By Fred “Crash” Blechman
“Yes!” I replied, when John Pappas, owner of Rose, DreamFlight’s DC-3, called to invite me to sit in the right seat and fly with him from his base at Corona Municipal Airport to Van Nuys Airport. The DC-3 was to be displayed at Van Nuys Airport’s AirFest 2006 the following Sunday.
I had been looking forward to taking the controls of Rose back in May, for a Fred Baron story, but plans had fallen through. A “May Gray” low stratus overcast covered a large part of Southern California almost every day. This usually happened later as “June Gloom,” but the overcast arrived early this year.
I agreed to be at the airport that Friday at 11:00 a.m. Because I no longer drive out of my local West San Fernando Valley area, I had to find a ride. My friend, Lee, who usually drives me to far-away places, was going to be out of town. But I could fly with one of several pilot friends who own planes!
I called Anne “Tiger” Radel, and she readily agreed to give me a ride in her four-place Gulfstream-American Tiger—if the weather was clear. She’s not instrument rated, and I’m not current. She also wanted to get some right-seat DC-3 time. But Rose wasn’t going to return to Corona for two days. How would we get back there to retrieve her plane? Things were beginning to get complicated.
Tiger decided she could probably get her former instructor, Shay, to fly with us. An instrument-rated pilot flying for United Express, he has Fridays off.
“Even if the weather is IFR, we can fly to Corona,” Tiger said. “Shay can fly my plane back, while you and I get some right-seat time in the DC-3!”
It sounded like a good plan, so I confirmed with John Pappas to expect us for the flight. Tiger’s airplane is hangared at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, so the three of us decided to meet there, Friday morning at 9:30. We would take off at 10:00 for the half-hour flight to Corona. Good plan.
Tiger lives near me, so she picked me up in her van. We arrived before 9:30, and parked at her hangar at the extreme north end of the airport. She pulled her plane out of the hanger and preflighted it.
Although the skies had been clear for days, the May Gray reappeared that morning, with a solid ceiling below the surrounding mountain tops. We would have to fly IFR.
Time was slipping away. Tiger had invited a friend, Lisa, to fly with us. Lisa was picking up Shay, and they arrived at about 10:00. Shay had not yet done the flight planning, so while Tiger fueled the plane, we drove over to Rocky’s Cafe, where he pulled out charts and planned the flight.
At 10:30, we all boarded the airplane, with Tiger in the left front seat, Shay in the right front and Lisa and I in the back. We got ground clearance to taxi to Runway 30, behind two Cessnas. All three planes were requesting IFR clearances.
It was now 10:45. I called John Pappas on my cell phone to tell him we were behind schedule, but—assuming we would be taking off shortly—that we should be there by 11:30. He indicated they were also socked in at Corona, but were expecting to leave soon after 11:30.
“When you land at Corona, taxi over to Rose, jump out of your plane, and get aboard,” he urged. “We’ll wait as long as we can.”
With our engine idling at the approach to the runway, we waited for our IFR clearance. So did the two planes ahead of us. We decided not to bother John with further updates. We would take our chances that the DC-3 would still be at Corona Airport when we arrived there. Planes from three nearby airports—Bob Hope, Van Nuys, and LAX—were also requesting IFR clearances.
It took us an hour—until 11:45—before getting our IFR clearance! After taking off from Runway 30, we were headed toward the mountains on the north border of the San Fernando Valley. Shay orbited left and climbed using instruments, through the gray overcast. We broke into bright sunshine and a clear blue sky at about 4,000 feet.
Tiger took over the controls as we climbed to 5,000 feet. Air traffic control vectored us and frequently changed our headings, but kept us flying in Corona’s general direction. The mattress of billowy white clouds below us was solid as far as we could see, with only mountain tops popping up. To the south, the clouds also covered the Pacific Ocean.
The aircraft’s engine purred as we cruised along smoothly at about 140 miles an hour. We were only about 1,000 feet above the puffy clouds. The flight was not like cruising in an airliner, where you’re so high that movement almost isn’t discernable, and clouds looked like a flat blanket as you peered through a tiny window. With the aircraft’s large, clear canopy, we could see all around us as the carpet of bright white clouds below slipped by. It was truly beautiful.
As we approached Corona from the north, the clouds below began to break up. We could see the ground as we descended, flying over the Ontario Freeway. As Tiger made her approach and landed on Corona’s 3,200-foot Runway 25, visibility was still poor, but we could see Chino Airport’s multiple runways about five miles to our right.
It was now 12:25. The flight had taken us 40 minutes because of all the IFR vectoring. On our landing and rollout, we looked for the DC-3. It was nowhere to be seen. At this uncontrolled airport, we had no tower to call to find out if the DC-3 had left. As it turned out, John did have to leave us behind in order to meet his time commitment. C’est la vie!
All was not lost. It had been a very picturesque flight, and after a leisurely lunch at Chili Chow Hall at the airport, we all got back into the plane and Tiger took off at 2:10. Briefly paralleling the Riverside Freeway on our left before heading northeast toward Van Nuys, we flew over Chino Hills State Park and climbed to 6,500 feet. The weather had cleared and this was a VFR flight all the way. We landed at Whiteman Airport 30 minutes later. Two days after our trip, on Sunday, we visited the elusive Rose at Van Nuys AirFest 2006!
For more information about DreamFlight, visit [http://www.vintageflight.com] or call 949-472-9612. Fred “Crash” Blechman’s two flying books, “Bent Wings – F4U Action & Accidents: True Tales of Trial & Terror!” and “Flying With the Fred Baron,” are available at [http://www.amazon.com] or [http://bn.com].