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A few weeks ago I took my wife Leslie and dog Zeus camping in Kern Valley, L05. We took the Cessna 207 from Aces High Aviation which made the trip into a 1.2 hour scenic tour, versus the 3:30 it would take in a car.  There is a camp ground directly on site and we were able to camp about 30′ from the plane.  The Kern River is about a three minute walk from the campground and the lake another ten  minutes.  80′s vintage tuna boat rental cars are available from the new airport manager Rick.

There is a cafe on field that serves enormous hamburgers among other things.  The campground has fire pits, grills and a sun heated shower.  There is also a ton of fallen cottonwood trees nearby for firewood as well as some cut logs stacked to the north of the campsite for fires.

Matt H. and I took a day trip up to the Lake Arrowhead Airport to check things out and practice some dirt landings at a mountain airport.  The plane of choice for the day was the Cessna 207.  The Lake Arrowhead airport is privately owned, but open to the public.  If you’d like to visit contact Mark, the owner, to let him know of your plans and he will plan to meet you and show you around.  There is a $20 landing fee and a rental Jeep or pickup is available.  Mark will also drive you into the town of Lake Arrowhead if you’d like. Camping and target or trap shooting is available on site and free of charge. Hikers can either hike to the nearby hot springs or to the river that is just east of the airport.  Mark, the owner is very enthusiastic about having visitors fly in to see his airport.  His ultimate plans involve paving the runway, building a restaurant and an onsite vineyard and winery.  He also hopes to build a bunch of private hangars.

The airport is located in a shallow valley with a hill to the south.  The runways are 9/27 and is 3,650′ x 75′ and consists of decomposed granite and dirt.  For a soft field the runway is in great condition with only minor low spots and bumps but nothing a typical general aviation aircraft can’t handle.  The airport sits at 4,610′ so density altitude can be an issue during the summer.  With a good breeze it certainly seemed the airport could become a bit of a challenge.

Lake Arrowhead airport combined with a trip to Big Bear and possibly a dry lake bed will serve as a good introduction to light mountain airports as well as benign soft field operations.   Any pilots who are interested in this sort of training should contact me and we can discuss training options.

While Ben was out doing his flight review we took a day to focus on mountain flying.  The Cirrus was the plane of choice due to it’s speed which makes for a quick trip up the Owens Valley.  The one downside to the Cirrus is its relatively long takeoff rolls however runway length wasn’t a realistic concern at Mammoth since the runway is 7000′ long.  During the flight up we were able to again enjoy the poppy bloom.  On the way home we followed the west side of the valley and played around in the hills. Then we headed west and worked our way into the Kern Valley.  From there it was south towards Tehachapi.  The Owens Valley is great for light mountain training because we are able to safely dart into the valleys and canyons while still having safe ‘outs’ in the main valley.  We were fortunate enough to have nearly perfect weather for our flight.  It was a sunny and calm 70 degrees when we landed in Mammoth.

In February an Aces High customer purchased a Cirrus SR-20 that would be put on leaseback with us.  I was fortunate enough to be able to go and pick it up.  Matt Hiller, who had just recently finished his IFR rating with me and who was looking for flight time and experience was going me.

Weather during the spring in the Northeast and Midwest can be quite a challenge for a non de icing and non turbo equipped aircraft and we were going to have to plan our trip wisely and hope for a little luck along the way.

We got the green light for the flight on Tuesday February 22 and the long range forecast for the end of the week and weekend was looking to be in our favor.  The following Monday I had organized a fly in and tour of the Socal Tracon Facility for Aces High Aviation.  If all went well I wanted to be back in San Diego Monday morning for the tour and to introduce the plane to the group.   Matt and I had to buy tickets and get out there.  We departed 48 hours later and arrived early Thursday morning at the Lawrence Airport to pick up the plane.  We met Mark from Falcon Air and he had the plane ready to go for us.  Falcon in a nice facility and they took care of the small details which makes a difference when taking delivery of an aircraft.  The plane was nicely detailed, stored in a warm hangar, toped off with fuel and Mark even gave us a few spare quarts of oil.  In the big picture these were small expenses but it really helps make a difference and demonstrates a level of customer support after the sale is final.

