Nell’s sister Claire decided to have Thanksgiving up in Yosemite at a big lodge. We were thrilled when she said we could tag along. We had considered going to the Grand Canyon with Adam and Sharalyn, but it seemed like a lot of flying for a family that had only done one flight of less than an hour so far.
But we decided it would be a good test for the boys to fly up to Fresno, cutting the drive time from six hours to just one hour. We would spend an hour and a half in the plane instead.
We were in Zero Two Sierra, which seemed to be our family plane. I had installed the car seats which the boys used to use in the minivan. We figured that with a better view they would be happier for longer. It seemed to help, although on the return trip Dexter decided not to have his so we stowed it.
We loaded the luggage into the baggage compartment and loaded the boys into the back seats. I crawled across Nell’s seat to my own and got all strapped in and tangled myself with the headset wires. She settled into her seat and started to get her bag in place at her feet and so on. I took out my checklist and right at the top it said, Complete preflight inspection. There s a reason for checklists. I apologized to Nell, climbed back over her, and went around the outside of the Piper doing my usual checks of the fuel, the control surfaces, the antenna. Then I clambered back over her and got us moving. As we taxied up to the runway (Proteus is parked downhill from the runway and we go up via a long, wide ramp), the boys were chatting on their headsets. Nell and I have a button to isolate them out, so they are able to talk all about Pokemon and sing into their little microphones all they want.
We did our run up, called the tower, and took the runway. With what has become Rudy’ s traditional ‘Let’ s go!’ we rolled down Two One and took off into the sky. I kept in touch with the tower as we turned east and they passed me off to SoCal departures. They gave us a transponder code and followed us over the Van Nuys airport and on toward the mountains. The boys started looking at comic books and, generally, ignoring the fact that they were six thousand five hundred feet off the ground. I had a great time for the nearly two hours we were in the plane.
Adam says that, so far, his passengers have had an extreme reluctance to touch anything in the airplane. I’m really glad that Nell is not similarly awed by the buttons, knobs and switches. I showed her how to put a navigation point into the Garmin 430 GPS and for most of the ride she put in our waypoints. I had plotted a gently curving path up California’s Central Valley, keeping over as many airports as possible for maximum security in the event of an engine failure or a sudden need to get on the ground. Two Sierra has an autopilot, but I didn’t like it. The heading bug is broken so all it will do is level the wings. There’s a knob that will let you put a specific bank in, so you can roll the wings with the twist of it. That sounds good, but in practice you can’t use the autopilot to keep a heading. So I just hand flew it.
That’s good, to get better and better at holding a heading and an altitude. Nell has started pointing out when I have drifted a little on altitude and as soon as she figures out how to read the DG (directional gyroscope) she’ll probably learn to say ‘heading’ just as quickly as she now says ‘altitude.’ The Central Valley was one of the regions of California that Rudy had just studied in fourth grade, so as we crossed the small range of mountains from the San Fernando Valley and flew out over the farms I told him what was below us. He whooped with excitement, leaned over to the window and said, ‘Look at ALL those farms down there.’ He seemed a little confused that he couldn’t see more ‘crops.’ The only hitch in our entire ride up was that apparently the first controller we talked to (out of about seven that we were handed off to from our starting point in Santa Monica) put in our destination as San Jose instead of Fresno. So when we started our descent for Fresno and told Fresno Approach we were unfamiliar with the airport he was a little surprised we were landing rather than flying over. The runway at Fresno was seven thousand feet long. And that was the short runway (which we were assigned since we weren’t one of the regional jets that was landing).
Unfortunately, the boys decided that ten minutes before landing was the time they needed to lose patience with being cooped up in the airplane. We had a discussion about that before we got back in the airplane for the ride home. The rental car was not at Corporate Air the way it was meant to be. That cost us twenty minutes. But the ramp fellows could not have been nicer about driving us over to the main terminal and taking care of the airplane. It was a perfect day to fly and it was really a perfect flight up. I immediately wished that we were continuing on up to Napa Valley to see Nell’s friend Marcy after Thanksgiving. It’s nice to be in love with your co-pilot. That’s a bonus.