Winter Flying

Saturday was a flying day. It was a flying day for a multitude of reasons. First of all, my flight hours have not been accumulating very rapidly the past few months, for no particular reason. So it was high time I just go flying for the sake of flying. It was a lazy holiday weekend. The air was cool and crisp. And clear. And smooth. Strapping into N4WR on a day like that, I knew he would climb out like a scalded cat. And sure enough, with just me on board, and full fuel, we launched out of PAO at 1,500 feet per minute doing a comfortable 120 knots. I pointed the nose toward the coast.

On a day like that, you can bet I wasn't the only pilot in the Bay Area with that idea. I don't have a hangar in which I can practice the time-honored tradition of "hangar flying" with my fellow airport bums, so indulge me in some "blog flying", if you will.

Within a minute of switching to Half Moon Bay Airport's CTAF, I discovered that two other planes were approaching to land, about the same distance out as me, from different directions. Right away I'm thinking, "this is gonna be fun."

There was me, in my Bonanza. A man with a European accent that I couldn't quite place, flying a Lake. And an older gentleman in a twin Cessna. We've all announced our intentions to make right traffic for 30, and we're hoping to see each other approaching the airport any minute now. Just then a woman in a 172 gets on the frequency and announces that she's taking off from runway 12.

Now, the winds were slightly favoring 30, but they were only blowing at four or five knots. Still, I wasn't surprised when the twin Cessna keyed his mic and said, "can you confirm, that was runway 1-2?"


Right away I remind myself that at a non-towered field, we can use any runway we'd like. People generally just use whichever the pilot before them used, just to keep things simple, but there's no regulation to that effect. Just because she was departing from 12 doesn't mean that the three of us shouldn't continue our approaches and land on 30, as we had planned. I was about to make an announcement to that effect over the radio, when I heard the Lake say, "Okay, I'll make left downwind for 12, then." Oh well.

The Lake was probably more than happy to switch to 12, as he was already lined up for a left downwind to 12. As it turned out, I was too, more or less. Almost immediately after his call, I spotted the Lake straight ahead of me and I informed everyone that I'd be following him on the left downwind to 12.

The twin Cessna was audibly not as pleased with this turn of events, as he sighed and announced his new plan to overfly midfield before entering left downwind for 12 on the 45.

Naturally I was rapidly closing the gap on the Lake. I decided to widen out my pattern and ended up almost passing him. Luckily he flew a pretty tight pattern, which I always appreciate. I continued out over the ocean before turning base an landed behind him. On short final I looked up to see the twin Cessna overflying the field.

There's something satisfying about working out the traffic flow with fellow pilots at a non-towered airport on a busy Saturday.

I taxied back and departed 12 straight down the coast, passing several more planes on my way to Santa Cruz. Who said general aviation is dying?

When I got to the boardwalk, I headed inland.

I wanted to go land at South County Airport in San Martin, but I wanted to get an aerial photo of my new office on the way. So I followed highway 17 up to Scotts Valley. The startup I recently started at has rented office space in Borland's old campus. It's a huge, gorgeous campus that lay completely vacant for over 10 years following Borland's bankruptcy. Like a corporate ghost town. Just last year someone bought the whole place and started cutting away the overgrowth. Now there are a few small companies renting out little isolated corners. It's still kind of creepy.

At South County I found another busy non-towered delight. This time there were two other planes entering on the 45. I let my impatience get the best of me and I cut in front of both of them by overflying midfield and entering the downwind directly. They were both pretty far out still and I knew that I would have to slow way down and fly a huge pattern to get in line behind them. One of them seemed slightly miffed, but I was clear of the runway before either of them even turned base, so it worked out well for everyone involved.

Back at PAO I got FAA permission to pull a similar stunt! There were two other planes already in the pattern when I called in, but the tower said if I was able to keep my speed up I could fly straight in to runway 31 and be #1 for landing. More than happy to comply, I gave the throttle a slight push and kept the gear tucked away a little longer than usual. On my landing rollout Palo Alto Tower gave me the familiar, "Welcome home 4WR, contact ground on the parallel."

Super Cub Fun

Last week my friend Mike invited me to ride along to Columbia Airport with him to pick up his Super Cub from its annual inspection. As a rule, I never turn down a Super Cub flight!

Someone from the shop flew to Palo Alto Airport to pick us up in a Cessna 182 and took us to Columbia. When we arrived I took a quick self-guided tour of the shop. They had several beautiful Bonanzas in there for annual inspections. That's a sure sign of a quality shop.

They were kind enough to lend us a car for the short ride into town for lunch. Columbia is a charming Old West town. Visiting downtown feels like taking a ride in a time machine. We spent Fourth of July weekend there this year and had a great time.

Back at the hangar, Mike settled his tab and collected his log books, and we walked out to the ramp to find N14314.

It's so cute

No glass cockpit here

After a quick pre-flight inspection (the Cub is a remarkably simple aircraft) we saddled up.

