We had the day off Friday, and I’d finally gotten my medical renewed (it was delayed by a combination of a loss of a flight surgeon and a lot of travel), so I decided to get up and shake some rust off.

I’d originally planned to go out to California City, a favorite desert spot, but I realized that Mojave’s tower would be open today, and the idea of adding a new airport to my list was attractive. Mojave Air and Space Port is famous for being the home of Scaled Composites, Dick Rutan’s company that built SpaceShip One and the Rutan Voyager. It’s also a facility for mothballing (and cannibalizing) airliners that aren’t in use. Importantly, there’s also a restaurant there – specifically one run by the same folks who run the restaurant at William J. Fox field (and California City).

Santa Monica was reporting a scattered layer at 800 feet, which at Santa Monica usually means that there’s a marine layer on the south end of the field, which was the case when I got there. I departed runway 3 (with a significant tailwind, but it’s a long runway by Archer standards) and had to kind of thread my way past a couple aircraft getting out. There was a combination of the layer, some close airspace, a burst of traffic, and a new controller in the tower than made it more cramped than I would have liked, but no big deal.

The actual flight out to Mojave was pretty uneventful. Fairly smooth air and little traffic. The air was clear, but not crystal.

On the way in, I heard another aircraft heading for Mojave, one calling “heavy” after its callsign. That’s an indication of not only an airliner, but a big one. Sure enough, when I got there the mothball facility was taking in a brand new Boeing (looked to me like a 767, but I’m lousy at this). I’m sure that was fun to land in a 20kt crosswind without an ILS.

Um, yeah, there was some wind. And some heat. When I got there they were reporting 12kts, with gusts to 21, and 34 degrees Celsius. As a result I landed on the narrow, short (relative standards – the runway was nearly as long as the one at SMO) runway 22. With all the gusts and the high density altitude, the landing a good challenge, but uneventful. I taxied up to the restaurant and took some pictures.

The food was good, as expected, and it was nice to be out of the hot, dry wind. As an airport restaurant, they’re required to have a bunch of airplane stuff on the wall, but the local boys do particularly well here. My menu was signed by Dick Rutan (and I suspect that most were) and there were plenty of pictures of him and his crew around. It had the vibe of supporting the airport family and was a nice one to pick up.

Getting ready to leave, it was time to address density altitude and gusts again. After leaning out for altitude, I took the longer, more convenient runway 26 for departure. The takeoff was a pretty good crosswind takeoff, but you could definitely feel the wind as you got off the ground. There was some turbulence, even at a low level, and work to do to keep everything straight and safe. It worked out well, though and I began putt-putting for home. And the putt-putting indicated that there was a pretty good headwind going back. I was seeing speeds in the low 90’s when I was indicating 110 or so, meaning 20 kts of headwind.

On the way back I got to relay a message for ATC to an aircraft that wasn’t hearing the transmitter. It’s just a little thing, but I always feel helpful doing it.

As I closed in on SMO, the field went IFR – the marine layer had walked back over the airport. While I had other choices, I figured the easiest thing to do was to get an IFR clearance. I’d gotten the weather before the controller, but he set me right up with the clearance.

The approach itself was one I’m used to being based at SMO. I wasn’t ever in the clouds, had the field in sight the whole way, but the regulations say no VFR (though special VFR was a choice). Still there are nuances. As I contacted SMO tower the same new voice from earlier was on the frequency. He asked me to report the field in sight, and I did immediately. He started to clear me for a visual approach, but I heard a familiar voice in the background say “<bzzzt> Wrong. Continue approach,” which he instructed me to do. I’m assuming that because I couldn’t go around in VFR conditions that they couldn’t issue me a visual approach clearance. And by “assuming” I mean that I’ll be looking it up…

I caught a little gust low, which made my landing less than beautiful, but it was still a good day.

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