Monday, June 1, 2009

Santa Paula - Blackinton / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

This flight didn't go very well at all.

It started well enough. It was too late to go out to visit Catalina, and Catalina was reporting less than 1/4 mile visibility, so I couldn't go there VFR, anyway. I picked Blackinton Airport, in Valley Center, one of those aviation housing developments. Being in a virtual world, I magically obtained permission to land there, despite the ominous R on the runway, along with the word PRIVATE painted in the middle. That was the easy part; getting there turned out to be the hard part.

My route took me through the LAX SFRA and then down along the coast to Oceanside, where I'd turn east and then north to land on runway 35 (the only runway allowed for landing). The problem was that there were just too many clouds, and I was VFR. The weather looked okay when I checked it before departing, but it was only VMC in a marginal sense after I got in the air.

On the way out of Santa Paula, I managed to stay beneath the cloud deck. Flying through the SFRA was no problem, although I had clouds looming on either side. But then, on my way down the coast, I seemed to have big clouds constantly right in front of me. I made big detours to go around them. I had planned to climb to 5500 but that put me right smack in the clouds, so it was back down to 3500 and out over the water. I can't even remember all the gyrations I tried to stay out of the clouds. I'm sure ATC must have wondered about my constant changes in heading and altitude. But the regulations say I have to stay clear of clouds.

Eventually I found myself way out over the water, at 1500 feet (!), abeam the San Onofre nuclear plant on the shore, and with clouds thick and just above me. I couldn't climb over them, as there were no breaks. I eventually turned east and returned to the mainland just south of Oceanside, then scooted over to my airport. Unfortunately I wasn't completely legal part of the time, because I was at only 1000 feet AGL over some built-up areas. But I couldn't go higher because of the clouds, so I was stuck. Fortunately, below the clouds, the air was clear, but I was pretty low, and the GPWS kept irritating me with warnings.

As if this weren't enough, I somehow had the airport's location incorrectly coded in my GPS unit (I had entered it as a user waypoint). The GPS pointed one way, and the EHSI pointed another. I trusted the EHSI (in part because it matched my paper route), and sure enough, I soon had the (very tiny) field in sight.

My landing was messed up by a huge tree just short of the threshold (which is not there in real life). I had to fly over the tree and then drop like a rock to reach the runway. I came pretty close but broke something on landing. It sounded and felt like a tail strike. The aircraft is being repaired (at amazing speed) as I write this.

All in all, mostly frustrating. The weather was supposed to be better. It was VFR, but only just barely.