Flying in severe clear to Monterey 21 Jan 2014
vfrpilot aviation flying

Reunited with an old friend, the Ugly Duckling, I finish my engine start checklist and the Duckling roars alive. Unlike some of my lessons over the summer, the plane gives me no trouble starting up.

So far, so good.

“Hayward Ground, Skyhawk Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, at the green ramp with X-ray, request taxi to Two-eight right.”

Slowly advancing the throttle, my wife, Ugly Duckling and me roll forward off the line; I perform my brake check.

During my flight training, I was always very timid with my short-field landings. When you perform a short-field landing, you want to pick a spot, land on it, and then apply max-brakes to stop in the shortest distances possible. The Ugly Duckling has had chronically mushy brakes. It seemed like every other lesson, one pedal or the other (independent brake lines) was giving far too little resistance, forcing me to practice my “stop with a failing brake” procedure.

Performing my brake check, both brakes were very squishy. My toes in almost a full ballerina’s point, the brakes finally performed their duty. Not a deal breaker, but not confidence inspiring either. Strike one.

Following a full run-up, I inch towards the hold-short bars for runway 28R.

“Hayward Tower, Skyhawk 737GM holding short of 28R for a right downwind departure”

Clearance received, I check final one last time before rolling onto the runway. Lined up on the centerline, I slowly start to advance the throttle, scanning my instrument panel. Oil pressure is good, oil temp is good, right fuel tank indicates full, left fuel tank indicates empty.

I abort the takeoff, calling tower with “Hayward Tower, 7GM is aborting take-off” as I slowly roll towards the next taxiway. Tower helpfully asks if I need assistance, “negative, just need to check my instruments again.”

Going through my “required instruments” in my head, I’m 100% confident that the fuel gauge is one of them, and I have a hunch that the FAA expects the gauge to indicate something. I taxi back to the green ramp and shut down. Strike two.

I decide we won’t be proceeding in the Ugly Duckling with mushy brakes and a left-tank fuel indication of empty. Fortunately, the 172SP is available, so we take that instead!


Two-niner-six Mike-Echo is a Cessna 172SP. A more modern 172, with a better interior, auto-pilot, a fuel injected engine, and bigger tanks. The last time I flew this plane, we needed the additional useful load and range in order to ferry my instructor, our wives and myself for some late night diner food in Willows Glenn. This time it would just be my wife and I, cruising in style to Monterey Regional Airport.

My second full pre-flight of the day, EC and I hop into Mike-echo, dilligently follow the start procedures for the fuel-injected system. Whereas the Ugly Duckling roars to life, Mike-echo has politely coughs to life before assuming a gentle purr

Rolling forward off the line, I check the brakes, abruptly stopping Mike-echo. Excellent, let’s go places!

Run-up completed, take-off clearance received, I assume my position on the runway and slowly advance the throttle.

Flying the Ugly Duckling is a crass experience, it’s loud as hell, dirty as hell, ugly as hell. It’s still fun to fly around in, especially with short-field manuevers. Mike-echo is nearly the polar opposite. It’s quiet, unassuming, and generally smooth to fly.

Without much discussion, Mike-echo calmly lifts off the runway, methodically climbing up and out of the pattern.

We’re going places!

The route southward at 5,500ft is as clear as it’s ever been. On a previous flight to Monterey with my friend Dave the sky was clear, but the ground was matted with clouds, forcing us to divert to Modesto.

Passing the outer reaches of San Jose’s Charlie airspace, the controller if I would like to go ahead and make my turn to fly direct to Monterey.

“We’re going to do a bit more sight-seeing before we turn towards Monterey, 6-mike-echo.”

While a truthful response, it wasn’t the whole truth. In my weather briefing, I was reminded that there would be parachuting over Watsonville such that I made plans to head far enough south, such that my west-ward leg toward Monterey would keep me well clear of any potential drop zones.

Over South County we turn towards the south-west, humming along towards the south-side of the Monterey Bay. Switching over to the Monterey Tower frequency, it’s uncharacteristically quiet. Normally the field is buzzing with corporate jet traffic. We’re given our landing clearance 10 miles from the field, as I enter my slow descent into a right-base for “the big runway” (28L).

Mike-echo, ever the cool customer, smoothly enters ground effect and allows me to perform a textbook-perfect landing flare and gentle touch-down. Chatting on the radio with Tower to get taxi clearance to the FBO, I don’t give my passenger the opportunity to congratulate me on my stellar landing. By the time I pulled up to the FBO, she probably forgot about it as she was wowed by my stellar parking job. I deny her the opportunity to compliment me again as I ask the lineman to top the plane off.

I’m such an inconsiderate pilot.

With a crew car from the FBO we head into town for some fishy food.

Fish Hopper for lunch!

Our stomachs full of salmon and tuba tuna (respectively), we head back to the airport to return home.

At the FBO, I decide to plot a new course northward. Instead of traveling up the valley east of San Jose, I wanted to fly up the coast towards Half Moon Bay. Like a good little low-hour pilot, I call for my weather briefing, draw lines on my charts, jotting down headings on my legal pad.

Once again, Mike-echo hiccups to life without issue, and like a good little low-hour pilot who loves automation, I plug my way points into the GPS, hiding my paper with headings underneath my kneeboard.

Calling up Monterey Ground, I hear no response. Volume’s good, I’ll try again. Nothing. Perhaps Comm 1 is flakey, I’ll try Comm2. Nothing. Hrm. I know the Tower frequency worked last time, so I call them back.

Turns out, I had written down the wrong frequency.

Like a good little low-hour pilot, I still make silly mistakes.

Looking west into the wild blue

Flying northward, I hug the coast because I’m too scared to fly too far over the water. Practically speaking, you should stay within gliding distance of the land, but impractically speaking, I’m kind of chicken.

As we progress up the coast, NorCal Approach terminates services because they can’t see us so well on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. All on our own, with no traffic services, I remind my passenger that we need to be hyper-vigilant in looking for other airplanes.

Closing in on Half Moon Bay, the marine layer is creeping inland from the west, and suddenly we spot another airplane to the north east, also flying northward. The other craft is clearly performing manuevers, closer to my altitude than I’d like. Descending, advancing the throttle, we keep the plane in sight until we’ve put him behind us. Due west of the San Carlos Airport, the other airplane turns around, and we turn east to transition across the San Francisco Bay towards Hayward.

Reporting the Toll Plaza to Hayward Tower, I hear 737GM in the pattern. Tower clears us to “enter the pattern on the downwind for 28L, cleared for landing, number 2 following type Cessna.”

“Entering on the downwind for Two-eight Left, number two, following the Ugly Duckling, Two-niner-six Mike-echo.”

My wife looks at me, understanding what I just said on the radio “do other people call it that?” “Well, I hope they do now!”

Entering the pattern, the pilot of 737GM responds “I’m hurt” on the frequency. I’m laughing, far too pleased with myself, as I go through my pre-landing checklist, slowing down to put the flaps in.

Lining up on the centerline, power comes out over the displaced threshold. I’m watching my airspeed like a hawk, in no mood to futz with the trim, I resolve to holding the yoke at 60 knots. Entering ground effect, I begin my flare, eyes darting down the runway. The stall warning horn, which starts complaining far too early goes off, I continue to pull back. Right then left main touches the pavement followed by the nosewheel settling down.

Mike-echo slows down, we turn off the runway and taxi back to the green ramp.

I couldn’t have picked a better day to go flying.

Returned safely from the wilderness beyond the
Santa Cruz Mountains