Stranded In The Southland

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Longer Flight...

This weekend, I headed out to Palm Springs. It was a great day to fly, and a pretty good day for this trip. There's a tight pass between the 10,804 foot Mt. San Jacinto and 11,499 foot Mt. San Gorgonio on the way out to Palm Springs. When it get's windy, that pass can get pretty turbulent. Today, the winds were light and easy.

I planned my flight, got the weather, bopped on down to the airport, and flew out with no problems. I zipped up to 7,500 feet, followed a radial off of the Paradise VOR, zipped through the Banning Pass, managed to get a word in edgewise (this was tough) to Palm Springs Approach controller, zipped in to the airport and made a smooth landing.

The only place to park was a fairly tony fixed base operator (FBO), but they proved to be friendly and helpful. The main reason to head out to Palm Springs was that I had to go to an airport 50 miles away or more for this to count as a cross-country flight (you need 50 hours of cross-country to get an IFR rating). The other reason was to revisit the Palm Springs Air Museum.

I had a brisk half mile walk down the road to the museum. It's a great place, with a rare PBY seaplane (well, rare in a museum, there are still a bunch operating out there) and a bunch of fabulous planes. I had a great talk with a docent, Mark, who seemed to have encyclopedic knowledge of these planes, showing me the redundant control system on a B-25 (who knew?) and explaining why the propeller blades on the Spitfire Mark XIIII were wooden (if they hit the ground on takeoff or landing on a grass airstrip, they'd splinter, rather than destroying the engine like metal blades would).

Alas, I had to bail early to ensure I got back to Chino before the sun set. The fancy FBO didn't charge me the $15 for parking that I had expected (well, they'd assured me on the phone that they wouldn't, since I was there just a couple of hours, but I was still steeled for it), I had a fine takeoff (despite a brisk cross wind), and had no trouble zipping back through the Banning Pass.

Now, it turns out the haze (read: pollution) had in fact crept well west of Chino, despite the assurances of the flight services weather forcaster. Up in the air, everything was great -- I could see for miles. But below about 500 feet, everything was muck. I pulled out my handheld GPS and followed it to within a few miles of Chino, at which point the controller sent me north, and then turned me back west towards the airfield. It turned out that there was a business jet landing at the same time and, no surprise, he actually knew where the airfield was, and the tower wanted me to be out of his way.

After all of the vectoring around, the tower was kind enough to point me at the airfield again, which was a good thing. Even from three miles out, I couldn't spot it in the haze. At the last minute, I finally saw the tower sticking up, got onto final, and dropped down to a somewhat firm landing. Given the hassles of getting there, I felt pretty good about it -- I would've eventually found the place with the help of the GPS, but I was happy to get the directions.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. If I was gonna nitpick (and I generally am) I dropped too much altitude too soon coming into Chino. I was down at 1,400 feet while I was still miles from the airport. I definitely need to remember to keep it up at 2,500 feet until I'm really close, but hopefully that'll come with time.