Well, after 17 hours, 9 stops, 7 airports and 3 states later, Matt and I have finally returned safely to San Francisco and hung up our headsets. We left San Diego this morning together with John and Janis. They had hired a piper for Janis to practice her landings and we decided the night before to do some air-to-air work and try to take some photo's of each other in the air. We got some nice ones, but sadly it's hard to see us in the cockpit :-(
After some flying together, John and Janis said their goodbyes and peeled away and Matt and I continued Northwards towards Santa Barbara. We climbed up to 10,500 feet and flew right over LAX. We were mixing it with the big boys and could see some heavies taking off below us and even came face to face with a 737 climbing out. Pretty cool.
We had checked the weather beforehand and there was still the marine layer (clouds near the coast) hanging about, but we expected it to burn off by the time we got to Santa Barbara. When we got closer, we checked the weather broadcast at the station and they were reporting good visibility. But as we got closer, the clouds stayed put and even when we descended they remained thick. So Matt and I double backed and I found an alternate, Santa Paula. A busy little field in a tight valley. A boy was it busy. There was traffic doing both left hand and right hand circuits. Matt made a nice landing, even after the stress of the diversion and we found a place to have lunch. We spoke to some other pilots dining there and they gave us some handy tips. After an hour (and not much food eaten because I had lost my appetite) we fired up the engine and headed off again. Since the plane was heavily loaded and the runway short I did a short field take-off.
As soon as we took off the weather was much better and we climbed to get over the hills and head to the desert where it would be clearer skies. We then descended for another airport for a quick splash and dash as we didn't want to refuel at Santa Paula because of the weight and runway length. We elected to land at Paso Robles, an uncontrolled airfield with two LOOOONNNGG runways. For some reason the traffic was using runway 19 when the winds were blowing 280 degrees. So I chose to use runway 31, into the wind with less of a drift effect. A long taxi later and we refuelled and headed back off.
Last stop was to be Livermore. On the cruise up there we were back up to 125kts due to the tailwinds and were making excellent time. Traffic was pretty busy again and we had to keep our eyes peeled, but soon we were already setting up for the approach in Livermore. A gentle touchdown and that was us back to San Francisco. We'll take a break from flying tomorrow and have fun on the roller coasters and in downtown San Francisco. But it was a fantastic holiday.
What have I learned? Well, I've learned a lot of things.
Firstly, I have really enjoyed the teamwork Matt and I developed together and the Crew Relationship Management. Both of us enjoyed flying together and if something was misheard, the other was there to help out.
Secondly, good planning is definitely the order of the day. I really loved it when my planning ended up having us over the target/waypoint bang on the minute and the fuel calculations were pretty damn accurate also.
Thirdly, selecting visual references that are closer together rather than further apart, and the same with the radio nav aids. Some areas we flew were over plane desert with little or no reference points. GPS was great here, but we relied on it a bit too much in these cases.
Fourthly, good radio work will get you everywhere with ATC. The more confident you become, the easier and quicker ATC are at dealing with you. It makes both yours and their lives easier.
And finally....USE the guys in ATC. They were invaluable as an extra pair of eyes when trying to keep clear of traffic, and when we got into trouble at Santa Barbara they were a get out of trouble card that we had up our sleeve. The Flight Following service was fantastic. I use ATC in Amsterdam, but will not fly without them from now on.
A big thank you yo everyone, Bob, Ron, John, Janis, Kevin and Bud. I can't wait to see you guys again soon.