them the “5” is an “S” because I hear that off and on. I figured he was talking to me but wanted to be sure.

Me: “Was that for 1015Echo?”
SoCal: “Yes sir, 1015Echo, traffic four miles now southeast bound one-zero thousand four hundred indicated unverified showing a code of 1255 it’s possibly a firefighting tanker aircraft.”
Me: “Traffic is insight, 15Echo.”
SoCal: “Okay 15Echo, thanks.”

Sometimes it’s hard to spot the little planes that ATC calls out to you, but a huge 737 coming right at us was not difficult. He continued his descent and passed just below and in front of us, it was fun to watch. The rest of the flight was uneventful. Somewhere west of Blythe they gave us an amendment to the routing, putting the Phoenix VOR as our last point before Mesa-Gateway (KIWA). I told my wife I don’t know why they would give that to us because we were never going to fly it. Depending on which direction Sky Harbor (PHX) is landing, that routing would put us right in the way of either their arrivals or departures. Every time we have flown IFR from SoCal to Mesa-Gateway (IWA) ATC always break us off the airway at the Buckeye (BXK) VOR and assign vectors the rest of the flight to keep us south of the traffic in and out of PHX.

Sure enough, as we approached BXK the approach controller had new instructions.

ATC: “November 1015E, depart the Buckeye VOR on the 100 radial outbound.”

I was expecting this and already had my response ready, knowing he was going to assign the radial and that with GPS only in the plane I couldn’t accept it.

Me: “We are GPS only, can we get a heading off of Buckeye?”

You could hear the sigh and almost feel the eyes rolling coming over the radio.

ATC: “Mooney 15Echo, depart Buckeye heading of 100 and you can expect the visual approach one-two right.”
Me: “Depart Buckeye heading 100, we’ll expect the visual one-two right, 15Echo.”

Step downs and headings followed until we were cleared for the visual approach, runway 12R. My sister picked us up and we drove to my parents, which brings us to the first part of this article and telling my mom we were “in the neighborhood.”

We had a wonderful visit, just sitting around and talking. Mom mentioned how long it had been since we were there at their home and inside, I scolded myself for letting the months slip by without getting there. Eventually the afternoon got late, and it was time to go. Hugs were given, pictures were taken, and my sister drove us back to the airport, myself with an inner resolve to visit more often.

Summer is already knocking on the door, but it had cooled down to 90°F at 6pm as we climbed in the plane. It felt pleasant compared to the times I’ve had to wear gloves to pre-flight because it is 110°F and the plane is too hot to touch with bare hands. We brought my homemade AC along on the trip and enjoyed a cool breeze on the back of our necks and heads as we taxied, took off, and climbed to our cruising altitude of 10,500’. Up there it was a nice 47°F and we didn’t need the AC anymore.

We chased the sun westward, watching it dip behind San Gorgonio as we passed Twenty-Nine Palms and approached Palm Springs. The air was smooth with just a touch of haze down low and I let the airspeed build in the descent, making up for some time in the climb. I waited until about 5,500’ before starting to pull back on the throttle as the indicated airspeed climbed to 178mph and the lady started warning me of “Airspeed, Airspeed…” Before the GFC500 was installed I would let it go to 180mph, Vne (never exceed speed) is 189mph, before reducing power, but a couple more mph isn’t worth listening to her squawk at me.

Looking down at the freeways there was traffic everywhere. A string of solid white lights coming towards us and solid red going away. Boy, was I glad we were flying!

The tower at FUL closes at 2:30pm Fri-Sun due to staffing issues so we stayed north of the field to enter a right downwind for runway 24. Two hours and thirty-three minutes after departing IWA we were on the ground at FUL and taxiing back to our hangar. I was surprised when I looked at our flight time and saw there was only a difference of one minute between the trip there and the trip back.

All total it was 5:05 of flying to spend Mother’s Day with my mom, a visit that never would have happened without our Mooney Time Machine. I said earlier that this was perhaps my most rewarding flight ever. I have five sisters and no brothers. When I gave my mom a tear filled hug before departing, I could hear the tears in her voice as she said, “I’m so grateful I have a son, and I’m so glad that it’s you.” That moment will stay with me forever.

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A 760 Mile Round-Trip is “In the Neighborhood”

This might be my most rewarding flight ever. My wife and I walked into my parent’s house in Queen Creek, AZ on Mother’s Day morning,...

Richard Brown

1 Jun 2024

Subscribe to our newsletter

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 And get free stickers!