Sunday, November 27, 2011

Watch for Falling People

Well, so far we are zero for many on getting up to Willows for a cross country. Today, the last day of the Thanksgiving holiday before we go back to work, my hubby and I planned to fly cross country to Willows, not to buy pie, but to return the pie tins from the last pie purchases there. No joy. Thick fog predicted for the central valley for most of the day. Time for plan B.

Plan B was a trip to Oceano Dunes. If the central valley is totally fogged in, that usually means the coast is clear (literally) ... sure enough all current and forecast weather sources indicated clear on the coastlines. Oceano has a really good BBQ joint about 3 miles from the airport so that was enough for the other half to approve the trip. The only possible damper to the trip is we'd have to be on the way back by 3PM or no later than 3:15PM in order to be on the ground before night fall back at RHV. Neither of us is night current.

RHV weather was fogged in most of the morning and finally got up to MVFR with haze by noon. We got down there and I called for a weather briefing to ensure my interpretation of the weather matched the experts. The briefer mentioned the AIRMET for fog in the San Francisco Bay Area, and how the satellite showed it burning off. Then he said there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence just south of our destination. Finally he mentioned there was a NOTAM for parachute jumping right over Oceano airport so make sure to monitor CTAF so I wouldn't have to dodge falling people. Aside from the that the weather along the route was predicted clear.  As usual they asked if I had any questions and I just said, "OK, to summarize, watch for falling people, don't fly into fog and hope the turbulence stays south of my destination." The briefer laughed, agreed that was a good synopsis and wished me a good flight.

Jeff and I took off around 12:45PM a little later than desired. Before we took off I told Jeff that he was not allowed to touch the controls unless we discussed it first. He asked me if I thought he would do that. I said no, but just in case, we should be clear on that. He agreed, of course. Nothing really exciting happened on the flight there. We had flight following, Jeff managed switching the radios when we needed and programming waypoints into the GPS but aside from that he just relaxed in the right seat, pushed all the way back and played with his electronics.

I found out the plane feels sluggish with 285 lbs in the right seat rather than the 170 or nothing I was used to sitting there. It doesn't fly as fast on the same power setting with the extra weight either. I found if I just let go of the controls the plane would roll right, towards the heavier weight, so I had to correct for that the whole flight. I learned I should verify I have the right charts for the entire flight.. I only had the San Francisco sectional with me and Oceano is on the Las Angeles sectional. Fortunately we had an up-to-date GPS to leverage and a flight plan to follow.

We got to Oceano 1.9 hours after I turned the key. I pulled off a descent landing considering the unfamiliar weight and the narrow and short runway. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time for us to get BBQ, but we had enough time to get out of the plane, wander around the airport and chat with some locals who came out to watch planes take off and land. There were about 10 planes parked on the ramp in transient and it turned out all of the pilots had the same idea to leave at 3. All of the sudden planes were firing up and taxiing down to the run up to take off. We waited a couple minutes to let some of the planes clear the ramp and then we took off too.

5 mile final for 31R - ATIS says 10SM visibility
We picked up flight following on the way back and enjoyed clear and smooth air all the way up to the Bay Area. Jeff and I noticed the plane running a bit rougher and we lost about 5 knots IAS as we passed over King City airport on the way back. That wasn't normal, but it didn't get any worse. I made sure to squawk that information when we got back. On the return you could see the haze over the Bay Area. ATIS at RHV said visibility was 10 miles, but it sure didn't look like that from 2500 feet and 10 miles away! I wished I already had that Instrument Rating I'm planning on getting. It seemed like there were 5 planes all calling inbound for landing from over UTC right after I called in. The sunset was coming fast and I'm sure many of these planes had pilots that were not night current.. just like us. We were cleared for landing following a Bonanza. I couldn't see the airport, but I could see the Bonanza's anti-collision lights so I happily followed that until I actually could see the airport. Finally about 4 miles out we could see the VASIs and that helped me line up for the runway. Jeff reminded me not to descend too much and I was grateful for his help.

I landed the plane gently and rolled off the runway very happy. Jeff and I flew very well together with me in the left seat. I did good on the flying, navigating and landing and we had no major mechanical issues. Next time we go to Oceano dunes we'll have to make it an overnight trip. I forgot I have a friend down there, in addition to good BBQ to eat! It was a good flight. I hope to have many, many more of those!

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