Southern Cali Airspace Challenges

My Skycatcher in Borrego ValleyIn an around Chicago, Illinois is flush with farmland.  Within minutes of takeoff, I can leave the world behind, put on my favorite songs, and disappear into the beautiful blue sky.  In Illinois, I can simply head northwest and I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with an over-abundance of emergency landing strips in case of an engine out in just about every direction.  There’s no airspace to deal with, no Air Traffic Controllers to talk to, just the peace of the Midwestern skies.

In Southern California, from my home airport of Palomar in Carlsbad, its a completely different story.  Just South of me is San Diego International.  Just north of me is a Restricted Military Base.  Just north of that is Los Angeles International.  To the left of me is a massive (but beautiful) ocean.  To the right; mountains that seemed to loom far taller than any aircraft I fly could reach.  Underneath my wings; houses and towns and cities and highways from the ocean to the mountains.  Finding a landing strip in case of emergency here seemed an impossible task if that highly remote possibility ever made itself a reality.

Like a cat, I started small by venturing south along the coastline, flying over my house in Cardiff by the Sea, turning around, and coming back in to land.  I then ventured just West of the mountains, over the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and made my way back to Palomar.  I have to admit; although it was fun, the airspace in that tiny space was crowded, and at any given moment in time, there could be 10-12 other aircraft appearing as white, and then yellow (warning) blips on my radar.

Everything changed this past weekend when I met local pilots who assured me that they had made the trip over those looming mountains countless times.  They even went so far as to say that with a healthy respect for Mother Nature’s power, there’s nothing to them.  Since the Salton Sea is now just a 20 minute flight for me, I planned my trip to Borrego Valley; the home of one of my dearest friends in the world; Steven Forrest.  There wasn’t much planning to do, other than that make sure I flew at 7500 fet on my way east, and 8500 feet on my way back west.

The main point was to make it over those seemingly ominous mountains blocking my path to freedom!

Little did I know how incredibly smooth the air would be, what an absolute thrill it would be to fly over mountain ranges, and how stunningly beautiful it all would be.  My shaky iPhone camera couldn’t begin to capture the view from 7,500 feet over snow-speckled mountains that open up into a desert valley on the other side, but here’s one of the many photos I couldn’t help snapping.

The ease of the flight, the sheer beauty of such a vast desert space that opens up in such sprawling array beyond the mountains, to the quiet peace of such a wide open space; I felt I chanced to peek beyond a secret that the mountains kept quietly to themselves, waiting for those who dared to travel over, through, or around.  This world was vastly different than the San Diego coastline, and it seemed impossible that something so otherworldly could so close within reach.

What’s the moral of the story for me?  Besides deciding to face my fears, virtually 100% of the time I actually make the choice to face my fears, all the time I spent worrying about it was far worse than what I was so afraid of.  Now, the butterflies in my stomach regarding the SoCal airspace are excitement about the next time I get to go flying.  One of the main reasons I moved close to San Diego is because it’s the sunniest place in the United States without being scorching hot.

I won’t be able to get out flying enough now, and at the moment, because of all the flying I’ve been doing, everything else has been put on hold, including all the time I was spending on my motion graphics training for the documentary I’m going to start production on January 1, 2012.

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