Today was a brand new experience for me. I answered an ad on Craigslist where a former and future flying student wanted to ride along with a private pilot to re-familiarize herself with the cockpit environment prior to jumping back into lessons and paying instructor rates. Great idea, really, so I answered the ad, and we had our flight today.
I won't use real names here, again; you never know how people will feel about their stories being on the internet for anyone to read, not that it's all that interesting, but you never know...Jessie brought a friend of hers from Ireland, Sean. It was his birthday, so we thought we could kill several birds with one stone by flying to Petaluma for lunch, having her do some simple turns and aircraft control along the way, and give him a nice view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate on the way.
We met up at the Caltrain station and drove over to the airport, picked up the keys, created a flight plan and headed out to the plane. The preflight went smoothly, and we got in and listened to ATIS. I called up PAO ground and requested a straight out departure -- at which point the controller informed me that no Class Bravo transitions were being granted at the moment.
Interesting. Now what? I told him I'd go the coastal route; he offered to hand me to Norcal to see if maybe they'd give me a high transition (instead of the usual low transition where the handoff is handled by San Carlos Tower). I declined and said we'd just take the coastal route; it sounded easier.
But as we were on our takeoff climbout, we saw some puffy clouds out over Half Moon Bay. It was hard to tell whether there were more clouds out there, so as we turned left and climbed, I figured I'd just give Norcal Approach a call and see whether I could get the transition. They did indeed give it to me, and vectored me up to basically the Sausalito VOR. It worked out well, since the Golden Gate ended up on the right side, where Sean was sitting. We got out over San Pablo Bay, and Jessie took the controls for a little bit and did a few turns. After she was satiated (at least temporarily) I took the controls back and headed for Petaluma.
The pattern at Petaluma was quite busy; there was a plane on every leg of the pattern at any given time. I crossed overhead high, about 2000' above TPA, because I already knew that 29 was the active runway. I kicked out very wide of the right pattern to give myself time to come in perfectly and to give everyone else time to adjust to my entry. I called the 45 entry, and just as I was turning to the downwind, another aircraft called downwind as well but they were on a departure climbout. We saw them late, but they were above us. The rest of the pattern was fine, and on final I ended up in a pretty significant crab for the crosswind. The landing was...not great; I had too little airspeed and leveled off high, so I came down a little hard, but it was OK. I definitely should've realized I needed more airspeed; I had only 20 degrees of flaps because of the wind, I had a third person in the plane, and I had a nice long runway. My landing was actually a very good short field landing! Not that it needed to be..
Lunch at the 29er Diner was really good. I had french toast, and it was excellent! Conversation with my flying companions was very nice; we talked about flying but also other stuff. After about an hour or a little more, we headed back to the plane (which was 739TW, by the way), and headed out. We took off and headed out for San Pablo Bay again. This time Jessie took quite a bit more time, setting up standard rate turns, trying to maintain her altitude while turning. She did well, and for me, it was my first experience with kind of doing a very tiny tiny bit of teaching. And I enjoyed it! It gave me the rough idea that I could actually do it -- I was encouraging, I had ideas for things she could do from the right seat that wouldn't exceed my comfort zone.
We then came back toward SFO. I was expecting another high transition, but he gave me 2000' or below. So I descended, and immediately started hitting some mild turbulence. The ride was basically slightly rough the rest of the way; not a huge deal, and my passengers seemed to enjoy it. We got a nice relatively low pass off the Golden Gate, over the city and in a very cool turn of events they sent us over mid-field at SFO as a 777 took off below us! That was awesome.
Coming into Palo Alto, they gave us the numbers: Wind 270 at 10 gusting 22. 10 gusting 22??? Um..OK. So I made left traffic, set up a very good pattern, and came in again with 20 degrees of flaps. My approach was good, and I leveled with a little extra airspeed. I ballooned a little, gave it a bit of power, re-leveled, and squeaked the landing beautifully. Jamie even applauded.
Everyone seemed to have a great time! I definitely did. I guess flying actually can be a way to meet some new folks and go on some new adventures. There's a little bit of added pressure, since I feel responsible and all that, but even that's kind of nice to cultivate. It's kind of like the first baby step toward being a commercial pilot of some sort. Very cool feeling!