Monterey for almost lunch 17 Aug 2013
aviation flying vfrstudentpilot

After a brief hiatus, this past Saturday my instructor and I embarked on the next part of my flight training: cross-country flying. Up until now, everything has been within 20-30nm (nautical miles) from Hayward (KHWD). I originally planned a flight up to Santa Rosa, but an airshow this weekend caused me to look for alternative destinations.

Many members of the flight club will fly cross-countries to Modesto or Sacramento Executive, but both of those destinations are eastward and bake with triple-digit temperatures most days, not my cup of tea. I decided we would head southward to Monterey (KMRY) and cool ocean breezes.


When calling for a weather briefing, I’ve always introduced myself as a student pilot which nets friendly explanations on occasion. When asked my destination, I responded “Monterey .. uhh, do want all my way points too?” The briefer paused “oh yeah, that’ll be really important,” he then went on to explain the process, why the FAA wants to know certain pieces of information, helped me file my flight plan and then gave me a full standard weather briefing.

9:30 in the morning and the lesson had already started.

My instructor arrived and we began to discuss the flight, reviewing my fuel burn, planned speeds, altitudes and route of flight. While not perfect, I was able to justify my decisions for my routing and calculations. After expressing some concern about the weather, we reviewed the conditions in Monterey and Salinas which lies to the east. While Monterey wasn’t looking great, Salinas was, and we had 45 minutes of flying ahead of us to let Monterey clear up.

With the binder for 738VU in hand, we headed to the green ramp and started pre-flighting the airplane.

After a soft-field take-off from 28R, I turn right towards Mount Diablo and climb to 1300ft until we’re clear of Oakland’s airspace. Passing by Lake Chabot, I continue climbing to 3500ft, my first planned altitude. Time to open our flight plan, I had the Oakland Flight Service Station queued up in the comms, my thumb ready to depress the button

“Wait, uh, what do I say again?”

I feel confident in my current abilities to fly a plane, it’s not a brash “I’m the shit” confidence, but more a “I can get myself up and down without incident” confidence. My radio work has also been decent, but the radio work for a cross-country through the bay area turned out to be one of the bigger challenges to the trip. I’ve never opened a flight plan before, most times even though Hayward Tower clears us to leave the frequency, we stick with them while in the practice area.

After reciting and reviewing the exchange once or twice, I give it a go.

“Oakland Radio, Cessna seven-three-eight victor-uniform on one-two-two point two.”

Silence. Am I on the right frequency? Yes, okay, how long do I wait for them to call me back? Is my radio volume up far enough? Looks like it, so … call them again?

“Oakland Radio, Cessna seven-three-eight victor-uniform on one-two-two point two.”

“Seven-three-eight victor-uniform, Oakland Radio, go ahead”

I stumble through opening my first flight plan, and then switch frequencies to NorCal Approach.

General aviation was designed for smaller people, approaching the Calaveras Reservoir crammed in this Cessna tincan, I have my kneeboard, folded chart, flight plan and fuel calculations all sitting in a haphazard pile on my lap. Struggling to keep the pile, and my long legs, out of the way of the yoke proved to be a challenge. When our textbook discussed the notion of “Cockpit Resource Management” I’m not sure they had “find a way to not fumble all over yourself” in mind.

We mark the time as we cross over the reservoir, right on schedule.

The visual references I had chosen for the flight were all prominent enough to where I had no problem picking them up from our meager altitude of 3500ft. We continued southward past San Jose towards San Martin. Reaching South County Airport, I turn right towards Monterey, and climb to 4500ft, finally clear of San Francisco’s Class Bravo, and San Jose’s Class Charlie airspace.

The air is noticably cooler as we close in on Watsonville, the air vents get closed up and we start our final turn and descent into Monterey. Due to clouds, I dog-leg south along the coast, instead of taking the direct route over the bay. With Monterey in sight, I’m reluctant to shed altitude with mountains so close to the south and east of the field, clouds to the north and west.

I think I asked for permission to perform a forward slip to shed some altitude, a clearly confident pilot-in-command moment. Either way, I start dropping like a rock, at about 800 feet per minute towards a gigantic runway with two private jets taxiing alongside. Still too damned high, I pick up my pace, rush through my mental landing checklist, line up (hopefully) on the centerline, and throw in full flaps.

Crossing the threshold too high and too fast, I’m not thrilled with the approach but I’m determined to make it work (yellow flag). We settle onto the runway with a jolt and exit the runway, my head hot from the stress. Neither of us too pleased with the landing, I breath in slow and deep to calm down.

Without much time to eat or anything but take a leak, we decide to depart immediately and head back to Hayward.

Sitting in the runup area, I call and close our flight plan from my cell phone before contacting ground for my departure instructions. We taxi back the runway in front of another jet and start our take-off roll, the lone prop plane among a sea of lurking private jets.

Lurching into the air, I become anxious about the clouds straight-ahead. Well, I’m anxious about the clouds straight-ahead and filling the entirety of the right side windows. The right seat calls tower

“Monterey Tower, we’d like to do a left downwind departure to maintain VFR”

Tower grants us permission, I turn early, dodge a few clouds and then climb above the layer of clouds over the bay to 3500ft.

Monterey behind us, blue skies ahead, I’m instructed to follow roads instead of using the inverse of the headings I had calculated for the first half of the flight. I spot Highway 101 over Prunedale, and follow it through the hills and back into San Jose.

Similar to a return trip in a car, the flight back into Hayward seemed to go by much quicker than the flight out.

Touching down on 28R with another jolt. I ended up rushing again, and didn’t properly flare. Rolling to the end of the runway, I look at my watch “Got time for a couple circuits?”

We take-off again, fly a couple circuits, with my landings improving back to (rougly) where they should be, before calling it a day.

Cross-country flying is a big milestone, one I’ve been looking forward for a while. Flying is fun, but flying to other places is something else. Considering that we flew to Monterey in 48 minutes, a drive that would have taken over twice as long, it’s safe to say that there are plenty of $100 hamburgers in my future