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."

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