Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve

After a very wet three days where my home received over 10 inches of rain, the skies cleared and it was time to fly. It was also Christmas Eve and I like to spend holidays off flying with family or friends. I was anxious to show my husband, Jeff, what its like to do an actual instrument flight and there were some low clouds around, meaning I could get some actual too.

The night before (Christmas Adam as my siblings and I call it) I planned and filed an IFR flight plan to fly to Fresno Chandler Executive Airport (FCH) in the club's 180HP 172... why on earth fly to Fresno on Christmas Eve? Because Jeff and I recently decided that we wanted to fly to all of the airports we'd never flown before in California and Fresno is on that list. There was a good chance of getting some actual instrument conditions, not too much, but just enough.

I woke up Christmas Eve morning and did a quick check of the weather, everything looked good to go. I went downstairs to make breakfast and drink my morning coffee. Strangely I get a text message with a picture of an empty tie down spot where the plane should be.

My friend was at the airport practicing for his private license and noticed I had the plane reserved for later in the morning, so he went to check it out for the earlier morning... at which point he realized the plane was not there! He gave me a heads up to the situation. It turns out the person who rented the plane for the weekend before didn't bring the plane back yet. I was just SOL.

Time for a change in plans, I didn't want to fly the other 172s to Fresno, it would take a bit longer than I wanted to spend. So I filed another IFR flight plan for Half Moon Bay, a closer airport that required either dodging or flying through San Francisco's Class Bravo airspace. We would fly to Half Moon Bay IFR then fly our return down the coast and drop by South County to meet up with another friend and say Hi. 

I choose to fly without the foggles. I was curious to see if I could maintain the straight tracks and precise altitudes required for IFR flying while able to see out the window instead of monitoring the instruments 100% of the time. I am happy to say, I could without a problem. All of the flight was done via radar vectors until I was cleared for the approach. Unfortunately we were given altitudes that kept us just above or below the scattered clouds. I was bummed. When cleared for the approach we were in severe clear conditions and there were 4 or 5 planes in the pattern at Half Moon Bay so I cancelled IFR and flew into the VFR traffic pattern there and landed. Jeff mentioned that did not seem much more complicated than flying on a Bay Tour through SFO airspace. In reality, that particular flight wasn't.

After a nice lunch we went back to the plane and launched south to fly along the coast and head towards South County Airport. This time we stayed neatly under the Class Bravo shelf and clear of clouds. There were enough clouds that I didn't want to try to squeeze between them and the ridges around 3000 feet between the coast and South County so I went further south towards Watsonville and planned on cutting across near that airport.

About 5 miles past Watsonville we were headed for the ridgeline and ready to cut back into the Santa Clara valley when I heard a voice on the Watsonville CTAF.
Watsonville Traffic, radio check please, testing new equipment. Watsonville.
I didn't anyone reply, so I figured I would.
Watsonville radio check, you are loud and clear from 2,500 feet and 5 miles away.
The voice responded.
Roger that, Thanks alot. 
My reply..
No problem. Merry Christmas!
And his reply sounded almost surprised and very happy, you could hear the smile in his voice.
Well, Merry Christmas to you!

We stopped at South County and visited with our friend for a bit. It was great to see him. Then it was time to head back to RHV. One the way back I leveled off at 2500 feet, called in to the tower at the right time and tried to time my descent to do a nice stabilized descent right to the runway... it worked! I lined up for the runway from 5 or 6 miles away, set up a 500 fpm descent and keep that rate nailed. I've never done a descent as nice as that one (at least not when able to see!) It was a great way to top off a great flying day.

So, Merry Christmas again my friends... may the Christmas season bring you and yours peace, joy and happiness with time well spent with family and friends enjoying their company and all of the wonderful things life has to offer.

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