Piloting fun

32169 finished its annual inspection this week, which is always a good excuse to go flying and make sure everything’s working. The flight right after inspection is always a good one for keeping you on your toes. If someone accidentally left something in the wrong state while the plane was taken apart, the pilot often finds out on that first flight. The pre-flight inspection was more thorough than usual.

Just to make it interesting, I decided to take a long-ish trip up to Porterville. It’s an uncontrolled field up past Bakersfield in the central valley where I’ve had good luck with food before. It’s an hour and 15 minutes or so in the air, which is a nice part of an afternoon to spend.

The trip out was pretty straightforward. I did get a good look at Poso Kern County – an airport I once judged the wind at by watching smoke from a trash fire. Overall, though it was a nice clear flight without too much going on.

Porterville’s the kind of small town airport where you might get to wave to a father and his child out airplane watching as you pull up to the parking area. And I did.

The former Michael’s restaurant at Porterville has closed, replaced by the Airway Café. The food’s still good, though the menu seems less varied than it used to. The little bar area was also closed today, but that may be because it was Sunday.

I decided to look around a bit in the area after I took off before going back to SMO. The central valley is where I go to pretend I fly in the midwest. It’s flat and usually clear with a bunch of farmland. It’s nice to zip around a couple thousand feet off the ground checking out the little towns and knowing you’ve got choices if you need to land suddenly. To me, that’s relaxing.

There’s a little airport on the sectional near Pixley but that the airport facility directory has listed as closed indefinitely. Pixley’s not far west of Porterville, so I overflew the airport at about 2500′. It’s closed and it ain’t opening any time soon. I really don’t know why it isn’t coming off the sectional; the airport’s clearly suffered significant neglect if not outright damage. There’s certainly a story here that I’m curious about.

From Pixley I turned south to get a landing in at Delano. I’ve always had a soft spot for Delano, but it’s become sort of a joke between Brenda and me. I convinced her to come out with me flying one day and we went there for lunch. It was hot, the food wasn’t stellar, and the staff spent a lot of time watching telenovellas rather than helping us out. It’s the placeholder for an unpleasant destination for a non-pilot. She wasn’t with me today, so I stopped off to make sure the runway was still there and the restaurant was still open. I didn’t eat, but all was well.

Coming out of Delano through the Gorman pass for home, I discovered an interesting problem. I hadn’t planned to be doing any instrument flying today, but there was a thick billow of smoke from the big fire outside Santa Barbara. I expected that I’d be able to go around it, but that didn’t look feasible – I heard pilots up near 12,000′ reporting IMC. I could go under it, but the plan was to cross the Gorman pass, which is pretty high; I don’t like to go through there much below 7000′, and the thought of going through there lower with poor visibility didn’t sound attractive. I wound up requesting and receiving a pop-up IFR clearance from a very busy Bakersfield Approach controller. I was in solid IMC for 10 minutes or so, then popped out the other side and cancelled before I actually reached the pass. Perhaps the clearance was overkill, but as Ron Post says, “I like overkill.”

Perhaps only a pilot can love an unexpected opportunity to fly in actual instrument conditions, but I did enjoy it.

On the way in to Santa Monica I got to pass over a Southwest jet inbound to Burbank by a little more than 500′. We both saw each other and the controller cleared me to do so, but it’s still kind of cool to pass right over a landing jet. Well, it is for me, your mileage may vary.

It was a day of unexpected pleasures.

2 Responses to “Piloting fun”

  1. meg Says:

    Okay, that’s funny — we were in Porterville, Pixley, and Delano yesterday. (More “through” than “in,” but still.)

    Where did you cross the enormous smoke plume from the Santa Barbara fire? What altitude is it at, and did you fly under or over? (That may be a dumb question, but I couldn’t tell much about it as we were driving under it Sunday.)

  2. faber Says:

    I reached it a probably 5 miles north of where the 5 and the 99 meet. I heard aircraft reporting smoke as high as 12,000 feet and I was under it about 6500. I flew through it (with a clearance and ATC’s help), which is one of the joys of an instrument rating. 🙂 I was out the other side of it a few miles further, say 10 miles on. Inside the smoke at 9000 it was 0 visibility; at 6500 I was on the lower edges of it – I could still see a few miles.

    I get the impression it changed a fair amount over the day. It was basically non-existent when I came over about noon, and when I came back at 2 it didn’t look like it was nearly as imposing as it was until I got close. Judging by the number of folks on the radio, it surprised more than one of us. I have no idea how long it lingered or whether it got thicker or thinner over the day.