Susanville California

It took about an hour to fly from Chico to Susanville. I climbed to 7500 feet and followed some lower terrain. There were clouds at about 10,000 feet and some rainshowers. A little bumpy in the mountain passes but the winds were calm when I arrived.

I immediately performed an oil change as I had put 27 hours on the engine since leaving Texas just over a week ago. Pete and Carl at Susanville Aviation let me push Niner-Zero’s nose into their maintenance hangar as it had started to rain. Pete has been flying charters out to Burning Man and he gave me some advice for landing there.

IMG_7818After  changing the oil I tied my airplane down on the ramp. There are some rain showers visible in the background of this picture.  Shortly thereafter a Cessna 172 landed that was being flown by a pilot I know from Coulter Field back in Texas. He and his wife are on their way to Seattle. The three of us took the courtesy car into town for lunch.

IMG_7823Tomorrow morning I leave for Burning Man, only 70 miles away. In the meantime, it is supposed to get down into the 40’s tonight but I have found a comfortable couch to sleep on so I won’t have to deal with the tent tonight.


IMG_7824Burning Man is just over that mountain!

Chico California

IMG_7801The smoke yesterday morning was the worst I’d seen while at Columbia. The smoke eventually cleared out and I Left shortly around noon for Chico. Nice flight, great tailwind . . . again.


IMG_7810I landed at a small airport in Chico that is surrounded by almond orchards. Really nice place with everything I need for an overnight stay. Comfortable lounge, shower,  courtesy car and a full kitchen.


IMG_7808I drove to the supermarket and fixed myself a really nice dinner. After dinner, David,  a local pilot and homebuilder came by and we went into town for a “couple” of drinks. His girlfriend drove us to and from, so no worries.


IMG_7807This was taken a couple of hours ago and I will be leaving for Susanville shortly. I hope to update the blog then because after that there may be no internet for about a week while I am at Burning Man. I’m going to try the Spot tracker again today but I’m not confident it will work. It did send one position report last night but has not worked this morning.

Columbia California

IMG_7612It was nice and cool when I woke up this morning and smokey. The wind had shifted during the night and there was a layer of smoke over the area. The visibility was still pretty good and the latest of smoke was thin enough that the sky overhead was blue.



A couple hours later the smoke had thickened and the visibility was about a half a mile. There was no longer any blue sky visible overhead. Due to the smoke, firefighting operations had not started.



The Black Hawks returned but then waited for the smoke to clear, which it did around 1:00 PM, after the wind shifted. My plans are to stay here another night and leave tomorrow whenever the smoke allows and head to a location where I can cross the mountains Sunday morning and then be ready to fly into Burning Man on Monday morning.

The Ridge Fire

At San Carlos Airport yesterday morning my hosts asked me were I was headed next and I told them I had no idea. No specific plans except to head towards the mountains and find an airport where I could camp. I used to be a little scared when heading out without plans for the night, but it has always worked out well. I meet really nice people and usually experience something new and exciting. Yesterday was no exception.

After giving Krishna a ride we said our goodbyes, I packed up Niner-Zero and topped off her tanks. Then I headed into the Sky Kitchen restaurant to have some coffee and wait for the low clouds to breakup. Unlike my flight out over the bay with Krishna I would have to clear some high terrain east of the bay shortly after takeoff. It was obvious that the large table in the center of the restaurant was the domain of the local pilots. So I ordered coffee, joined a couple of pilots already seated and took out my charts. We discussed my plans and  I was informed  that several other locals were due shortly. Before long I was getting lots of great advice on airports to camp at and routes across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One of the pilots, Bruce, had just recently completed a Classic IV very similar to mine. The consensus seemed to be that I should head to the campground at Columbia Airport. There was a TFR (temporary flight restriction) south and east of Columbia due to a forest fire and was warned to be on the lookout for firefighting aircraft but otherwise not to worry about it.

IMG_7607Around noon I was able to depart and head east towards Columbia, only  93 nautical miles away. About 30 minutes after takeoff I could see the reason for the TFR. There was a large plume of smoke on the eastern horizon. I learned from the AWOS that runway 11-29 was closed for firefighting operations. I then heard a helicopter announcing departure from runway 29. I could see him climbing out, a huge Sikorsky Sky Crane.

As I approached the airport I set up to land on runway 17 as the winds were from 190 degrees at 8 knots. I was surprised when on short final I heard an aircraft call a 5 mile final for runway 35! So we were basically heading straight for each other. I knew I would be on the ground and off the runway in about a minute or so so I wasn’t worried. Just a little confused. Why was the other aircraft landing downwind? 

