California 2 – Where to Fly

Chino

Chino is about 60 nm east of LAX, just south of Ontario. It is of particular interest to aviation buffs as it is the home of the Planes of Fame Museum, with many airworthy aircraft on display. A great deal of historic aircraft restoration and flying goes on here and, for the TAP (Total Aviation Person) this is the place to go.

Aircraft undergoing restoration or rebuilding at the time of my last visit included an ex-Red Arrows Gnat, a pair of Chinese MiG-15s, an Antonov An-2 Colt, a B-26 Marauder (about to fly after seventeen years of restoration) and a 1927 Curtiss Robin. There are several companies at Chino which specialise in warbird restoration and maintenance so expect to see a variety of aircraft on the flight line (the hangar doors are normally open but please don’t wander in uninvited). On a typical day at Chino you will probably see a couple of B-25 Mitchells, a Grumman C-2 Trader (Carrier On-Board Delivery), an A-1 Skyraider, a Chance Vought Corsair II, a Sea Fury, a couple of P-51 Mustangs, several North American T-28s, several Boeing Stearmans and a couple of hundred assorted light aircraft.

The Air Museum at Chino is divided into two parts: the Planes of Fame Museum and the Fighter Museum. The latter has a large collection of fighters of the fifties and sixties and is well worth a visit. Most of the aircraft in the Planes of Fame Museum are still airworthy and many of them are lined up outside at the weekends and occasionally flown. Planes of Fame also has a complete hangar dedicated to Japanese aircraft of World War Two. To do these museums justice, you really need to spend the whole day there.

Chino is also the home of the Stearman Flight Centre where you can fly in one of these wonderful World War II trainers.

Hartley's Stearmans

Hartley's Stearmans

If all this spotting leaves you hungry, try some cherry cobbler and ice cream at Flo’s Cafe near the main gate, but re-check your Weight and Balance before flying back to Torrance!

Stearman Flying

The Stearman Flight Center ((909) 597 8511) is based at Chino and run by a retired United Airlines Captain, Hartley Folstad. Hartley restored his first Stearman in 1982 and since then has restored an average of one a year. Last time I visited he had three aircraft powered by the 450 HP Pratt and Whitney Wasp Junior and another half a dozen airframes awaiting restoration – including one going on floats.

Hartley and his two part-time instructors, Mike and Carter, have sent over a hundred pilots solo in the Stearman since 1982. I was fortunate enough to join that band in 1991 when I soloed after many sweaty hours training. Having never flown a biplane, never flown in an open cockpit, and never flown a tail wheel aircraft, I had a lot to learn and I learned it slowly! The aircraft is flown from the rear seat where the view on the ground is restricted by engine, wings, struts and the front-seater’s head. In order to see where you are going on the ground it is necessary to weave from side to side in normal tail wheel fashion. Pre take-off checks are simple, as you would expect in an aircraft with fixed undercarriage, no flaps and hardly any instruments – even a turn-and-slip is not required since any yaw results in an earful of hot air from the engine.

Margi hanging around

Margi hanging around

A leisurely take-off gives you time to get used to the noise from the engine and the intercomm. In the air the aircraft is a pleasure to fly although the climb performance of the 225 HP version leaves a little to be desired. Basic aerobatics are quite straightforward; the docile roll rate (four wings but two ailerons) means you need to get the nose quite high in barrel rolls to avoid that sinking feeling in the second half. But the fun really starts in the circuit. On the ground the Stearman is quite likely to ground-loop if you don’t dance on the rudder pedals and I discovered that a poor approach leads to an auto go-around from the front seat! The idea (I understand) is to put the aircraft into the three point attitude at a height of about two feet and then to hold it there until it runs out of airspeed. Easy to say, but harder to do with the restricted view and the knowledge that a mishandled landing will result in a very rapid 360°turn and an embarrassed confession. In fact, Hartley and his instructors well appreciate the problems of adapting to landing a Boeing Stearman after a Boeing 747-400; their most important concern is that you recognise when things are not going as planned and go around for another try

If you want to try aviation the old-fashioned way, Stearman flying is highly recommended.

