While out visiting family for the Thanksgiving break in Temecula, my pilot friend Tom offered to take me up flying in his experimental aircraft. It’s a Lancair 360; a kit plane that he built from parts.
I’d always wanted the opportunity to fly over the South Bay area of Los Angeles, where I live. Looking down on anonymous landscapes from an airplane is nowhere near as interesting as looking down on the familiar. I asked Tom if we could fly out over the coast and head up to San Pedro so we could fly over my backyard. We’ve got stunt planes flying over us on a daily basis, and I’ve always wanted to get up there and check things out.
I met Tom at his French Valley hangar, located in Murrieta. I couldn’t believe how small the plane was. At first glance, it looked like a one-seater. It does in fact seat two people snugly, side by side. I had to almost cross my knees just to fit my legs in, scooting my feet down to the nose of the plane. It was like boarding Space Mountain or something.
Once squeezing in to the cockpit, Tom gave me a quick tour of the instruments and our flight plan, furnishing me with a ball cap and a headphones/mic rig. We’d be communicating with each other this way, while also communicating with air control.
We did a quick review of the weather conditions on the radio and made our way out to the runway. As planned, we flew west over the mountains towards the ocean, which put us at about Dana Point. We then hung a right and cruises along the beach up to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Once in the air, it’s amazing how your perspective of time and space changes. Within 15 short minutes we had cleared the mountains and were in John Wayne Airport’s airspace, where the sights became familiar. Ha! There’s the cliffside mansions Laguna Niguel. Corona Del Mar. Huntington Beach pier. Irvine’s cluster of buildings. We’re flying! Seal Beach. Neptunes! The wetlands! Already to Long Beach? No way. Yes way, because there’s the aquarium and Convention Center. The Pike. I can almost make out P.F. Chang’s! We’re already coming up on Terminal Island. There’s both bridges. I can see the silhouette of Palos Verdes coming out of the haze now. Ah, yes, there’s the Korean Bell! One of our favorite playgrounds. Cabrillo Beach Pier. Paseo Del Mar. Pac Diner! Surreal. It’s only been 25 minutes since we were on the ground, and now I’m looking down at my own neighborhood, which is an hour and a half drive by car with no traffic.
We came down low, a few hundred feet above the water. Once we reached the Nike Missile Base, which is literally yards from my house, we circled around and headed back to French Valley.
Before landing, we flew over Pechanga Casino and my dad’s house, circling around a couple times, low enough to see details like the lounge chairs by the pool and the cars in the driveway. We then flattened out and headed back towards the nearby airport, when Tom told me to take over the driving. I turned the thing a couple times, dipped, climbed, and began breaking a sweat. The reality of what was going on started to give me clammy palms, and things started feeling stuffy. I suddenly longed to pop the window and get some fresh air.
Tom took over, and schooled me a bit on some g-force action. Since our Lancair 360’s a hot-rod, we’re going much faster than all the other incoming air traffic, making it impossible for us to “get in line” for landing, so to speak. We had to do our own thing, circling the airport a couple times until our turn, at which point Tom brought us down for a flawless landing.
We couldn’t have landed at a better time. I was just on the verge of beginning to feel uncomfortable, similar to being on a rocking boat for five minutes too long. Fortunately I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so there was nothing to lose.
We wheeled the plane back into the hangar, where Tom broke out some of the blueprints he had in his shop for the kit plane. It’s like a model airplane hobby on steroids. Really cool stuff. He also showed me a couple other of planes in the adjacent hangars, which belonged to his colleagues. One of these was a bi-plane that they had just put together made of wood and kite material, like the Red Baron. Nice. It’s always inspiring to see somebody living out their passion.
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, I experineced a bit of psychological disorientation. Really, it’s surreal to be in Murrieta one moment, and then an hour later you’re standing there having just watched cars driving out of the parking lot of Pacific Diner in San Pedro nearly 100 miles away. It almost doesn’t register. It almost feels fake, like you were dreaming. Like time travel or something. Hard to believe.
A great way to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving. Thanks Tom!