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  #1  
Old 12-19-2011, 01:51 PM
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Ironflight Ironflight is offline
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Default Turning Around?..and Trying Another Way

We had an interesting trip out to the Southern California area from our Houston home on Friday. Te purpose of the trip is to spend the holiday season visiting SOCAL family from our secret mountain base (the cabin at Big Bear Lake). Fortunately, our schedule was flexible at both ends, so we didn’t bother with the usual “backup” tickets on SWA, figuring that in any given three-day window, we could make the trip work. Classic obstacles for a winter trip are cold temperatures and precipitation, which can easily equate to icing. The fact that IFR altitudes across New Mexico and Arizona are routinely up above the freezing level make it pretty much off my risk table to fly IFR in the clouds. That means reasonable VMC conditions, and potentially a two-day trip if you have to get up close to a weather system, and then set down for a day to let it pass over you.

Our plan was to leave on Saturday at the earliest, and we’d get really nervous about fitting things in if we didn’t get out of Texas by Tuesday. Well, as things would have it, Saturday looked pretty reasonable, Sunday and Monday were predicted to be horrendous across the Lone Star State, and Tuesday was “iffy” on the coast. So we packed up the airplane, and told the dogs to watch the homestead for Saturday. We had awoken to low overcast (IFR) conditions), so I filed IFR to get us out to Pecos – but just about the time I hit the “file” button on Weathermeister, the sun came out and the clouds evaporated to a 10,000’ overcast. WM predicted the best winds (tailwinds westbound!) down low, so we just blasted off VFR and enjoyed a nice cruise to West Texas and the friendly folks (free burritos!) at Pecos. From there, we saw lower ceilings out to Demning in the reports, but broken skies beyond to clear in Casa Grande, so on top we went, and picked up even better tailwinds as we moved westward.

All the time we had been flying the XM had been cooking and looking forward in both seats (we carry two X96’s and XM antennas in the Val so that we can compare notes and talk about plans. Big Bear was predicted to have snow on and off due to a low pressure area spinning over the southeast corner of California. Unfortunately, it appeared to be more “on” than “off”, and this seemed to be continuing. When we landed at Casa Grande for fuel, we took a hard look, called the guys at Big Bear, and were told that it was bad and getting worse. Sure enough, XM showed an area of precip pretty much covering the San Bernardino Mountains and stretching to the north and east. The route along through Blythe, Palm Springs, and Banning pass looked Ok from all reports, so we called the family in the LA Basin and asked if we could join them for the night – the consensus was positive, so we told them to watch our SPOT track and expect to pick us up at Fullerton in a couple of hours.

Again, the combination of freezing levels, precipitation and mountainous terrain pushed the IFR option right off the table – it was going to be VFR or a nice evening in a hotel in someplace like Blythe. The tailwinds reached 20 knots as we scooted across the desert, and as we crossed in to California, the view was interesting. To the north, it was DARK – the view confirmed the precipitation that the XM was showing. Scanning across towards the nose, we could see the flank of the mountains leading up to Big Bear, but they disappeared into clouds. The ceiling reports at Palm Springs indicated that Banning Pass was still passable, but I was skeptical – it looked awfully dark that way as well. Scanning further to the right, we could see the base of San Jacinto beyond the Palm Springs/Indio area, and then off further south, sunshine blazing across the coastal ranges and reflecting off the Salton Sea. Hmmm…going around over the Julian VOR looked appetizing, but longer. I decided to keep that option in my hip pocket, making sure that it didn’t close, and take the extra ten minutes to go have a look at the banning Pass route. Our Ancient Aviator bear and trusty mascot can be seen in this shot, looking longingly at the sunshine….




With the autopilot taking care of keeping us on track, I devoted my attention out the window while Louise kept a close eye on the XM – mostly, the METARS, but the NEXRAD as well. We had good clearance over the rugged hills below, but the ceilings were beginning to come down. Up ahead, I could see precipitation – based on temps, it was rain, but what I didn’t like is that we were headed towards rising terrain with decreasing visibilities. Yup, we had synthetic vision. Yup, we had all the weather data. And yup, I disengaged the autopilot and used the RV’s remarkable turning ability to point ourselves in the direction of that sunshine…right wear “the bear” wanted us to go all the time. I don’t regret having gone to take a look – it cost us ten minutes of gas – but I sure wasn’t committed to the route just because it was shorter – it had to be safe. Forty years of reading accident reports about “continued flight into poor weather in rising terrain” has made me cautious.