Day One: Lawrence, New York, Frederick and Charleston West Virginia (Friday)

Despite a less then perfect forecast for the morning of departure we woke up to blue skies. However, the winds aloft were cranking out of the west at about 40kts.  We could work with that though, at least it wasn’t icing or low ceilings.  We’d see ground speeds in the low 100s which is a bummer but acceptable.  Our first leg would start with one turn around the pattern.  My original plan was to get a ‘check out’ with an instructor on field who has experience with the Cirrus but our schedules weren’t going to align.  Instead I did a lot of reading on the characteristics of the Cirrus and I’d have to wing it.  Turns out I adapted to the Cirrus and in a hot minute and felt right at home.  My first reaction was that the side stick was quite responsive and a real joy to fly. The view was outstanding and it was a very comfortable plane to be in.  Very similar to the Columbia 400 I’d flown.  After my pattern I turned it over to Matt.  We were going to depart towards Boston for a tour, then head south to Long Island and then New York.  The controllers took good care of us with class B clearances in both Boston and then New York.  We headed up the Hudson River, over the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and past Manhattan.  This was exactly where Cory Lidle and his instructor Tyler Stanger lost their lives in an SR-20 that was attributed to a tight turn to the east while being too low over the river with an easterly wind.  We had the same model plane and the easterly winds that day.  However, we chose to stay higher than the city buildings and turn towards the west to reverse course, away from Manhattan. It was easy to see though how they got themselves in that situation they did.  From Manhattan it was GPS direct to Fredrick Municipal to refuel us and the plane, and take a look at the AOPA headquarters.  There was a 18kt quartering headwind for Matt’s first landing but he put it down with ease.  It is amazing how quickly we could both become fairly comfortable with the airplane.  It made me wonder, are we missing something?  Lunch was the obligatory Maryland crab cakes.

From there it was off to Charleston West Virginia.  We still had the strong easterly wind that would make westward progress difficult.  The next day was calling for rain toward the south, but ice and snow  further north so we decided to spend day one working primarily to the southwest towards warmer air and further from the icing conditions. That way, if it was IFR in the morning we would still be able to continue on IFR. The leg from Fredericks to Charleston was uneventful albeit with 40kt headwinds.  We enjoyed the scenery as the farm land turned into low rolling hills.  Another landing in Charleston with strong winds, and again very comfortable with plenty of crosswind authority.  Time for dinner and rest.

Day Two Frederick to Dallas (Saturday)

The first leg of the day was from Charleston to Dewitt Spain in Memphis.  We departed into a few light cumulus clouds but it quickly turned to VFR.  Enroute we happened to notice Jackson County Airport (1A7) and couldn’t turn it down.  We canceled with Center and off we went.  The approach for this airport was around a hill and down a river valley.  The airport comes into view on the base to final turn.  We both had a go at a pattern there then we stopped for a few minutes to walk around.  The airport was meticulously maintained but not a soul was in sight except for a few fishing boats floating by on the Cumberland River.   We turned back on course and headed for Dewitt Spain in Memphis.  There was a high overcast so we picked up an IFR clearance but we broke out by about 1800′ on the approach.  Dewitt Spain sits just east of the Mississippi River.  We got hold of the crew car and headed to town for lunch at the Rendezvous Restaurant. Rendezvous is located in the basement of a building in downtown Memphis and entrance is in an a back ally.  It turned out to be quite an experience with authentic Memphis BBQ and lots of vintage airline memorialized adorning the walls.

Our second leg was to Dallas Executive airport.  There was a building overcast as we moved further west. About the last hour and a half of the trip turned into solid IMC.  Matt and I took turns hand flying it for some practice and experience even though we could have been using the S Tec autopilot.  It was in Texas that I realized my drivers license was back on the copier at Dewitt Spain. Bummer. It was in Dewitt Spain where I realized that Wells Fargo had deactivated my credit card because they had sent me a new one, or so they said. Bummer number two. Fortunately though, Wells Fargo had a solution;  just wait until Tuesday when I could go into an Wells Fargo and get cash. Fail. Anyway, a good reminder to carry multiple cards on trips.

