Friday, October 17, 2008

Santa Paula - Avalon (Catalina Island) / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

Emboldened by my success on my previous flight, I immediately fueled up, loaded my virtual friends back into the aircraft, and filed VFR for Avalon, on Catalina Island.

Catalina is fun in several ways. The weather isn't always clear, so sometimes it's a challenge just to find the island. The airport itself has a runway situated between 1600-foot cliffs, so you don't want to undershoot or overshoot. It's a very tiny airport with no fuel and very little else.

Anyway, I decided to go FIM.VNY then through the LAX SFRA, then on roughly to WILMA and out over the water to turn west to SXC. I planned to stay out of ATC's space so that I didn't have to use the radio. All went well up to VNY. After VNY things got difficult, because I wanted to stay above the Burbank Class C at 5500, but I had to be below 5000 as I approached SMO. And I couldn't go in a straight line from VNY to SMO because I'd be passing from a Class C with a ceiling of 4800 to a Class B with a floor of 5000, and 200 feet between them would just be cutting things too tight. So I headed west out of the BUR Class C and then descended at breakneck speed to 3500 before turning south to SMO. Ideally I'd be able to do this before intercepting the 132 radial at SMO, but I was still heading down as I passed it, and had to turn back to line up with it. I wanted to be on that radial for the SFRA.

The SFRA started out okay, with me at 3500 squawking 1201 southbound through the area, and of course it was easy to stay below the 140-KIAS limit. Unfortunately, as I moved towards the SFRA, I inappropriately twirled the VOR to point to the opposing radial, which meant that the needle deflected in the opposite direction of the way I needed to fly. By the time I noticed this (by noticing that I was nearly over the threshold of 24R/L), I had strayed from the corridor, but nobody said anything. I corrected and headed out to the shoreline south.

In the old days, this would not have happened, but I'm rusty in the use of VORs and steam gauges these days. The Cessna has only a single-axis Nav-O-Matic autopilot, so I spent a lot of time trying to stabilize my altitude (every time I got it stable, changing winds would mess things up).

Anyway, once clear of the shore, I continued until I intercepted the 202 radial to SXC, then turned onto that. My clumsy mistake in the SFRA had rattled me and the workload was quite high with a limited autopilot. Fortunately, the weather was very clear and I could see Catalina easily even while still over the mainland. I ended up flying visually towards the spot on the island where I knew the airport to be.

By gradually moving down to 2000 feet, I put myself only slightly above the field elevation. I knew it was near the north end of the main island, so I just aimed in that direction. By the time I spotted the field, I was a bit north, so I turned left and made a right base for runway 22. When I announced this, I was surprised to hear another aircraft announce inbound as well. Fortunately, I had been slowing up and I was quite stable, and turning to final and landing was quite smooth. No sooner had I finished my rollout and cleared the runway than I saw the other aircraft, also a Cessna, crossing the threshold. We both parked on the ramp, next to each other.

I sent my passengers to buy some $100 hamburgers and prepared for my next flight.

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