Corona

Corona is a non-tower airport about five miles south of Chino. Bob’s Chilli and Chow Hall, next to transient parking, serves breakfast from 6 a.m. onwards seven days a week, so if you are jet-lagged and fed up with Denny’s, why not drop into Corona for breakfast on your way to Chino or Palm Springs? The circuit is usually quite busy, so as with all non-tower airports, announce your intentions to “Corona Traffic”, make sure you know where the other aircraft are, and don’t do a straight-in approach.

Catalina Island

Just off the coast, southwest of LA, Catalina Island is a delightful place to visit for the day. It is another non-tower airport, so keep your eyes and ears open, and the 3,200 ft runway sits on a cliff 1,600 ft high, which makes the approach interesting. On the field is the Runway Cafe which serves pretty average Buffalo Burgers. Most of the island is a nature reserve where, surprise, surprise, buffalo roam free. Bus tours around the island are available, and also from the airport you can take a twenty minute bus ride into Avalon, a picturesque seaside town with hotels, restaurants, boating, scuba diving, fishing, biking, tennis and golf. As Catalina is only a few minutes by air from Torrance, if you rent a four-seater you can easily show passengers LA from the air and fly to Catalina and back for about $15 each. Incidentally, Catalina is the only place I’ve found in California which charges a landing fee – $20 (2009) – because it’s run by the Nature Conservancy and the fee goes to the upkeep and support of the Conservancy on the island. If you prefer to go by sea, boats sail from Redondo Beach to Catalina, but check the departure times before you set off.

Palm Springs

This is obviously the place to go for golf. It’s about 100 nm from Torrance so it makes sense to hire the Cessna 182 with its superior useful load and higher speed. The flight there takes you past Chino and through the Banning Pass (stay on the north side of the pass to get an early radar pick-up from PSP Approach) before descending into Palm Springs. Transient parking is next to AMR-Combs who will call a cab for you.

There are many golf courses to choose from, and as a humble hacker, I would not presume to recommend one before another. Many courses offer “twilight rates” after lunch, so expect to pay about $20 for a round. Better players may wish to pay $50 or so to play the Desert Princess course; other courses nearby include Mission Hills, Palm Springs Municipal and Desert Dunes. Hackers should not bother carrying clubs to the States for one round of golf – club hire is only $5. Although the weather can get really hot, it is a dry heat and quite tolerable if you are used to the Far East. An electric golf cart, complete with an ample supply of iced water, is provided at no extra cost, so personal exertion can be kept to a minimum (and they call golf exercise).

If you have non-golfers on board they might be interested in visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, 6 miles from the airport. It is the longest of its type in the world, and it goes to the top of Mount San Jacinto (10,800 ft amsl).

Finishing the last hole at 6 p.m. will have you airborne at about 7 and landing at Torrance at 8, just as the tower closes. The runway lights for 29R/11L are left on, but make sure you have a serviceable torch.

Crystal Soaring

Crystal is a short, privately-owned airstrip about 15 miles southeast of Palmdale. It houses Crystal Soaring, a glider school, managed by a Mr Dave Woods. Since it is a private strip, if you intend flying there you must telephone ahead to ask permission. Provided your aircraft rental company has sufficient insurance cover, there is no problem.

Crystal is the closest place to LA to go gliding. Like Fantasy Haven, 40 miles north, it offers a range of glider flights and training. On the day I visited, the weather conditions were perfect for soaring: high temperatures were triggering off thermals in the Mojave Desert and a southerly wind was producing ridge lift in the mountains just to the south. My instructor, a Yorkshireman named Geoff Larkin, explained to me the cockpit of the high-performance Grob 103 before we took an aero-tow to 6,500 ft amsl (3,000 ft agl). Almost as soon as I had released the tow, we found a thermal and soared straight up to 10,000 ft, from where we could see Catalina Island. During the 30 minute flight we used thermals, ridge lift, and carried out some stalls and steep turns. We ended up 4,000 ft above Crystal and could have stayed up there all day had we wished.

In order to add a Glider Rating to your FAA Certificate (you may then take passengers up with you) you are required to fly ten solos. At Crystal they simply tow you to 1,000 agl and you fly a circuit to land. Each of these circuits costs $10, so including the initial familiarisation flight, you should get change from $200. A Grob 103 is $42 per hour, excluding instruction and aero-tow. Overall, great fun and I’m looking forward to going back and doing some more.