Continued below…

Day Three, Dallas to Las Cruces New Mexico, or so we thought (Sunday)

We were going to make this one the longest leg of the trip.  After a less than stellar stay in Dallas we wanted to make it non stop to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The winds that had been haunting us during this trip decided to greet us in full force.  We were able to stay reasonably low initially to duck some of the wind but as we got further west we were forced to seek out a smoother ride higher.  About 100nm from El Paso we started watching our ground speeds and fuel reserves on the engine monitor head in the same direction quickly.  It was going from Las Cruces being an easy run with a 45 minute reserve to squeaking into El Paso with 30 minutes.  We fought turbulence, and up and down drafts for the last hour or so of our flight.  At one point we had ground speeds around 70kts (meaning we had 80kt headwinds) and down drafts of 2000 feet per minute.  Oye.  We diverted to El Paso despite my burning desire to escape Texas.  This leg was 5.1 hours and the longest of our trip.  We landed with about a 45 minute fuel reserve. In smooth air the Cirrus could comfortably handle a 5.5 hour leg at economy cruise.  We had a good look at weather after lunch and decided to call it a day.  Severe turbulence, icing, and wind sheer just wasn’t in our future that night.  While walking out to get our things from the plane a Cessna 206 hobbled in with a blown main tire. I’m not sure what caused it but I’d suspect it had something to do with landing in a 45kt winds.

Another long day and we were still in Texas.

Day Four, El Paso, San Diego then home to Long Beach (Monday)

While sorting through the weather and the go/no go decision the day before we realized we’d have an hour advantage as we headed west into the Pacific time zone.  This was the deal sealer for us to stay in El Paso.  If we were wheels up at 6:30am we could make it comfortably into Montgomery at 10:30.  The Socal Tracon tour started at 11.  We departed El Paso just as the sun came over the horizon.  I love this time of day.  We sailed along at 145kts watching the long shadows of night slowly fade into desert heat as the sun rose across the barren landscape.  The ride was smooth which was was our bounty for waiting out the winds the day prior.

The desert is full of safe landing sites so we decided to fly this leg fairly low and explore the scenery.  We had spent the previous few legs flying IFR and taking advantage of the great equipment aboard the Cirrus but it was refreshing to just fly using not much more than a compass and our eye balls.  Of all the legs this was by far my favorite.  The view from the Cirrus is one of the best and it is quite a pleasure to handle so it is hard not to turn and bank constantly to look at the scenery.  We arrived into Montgomery at around 10:30.  Perfect timing for the Tracon tour.  We managed to beat everbody else there and reveal the new plane to the pilots as they filtered in one by one.  Success!

After the tour we completed our last leg home.  I’m always particularly vigilant on the last leg, as it seems to be the best way to beat complacency.  We checked in with Long Beach tower to find one of my students was working the tower frequency which was a nice welcome home.  Doug, the new was there before we had 883PJ parked in its spot see to his new baby and he seemed very pleased.  I’m still not sure though if he realizes how nice of a plane hes got hold of.

Final Thoughts

Since the Cirrus made its first introduction into the aviation world in the late 90′s it has been haunted by a bad reputation.  It seemed that it was commonly flown by pilots who’s bank accounts exceeded their piloting abilities.  After spending about 24  hours and 2489nm in one while going coast to coast I couldn’t be any more pleased with the aircraft.  It is the head of its class, able to fly at 145kts at 9.5gph while carrying about 900lbs of useful load.  It is designed for pilots with a wonderful, comfortable and modern cockpit layout.  However it is very easy to see how the plane can build excessive confidence in the pilot.  It is easy to fly and the equipment available rivals that of many jets.  At the end of the day though, the SR-20 is still a normally aspirated single engine piston aircraft with a decades old engine design.  It has no business being anywhere or in any environment that a Cessna 172 shouldn’t be in.  Taking this into consideration will yield a very safe aircraft that will make a pilot very happy.  Philip Greenspun, a Cirrus owner has a great article on many of the caveats and attributes of the Cirrus.  I consider it mandatory reading for any pilot transitioning into these planes.

Thanks to Matt Hiller for making the trip a lot of fun and keeping the laughs going non stop.  This trip really was enjoyable even though the conditions could have been better.  Matt also took the majority of the photos from this trip which really turned out great.

Tim and I took the Cirrus to Catalina this morning to finish his checkout.  The weather was great, skies were clear and it was a warm and sunny 70 degrees.  We found a nice surprise in that the menu has been changed completely to feature some great new items.  I had the ‘Cessna’, a grilled chicken sandwich with red bell peppers, pesto and spinach.  It was really wonderful and a nice improvement.  I realized half way through my sandwich that I should have taken a picture of it to include in this posting, but it was a bit too late.  I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other new items as well.  Tim had the standard buffalo burger but he was very happy with his first buffalo experience.  After lunch we had some time so we were able to stroll around and enjoy the day a bit.

