I don’t know if any of you have been to southeast Utah. It’s beautifully rugged mountainous terrain. For John and me it was not a relaxing drive, but I did take some pictures. We were in a hurry to get to Moab, Canyonlands Airport (CNY) to get the Lear fixed and ready before the passengers showed up.
We made one stop for gas for the rental car and I seized the opportunity to get a Subway sandwich from the store that was part of the gas station. If I had not done that, I would not have had a chance to get a bite. It was one of those days! It was really a high stress day with all that was involved. But just part of the deal. After 3 1/2 hours or so we arrived and quickly got to work. We found the mechanic and replaced the faulty igniter. We finally got the jet ready and then we were notified that the passengers were late. Oh well. Nothing we could do.
My concern: I was planning to fly myself back to Long Beach in my Cessna 150 if we weren’t too late getting back to Sacramento. Otherwise, I would spend the night somewhere. I was not going to push it! It’s two, two-hour legs for me with a fuel stop. About four hours and four hundred miles total. Hopefully the weather would hold and Long Beach (LGB) would not go IFR with the marine layer before I arrived. I was keeping my fingers crossed.
The passengers finally arrived and we quickly got under way. We started up and taxied out, and since CNY is a non-towered airport and the weather was CAVU, there were no delays departing. We took off and climbed… and turned right and headed west. Due the COVID-19 situation, the Salt Lake Center (ZSL) was really understaffed, and the controller was extremely busy, working both high and low altitude sectors. It took us almost 10 minutes to check in on the frequency after takeoff and pick up our IFR back because we could not get a word in. Literally. You’d think we were in New York Approach Control airspace!
We were able to climb in increments, “step-climbing,” as it’s called, until we finally ended up at 40,000 ft. This is a typical cruise altitude for a Learjet. Groundspeed was over 460 knots, more than 500 miles per hour. I saw Lake Tahoe for the first time in years on the way back. It was a 90-minute flight—very nice. John flew and I handled the radio communications with ATC. Typical.
The pilot I was flying with is a retired airline captain. He was a training captain (instructor) with a foreign flag carrier, with extensive international experience, naturally, and a former military fighter pilot as well. Very knowledgeable. I was learning lots in a very fast-paced environment. He was demanding but polite. discussing many technicalities and regulatory issues on the way, as appropriate. We get along.
After landing at McClellan Airport in Sacramento, the passengers got off and I gave John my invoice for my “pilot services,” which is what contract flying is called. I got myself organized and mentally shifted gears back to flying my Cessna 150. Much lower and much slower. What a change, after a Learjet!!
I made a requisite pit stop, paid for my fuel, got my overnight bag that we had left there earlier in the morning, then went to preflight my 150. Then I started up and taxied out, all in a timely manner. Not rushed but timely. I took off and headed southeast… towards Fresno for a fuel stop. I landed at Fresno Chandler Executive (FCH), not Fresno Air Terminal (FAT), the air carrier airport. It’s smaller and easier to get in and out of. I was there in about two hours. It’s self-service—easy enough, until I ran into a problem with my credit card. Hmmm. No time for this! I tried another card that worked. OK, I added 12 gallons and was off to Long Beach. I wanted to get through the Gorman Pass before sunset.
I took off and turned left, to the southeast, to climb. After calling ATC (Fresno Approach) for flight following, I watched the clock, checking the weather at LAX and Long Beach on my iPad and the Dawn/Dusk app on my iPhone. What time is sunset? Ahead, south of Bakersfield, were 8,000 ft. mountains. They are at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, so I needed to climb up to 9,500 to cross them comfortably with altitude to spare, hopefully minimizing any encounters with turbulence.
I don’t fly over the mountains at night in single engine airplanes! During the daytime, only, weather permitting. If I have problems during the day, I can find a place to land. At night, in the dark, you can’t see. Not good. I don’t do this. Neither do most pilots I know.
My little 150 climbs slowly—it’s only 100 hp at sea level. I step climbed and finally got up there. It takes time, so I planned accordingly. It was a fairly smooth ride over the terrain, and it was still daylight! I would be in Long Beach in an hour. After I was safely past the mountains, I started down and eventually flew over LAX using the Special Flight Rules VFR route at 3,500 ft. LAX is very quiet these days. Once past LAX, I turned towards Long Beach. I could see the evening marine layer (a stratus cloud layer) moving in, approaching the airport. DARN. I was hoping to avoid that. But LGB was still reporting VFR. Good!
Fortunately, it was slow moving… and I could beat it and land straight in on 8L before it arrived. So, my very long day was almost over—I got up at 3:30am. I landed at 19:52 and had the airplane parked by 19:54. Yes, I keep track of my times using the 24-hour format, an old airline habit: Out/Off/On/In. I write ‘em down on my pad of paper. That way I know what I’ve done for my logbook. An old habit that has served me well.
And it’s still not sunset—what a day! I still wasn’t worn out, still going strong, with plenty of energy. Thank goodness. I took care of parking and tying down and securing the airplane, putting things away, then drove home. And dinner…
- From Learjet to Cessna 150 in the same day - August 20, 2020
- New circling approaches – what’s changed and what hasn’t - October 19, 2015
What flying is all about, doesn’t matter what equipment you use, you get the mission accomplished. Enjoyable read, thanks.
This applies for boaters but I think it could apply for pilots as well:
Simplicity afloat is the surest guarantee of happiness.
-L. Francis Herreshoff
And yes big or small, slow or fast, the decisions are basically the same. As in boating, the biggest decision a captain ever makes is whether or not to leave the dock every trip.
Yes, most pilots including myself think flying VFR over the mountains in a single engine at night is a bad idea. The only time I might consider it is a clear night with a full moon.
“Way to go John!” Nice article. Would love to read more. Perhaps some C-180 stories? Maybe some Alaska insight? Carry on!
I own a 1974 Cessna 150M and love it! No matter what you fly, just looking down from above is a pretty cool thing!
John my friend, you never fail to impress me. It sounds like the long days I try hard to avoid these days. As always, thank you for your friendship. Keep in touch, I enjoyed your story.