IMG_7608I soon found out why. The other aircraft was a fire fighting tanker and to avoid having to back taxi, they land in one direction refill with fire retardant on a turnoff  at the end of the runway and then takeoff in the other direction. Quick turnaround. Another Sky Crane was parked on the runway 11-29 which is a grass runway. Smoke from the Ridge Fire is clearly visible behind the Sky Crane.

IMG_7609I was told that I was welcome to camp but I could not tie down in the camping area as that area was too close to the helicopters on the grass runway. There were two Sky Cranes and three Army Black Hawks operating from the grass. I decided to walk over and check out the situation before I deciding whether to stay.

IMG_7611The campground was also being used as a command post for the local operations. I talked to the Cal Fire firefighters and they told me I was more than welcome to camp and watch their operation up close. They even offered to send a truck over across the paved runway to pick up my camping gear from my airplane! As it turned out I was able to carry all my gear in two trips so I did not take them up on their offer. In this photo, Ben, Jeff and Mike are watching as an Army Black Hawk departs.

After setting up camp, I walked into Columbia which was an old gold rush town that has been restored and is now a California state park. They have a general store where I was able to buy something to cook for dinner. The nice thing about aerial fire fighting operations is that everything shuts down at night  so after a nice dinner I was able to get a good nights sleep.

San Mateo

IMG_7525Dan dropped me off at Santa Monica Airport at about 10:00 AM. I got Niner-Zero loaded up and ready then taxied down to the fuel pumps to fill up. This view is looking northeast away from the ocean and the low ceilings are starting to dissipate. After fueling I taxied over to a parking spot and waited. I did not have to wait long before I was able to depart downwind; out and under the overcast and into the blue before turning north towards the San Francisco Bay area.

I was hoping to meet up with a couple that I knew in Texas  who now live in San Mateo. They knew I was planning to visit but since I don’t have a rigid schedule I let friends know when I will be arriving and hope for the best. If it doesn’t work out, I’m OK with that. I don’t want others to make plans around my unpredictable schedule.

IMG_7526The flight north was beautiful and I slowed down and opened the door to take a couple of photos. In this one the Channel Islands are visible on the horizon. I had a nice tailwind again and was making excellent progress. I stopped at Paso Robles for fuel and had a great lunch at the airport deli. I also checked my email but had received no reply so I sent an update letting them know I was a little more than an hour away.

The airspace around San Francisco is almost as confusing as Los Angeles. So soon after takeoff I was working with Norcal Approach. I was flying into San Carlos Airport, just south of San Francisco International. I could do it alone until about 5 miles from San Carlos but felt more comfortable working with controllers as it would allow me to enter the class charlie airspace and receive traffic advisories.

IMG_7528After parking at San Carlos I was walking across the ramp and heard a familiar voice calling my name. It was Stephanie and she had her two children with her. The last time I had seen her and her husband, Krishna, was before they were married and had children. They came out to see the airplane and I put her son, Griffen, in my seat so he could check everything out. Beatrice seemed fine just admiring the airplane from a distance. I had a great time catching up with Krishna and Stephanie and getting to know their children. I spent a couple of nights with them and on the morning I left I gave Krishna a short ride in Niner-Zero. Due to the weather and the airspace restrictions we were limited to a short hop out over the bay.

Los Angeles

IMG_7515I got out of Payson around 7:00 in the morning. I was up at sunrise to break camp and get everything packed away. After breakfast at Crosswinds, the airport restaurant, I took off and headed west a few miles before turning south to follow a valley towards Phoenix. North of Phoenix I turned west again and headed out over the desert towards California.

IMG_7517I had a slight tailwind and my ground speed was about 120 mph. I decided to land at Blythe California for fuel. I had plenty but topping off would allow me to not have to worry about refueling later in the day. Blythe lies on the Colorado River and uses the river to irrigate the desert using an extensive system of canals.

IMG_7518The airport is about 10 miles west if the river and although I could see evidence of  once irrigated fields, the area around the airport has been reclaimed by the desert. Originally used as a bomber training field during World War II the place sees little use now. There are a few buildings, two usable runways. From the air I saw large ramp areas and other runways that are now abandoned  and drifted over with sand.

IMG_7519I bought fuel and chatted for a few minutes with the gentleman who runs the operation and then got on my way. I headed west towards Palm Springs and the Banning Pass. I had emailed a friend I planned to meet up with in the LA area in order to determine which airport would be most convenient for him. I had not heard back so I decided to land at the Banning Airport to check my email. The wind was blowing 25-30 right down runway 8 and my landing roll was about  200 feet, maybe less. The air was full of blowing dust and I quickly tied Niner-Zero down and went into the office. No internet!

