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During the pandemic many of us were holed up inside, only daring to go out to buy food and the elusive and exceedingly rare toilet paper. As I am sure all of you remember, life being cloistered inside was exceedingly boring. I was so bored I even took up baking (please do not judge me on that). Since there was no one at my hangar and my airplane had also never been infected with the deadly coronavirus, it seemed to be one of safest places to be. Driving to Chino airport (KCNO) was lonely, as very few cars ventured out—a rare sight on the normally impacted California freeways. The ones that did were trying to break the land speed record and keeping the highway patrol occupied.
I found a beehive of inactivity at my hangar. The Aeronca was very glad to see me. The preflight and hand-propping went well, with all fingers and appendages intact. Hand propping is not something I like to do; it is something I must do, like driving on the freeway at rush hour (you do it because you don’t have a choice). A call for a right downwind departure was approved and the thrust from the mighty 65 hp Continental sent me ambling down the runway, still feeling the need for speed.
The turn from crosswind to downwind is where the wheels came off the bus. Chino Tower called, “962 frequency change approved.”
I responded, “962 is turning downwind,” and was a bit confused. That call was a bit earlier than usual; I guess he wanted me out of his airspace.
The tower responded, “Frequency change still approved.” No matter, as Riverside Airport was still 12 miles away, I continued the climb to 2,000 ft. and used the time to set up ForeFlight on my iPad.
The first leg of the flight was to a small, non-towered airport, Flabob (KRIR). I would need to contact Riverside (KRAL) to transit their class D airspace first. ForeFlight was not cooperating—no traffic was being displayed. The pull-down screen showed I had selected “traffic” and the Stratus was on, as the three green lights winked back at me. Normally I could pick up traffic going into LAX or Ontario, but no luck. As the Aeronca has no electrical system and no transponder, I only show up on radar as a skin return and am not visible to ADS-B.
After contacting Riverside to transit their airspace (it was approved), and still not displaying any traffic, I contacted them again: “Riverside, 962, are you showing any traffic around Flabob?”
The response was hysterical laughter (OK, I was not expecting that): “962, you are the only aircraft showing up on my display.” So my ForeFlight was working—there was just no other traffic to display! In all the LA Basin and as far as his radar could display, the only airplane in the air was an 80-year-old Aeronca, proudly toddling along at 60 kts.
As I called that I had Flabob in sight, tower replied: “Frequency change approved, have a good day.” Wow, people really did not want to talk to me today.
The common frequency of 122.8 for Flabob produced no response. I had planned to do some crash and goes on the single runway. However, after three low passes failed to shift the dogs lounging on the runway, I thought going somewhere else might be a better plan.
After patrolling the area and deciding I was having too much fun, I went towards the reporting point to return to Chino and was given a clearance to land about 15 miles out. When turning final I called again and the tower’s response was, “Still cleared to land.” In taxiing clear of the active, I was cleared back to my hangar without asking and remained on tower frequency. It’s great to have the airport and all the airspace to yourself.
I called my partner in crime, Rafael, to relate my achievement of being the sole airplane in the LA Basin, only to learn that he and his son were planning to accomplish something on his bucket list.
Wait. You want to go where?
Rafael’s son Gabe wanted to go to LAX from Long Beach (KLGB). They would be using the Grumman Traveler that Rafael had raised from the dead. (See previous story.)
Gabe contacted the Flight Service Station regarding time and procedure for entering Class B airspace and landing at LAX. The answer was simple: no problem, be airborne at 7am and contact approach control on a given frequency; they will be expecting you. The next day found the Grumman on the taxiway at Long Beach Airport at 6:30am. At the appointed time, they departed and contacted approach control.
Now the fun begins.
Taking up a right turn north to position for a left turn to align with 25L at LAX, approach asked, “Which route do you want to use?”
”Direct,” was the response (the total distance is less than 30 miles, and this was VFR so they had no idea what to ask for a route.)
“Alright, climb and maintain 2,000,” approach responded. “Can you follow the 757 on final?”
“NO!” the valiant Grumman crew responded. As the 757 rapidly grew smaller in the distance, they were told to contact the tower, which they did, and were cleared to land on 25L. To their surprise, the runway was quite bumpy and rough, most likely from many years of handling heavy aircraft.
The first turn off was taken and ground control, who was waiting to hear for them, asked, “What are your intentions?”
”Fastest departure possible from your airspace!” was the response.
“Proceed straight ahead and follow the 747.” Which they did—at a respectful distance—and waited and waited and waited for what seemed like much too long a time. A rapid departure was planned and hoped for, as there is a landing fee at LAX. Departure was preferred before someone stopped by for a donation.
So, the little Traveler that was once very close to being sold for scrap was sitting, rather proudly I would think, with its canopy back at one of the busiest international airports in the world. One might wonder what the crew of the 747 was saying about the Grumman sitting there with the canopy back, waiting for takeoff.
Rafael made the command decision that this was not the place to have something break or stop working. The news report would be Little airplane stops traffic at LAX, air traffic backed up to New York. The pilot in command’s decision was to not activate anything: if it was on it was staying on, if off it would stay that way. A no-flap takeoff was planned since the runway available was more that required.
The long-awaited clearance arrived, and Rafael requested a very early turn southbound. The tower replied, “No just turn south at the shoreline.” They did at 3000 ft., and on clearing Class B airspace, they enjoyed a leisurely flight along the shoreline as a victory lap back to Long Beach Airport.
A tall tale about a light general aviation airplane flying to LAX? Well please enjoy the video and ride along with the brave Grumman crew.