By lex, on April 6th, 2009
An eager drive down to Montgomery, filled with no small amount of trepidation. Have I planned properly? What don’t I know that I ought? Will she get frightened? Sick?
All these doubts I kept to myself – we were going, and it’s no use scaring the pax.
Herself saw the airplane and must have blanched a bit, at least on the inside if such a thing is possible. If you’ve never flown in anything smaller than an Embraer, the Cessna Skyhawk is an unprepossessing vehicle even when new, but a 1978 172N will also have a “patina of use” to go with its diminutive stature. People have been flying them about the country since shortly after the Wright brothers got some air at Kitty Hawk, though, and it did have dual comm/nav and distance measuring equipment.
The fuel gauges never came off the empty peg after engine run-ups, and I sighed, thinking that this would be a short trip indeed. Although the gauges aren’t particularly reliable, you have to have some sense of what’s left in the tank in order to make a long hike. It took a moment for a guy used to digital fuel indicators to have an inspiration, but I tapped the fuel gauges with my left hand – just like they used to do in the old days – and, Lo, and behold! After a couple of attempts the needles jumped up to the “Full” marks.
I miss technology.
The Biscuit got a little excited as we took the runway and the spinner spooled up, but in short order we were airborne and turning north. I pointed out various landmarks she had previously known only from the ground, and after a moment the digital camera came out and pictures were being snapped. At the top of the climb she asked if all those people would be talking on the radio throughout the flight, and I had to answer yes, they would: We had requested flight following. North of Oceanside there’s not much to see, so I cranked the volumes down on her intercomm and radio and she went gratefully to sleep for the next two hours. Teenagers.
The first leg was a shade under 400 miles, and I had my lingering doubts about getting all the way there in one hop. Flight planning through AOPA’s online flight planner suggested that we’d have 15 gallons out of our original 40 left arriving at the destination, enough for nearly two hours of flight on a cruise power setting. Giving some up in the climb, getting it back during the descent and at a little less than 9 gallons per hour at 6500 feet and 2400 RPM I figured on roughly four hours of endurance, plus a safety margin. Because I’m all about safety margins.
At three hours into the flight, with headwinds and with about 50 minutes of flying time to go I started to get a little anxious. According to the fuel gauges we were about 6 gallons below prediction approaching Paso Robles, but the needles bounce around so while “averaging” about seventeen gallons left, adding together the lower boundary of those needle swings we had about 10 gallons. That would have left us with maybe two or three once on deck at Monterey, which is nothing like enough when I’ve got precious cargo aboard.
I’d planned on hitting Paso Robles on the way back from San Francisco, and considered it a go/no-go point for my northbound leg as well. There’s an automated weather reporting station there, but I could see the field from 20-odd miles away – it really was a great day to fly. It was my first approach to an uncontrolled tower since I was an ensign, which felt, well: Uncontrolled. But in short order we landed, got our gas, taking on 17.2 gallons. That meant that I had still had nearly 22 usable gallons left, we would have made Monterey with well over an hour’s flight time remaining without stopping. Nervous in the service?
Maybe, but I think I’d make the same decision again. Running out of gas on final would have fatally ruined my reputation with my daughter.
The Monterey Peninsula is full of rich people, who wouldn’t mind making your life miserable if you goon the pattern up and fly too low over their stately pleasure domes. But you can’t go wrong on the ILS/DME approach, following the FAA’s published instructions, like. So that’s just what we did.
We forewent the visit to CSU Monterey Bay, since our ardors do not lay in that direction it seems and in any case the hour was getting late. Checked in at the main BOQ at the Naval Postgraduate School and saw an old shipmate behind us, the former Assistant Maintenance Officer from my last squadron. He was going through the MBA program and had good things to say about it, as well as fondly remembering the old retiree standing before him for the things he’d done as a commanding officer way back in the way back when. Which was nice.
It doesn’t take long to stroll the main streets of Monterey, nor the tourist district either: We had endless samples of clam chowder pushed on us on the pier. After a coffee at a suitably dark and intentionally funky café for the Biscuit and a bottle of Spaten for your correspondent, I handed her the keys and we were down the road to Carmel for to walk the art galleries, finally stopping in for oysters on the half shell to cap the evening off. In between we had pleasant conversation about friends, experiences, books and art. Nothing heavy, we’ve had enough of heavy conversations, which are the only kind you tend to have when you don’t talk nearly enough. There’s a world of space between exchanging daily pleasantries and Finally Having To Say Something when you sense the train coming off the tracks, but I have not, in the last few years tilled that middle ground very fruitfully. And she is leaving soon.
I’m nothing like as close as I would like to be to my older daughter. I suppose I was too often gone to sea when she needed me at home, and maybe not there enough when I was at home. I have no illusions that I can make all of that go away with a three-day jaunt through California in a Cessna 172N. But I am enjoying her company greatly, and I will treasure this time.
Good lord willing and the weather holds.