First Parental Charter

Adam was having such fun flying Mom and Alex around that I had to figure out a way to take them up. The problem was that I didn’t really need to go anywhere. I don’t know where Adam is getting his flying dollars, but my budget appears to be a little tighter. I did need to go up in Two Sierra to try out the autopilot, try a couple landings, make sure the push-to-talk switch was working, so I scheduled a flight on Friday morning.

Of course, I arrived at SMO on time and the plane wasn’t ready. The door was open and there was a mechanic up under the firewall fixing a wire. I stood and talked with Nick and a student for a little while about whether to buy a new airplane or an old airplane. I was amazed that both of them were against buying a new airplane when the reason to stay away from old airplanes was contorted between the seats of Two Sierra at that very moment.

He finally finished and I did my pre-flight and started up. I taxied up to the run up area, collecting my clearance through the mini-route along the way, and did my run up. Two Sierra felt a little more comfortable and familiar as I rolled onto Two One and took off toward the Pacific.

I climbed up, turning in a lazy two-seventy so that I flew out to the shoreline, up a bit to the Santa Monica Pier and then back over the VOR at the airport. I lined up for my run through the imaginary corridor that punctures the airspace over LAX. I talked to the LAX tower and they cleared me through. The Hawthorne tower controller followed me down to Torrance, where my parents were waiting. I requested the wrong runway at Torrance (I like the short one, Two Nine Left, and I requested Two Nine Right). When I lined up on my preference the tower reminded me which one I had been given clearance for so I wiggled over to that one instead.

I landed fast. The brakes are good on Two Sierra, but I am still learning how much I can stand on them. Before our trip to Fresno on Thanksgiving I will do some pattern work (landing practice) at Santa Monica so that I get a real feel for the plane and the speeds at which it flies.

I taxied over to transient parking and hopped out. Mom was waiting by the parked planes and waved and smiled as I arrived. The two of them were very excited to hop into another little plane and Mom said she loved the bright taxi-cab yellow of Two Sierra.

I had no flight plan when I left Santa Monica. I explained that I had checked the weather and that the Central Valley had winds whipping down it. that meant that there would be really significant turbulence out over the desert and we probably didn’t want to fly to Mojave or Bakersfield. I said we could try for Big Bear, but there was a chance that along the way it would get bumpy and that if it got too bumpy we would just turn around and come home. They were totally up for it.

We climbed in. The Cherokee was probably a little more difficult to get into than the Cessnas that Adam has been flying them around in. But after some wiggling and tossing of bags into the luggage area we were all strapped in.

GPS is the best. We climbed out of Torrance Airport and departed on the right downwind southeast. I talked to SoCal Approach. I explained that I was going to Big Bear. The air traffic controllers always have to guess a little bit about what sort of pilot they are talking to. Is this a student pilot who barely knew how to exit the traffic pattern at that last airport? Is this an IFR pilot with his commercial license who has flown this route three hundred times?

They said it would help if I didn’t fly toward Big Bear directly because it would put me in the way of the approach for LAX. I said that was fine and I was planning to fly over Riverside, then Corona, and then on to Big Bear. The controller tried to figure out how I was navigating the Los Angeles basin (most of the details of the landscape below were already lost in a little bit of haze) and he tried to direct me to the Seal Beach VOR. (I could have found that on the chart, but I had certainly never dialed it into a navigation radio and didn’t have it pre-set.) I said I could go to any airport directly that he could tell me would be helpful. He said, ‘How are you navigating, pilotage? (In other words, how was I going to find the Corona airport, just by watching the ground and checking my watch and compass? I admitted that I had a GPS and I could plug in anything. He said if I skipped Riverside and went direct to Corona and then on to Big Bear that would work perfectly. I corrected the Direct-to on the GPS and we were off.

Two Sierra has a more powerful engine than Victor Pappa, the plane we trained in. It hums along with a lot of confidence and the feeling that it has power to spare. That’s a nice feeling when you are gliding over housing developments and the most open space is a softball field. Would the Cherokee fit on a softball field? I think it would.

One of the reasons I was taking this flight was to get used to using the autopilot. So I set the heading bug (a little mechanical marker on the directional gyroscope, the instrument I use to check my course), and flipped on the ancient (thirty year old) Piper Automatic Pilot. The servos grabbed the yoke right away and leveled the wings. That was nice. Then I turned on the HDG (Heading) switch and waited. Two Sierra wandered the sky. So I turned it off and hand flew the rest of the way. That was disappointing because I was hoping to learn to use the GPS and autopilot combination. That would have to wait for the next flight.

Mom and Alex were having a tremendous time sightseeing. I couldn’t look out the window as much as I could have if we had locked onto a course with automation, but I peered out the window to check out things they were noticing. They passed binoculars back and forth. That reminded me that I wanted to get a pair for Rudy and Dexter to use on the flight up to Fresno.

We flew inland, climbing to sixty-five hundred and when they let us, up to eighty-five hundred to clear the mountains that lead into Big Bear Lake. Described in a previous post, there is a series of parallel valleys that connect the Los Angeles Basin to the plateau of desert where Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twenty-nine Palms all sit against the edge of the national park. One of these valleys was interrupted with some more geological activity I suppose and it worked to catch water. That’s Big Bear Lake.

To get over the edge of Big Bear Lake we have to climb climb climb. Two Sierra has a bigger engine than Victor Pappa (which Adam and I flew into Big Bear on our airport hopping trip). Still, the climb rate slowed as we approached eight thousand feet. We were probably only making two hundred feet a minute up as we got to the foothills, and we saw some Warning! Terrain! messages in the little LCD window of the GPS. That tells us that if we continued in the current direction we would run into something. Thanks. We kept climbing and came in over the lake.

