On a recent sunny Saturday, contributor Marc Lee and I decided to fly from the Los Angeles area to Santa Barbara for lunch. Marc would hop over to Santa Monica Airport from John Wayne Airport in his Great Lakes biplane, and then we'd fly a Cirrus SR20 up the coast to SBA. It was meant to be an easy afternoon of fun flying. And it was. It just didn't start out that way.
Santa Monica Airport was busier than normal. The standard traffic pattern had expanded to a three-mile base turn, three planes deep on final. The run-up area resembled rush-hour gridlock on a Los Angeles freeway. It seemed like the entire airport population was going flying. This mini-Oshkosh was a great sign for GA, but it required extra attention all around. Not to mention that the typical southerly ocean breeze was instead a gusting variable crosswind.
On short final to runway 21, Marc had called for a wind check: 060 gusting 14. "It wasn't my best landing for sure," he lamented at the tiedown. "I should have insisted on runway 3." But at the time, there was a Sukhoi behind him, a Citation on approach and what seemed like a dozen student pilots in the pattern. Besides, Marc had already held near Hawthorne, biding time before LAX granted him permission to enter the Mini Route, a VFR corridor through the Class Bravo airspace. Asking to land on the opposite runway might mean another 30 minutes or more of circling. So, Marc landed his taildragger with a quartering tailwind. Lesson number one.
As we taxied out in the Cirrus, the wind was foremost on our minds. We talked about Marc's earlier landing. We watched the flags above the terminal building whip about. We commented on the wind sock, now sticking straight out with a direct left crosswind. We watched the constant stream of 172s practicing crosswind landings.
Our attention was first diverted at the run-up area. There were no spots available, and we had to shoehorn ourselves in. A long wait at the runway hold-short line brought our focus to the Hobbs meter, ticking away on the rental aircraft. We were eventually told to "line up and wait" on 21, and the plane that had departed ahead of us came on the radio. "We spotted a gray whale just off the shoreline! For anyone departing Santa Monica, you should be able to see it, too." Marc and I immediately perked up and reached for our cameras. Tower caught the excitement, too: "Cleared for takeoff runway 21. Traffic, gray whale. Twelve o'clock, low." I pushed the throttle forward without hesitation. I was thrilled!
But then an even more exciting thing happened. As I anticipated the usual right rudder on the takeoff roll—would we see a spout or a tail, I wondered—the nose of the Cirrus pointed left. Huh? I pushed the right rudder harder, and then full deflection. For what seemed like an eternity in the cockpit (but probably only a few seconds in reality), the airplane turned even harder to the left. At full power, I regained rudder authority, returned to centerline and rotated, somewhat perplexed. The wind! In my Moby Dick moment, I had become distracted and neglected to compensate properly for the crosswind. Lesson number two.
We never did see the whale. In fact, we never even looked for it. With the sharp reminder of the task at hand—flying—we refocused entirely on the airplane. I was disappointed about my takeoff. Marc was disappointed about his landing. But that was then; this was now. We had to put it behind us. SoCal Approach was issuing constant traffic alerts, and the TCAS was blaring. Our eyes were peeled for traffic—of the airborne type. With each additional nautical mile separating us from the busy Los Angeles basin, our workload was reduced, and we were able to relax a bit. The reward of Santa Barbara was another world: beautiful, quiet and calm.
Patty Wagstaff knows firsthand the impact a distraction can have. At the Dayton Air Show, an interruption during preflight on her Extra resulted in the engine cowl opening and bending backward mid-performance, after executing a knife-edge spin in front of 100,000 spectators. This month, Patty discusses the importance of procedures and checklists, and how to make them work for you each time. Like the rest of us, she doesn't like mistakes or surprises.
Surprises can come in all forms. Regardless of what tower or the wind sock is telling you, contributor Budd Davisson cautions that you need to be prepared to deal with whatever conditions are around your airplane at any given moment. In "Combating Crosswinds," Budd tackles 10 aspects that will reduce the surprises in your flying.
Our return flight from SBA wasn't as taxing as the outbound leg. We returned the Cirrus to the flight school, and Marc departed in the biplane, which he owns with seven other pilots. In this issue, we discuss the merits of partnerships—the good and the bad—to help determine if co-ownership is right for you. Are you in an airplane partnership? Tell us about it at [email protected]