Happy National Aviation Day!
I got to commemorate this day by visiting two new airports. My first stop was the Santa Monica airport (SMO). First I did a bunch of research on the SMO website. I appreciate the amount of information available, but this airport has so many rules and dire warnings (including written warnings and fines) that it is rather intimidating to plan your first flight there. They have specific procedures that include the following instruction:
“Maintain pattern altitude or above as long as practical. Approach as steeply as is safe and aim for a point further down the runway if your aircraft is capable.”
That is, they would like you to start high, land steep, and go long… all things one generally tries to avoid.
At any rate, I took off from El Monte and got flight following to SMO at 2300′. I had my GPS set with a direct route to SMO, but from my pre-flight planning I also knew that all I needed to do was follow the 10 freeway and stay under the LAX Bravo airspace (starts at 2500′). I kept it at 2300′ and was mindful of my heading. I didn’t encounter any other traffic, and it was a nice ~25-minute flight to SMO. I flew right between downtown L.A. on my left, and Dodger Stadium on my right:
While 2300′ is still at least 2000′ feet above the ground, boy, it feels low when you are flying over the city! (I did not fly over the skyscrapers.)
I got a straight-in approach to runway 21 at SMO. It is a big, wide runway! I landed and discovered that they don’t have many painted taxiway exits. Instead you can exit the runway wherever it is paved. I got off the runway (I thought). It turns out that the huge asphalt expanse is still part of the movement area so you have to keep going and get on the taxiway itself before you’re officially clear of the runway. The controller prodded me and I got myself onto the taxiway. After I parked, I noticed several other arriving planes hesitate in the same way and then have to be urged to keep going. :)
A woman with two small children was watching planes land from the observing deck which is right next to transient parking. She was so thrilled that I had parked next to them (I guess because they could see a plane up close?) and wanted to know if I did it for their benefit!
I picked up Manuel and we took off, now headed for the Hawthorne airport (HHR). What lies between SMO and HHR is a really big airport called LAX. LAX offers a couple of ways that small planes can cross over it at low altitudes. The one we decided to use is called the “mini route”. I had flown it once before with my instructor (and my mom), but not as a licensed pilot! All the responsibility for an accurate and safe flight was on me.
SMO has strict instructions for how you depart it on runway 21: you take off, then at the end of the runway you turn 10 degrees to the left to get over a golf course, then turn to heading 225 to head out to the beach. You are not allowed to turn left before Lincoln Ave and you’re not allowed to turn right before the shore. We flew out over the beach and then kept climbing in a right turn to get us up to 2500′. I had plugged in the SMO VOR so we could fly precisely the right heading, 128 degrees straight at LAX. SMO handed us over to LAX and then I got to read back LAX’s magic words: “Cleared into class Bravo, maintain 2500.” We flew over all of LAX’s runways and planes and terminals, and then we were out the other side of the Bravo airspace. LAX handed us over to HHR, and I started descending (Hawthorne is RIGHT NEXT to LAX).
I landed at HHR (my first time there too! It’s also a nice wide runway!) and we switched seats. Manuel took off and flew us to the Palos Verdes practice area and did some very nice steep turns. Then he took us in to the Torrance airport (TOA) which I also had never been to. Then we took off again and headed back north to SMO. That meant traversing the LAX mini route a second time, this time with Manuel at the controls. Because it’s the same altitude in both directions, it’s like a one-lane tunnel; you don’t get cleared in if someone else is coming in the other direction. (You can however get cleared in behind someone else going the same direction. There are rules for how to pass if you’re going faster than the plane in front of you.)
The picture at right is the view looking down on LAX as we crossed over northbound!
Manuel landed the plane at SMO. Unlike most airports in the area, SMO charges a landing fee, which will probably be two landing fees since we landed twice in that plane. I tried to find a way to pay it there, but apparently it will be auto-billed at some later point. Huh.
I flew back to El Monte (EMT) solo. Again I got to take off, fly over the golf course, head to the beach, and turn before heading back east. The SMO tower was giving flight following to EMT for two other planes, so he added me to his list; I never switched to SoCal. I also never got any traffic alerts – hopefully because there was no traffic :) Around downtown the SMO controller told me to contact EMT, who told me to make right traffic for 19. This was the first time I’ve approached EMT from the southwest and it was great! I made a precise 45-degree entry to the downwind, and I was cleared #3 for the runway. Uneventful landing and I was done! Fantastic day!