Edwards Air Force Base

A great day out for aircraft enthusiasts is to visit Edwards Air Force Base and the Dryden Flight Research Center (NASA) in the Mojave Desert. I understand that the USAF tour is on Fridays only at 10 a.m. (visitor information on this page) and the NASA tour is Monday to Friday at 10:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. It isn’t possible to fly into Edwards AFB itself (as a civilian) – Mojave airport is probably the closest public use airport.

(Thanks to Don Jenkins for this finding these web sites.)

Mojave

Another destination for the aviation buff. Due north of LA, the dry Mojave desert is the perfect place to preserve and store aircraft with the minimum of maintenance. At the time of my last visit, in July, there were some one hundred airliners sitting out in the sun, including two BA 767s which have never carried passengers! Various ex-military jets fly out of Mojave on radar trials and Burt Rutan is flight testing his Aires tank-buster and his Pond Racer there. Try to get there before the temperature gets too high and the desert wind builds up.

Tehachapi (Gliding)

Skylark North, a full-service Glider Flight School, is based here, a few mile west of Mojave. It offers a range of glider flights and training from a Basic Orientation Flight to mountain soaring.

Other ideas: Big Bear (but not with a full load), and Van Nuys, another warbird base.

Santa Paula

Santa Paula is some 50 miles northwest of Torrance in a valley inland from Ventura. There is usually an interesting selection of aircraft on the line, but the best time to go is the first Sunday of any month when all the owners open their hangars and put their aircraft on static display. Most of the aircraft are from the thirties and forties, things like Travelairs, Staggerwings, and Wacos, and all are immaculately restored. The other advantage of going on a Sunday, probably better appreciated by your passengers, is the excellent Champagne Brunch served at Logsdon’s Restaurant on the airfield.

Santa Paula is also the home of CP Aviation, a specialist aerobatic school, where you can learn basic aerobatics in a Bellanca Decathlon or more advanced stuff in a Pitts Special.

Camarillo

Camarillo is a few miles west of Santa Paula, and, at first sight, has little to offer a visiting pilot. However, it’s the home of the local chapter of the Confederate Air Force who base their C-46 “China Doll” and a Bearcat there. Also based at Camarillo is Jeff Whitesell’s lovingly restored Martin 4-0-4, N636X. 

Jeff’s father owned 636X in the 60s and early 70s but sold her in 1973 when the charter market collapsed. Jeff found the aircraft again in 1994, bought it, and restored it to flying condition, a three-year project. N636X is the lowest-time Martin in existence, and one of only five remaining in airworthy condition.

Santa Barbara

Norcal's 160 hp Cessna 150

Norcal's 160 hp Cessna 150

Further up the coast, about an hour’s flying from LA, is the pleasant city of Santa Barbara. Try the Elephant Bar on the airfield for lunch, or take a short walk down to the beach for sailing, sunbathing, and the Beachside Cafe.

Santa Ynez

Fifteen miles north-west of Santa Barbara is a large valley where much of the Californian wine is produced. Santa Ynez airfield is 5 miles from the Danish town of Solvang, with many restaurants, bars and tourist attractions. Sample the local wine on a tour of a vineyard or visit the town of Santa Ynez which has wine-tasting rooms.

San Andreas (Float Flying)

Norcal's Cessna 170B

Norcal's Cessna 170B

This is the home of Norcal Aviation ((209) 736 4554). Run by Rob and Karen Davids, they specialise in Floatplane instruction in an uprated C150, a C170B, a C182 Turbo Amphibian and a PA-23 Apache. I completed my Single-Engine Sea (SES) rating with Rob a few years ago and have been back a couple of times since to renew my currency. The beauty of flying floats here is the variety of places to land: lakes, rivers, ravines, and reservoirs for example. The mountains are close by and so Rob also offers mountain flying and high density altitude instruction as well.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my flying at San Andreas and highly recommend Norcal!

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is only a short hop from Torrance but worth dropping in to on the way home. Try the DC3 restaurant for a coffee or a sandwich, or the Spitfire Grill on the south side of the airfield next to transient parking.

The 150 performing a glassy water take-off (one float at a time)

The 150 performing a glassy water take-off (one float at a time)

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