I haven't figured out how to smile for selfies

Taxiing feels like riding in a go kart

The Cub felt right at home on Columbia's grass strip. After a short ground roll it leapt off the turf.

It really is the perfect airplane for low and slow sight seeing flights.

It doesn't hurt that you can look straight down past the landing gear at the ground beneath you. You can even open up the whole side of the plane in flight. Or just open the top half and stick your elbow out into the airstream.

It took a while (the Cub is no speed demon) but eventually we were passing over the stinky salt ponds of Fremont and entering the traffic pattern at Palo Alto.

What a great flight! I'm not ready to trade in the Bonanza just yet, but... maybe a two plane fleet is the ticket?

Navy Parachute Team

LUNAR: Model Rockets At Moffett Field

Sophia found a local model rocketry club called LUNAR. They get together about once a month at Moffett Field and launch rockets. We decided to check it out this month.

I was just excited to be on the ramp at Moffett, in the enormous shadow of Hangar 1. Max thought it was pretty cool, too.

The crowd was huge! Much bigger than I expected for a model rocketry club, at least. Everyone had cool setups with tables, camp chairs, and toolboxes. There were a lot of parents with kids and a lot of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Luke and Sophie were digging the rockets

They had five banks of five launch pads each, all of which were controlled by a central ignition system operated at Mission Control. The line to launch was very long, but it moved quickly. They definitely have the process ironed out and they move through the launches pretty efficiently. Aside from minimizing the wait times for launchers, it also keeps it fun for us spectators, because there's a steady stream of launches to watch.

Max and I spotted a fighter jet parked on the ramp, so we wandered over to get a closer look. I don't know my warbirds especially well, but I believe this is an early model F/A-18 Hornet. Unfortunately, this particular example has seen better days. It looks like NASA has been using this airframe for parts. Lots of control surfaces and other parts were missing, and the plane had been mostly gutted.

It was cool to look in the air intakes and be able to see right out the back end of the plane. From the rear it was striking how empty the plane looked with the engines missing. These things really are tiny cockpits strapped to two huge jet engines.

The Launch Director gives the countdowns for a bank of five launches

Max and I are going to spend some time in the shop before the next meeting so we have something of our own to launch.

Mexico With The Flying Samaritans

Last year a friend I met through my favorite forum for Bonanza owners told me about The Flying Samaritans. They are a humanitarian group that organizes doctors, dentists, and pilots one weekend each month to fly to Mexico and run a volunteer clinic. Todd is a dentist, and in addition to piloting his Bonanza down to Mexico and pulling lots of teeth, he organizes the dental half of the clinic. I'd been wanting to do some charitable flying, so I decided to join Todd on his next trip down.

That trip was last September, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to try to go two to three times per year. Unfortunately I wasn't able to return to Mexico for a while, but I made my second trip this past weekend.

Todd's friend, Charlie, met me at the airport Friday morning. Charlie is an endodontist. We took off early in the morning from Palo Alto. Todd took off from Reid-Hillview airport in San Jose around the same time. He had his mom and another dentist in his plane. We met for breakfast in Santa Monica, where we also picked up my second passenger: a UCLA student named Justin who has been flying with the Sams every other month for over 7 years. Justin was one of my passengers last September as well.

After clearing customs in Tijuana, we continued on to our destination: a small town about 180 miles south of the border called San Quintín. I snapped a couple shots of UCSD as we passed overhead.

We landed at a little dirt strip called Rancho Magaña, because the dirt strip on the farm next to the clinic is currently closed for repairs. They are actually in the process of paving it!

That crop duster was the only plane in sight when I arrived

We get to stay at a lovely hotel right on this expansive empty beach. The beach is called Sand Dollar Beach, and for good reason -- it's littered with sand dollars! The food at the hotel is delicious. Going in to town for street tacos is even tastier. The tacos are possibly my main motivation for going on these trips.

Saturday morning we headed to the clinic early to get everything set up. Todd kept us all in line.

El Jefe

One of my main jobs was to set up all the syringes with needles and anesthetic so that they'd be ready to go when the dentists needed them. I got faster at it by the end of the day. I also sterilized several batches of instruments in the autoclave throughout the day. Toward the end of the day I even assisted Charlie in doing a root canal!

It's tough to watch as four or more teeth are pulled from patients' mouths. I can only imagine the pain those teeth have been causing them, though. The little kids are the hardest to witness, especially now that I can picture Max in that chair! This little guy was especially scared of the needle.

After a successful clinic on Saturday we returned to Rancho Magaña on Sunday morning to head home.

The three Flying Sams airplanes at Rancho Magaña: mine, Todd's and Joel's

I really love the combination of aviation, service, and camaraderie on these trips. The people who volunteer their time and talents, many of whom go down every month, are wonderful. It's a pleasure to spend a couple days and share a few tacos with them. I hope to return soon!