Flying to Twentynine Palms

On April 1, I took my friend Vali for her first flight in a Cessna 172. Vali is a geologist who does a lot of field work in the Joshua Tree area, so we decided to fly to the Twentynine Palms airport (KTNP) which would give us some great aerial views of places she already knows well from the ground.

This was a good chance for me to do some more flying outside of the L.A. Basin. I’ve been working on trying to visit all of the L.A. airports and have now visited 17 of 26 (!). But it’s good to get some longer flights in and more experience with new locations.

Chino Hills with spring green and yellow flower fields

Starting from El Monte, we flew southeast to the Paradise VOR (PDZ), then east through the Banning pass at 7500′. That’s high enough to have some options for landing, but still below the mountain peaks to the north and south, yielding some dramatic views.

Mt. San Jacinto, south of the Banning Pass

We also got a good view of the San Andreas Fault, just east of Palm Springs.

San Andreas Fault

We continued on to the Palm Springs VOR (PSP), then turned northeast to head to Twentynine Palms.

At TNP, we found a cute little pilot’s lounge stocked with water, sodas, and snacks (honor system to pay for fridge items). It also has a microwave and a bathroom. Great place to have our picnic lunch!

TNP pilot’s lounge

TNP has the largest and most visible wind tetrahedron I’ve ever seen. It looks like a huge yellow tent and easily spins around to show the current wind direction. Next to it, the windsock looks small and ineffective.

Windsock and wind tetrahedron at TNP

TNP has runway options for north-south or east-west winds. The larger and more improved runway runs east-west, but the winds at the time of our visit were coming from the north, so we took the smaller one. That meant flying downwind south straight at the rising terrain, then turning for a left base entry to runway 35. It’s 3800′ long, which is plenty, but only 50′ wide, compared to 5500′ x 75′ for the more commonly used runway 8/26.

We returned following highway 62 through the Morongo Valley and back west through the Banning Pass at 8500′. I tried to descend a few times as we got closer to the PDZ VOR, but SoCal kept me high to deconflict with traffic. You can see that we didn’t actually reach the VOR but instead did some navigation north around it – SoCal gave us vectors to avoid traffic during that period.

TNP track
Flight track (click to enlarge).

Both flights were great! We got to see some great terrain and to visit a new airport. It took us about 1.25 hours each way, with a headwind on the way east and a tailwind coming back. It wasn’t a crystal clear day, so there was some distant haze, but still good visibility. One annoyance was that there was light turbulence throughout, which makes the ride a bit less comfortable, but nothing problematic. We overheard someone else coming through the pass who was getting 1000 fpm up- and downdrafts, and we were glad not to have anything that wild!

Flying to Torrance through the LAX Bravo

On Friday, I flew down to the Torrance (Zamperini Field, KTOA) airport – another new one for me!

I requested flight following at 3000′. Manuel handled the radio and, after we departed KEMT and switched to SoCal, he asked for a transition through the LAX Bravo! And we got it! “Cleared into class Bravo!”

There was an AIRMET out for moderate turbulence below 12,000 feet, and we definitely got a taste of light bumps throughout the half-hour flight. The plane felt frisky, bouncing up and down and making sudden waggles to one side or the other. I noticed that it took a lot of my attention to maintain altitude and heading – and since we were transitioning the Bravo, we were on assigned headings and altitudes for most of the time. That left less time for looking outside the airplane. Nothing bad happened, but I definitely noticed the increased workload.

KTOA has two tower frequencies, listed as “north” and “south.” We used the “north” one as we were coming from the north. My pre-flight research also turned up warnings about birds and farm equipment (!).

I got a right base entry to runway 29R. Winds were reported as 290 at 13 kts. I turned final right on the glideslope, but then had some trouble maintaining the glide as I had to keep adjusting power. The wind started moving around a bit and I dealt with a small crosswind on short final, and then we landed.

We taxied to the transient area and switched places. Manuel started up and I took the comm. In the time it took us to switch, the wind kicked up stronger from the south and now had a noticeable crosswind for runway 29R. While holding short, we watched the same plane make a series of poorly controlled crosswind touch-and-goes. But no worries, we had a master pilot at the controls! Manuel took off like a pro and we made a right downwind departure.

Looking down just after departure from KTOA on 29R.

This time I hailed SoCal and asked for the Bravo transition (at 3500′). And got it again! Two Bravos in one day! Well, the same one.

On the way back, the ride was noticeably smoother (and mostly tailwind). SoCal kept us busy spotting traffic.

Overall, it was a fun hop down to KTOA, which has a nice big runway (plus a smaller companion one to the south). It was also good to practice requesting a Bravo transition, which saved us time and, to my surprise, was apparently no big deal. And of course, we had a fall-back route we would fly if they said no. Next time I will have to try it solo!

I forged steel!