Also don’t forget that Catalina has their monthly fly in and Aero Club now.  If you take 7435X which is available for rent at Aces High you’ll get to land free on the second Saturday of each month.

A Very Good Day

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Today was shaping up to be great.  The morning began when I met with my student Travis who was taking his Instrument Flight Instructor practical test.  A successful completion of this test would also renew his Instructor certificate and allow him to join the world of flight instructing again after a 15 year hiatus.   All was well with him, and things were in order.  I stuck around just long enough to see the paperwork get settled and I was off. I can’t stay nearby for these things, I turn into a worried mother goose and it isn’t pretty, I’ve got to get away!

Meanwhile my good  friend and student Ben was on his every other year visit from France to complete his flight review and generally have a good time flying about the west coast.  After a few weeks of bad weather, Ben arrived,  the sun came out and it became summer.  I just might have to keep him around a while if this is what he brings with him.  Todays plan was to head of in 7435X for Santa Paula (KSZP).  The day couldn’t be better, a very light warm offshore breeze, clear skies and unlimited visibility. Had Columbus been wrong I think we could have seen China today.  After an expertly executed short field approach to runway 4 we sat down at Logsdon Cafe for grilled chicken sandwiches that didn’t disappointed.

Then it was off to Mojave California, home to all great developments in aviation and space.  En route we crossed the ridge into the desert and were greeted by a wonderful surprise.  The whole desert was glowing orange and yellow with poppy flowers.  I’ve heard of this for years but have yet to see it myself.  Today was our lucky day, and it was more than I could have imagined.  The normally dry, dusty desert was glowing and it was contrast by the still flooded Rosamond Dry Lake, the site of last falls fly in,  and the snow capped Angels Forest mountain range.

After landing at Mojave Spaceport we were lucky enough to find the hangar doors open at Scales Composites and Space Ship Two and White Knight Two in full view.  We couldn’t go into the hangar but we were free to stand at the doors and stare in awe.  They are absolutely incredible machines to see, well beyond anything I’ve ever imagined.  Burt Rutan and his team certainly don’t limit their thinking to conventional boxes.

After picking up our lower jaws off the ramp we walked next door to the Voyager Cafe  and it turns they make the best milk shakes in the world, and if not, they make the best milk shakes in all of the Mojave Airport.   It was about this time that Travis (finally) called. After a considerable amount of fretting on his part he had passed.  I love having students pass, but instructors, well, there is just something even more rewarding about that.

On the flight way home we passed by the Griffith Observatory and down town Los Angeles. From well north of the LA basin we could see from Catalina Island all the way to the western most chain of Channel islands, and out east to the snowy mountains of Big Bear.

Later in the day I watched the sun settle into the Pacific while flying with Carlos, who is also prepping for his CFII check ride which happens to be tomorrow.  Ben and I are off to Mammoth Lakes, and we’ll land at every airport we can come across in between.  Tomorrow will also be a great day.

For the first time ever Edwards AFB hosted a fly in event for general aviation aircraft.  In order to visit the event an application had to be submitted and then pilots and aircraft were chosen in a lottery.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected but when I got the announcement of who was invited I recognized a friend’s N number on the list!  A few emails later I was the lucky recipient of an invitation!  4 of us were able to load into 733EJ, and we launched at the wee early hours of the morning.  We were airborne at 6:08 am, and this also marked the first time I departed before the LGB tower opened.  Oye, I’m glad I got the lazy seat in the back for the ride up. I was able to sit back, enjoy the sunrise and let the others do the work!  The arrival was a well orchestrated agenda with arrival schedules, holding points and such and we were vectored in at just about right on time to the 17,000′ runway 23.  The landing on the dry lake was uneventful due to some accurate and skilled flying and we taxied into parking as the 12th GA aircraft to ever make a landing at Rosamond Dry Lake.  The day progressed with warbird arrivals, a few fly overs, including skydivers from a C-17, and a flyover from a F-22 Raptor.  There was a presentation covering the unique issues with the restricted areas surrounding Edwards, along with many suggestions to help pilots to improve their see and avoid skills as well as general traffic awareness.  Hopefully they will be able to host more of these events in the future as it was quite a fun event for everybody involved.


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It was hazy in the basin but Catalina was perfect. It was a very nice way to start the week! I’ve also included a photo of the shuttle schedule.

Oceano Airport near San Luis Obispo and home of Old Juans Restaurant

Oceano Airport

Camarillo Airport is home of Tri Tip Wednesdays