Sunday, October 18, 2009

San Fran—er, Half Moon - LAX / Beachcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / IF—er, VFR

San Francisco International Airport was really, really busy this evening. There was a major event taking place on the West Coast in VATSIM and traffic was similar to real-world levels. I decided to take one of my Barons to LAX from SFO.

Unfortunately, I found myself waiting on the ground for nearly an hour for clearance. First I requested clearance and was apparently forgotten at the bottom of a list of more than a dozen aircraft on the ground awaiting clearance. Then controllers swapped positions and apparently lost track of things entirely. Big iron was regularly cleared before me. I called Clearance Delivery again once to ask what the holdup was, but I still never got my clearance. After waiting interminably for a clearance while everyone else moved around me, I finally cancelled the request.

I had Scotty beam my aircraft over to nearby Half Moon Bay Airport (KHAF), perhaps best known as the starting point of Jessica Dubroff's ill-fated cross-country flight. For me, its advantage was that it is very near to KSFO and is untowered, which meant that I could fly out of there VFR beneath the Bravo without waiting a year and a day for a clearance. And that's what I did. I managed to sneak out beneath the Bravo without any trouble, although NorCal Approach called me up after I was completely clear of the Class B for reasons unknown, and assigned me a squawk, which I dutifully dialed in. Later Approach handed me off to Oakland Center, and the latter controller was a bit bewildered when I called in, since I had not requested FF and I was VFR. But he offered FF and since I was already there, I accepted.

The rest of the trip was less confused. When I reached the limit of Oakland Center's chunk of sky, the controller cancelled flight following, as Los Angeles Center could not pick it up for workload reasons. So I continued on on my own until my planned route took me over the Fillmore VOR at 5500 feet, at which point I rang up SoCal Approach to get a Class B clearance. This was granted with no problem and I made my way into the Class B at 180 KIAS or so, dropping to 3500 and crossing the Los Angeles Coliseum, at which point ATC turned me towards the airport and cleared me well in advance for a landing on 24R. The landing went smoothly and I was given taxi instructions to my favorite FBO on the south side.

For this entire flight my fancy on-board TCAS was awash in traffic, just like real life, for once. It was very hard to see the traffic outside the window most of the time, but the TCAS warned me long before I could make visual contact and I spent a fair amount of time watching other aircraft to make sure I had no pending conflicts. ATC did their job well and nobody ever really came close. It was nice to see as many as two dozen aircraft within 20 miles ahead of me, though. It's very fun and realistic to have traffic that heavy.