Long story short, we had a nice trip under overcast skies around the southern end of the San Jacinto massif, over Borrego Springs, then direct over French Valley and down to the Santa Anna Canyon before heading in to Fullerton. My, that runway does hide amongst the surrounding city, doesn’t it?! Once we were through the mountains, the weather was fine – and looking back towards Banning, there was no way I’d have tried it from the west either!

Base to Final at Fullerton – yes, that’s the runway, not the road….



Bottom line? Never be afraid to have a look, if you can do it safely – but never be afraid to turn around and go for “Plan B”. By the way, “Plan C” for this case was a night in Indio – we maintained good visual contact with our alternate plan pretty much at all times.

We spent Sunday bouncing around with Relatives – had breakfast in the LA area, flew down for lunch on the coast at Oceanside, then visited until we got word from Big Bear about 1500 local that the snow had stopped, the ceilings were going up, the sun was visible from the west, and the runway was plowed. We had to fight a few headwinds, but it still took only thirty minutes for us to reach our hangar up in the hills. Of course, once we were there, we had to tie a climbing rope to the tail wheel of the Val and stand inside the hangar, pulling on the rope to get it inside – underneath the six inches of fresh snow, the ramp was all ice. We were, however, rewarded with a beautiful winter sunset across the ramp. I think it’s going to be a nice holiday season!




Paul
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Last edited by Ironflight : 12-19-2011 at 04:12 PM.
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  #2  
Old 12-19-2011, 02:33 PM
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pmccoy pmccoy is offline
 
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Smile Great Write Up

Paul-

Nice job describing your flight into SoCal. Loved the photo of Sunset over Big Bear. Have a great time with Family, enjoy the holiday and take a few photos of your trip home for another post. Thanks once again for a great motivational trip report, complete with a nice safety message as well. Keep your options open, and be willing to take an alternative when plan A doesn't look good.
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  #3  
Old 12-19-2011, 02:41 PM
David-aviator David-aviator is offline
 
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Default

Paul and Louise,

Borrego Valley is how I slipped into SOCAL last month. The route from Parker was a no brainer although not for weather reasons, I was avoiding the class C airspace around Palm Springs and the MOA's.

Great trip report and photos, enjoy your wintery mountain retreat this Christmas season.
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  #4  
Old 12-19-2011, 03:23 PM
fstringham7a fstringham7a is offline
 
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Default RE: Beautiful

Hi Paul and Louise,

Thanks for a wonderful trip west write up ...... again .... much food for thought and for me at least learning from one of the best.

That last picture is drop dead goregeous and I would think finds it's way off the camera to high quality photo paper to frame for the wall of fame at the Dye residence.

Have a great, fun filled, safe holiday
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  #5  
Old 12-20-2011, 10:34 AM
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Chino Tom Chino Tom is offline
 
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Paul and Louise, Have a very Merry Christmas. Still planning on a breakfast
on Boxer Day?
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  #6  
Old 12-20-2011, 10:43 AM
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Louise Hose Louise Hose is offline
 
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Thumbs up Let's do it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chino Tom View Post
Paul and Louise, Have a very Merry Christmas. Still planning on a breakfast
on Boxer Day?
I'll put a note out here and on the SoCal list. 11 am on the ramp at L35 on the 26th. Right now, weather looks promising. (Better be, or we might not make it back up the mountain in time!)
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  #7  
Old 12-20-2011, 11:20 AM
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Michael White Michael White is offline
 
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Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chino Tom View Post
Paul and Louise, Have a very Merry Christmas. Still planning on a breakfast
on Boxer Day?
Tom,
That's Boxing Day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

Boxer Day is totally different, and has something to do with loose fitting underwear...
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  #8  
Old 12-20-2011, 11:53 AM
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Chino Tom Chino Tom is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael White View Post
Tom,
That's Boxing Day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

Boxer Day is totally different, and has something to do with loose fitting underwear...
Sorry for error. Woudn't know anything about loose fitting tighties, briefs
here
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  #9  
Old 12-20-2011, 12:14 PM
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Danny King Danny King is offline
 
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Default Merry Christmas

Paul and Louise,

I'm glad you are safe, and where you want to be for the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas, and I know you will be just as careful on your return flight!
Tailwinds!
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  #10  
Old 12-20-2011, 12:25 PM
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rv7boy rv7boy is offline
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Smile Merry Christmas

Paul, Beverly and I extend our best wishes to you and Louise for safe and happy visits with family and friends out west. I always enjoy reading your travel accounts and I especially appreciate you sharing your risk management process.

The photo of the snow covered runway and the orangish-gray clouds is beautiful.

Tailwinds,
Don
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