IMG_7523I was airborne again in about 20 minutes and headed into the LA basin with a course plotted to Flabob airport in Riverside. I heard they had a restaurant and it was lunch time. I tied her down and walked over to the nearest building. A older gentleman informed me that the restaurant was closed for remodeling. He wanted to know where I was headed and seemed amused that all I knew was that my friend lived in ‘LA’  and nothing more specific. As we were speaking Dan called and told me the closest airport to his apartment is Santa Monica. As I now had a specific location I asked for suggestions on the best ways to get there through the complicated airspace around LA. he told me to turn north, climb to 2500 feet, fly to the mountains and turn left. Fly west along the mountains until I could head south west around the LA class bravo airspace into Santa Monica.

Well, it worked and it was a really fun flight. I landed at Santa Monica in time for a late lunch at the airport restaurant. Being very close to the coast, the weather was nice and cool. The only drawback was the fact that the marine layer results in low ceilings until late morning so I would not be getting out early. It does clear out though so I was not expecting a Cape Cod redux. Dan picked me up and we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to  a dive up in Ventura County where we  had a beer and then drove back to LA for a great steak dinner before calling it a night.




Payson Arizona

IMG_7435I departed Santa Teresa early with a final destination of Payson, AZ. The scenery along the first part of the route was unlike anything I had seen before. I heard another pilot who departed after me say on the radio that he was west bound towards the Black Hills. I guess this is what he was talking about. There were dozens of them and they look like they may be old volcanoes. The soil is black but due to an unusually rainy summer there is vegetation greening them up a little.

IMG_7437Some places were totally green and in some places the vegetation was only present in the areas that are lower. There were also lots of mountains along the way.


IMG_7439I flew for about two and a half hours and landed in Safford, AZ for fuel and to stretch my legs. The place was pretty desolate. Apparently it is used extensively for aerial fire fighting operations when there are fires nearby.  Being there were none in the area there was little activity.

IMG_7441My major concern was thunderstorms that form around mid-day in the mountains north of Phoenix.  Which is right where I was headed. This little storm was about 80 miles from Payson but it was a taste of things to come. I had emailed ahead to let them know I was coming and wanted to stay at the airport campground. When I checked  my email at Stafford I was assured that getting a spot would be no problem as there was only one airplane at the campground. Ray, the airport coordinator also warned me about afternoon thunderstorms in his email.

IMG_7442As I approached Payson, I flew over the Roosevelt Reservoir as I followed the valley up into the mountains. Up ahead I could see a pretty impressive line of storms. They form as the air rises over the ridge a few miles north of Payson.

IMG_7443I landed in a gusty crosswind with the storms only a few miles away and Ray came out and helped me tie Niner-Zero down. Then he took this picture and you can see the rain falling over the ridge to the north and some ominous clouds working their way south towards the airport. Ray was about to take his lunch break and he dropped me off at a grocery store on the way and picked me up on the way back. Allowing me to cook a really good dinner.

IMG_7448I was able to get my tent up after I returned and just before it started to rain. I was not so lucky later when I was cooking dinner. It started raining again and I had to move my dinner under cover.

IMG_7445The next day I took advantage of the compass rose st the airport to realign my EFIS and then did a little flying to test the new settings and just get a feel for how Niner-Zero performs at a density altitude of 7,000 ft. Then I got her fueled up in preparation for an early morning departure the next day. I took a hike on some nearby US Forest Service trails and got back just before it some storms moved through.

Heading West, Day One

I made it to Santa Teresa New Mexico!

wpid-Screenshot_2013-08-16-06-42-37.pngThis is what I saw when I checked the weather yesterday morning. The blue line was my planned route and guess what direction that large area of thunderstorms was moving . . . SOUTH. I plotted a new route further south to see if I could pull off the same thing I did a week ago when flying back from Oshkosh. It did not work out quite as well. I was getting squeezed between a low scattered to broken layer and a higher overcast layer so I had to turn due south and to get away from the advancing storms.


IMG_7287I landed in San Marcos Texas and I had the airplane secured as the storms approached. I took the courtesy car into town and bought a foot long sandwich at Subway thinking I could save half for dinner. By the time I got back to the airport it was pouring down rain and the winds were picking up. I could see on radar that it would move through quickly and then my route west would be clear. So I enjoyed some freshly baked cookies and relaxed.

