Posts about the flight environment
The scattered clouds above us were bunching up a little closer together and we had rising terrain ahead. My wife Janet, my parents, and Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator were VFR on our way North through Oregon in my club's A36 Bonanza. A cold front had passed through earlier leaving some scattered clouds and it was time to climb above them. I steered for a break in the clouds and started a slow, circling climb to top them. Soon we were back on course above the ragged, cottony-white layer. The forecast for our destination was good and I knew I could get a pop-up IFR clearance if needed to get back down. It was a stunning day and we were thoroughly enjoying the view.
It was a very dark, moonless night at Paso Robles, California when my wife Janet, our friend Lena, and I finished a lovely dinner and were boarding the airplane for our flight home. Paso Robles is in a valley, surrounded by high terrain, and there would be very few signs of human habitation along most of our route back to the San Francisco bay area. Anticipating this, I had filed an IFR flight plan and prepared to fly the published obstacle departure procedure to give us an extra margin of safety.
"What'll you do if the rope breaks below 100 feet?" asked my glider instructor Jim as we prepared to take a tow at Crazy Creek gliderport in Middletown, California. We'd completed the rest of our pre-takeoff checklist and now just needed to consider our abort plan.
"Bonanza 46R, when able direct STINS," said the NorCal Approach controller.
"Direct STINS, 46R," I replied. My wife Janet and I were in my club's A36 Bonanza on an IFR flight plan, but in glorious California VMC. I'd recently earned my instrument rating and took the opportunity to file IFR whenever possible to get practice "in the system." We'd been on vectors at 4000 feet, keeping us to the West of traffic approaching San Francisco International airport, on our way to the North Coast to visit my parents.
The last glow of twilight was fading from the sky as we headed towards Los Angeles in my club's Cessna 172. My friend Nadine was in the right seat with Macallan the 23-pound mega-shih-tzu on her lap. My wife Janet was in the back seat along with our minimal baggage. We'd had a wonderful dinner at Paso Robles, where we took on some fuel. As we approached Santa Barbara, I had just turned towards our destination of Van Nuys when we saw several flashes of lightning ahead in the distance.