Last Friday I got to do a very special flight. My very first flight with a brother or sister. In this case it was my brother Rob who got the honors of "First Sib" in the cockpit with me :) Not only was this a chance to fly with a sibling, it was a chance to land at an airport I've never landed at before and fly a route I've not flown before. So it was something I was looking forward to doing in addition to flying with someone very special to me.
My brother was in town working with a client located in Palo Alto (PAO). He would get off work around 5:30 and then we "needed" (wanted really) to fly up to Santa Rosa (STS) to meet my husband there to give him some clothes and supplies for the race the next day. Santa Rosa happens to be the location of my favorite $100 hamburger restaurant, the Sky Lounge. So it was a perfect set up. I would fly to PAO, pick up my brother then we would fly up to STS, meet up with the husband for dinner, then fly back to Reid Hillview (RHV) and go back to my home from there.
I've never flown to PAO before, its only 16 miles away from RHV so it's never been a place I've needed to fly to. Not to mention there were four air spaces to fly through and one to fly under if you fly the most direct route there. You have RHV's Class D, San Jose's Class C, Moffett Airfield Class D and then Palo Alto's Class D with San Francisco's Class B over the top of it all. In general, unless there's a good reason, most VFR pilots avoid that sort of airspace and an IFR flight to PAO would take twice as long as it needs to be. Now I had the perfect excuse to go!
It was remarkably easy... when I was ready to taxi at RHV I requested VFR flight following to PAO and told them I would also need a Class Charlie transition. I was assigned a squawk code and told to stay out of Charlie until in contact with San Jose's tower. After take off I was quickly handed to San Jose tower. They cleared me direct to Palo Alto and it seemed only 30 seconds later they handed me to Moffett tower. Moffett tower pointed out the helicopter flying in the pattern there and then handed me over to Palo Alto tower in about two minutes. Palo Alto cleared me to land straight in on 32. I flew the straight in approach, landed, taxied clear of the runway, contacted Palo Alto ground, taxied to transient and shut down. Less than 30 minutes engine on to engine off. Cool!
After about 45 minutes of hanging out in the terminal building and talking with one of the employees there my brother arrived. I walked him out to the plane, loaded his luggage and briefed him on flying in a small airplane. He was calm but I could tell he was excited too. We taxied out to the run-up area, did our run-up and were ready to go. I had requested VFR flight following to STS and a "Right Dumbarton Departure" which one of my pilot friends told me was the normal way to cross the bay and head north. We were cleared to take off and accelerated down the rippling PAO runway. That was an unusual but fun experience to ride the ripples until we were airborne.
We turned right at the Dumbarton Bridge and flew over the Bay. Rob looked around and watched the bay and the ground slip underneath our wings. He grinned broadly and started taking pictures. Then he said, "Why doesn't everybody do this? This is awesome!" We hit some of the normal bumpiness as we passed over the Sunol grade and then turned north towards Santa Rosa. He was seemed enchanted, relaxed and happy. After we crossed the delta I handed him the controls and he flew for a little while. He gave me back the controls and asked how long it would take to drive where we were going. Well, I knew the answer to that... intimately... [young readers cover your eyes] "For-Fucking-Ever" I told him. [you can uncover your eyes now]. I have sat in traffic for 3 to 5 hours to cover the same distance we were winging over in 45 minutes. It was wonderful.
About 15 minutes out from Santa Rosa ATC pointed traffic out to me that was "8 to 9 o'clock" I looked and found it at my 7 o'clock and low. I told ATC I had the traffic in sight but I would have to break my neck to keep it in sight. I asked them to let me know if it caught up to me. The controller laughed and said, "Well, don't break your neck! We'll let you know." My brother remarked how friendly ATC seemed to be, not what he was expecting. We landed at Santa Rosa which has a very large runway compared to Palo Alto's. I wasn't too pleased with the approach but my brother didn't care. He loved it. We had arrived at the Sky Lounge 50 minutes before my husband, who drove. Proving once again the great value of flying to avoid traffic!
After a leisurely dinner Rob and I hopped in the plane for the flight back to RHV. It was well after dark and the tower at STS was closed. So Rob got to watch a regional jet take the option of a straight in landing on 32 before we taxied out to take off on 14 going the opposite direction. He also got to hear how pilots self announce on CTAF at non-towered airports. We launched into the air at 9:15PM with a light tailwind to speed our trip back. I knew RHV tower closed at 10PM and figured we would right about the time the tower closed.
Rob was very quiet on the flight back. We both were with the exception of talking with ATC. I took the time to look around and enjoy the beauty of flying at night. As we passed major land marks like the top of Mt. Diablo I pointed out the red lights at its peak. I got the ATIS at RHV and they were still reporting the tower open. When I told ATC I was ready to change frequencies, however, they told me the tower was closed. OK, I would just do the normal calls. At 10 miles out I did a call for Reid-Hillview Traffic with my location and intentions. The tower answered me and told me to make right traffic for 31R. I laughed and told them I was told they were gone. The tower responded, "We have seven more minutes." They cleared me to land and on the landing rollout the tower announced they were closed for the night. It was the first time I've landed right at the time the tower closed.
We taxied back to Squadron2 to park the plane. When I shut down the engine my brother took off his headset with obvious reluctance. He said he was sad the flight was over. I was sad too, but very glad that we did that flight together. It renewed my spirit and joy in flying. My brother is right, everyone should do this!