On October 24 and 25, 1998, I made my first real instrument flight. The specific reason for choosing this particular weekend was to attend part of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Expo in Palm Springs, although I also planned to visit some people in the San Diego area. On this trip I was alone in the plane, since Connie had rehearsals and other preparations to do for The Mikado.

There was a snafu with the keys to the plane, so I ended up taking off from Palo Alto shortly after noon instead of my planned 7am departure. This also resulted in my reversing my planned route to now go to San Diego first instead of Palm Springs, although I left my planned refueling stop in Bakersfield unchanged.

It also meant that I was no longer in front of a storm (no pun intended) which started dropping rain on Palo Alto a little before 8am. The worry was that passing through the front could involve some heavy rain and turbulence, and in fact I did hear other planes diverting around nastier weather, but I never ran in anything worse than light turbulence.

The weather at takeoff was scattered clouds at 1200' and broken clouds at 3000'. In this first picture, I'm between layers:
Between layers

By this time, things had started to break up below:
Breaking up below

And as I got closer to Bakersfield, things were much easier:
Farm land

In this picture, there is rain visible on the windshield:
Rain on the windshield

Some more sunlight:
Sunlight

The total time to Bakersfield (including taxiing, waiting for clearances, etc.) was 2.1 hours, about half of which was in the clouds. After refueling, I took off for San Diego (this is Bakersfield airport):
Bakersfield airport

The second half of the flight had fewer clouds. I think this picture was taken near Lake Hughes:
Near Lake Hughes

This is somewhere over the Los Angeles area:
Los Angeles area

Here's a cloud I thought looked interesting:
Interesting cloud

The most scary part of the first day was near the end. Since I was not familiar with the area, I asked to do the official instrument approach to the Ramona airport, my destination. This involved making a course reversal over the Julian VOR. I was at 8000' and there was a buildup of clouds over the mountains where I was, and as I started making my turns (inside the clouds), I hit some moderate turbulence. I didn't handle things very smoothly, letting myself get into a fairly steep bank with my altitude varying by 2-300'. But by the time I got turned around, things were back under control.

This is the sunset at the Ramona airport, after another 2.5 hours of flying from Bakersfield. I believe the large planes are used for fire fighting:
Ramona sunset

Here is the plane I was flying, all covered up for the night, with my luggage on the ground. I assume the large helicopter is also fire fighting-related:
The plane

The next morning the weather in Ramona was iffy: drizzle and clouds below 1000'. But it seemed reasonably safe since there was a well-defined IFR departure procedure designed to miss all the hills, so I decided to fly. This was my first IFR takeoff from an uncontrolled airport, so I shut the plane down after taxiing to the runup area and used my cell phone to call in and get my clearance. A few minutes later I was on my way.

A few minutes after takeoff I came out on top:
On top

Here I am at 9000', approaching (I think) the Julian VOR (the site of my scary moment the day before):
Approaching Julian

As I got closer to Palm Springs, the landscape changed to desert:
Desert #1

Desert #2

This is the Salton Sea:
Salton Sea

This is Palm Springs:
Palm Springs

The flight from Ramona was 1.1 hours. Note that this is actually less than half as long as it would take on commercial airlines, where the San Diego to Palm Springs route requires a stop in Los Angeles.

The show was fun, but I knew I still had a lot of flying ahead of me, so I left fairly early. There was a little bit of confusion (for me anyway) on whether I needed to talk to ground control before taxiing to the runup area (I didn't, and they were too busy to explain), but after idling for a while it was my turn to take off.

This is shortly after taking off. Notice that the clouds have increased:
More clouds than before

After the last picture was taken, I noticed that lots of pilots were asking for IFR clearances. They had taken off VFR thinking they could make it through Banning Pass at 6500', but the clouds were too low to allow that. I also started hearing references to ice forming on planes flying at 10,000'.

Unfortunately, 10,000' was the altitude I was supposed to be climbing to. The Minimum Enroute Altitude (MEA) for the airway (V388) was 9500', which is an unusal altitude for IFR flight (or even VFR flight in my direction), but I asked if 9500' would be okay. The controller had to ask someone else, but approved it. I still picked up a trace of ice on the front edges of the wings, but I noticed no change in the flying characteristics of the plane. And as soon as I reached a point where the MEA decreased, I asked to descend further, and the ice quickly melted away.

This is Mount Wilson, near Pasadena where I went to college:
Mt. Wilson

This picture includes the Rose Bowl, which is also in Pasadena:
Rose Bowl

This last picture was as the sun was getting lower in the sky:
Low sun

The return flight was via San Luis Obispo (3.3 hours to there - there was a serious headwind). I never seem to have time to eat at the restaurant there, but it looks nice. After refueling and a long delay while various Skywest turboprops took off and landed, I took off for home. The trip to Palo Alto was entirely in VFR conditions, but was also entirely at night. Amazingly, this trip was the first time I had flown at night without an instructor, so I was glad to have Air Traffic Control watching over me.

The final excitement of the night happened as I was about 5 miles from Palo Alto airport. Apparently a plane with retractable landing gear wasn't getting the normal indication that the gear was down and locked, and had declared an emergency. So I canceled IFR and circled around the KGO-AM antennas near the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge for maybe 15 minutes while it landed, they checked it out, and finally got it off the runway. This plus the delay in San Luis Obispo and the headwind resulted in a 2.6 hour trip that would have been about an hour shorter with no delays or winds.

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