Friday, June 14, 2013

DSWT Day 9 - Heading Home - MYF > RHV

The Feral Chihuahua

After breakfast with the whole family Sunday it was time to go back to the airport and head home. First I had a little side track to enjoy, The Feral Chihuahua. My husband and I rode up to the airport in a taxi and Jerry was waiting for us with a big grin on his face. We introduced Jerry to N20791 and he checked out the plane for a bit. Then we dropped off our bags under the plane and went with Jerry to his hangar. Jerry introduced us to his plane. He built the plane himself and you could tell he knew every nut and bolt on the plane and exactly what he was doing when he modified it for speed. I'd never seen an RV-6 up close and was amazed by how small and light it was.

He did a pre-flight inspection and showed me every bolt he checked and why, then we hopped in to do a short flight. We took off to the west and as soon as we were level he handed me the controls. I had never flown a plane with a stick instead of a yoke and this plane felt like a Lotus Elise compared to the truck that was the 182 I was flying. I was quick to get the hang of the stick though and with small movements had the plane flying the direction and altitude he wanted.

The Feral Chihuahua
We went out over the water and did some turns between the water and the clouds. The plane was a lot of fun to fly. I really liked it's light touch and responsiveness. It seemed very stable in the light turbulence we flew through, especially for such a small plane. We had 195 knots ground speed with seemingly no effort from the plane. We came back towards the field and he took the controls on the 45 for the airport. We had a 195 knot ground speed and I wondered how we would slow down. A couple twists on the prop and a little less power and suddenly our ground speed was closer to 120 knots. A touch of flaps and speed was down to 100 knots and we were on final then on the ground before I knew it. I was all grins when I got out of the plane. It was a real special treat to top off my stay in San Diego.

Time to Go Home

Northern San Diego
County coastline
After more time chatting with Jerry, a weather briefing and talking with my hubby before leaving him for a week, it was time to go home. One final solo leg of my "big adventure". I filed and departed on an instrument flight plan, mostly to have ATC working for me as I flew through San Diego's class Bravo and over LA's class Bravo airspace. I filed for 10,000 feet which gave me plenty of clearance over the mountain range between the LA Basin and California's long central valley, of course it would... instrument routes are required to have 2000' clearance over mountainous terrain :) Normally the winds would be from the north but this afternoon the winds at my planned altitude were strong from the south, helping me on my flight.

The clouds had burned back to the San Diego coast and scattered by the time I took off so I got no actual on my instrument departure. This time I hand flew my clearance and route until after the first major waypoint at Oceanside VOR I needed to work on my tracking and knew I'd have at least two hours to practice. I quickly got back into the groove of holding a proper ground track on an instrument flight plan. My route took me along the southern California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles.

Catalina Island and a cloud free shadow
The strong tailwinds were giving me a ground speed of 165 knots and sometimes more in smooth air. I looked out over the clouds low over the Pacific Ocean to my left and saw Catalina Island created its own clear weather on its downwind side. I saw a large fire in the mountains far to the east but no sign of smoke near the Lake Hughes VOR which had a TFR near by. Air traffic was relatively light at the altitudes I flew and I saw, but didn't hear, the jets flying into the LA area airports below me. I flew right over downtown Los Angeles and just east of Van Nuys and Burbank airports. I even spotted the country club I had lunch at with my friend Rick a couple days before.

The mountains north of LA.
As I approached the mountains that marked the northern edge of the LA basin I expected to feel some turbulence. I estimated the winds had to be 20-30 knots at my back and they would hit those mountains and have to go somewhere, namely up, when they got there. I got closer and closer to the mountains and the air was so clear it seemed the mountains were only a thousand feet below. I double checked the altitudes of the peaks below and I had plenty of clearance. I took pictures but I was ready for a good bounce as I crossed the ridge line. I approached the Lake Hughes VOR and ATC told me to cross Lake Hughes VOR then I was cleared direct to Reid-Hillview. A nice side benefit of flying on a Sunday afternoon when the jet traffic was lighter and MOAs were cold.

Fun Riding the Air

I crossed the first ridge with no turbulence but I noticed I was flying a straight and level attitude at 10,200 and climbing. I pushed the nose down and was still climbing. I pushed the nose down more, still climbing! I needed to be at my assigned altitude. ATC was bound to call me soon. Sure enough, "Skylane 20791, say altitude, altitude reporting 10,400 feet". I responded back with my altitude, 10,400 feet and said I was in an updraft and correcting. "Roger, report when back at your assigned altitude." I got back down to 10,000 feet with the wind whistling through the plane as my airspeed increased. I reported back at altitude and was ready for the inevitable downdraft. Another Skylane heard my report and asked ATC where I was so they would be ready for the same conditions. A minute or two later the downdraft came and I was ready for it. My airspeed slowed towards 100 MPH as I raised the nose to maintain altitude. For the benefit of the other Skylane I contacted ATC and let them know I was now in the strong downdraft but was able to hold altitude. They said roger and told me to contact Bakersfield approach and relay the conditions to them as well.

Folds in the earth between the
central and coastal valleys.
I spent another 5 minutes or so maintaining altitude in the up and downdrafts. It was fun. Then the air turned a bit turbulent. I was flying on the eastern edge of the larger coastal range and I thought the turbulence was probably from winds coming over the range. Either way it was nothing I couldn't handle. My ground speed still hovered around 165 knots and I watched the GPS count down the time to arrive back at my home airport much faster than I thought. I was over the south central valley and would be home in less than an hour.

I was absolutely comfortable alone at 10,000 feet - almost two miles over the valley surface, flying an instrument flight plan, riding a bit of turbulence, watching the clouds to my west, the low mountain range below and the valley to my east slide by. I monitored the instruments and engine gauges, my heading and altitude, and was totally at peace. No thoughts of anything else but just that moment. I wasn't bored or in a hurry, I was just there.

Expedited decent.
ATC interrupted my peace. They had a reroute and wanted to know if I as ready to copy. The reroute was clearing me direct GILRO, the Initial Approach Fix for my airport. It was time to be planning my approach. In spite of being over 60 miles from GILRO the final approach was coming soon. I was going to use this opportunity to practice flying a proper glide slope on approach this time. ATC cleared me to descend to 6000 feet about when I expected. Then they asked me to expedite my descent for crossing traffic. Well, if there's one thing I was getting good at, it was expediting my descent! I expedited and got the plane down to 6000 feet quickly. I got the weather for RHV and winds were variable at 6 knots. The next step down was 4000 feet and I was cleared for the approach. I intercepted the glide slope and followed it down from 4000 feet to 1300 feet then I came in on the VASI and landed.

I taxied off the runway at Delta and contacted ground. Then I was taxiing back to Squadron 2. As I turned down the row to my parking spot the realization washed over me, I did it. I was home from a nine day tour of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona as PIC of a small aircraft. I flew to airports with altitudes of 135 feet, 7,600 feet and everything in between. I flew over some of the least and most populated areas of this country. I did all of the planning, the flying, everything, myself. I had dreamed of this trip for so long and I did it. I couldn't wait to do it again!

N20791 back at Squadron 2. We're home.


  1. Congratulations on your accomplishment. I have been keenly following your trip from your posts. I have learned a lot too.

    1. Thanks Joseph! I can't wait to do it again :) Cross country flying is so incredibly rewarding!