Monday, October 8, 2012

Flight to Palm Springs

Lovely paint job on a very nice V35 parked next to
us at PSP. They are expecting 1000+ planes
at this airport for the summit in a couple days!
Yesterday my husband, Jeff, and I flew down to Palm Springs, CA for the AOPA Summit. We have been planning this trip for months. The summit itself is Thursday - Saturday but we decided to make a week of it and enjoy a vacation of doing nothing for a while. (Nothing, that is, aside from a little work, a couple meetings, and then actually enjoying a vacation!)

The plane I wanted to fly, a 180 HP Penn Yan conversion Cessna 172 was not running well yet. So we opted to rent one of the club's 182s for the trip. A faster plane, but one I'm not yet signed off to fly since I chose to pursue my Instrument Rating before getting the short training required to fly high-performance or complex planes. So, Jeff got to PIC and I handled the radio work. Which I like to do and he doesn't like to do.

We took off for Palm Springs around 11AM into a clear blue sky and had flight following immediately to accompany us on our way. About 30 minutes into the flight however, I start to hear a rattling noise that seemed to come from the roof of the plane, maybe in the interior or maybe from the exterior of the plane. The noise got louder and even my husband started hearing it. We took turns turning and trying to push and pull on the roof liner, trying to identify where the noise was coming from and we couldn't. The noise continued to get louder and we were both concerned. If this was something on the outside of the plane, it could be important! and the last thing we wanted to do is have a plane lose pieces at 9500 feet. We decided to divert to Los Banos airport, land and check things out.

After landing we taxied to transient, shut down and climbed out of the plane. Jeff pulled out the ladder and inspected the top of the plane. I walked all around the outside, we couldn't find anything loose or out of place. We reached back inside the plane and pushed and pulled on the trim panels again, nothing seemed wrong there or more loose than the trim on any other plane in this old fleet of rentals. So, we put everything away, started back up and took off for Palm Springs again. No noise. Not one squeak or rattle. The plane remained quiet for the remainder of the flight.

I got us flight following and programmed our flight plan into the GPS. Once we got up to our cruise altitude of 9500 feet Jeff turned on the autopilot which ran off the flight plan in the GPS. I'd never flown a long flight in a plane with autopilot before and found out very quickly how easily you can forget to look out the window with the plane essentially flying itself. An autopilot also makes a long flight rather boring. The weather was good and the ride smooth.  The air below us was hazy but I could still spot planes much lower than us taking off and landing at airports that we passed.

LA smog / haze pushing up against the mountains to the nort
We cruised along and got handed off to Lemore Approach, Bakersfield Approach and finally Los Angeles Center. When we did our initial call to LA Center they asked our intended route into Palm Springs. I had expected that question so I was ready to answer very quickly. Eventually we flew over a pass into the LA Basin proper. I looked off to the west into the haze and was glad I have been doing instrument training. In a couple weeks I'm supposed to fly into that basin to Fullerton airport and I had a feeling the instrument training will come in handy navigating through that haze, even if it is above VFR minimums.

We turned east away from the haze and headed towards Banning airport and Banning pass which is a common route into the Palm Springs TSRA. We hadn't talked to the LA Center controllers in a while (actually we were hearing the third voice on the same frequency by this time). I notified the controller that we were starting our VFR descent towards Banning. The controller was surprised by this and rather grouchy to find a plane on his frequency that he wasn't expecting. He wasn't actively tracking us and told us to return to the Bakersfield frequency to get a "correct frequency". I guessed what happened; as we flew through their airspace something got lost in the hand off from the first LA Center controller to the next and we got dropped. Or, less likely, maybe they told us to change frequencies and I missed it - much less likely, I don't often miss calls. I knew we wouldn't be likely to be able to talk to Bakersfield from the south side of the mountain range, but I gave it a shot. Sure enough, we couldn't raise Bakersfield approach.

Jeff and his new girlfriend from
Atlantic Aviation :)

I returned to LA Center and offered the frustrated controller an out. I told him we couldn't raise Bakersfield approach and in the same breath requested permission to change to the Palm Springs TSRA frequency. He thanked me for my help and approved the frequency change. Just in time too! When we switched to the TSRA frequency we heard them calling our N number. They were calling out traffic in our area. We acknowledged and found the traffic quickly. Banning pass, being a common route into and out of the LA Basin was very busy with aircraft. Palm Springs TSRA helped notify us about different traffic and eventually obtained radar contact.

After that it was a rather normal approach and landing into the Palm Springs International Airport. Jeff flew a very nice stabilized straight in approach into the airport and we taxied in and parked at Atlantic Aviation for the week. We were both in a great mood after picking up our rental car from Atlantic Aviation's friendly staff and arranging for the plane to be refueled Tuesday morning rather than waiting for Sunday to refuel right before we return. It will be a very busy airport this weekend!

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