I recently attended an introductory blacksmithing class at Adam’s Forge. I walked in with no experience and no idea what we would be making (the class description is tantalizingly vague). Four hours later, I emerged with my own forged steel bottle opener!

The class began by covering important safety topics, like how the steel inside the forge would reach 1600 F, and that even after you take it out and it cools from hot yellow to orange to red to dull grey, it is still 900 F and “will give you a blister.” We learned to use tongs to manipulate the steel bars and carry them safely between forge and vise or anvil. We also used safety glasses and earplugs (four blasting forges and ten hammering smiths makes a lot of ruckus).

The first step was to create the lovely twisted handle. This was actually the easiest part of the project. I was given a steel bar (7″ long and 3/8″ square). I heated the steel bar in the forge, then clamped it in a vise. I placed a wrench three inches from the vise and then twisted several times to wind the bar.

“While hot, steel feels like thick clay,” our instructor Scott advised, and I found this to be true. It cools off in less than a minute, so if you take too long then it’s back into the forge for another round.

Next, we had to “draw” the steel out on each end. This involves heating a square end of the bar and then pounding it, using the hammer and anvil, to shape it as desired. First you pound on the tip to shape it rather like a chisel point, then work backwards up the bar to progressively thin and shape the end into a wedge. Each time you hit it with the hammer, it spreads out a bit, but it spreads in all directions, so you alternate between hitting the wedge and turning it on its side to pound the bar and maintain its width. Again, you get about 15-20 seconds of pounding time before it has to go back into the forge and be re-heated.

Once the piece had a tapered wedge on each end (this step alone took about 1.5 hours to accomplish), I shaped the wedges into the proper curved pieces. The left end is a hook so the bottle opener can hang from your pocket or other location. The right end is the business end and requires some effort and precision (or luck) to get the hook the right size to snag the edge of a bottle cap, the loop the right length to apply leverage in the center of the cap, and the handle around 45 degrees to make it an ergonomically pleasant and energy-wise efficient operation when removing bottle caps.

One fascinating technique is that you hammer the end curl into the wedge first (bending it over the edge of the anvil), then reheat the tip, dip it in water (to “freeze” the curl) and then pound it over the anvil’s horn to bend the (hot) stem backwards without affecting the (cooler) shaped curl. Nifty!

Also, hot steel oxidizes much faster than room-temperature steel, so as you work, grey dust and chips flake off of the piece. At the end, I used a wire brush to scrape off any loose “scale” and make the piece a little shinier (about the luster of pencil lead).

Today I got the opportunity to try out my new device on a bottle of root beer. IT WORKED!!!

It is a fine, fine thing, to make an object – and one that works – and to learn new skills in the doing.

Understanding introversion and its strengths and weaknesses

I just finished reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which makes me want to talk!

Cain’s book is a fascinating account of the latest research on introverts and extroverts. It pulls together ideas from antiquity up through today about what distinguishes these basic personality types, how they form (nature vs. nurture?), and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Cain’s tone throughout is a bit defensive or apologetic (hence the title’s emphasis on the “power” of introverts) due to our cultural bias in favor of extroversion – but both sides are discussed. Introverts will find advice herein about how to connect, communicate, and thrive (and know yourself better).

The main message I got (which fits my own life experience) was that introversion is likely an inborn trait (not an environmentally imposed one), but we can (and do) adapt to situations as needed, including performing as extroverts if it’s in pursuit of a goal that we highly value.

One aspect of introversion that was new to me is that introverts tend to be more sensitive to the thoughts and actions of others. I am reminded of how I would anthropomorphize everything as a kid, including feeling sorry when I stepped on rocks in case it “hurt” them. Here I’d thought that everyone did that :) And it’s true that I find it nearly impossible to rest if I think I’ve inconvenienced, hurt, or annoyed someone. I feel compelled to address and resolve it.

I was also surprised to read that “at the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability” and that “introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees.” Cain does not argue that introverts are smarter than extroverts (in fact, she points out that IQ tests show no difference), but that they are more focused, invested, and studious – traits that are rewarded in academia. In contrast, extroverts are better at “handling information overload,” perhaps because introverts are devoting “cognitive capacity” to reflecting on experiences as they are happening. I can identify with that!

But the part that really hit me hard was the discussion of being “reward-oriented” versus “threat-oriented” (one way of thinking about extroverts and introverts). Reading through this characterization, I realized that this theory captures my own behaviors remarkably well. And I went through a short existential crisis, because this is not how I have ever viewed myself consciously, and it felt like a disappointment. While there are up sides to being cautious and conscientious and thorough, it seems … less impressive, somehow, than being a risk-taker and go-getter and achiever. I’m not sure that I want to think of myself as motivated by fears.

An industrious individual converted Cain’s short 10-question quiz into an online quiz, so if you don’t have access to the book, you can still determine where you fall on the reward-threat spectrum.