The visual sensation of flying into the mountains is unsurpassed. We watched these granite monsters ripple off the desert floor, unfurling themselves towards the sky, and shouldering the carpet of pine trees while they stretch their bent backs to the sky. Pog pointed one out in particular on the way back out, which looked like a figure hunched under a shroud, lurching to meet its friends, the folds dragging by its feet.

I determined to fly a longer final approach for L35, since the runway is at sixty-seven hundred feet. Unfortunately, just as I had done at Torrance, I crowded the runway a little bit. So when I turned base I had already overshot the centerline of the runway behind me. I turned tight to final and flew back to the center line, but I can’t say that my approach was stabilized for the final two miles to the runway. I was also a little high (I always feel safe with a little more altitude beneath me, call me foolish), so to get down to the numbers I turned to plane sideways and slipped down toward the runway.

I warned my passengers that we might be going around. We hadn’t been able to see a definite direction of wind on the wind sock and I couldn’t get the AWOS (automated weather observation system) tuned in and I figured there was also a chance that we were landing with a tail wind. I made sure that my hand was on the throttle and I was ready to take it around for another try.

The truth is that I knew what the problem was with some of my handling of the plane, but it was hard to correct. The airspeed indicator in Victor Pappa is in miles per hour and the airspeed indicator in Two Sierra is in knots. A nautical miles if fifteen per cent longer than a statute mile, but since I had done over sixty hours training in Victor Pappa it was proving difficult to switch over to different numbers.

In Victor Pappa I am meant to slow to 95mph as I head downwind of the landing strip. I am meant to be seventy-five miles an hour over the fence. So, really I am fifteen per cent fast on everything. Even the climbing speed, which is known as Vy (the speed at which the plane gains altitude the fastest) I was going too fast. Two Sierra would have climbed a little bit faster if I had pointed the nose a little further up into the sky.

So I landed fast, floating down the runway a little. We were on the centerline, which was nice. I let the airplane ride all the way to the end of the runway, and then taxied back to the transient parking. We parked right next to a Diamond Star, which is an airplane I have flown and enjoyed. Mom peered in the windows of the newer plane, but said she really liked that ours was bright yellow.

It was a nice diner in which to have my first hundred dollar hamburger (Alex’s treat). We watched a couple planes leave, but it is a pretty quiet field even on a Friday. As we walked back out to the plane the Diamond’s pilots were headed out as well. I said it was a great looking plane and asked where they were headed. Palm Springs.

We took longer getting ready than they did and we got to watch them rotate and climb out. We did a quick run up at the end of the runway and followed them out over the eastern bit of water. Looking down Alex said it looked like a salt march or something. It certainly wasn’t attractive and seemed rather bleak. Part of it seemed to border a sewage treatment plant. We skimmed over the eastern lip of the valley and the ground dropped away to the desert floor. We had been at a few hundred feet above ground level and suddenly we felt some of the thousands of feet of altitude we really had.

I thought it would be nice to circle down to Joshua Tree, to see the town from the air, and then scoot through the pass down to within sight of Palm Springs before turning west and returning home. Before I got too far from my planned route, though, I wanted to have air traffic control following my movements.

Adam and I once puzzled over this very bit of desert about who we were meant to call for flight following. I flipped open the Airport Guide and looked up a frequency for a Flight Service Station (FSS). There were two frequencies and I was going to have to do the clever thing of broadcasting on one and listening on the other. (I actually listened on the frequency of a nearby radio navigation aid, a VOR.) I asked for Riverside Radio and they answered. I asked who I should call for flight following and said where I was, where I wanted to go.

They are so helpful. She knew my airplane type and so knew the size and what it was capable of. She said, ‘Did you get the current weather?’ I admitted that I had picked up the weather and Meteorological Terminal Area Reports (MeTARs) and noticed some high winds at the surface (that was why I had warned Mom and Alex about bumps) but that I didn’t know any specifics about the area I was heading into.

She said it was full of moderate turbulence. Where? All along your route of flight. Well, moderate turbulence is what they report to larger planes. To this little Cherokee it could be considerably rough. I started a one-eighty and started a climb to get back up over Big Bear. I thanked her and signed off. I explained to the cabin why we were changing course. Everyone was happy that we were going to avoid getting tossed around.

The ride home was more sight seeing. It was a little difficult getting the attention of the SoCal Approach controller, and when I finally did he said that I had called the wrong frequency. Midway back to Torrance the push-to-talk switch went out again (as it did on my flight to Santa Barbara). Alex and I swapped headset plugs. My enthusiasm for renting airplanes continues to dim.

I have to remember to bring a fresh shirt for these trips. I am drenched in sweat after an hour of flying. I am sure I will get more and more secure about being a few thousand feet off the ground, but until I do, I should bring something to change into because I look like I’ve just exited the gym after a heavy session.

I dropped Mom and Alex back at Torrance and gave them both big hugs, since I probably wouldn’t see them before they jetted east. They were scheduled to fly to the Grand Canyon with Adam on the weekend. I was bushed as I flew home. Torrance up to Santa Monica is hard work. I got a clearance through the mini-route, set the transponder and took off. I was handed off from Torrance Ground to Torrance Tower to Hawthorne Tower to the LAX Tower and finally to Santa Monica Tower. I didn’t have the center line as I landed and bounced a little (still too fast). I taxied back to Proteus and shut down.

A great day of flying.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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