Talk about the need to be flexible when flying - well, more than when flying a commercial airline, at least!

David Werntz, one of the instructors at the Caltech Aero Club, had tried to arrange a flyout to the Furnace Creek Airport (L06) in Death Valley, CA. Over the last few days, we had noticed that the weather in and around the SoCal area was steadily deteriorating, and last night we realized from the weather forecasts that not only was the cloud cover over SoCal going to make it difficult for us but that the winds in the desert were going to be picking up pretty bad. For example, current (at the time of this post) winds at Edwards Air Force Base are from the West-Southwest (240 degrees) 19 knots with gusts of up to 25 knots.

KEDW 312258Z **24019G25KT** 80SM FEW040 SCT080 BKN250 20/08 A2999 RMK AO2A PK WND 22027/45 SLP145 T01960075

To make a long story short, most of us were uncomfortable with flying in such high winds and, potentially, the associated turbulence. So, this morning, we met up at El Monte to figure out what to do. Now, as any one who knows pilots will admit, when the best laid plans of pilots are defeated by weather pilots (akin to toddlers) are bound to sulk, mope and, in occasional cases, throw a tantrum - the primary objective being a flight somewhere :-)

Thankfully, there were no tantrums this morning, but we all figured we should fly somewhere closer than Furnace Creek so that we could return to El Monte if the weather started taking a turn for the worse. After a little bit of discussion, consensus was arrived upon in favor of flying to French Valley Airport (F70) near Murietta. The airport restaurant was open and that’s all that we needed.

So, off we went - a crew of 16 club members in 5 aircraft - 3 C172s, a C152 and a Piper Archer.

Flying to French Valley was relatively uneventful. We headed east from El Monte, found the I-15 just southeast of Chino and followed it all the way to Murietta close to where it merges with the I-215. SoCal Approach informed us that the Lake Elsinore parachute drop zone was active and so we stayed east of the 15 freeway. On seeing so many aircraft heading from El Monte to French Valley the controller at March AFB approach (rather wistfully, in my opinion) asked us whether we were part of a flying club. I replied with the affirmative and that was that. Weather at French Valley was excellent - sunny skies, a little windy, but just amazing.

Here’s a picture of our flight path to French Valley.


Brunch at French Valley was excellent. I particularly loved my veggie burger, which seemed custom made as opposed to the Boca Burger junk that many restaurants seem to peddle.

Flying back from French Valley was not as uneventful as I’d hoped. The clouds were moving in from the west and the cloud base was at 5,000 feet on departure from French Valley. I wanted to go to 4,500 feet, but decided to only climb to 4,200 feet to avoid getting too close to the clouds. As we cleared Lake Matthews and started to have a better look at the LA Basin, we noticed the cloud base had dropped even further, with El Monte reporting cloud bases at 3,400 feet. We dropped to 2,500 feet near Chino airport, after letting SoCal Approach know. I followed the I-10 all the way back to Chino, was cleared left base for runway 19 and landed. Not my best landing, but as they say, “any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing :-)”

Here’s a picture of our flight path from French Valley.


All in all, it was an excellent flyout. A lot of fun and camaraderie with a bunch of great people.

I’m still sulking about not making it to Death Valley, but as all toddlers (and pilots) do, I’ll get over it :-)

Happy Easter!