Cain shares the results of studies on how well people think and work in solo situations versus group settings, with important implications for your own productivity and for the workplace. She makes some powerful points about the need for both introverts and extroverts for balanced decision making (e.g., in financial markets, but everywhere else, too).

There are also chapters devoted to the teaching or parenting of introverts. I found these less compelling or insightful. The main message is about awareness of diversity in personalities and strengths. As an introvert myself, I find the recommended strategies to be overly meddlesome, but it’s always possible that others would find them beneficial.

Overall, this was a thought-provoking read that yielded some new insights about myself and my behavior. I wrote extensively in the margins and will likely come back to browse and review over time.

Flying by instruments to San Diego

I’m not yet certified to fly in the clouds. But recently, events conspired to end up with me in the pilot’s seat, on a instrument flight plan, all the way to San Diego!

It was a rather last-minute decision. Manuel and I had planned to go to a tour of the SoCal TRACON facility in San Diego. These are the voices we hear over the radio that guide us around the southern California airspace and help us not run into other planes. Another pilot planned to take a second plane. But then it got too cloudy and stormy for us to fly, and the other pilot had a brilliant idea: invite an instructor (David) along, all pile in to one plane, and then make it into an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) lesson!

We decided that I would fly the segment from El Monte (KEMT) to Montgomery Field (KMYF) in San Diego. It was an hour of flying that was packed full of new activities and skills to learn. And that was all before the tour!

This flight felt like a return to my early lessons. My instructor talked me through every step, and I did what he told me to, feeling a little bewildered at several points when things happened quickly. He commented that the usual first IFR lesson involves going to the practice area and being told to hold a heading — not to execute a cross-country flight. :)

We requested a “tower enroute” (TEC) clearance from KEMT to KMYF, which meant we didn’t need to pre-file an instrument flight plan. The TEC route between these two airports is pre-specified, and their use is encouraged in SoCal (they aren’t available everywhere, just in busy airspace). So, while we were waiting to depart, the ground controller came back with the clearance, which we had to write down and then read back before being allowed to depart:

“Cessna 54678 cleared to MYF via the San Gabriel Valley runway 1 obstacle departure procedure, Paradise (PDZ), Victor 180, HAILE (intersection), Victor 66, Mission Bay (MZB), climb and maintain 3000′, expect 9000′ 10 minutes after departure, stand by for squawk.”

We plugged all of that into the GPS and then were ready to take off!

Once we got away from the airport, David had me put on a “hood” (“view limiting device”). In this case it is a set of blinders that clip onto my glasses so that I can only see the instrument panel and nothing outside the plane. While flying this way, everything felt more touchy. I worked to monitor airspeed, altitude, heading, and power, while paying attention to the radio (fortunately, David did all of the talking). I also had to periodically check the engine and exhaust monitor, the outside temperature (to decide if we needed to worry about potential icing), the suction gauge, and the directional gyro (for deviation from the compass). That’s about twice the number of things I have to monitor during regular VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight.

Other challenges:

  • Maintaining heading and altitude. This seems really basic, but it’s amazing how much your peripheral vision helps on this! No such input means you have to consciously think through everything, and your intuitive sense of direction often battles with what the instruments say. Disorienting!
  • You are always thinking about what you could do next, so you can do it early. There are times in IFR flight that are so busy they can be truly overwhelming. If you can spread the tasks out in advance, you are less likely to get overwhelmed.

Along the way, we entered the San Diego Bravo space! And there wasn’t even a fanfare on the radio — nothing. Awww.

We flew for an hour, and then about 20 miles away from MYF, the controller started giving me vectors to gradually turn me around and line up with the ILS (Instrument Landing System). At right is the actual ground track from our flight. That bump out to the east near MYF is the result of those gradually turning vectors.

His vectors made us skip over most of the standard approach segments, which was confusing enough, and then he was giving us altitudes also seemed lower than the specified approach (but maybe that is fine?). Once on the ILS, things got better: you line up with a radio beacon coming from the airport and then keep it centered, horizontally and vertically, to end up right at the airport.

At about 700′ off the ground, David let me take off the hood — and I saw RUNWAY in front of me! I had a very nice landing and then taxied to the transient parking area. We shut down the plane and then too a Lyft to the SoCal TRACON center. The tour was excellent! Here’s what the control room looks like (with no people inside):

They let us sit at the controls in a training room:

And then we took a Lyft back to the airport for our return flight.

Since I was wearing a hood while flying, I couldn’t look outside the plane nor take any pictures. So I took pictures on the way back instead :)

Here is a residential area not far from MYF, soon after taking off:

Here we crossed out over the coast:

The clouds grew thicker beneath us:

In a break in the clouds, I spotted a little runway! We weren’t going there, but it’s always nice to spot nearby emergency options.

And finally, we made it back to El Monte! Very eventful and exciting day.

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