IMG_7288As soon as the rain broke I headed out to Niner-Zero to get ready to depart. There was some water in the cabin as I did not have time to put the cover on. But I have been through this drill before and I now keep a large sponge in the baggage compartment. I also wiped her down on the outside since she was already wet and the smashed bugs had softened up a bit. The blue sky you see IS in the direction I am heading!

wpid-IMG_7286.JPGI also was able to check my SPOT tracking while on the ground and it is working. This is the actual tracker. I have it “mounted” over my head for easy access and a clear view of the sky. If you want to see my route there is a link at the top of this page (Where Am I?).

IMG_7285Next stop, Irran Texas. Directly on my route of flight, about 3 hours from San Marcos and reasonably priced fuel. Those are basically my criteria for a quick fueling stop. Internet is nice if the weather is an issue but it was not. The airport at Irran is larger than the town and is pretty much attached to it as the final approach for runway 14 was directly over the town. The turn from base leg to final was over the west edge of town and the threshold of the runway is at the east end of town. Like I said, small town. I did have some trouble finding the wind sock. I finally saw a small one by the fuel pump and after I landed I saw the remnants of a larger on beside the runway. Shredded to pieces by the wind. I had to call someone to come out and sell me fuel so I relaxed in the shade of the small restroom building. After about 40 minutes a lady came out and helped me refuel. The locals have keys and fuel themselves and she had an old fashioned credit card imprinter and told me that she had not done this in many months. The pump kept shutting down but I finally got 12 gallons pumped into NIner-Zero and I was ready to go.

IMG_7284I took this climbing out of Irran while making a 180 degree turn to head west. That is pretty much the entire town. On the left side you can see the runway I landed on and the fuel ramp.




IMG_7283The scenery sure has changed drastically in a few short hours. Stark but beautiful. The terrain kept rising and I climbed along with it. Eventually reaching 10,500 feet to cross the mountains just south of Guadalupe Peak which is charted at 8,750 feet. I passed just to the south where the terrain is about 6000 feet. The ride was smooth and the air was a cool 67 degrees. On reaching 10,500 feet the density altitude was 13,000 feet and I was still climbing at just over 600 feet per minute. I could have gone much higher. Nice to know.

IMG_7282After clearing the mountains I descended towards El Paso. There were some thunderstorms in the area but I was able to avoid them. I saw these sand dunes about 20 miles east of El Paso. I contacted El Paso approach as I planned to fly pretty close to their airport on the way to the Donna Anna County Airport. They had me descend to 6,500 feet which put me below the mountains on the west side of El Paso. So I had to fly just south of the mountains and just north of the Mexican border. As I rounded the corner at the extreme southern tip of the mountains the airport came into sight and I said good bye to approach control and landed.

Upon landing I taxied to Francis Aviation where I was met by Erik who guided me to a parking spot and fueled my plane. They were officially closed for the day but Eric was still there enjoying a drink with the new owner, Tyler. After fueling Niner-Zero they helped me push her to a parking space with a roof over it as there were some storms on the area. That way I could skip the cover on, cover off drill. They even offered my a place to spend the night so I could skip the tent drill also. I was a bit relieved as I could hear the coyotes out in the desert.

IMG_7281I then joined them for a drink on the deck while watching the sun set. Tyler was a bit jealous of my adventure as he had planned to skydive into Burning Man but other responsibilities got in the way. Maybe next year Tyler? I can’t say enough about my experience at Francis Aviation. If you are passing through, don’t pass up the chance to stop.


What’s Next?

I have been back in Texas for a week and a half now. I have done a lot of work on Niner-Zero to make sure she is good shape for our next adventure. Either tomorrow or the next day we plan to leave for the west coast. I plan to pretty much follow I-10 west towards El Paso and then Phoenix. Then west out of Phoenix to Palm Springs and then northwest to Los Angeles. From there north to San Francisco then east across the Sierra Mountains near Lake Tahoe to Reno Nevada then to the Burning Man Festival. Burning Man is held in the Black Rock Desert northeast of Reno Nevada over Labor Day weekend. A city for about 55,000 people is constructed in the desert and then, when the event is over all is returned to its pristine state. They even have an airport for the week of the event. It’s called the Black Rock City Airport and its identifier is 88NV. I have a ticket and I plan to be there!

I am really looking forward to heading west and seeing a different kind of landscape than I have been seeing all summer. But, I realize the risks involved and as an extra precaution I will be carrying a SPOT satellite locator beacon. Using this I will be able to send position reports every 10 minutes while I am flying and send a small set of messages via email to let some people know when I takeoff and when I land. There is also a button that will summon search and rescue and I hope that one is never used. As a bonus anyone can see where I am in pretty much real time as I am flying. Just use the links above, “Where Am I?”. If the updates are only minutes old then I am in the air.

Well, lots to do. Gotta go!