By Fred “Crash” Blechman
It looked like the weather would be relatively clear for a flight with “Hollywood Aviators” for a “$100 hamburger” from Van Nuys Airport to Flabob Airport. But before I proceed, I’d better explain those two terms. Simply put, with more details to follow, Hollywood Aviators is a new upscale flight training facility at Van Nuys Airport, and the $100 hamburger is used frequently by aviators to jokingly describe the total cost (gas, insurance, etc., etc.) of flying from one airport to another just for a hamburger! Trust me; it can cost a lot more than $100.
Before we go flying, let me tell you a little about Hollywood Aviators, the “new kid on the block” at Van Nuys Airport. Hollywood Aviators is dedicated to the thrill and the romance of flight, an experience that begins at the front door, with large photos of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Gregory Peck and others in flight gear. The various new and clean training and flight planning rooms look like they came from a Hollywood set. As its name implies, Hollywood Aviators is committed to treating every aviator, student and veteran alike, like celebrities, in its level of customer service, the professionalism of its instruction and staff, and in the quality care of its fleet of planes.
Learning to fly is one of life’s greatest accomplishments. The thrill of rolling down the runway, and in seconds, leaving the earth under your own control. The unspeakable joy of seeing mountains, lakes, highways and familiar landmarks pass under your wings. Hollywood Aviators has brought together a premier group of professional certified flight instructors, expert at most every level of aeronautical education, from basic ground instruction, to flying the most complex multi-engine airplane, to preparing you for the captain’s seat of a national airline. On site are also FAA-certified single and multi-engine flight simulators.
On a recent Saturday morning, after several rainy days, Dan Katz, president and co-owner of Hollywood Aviators, agreed that the predicted partly-cloudy weather would be no problem for a flight in his four-place 1957 BE-35A V-tail Beech Bonanza. Dan carefully pre-flighted the aircraft, after which my friend, Lee “Slim” Auger, and I “saddled up” at 10:45 a.m. Dan was in the pilot’s seat, with me in the copilot’s seat, and Slim stretched out in the back. The temperature was mild, the blue sky was dotted with low puffy clouds, and the visibility was about six miles in haze.
Dan cranked up the Continental IO-520 285-hp engine, waited for some gauges to settle down, and taxied out to the run-up area for takeoff from Runway 16L at Van Nuys Airport. After checking the constant speed prop and magnetos, and waiting for tower clearance, Dan lined up with the runway and, at 11:00 a.m., lifted off at 80 miles per hour, and climbed 700 feet per minute at 125 mph using 27-inches of manifold pressure at a prop speed of 2,500 revolutions per minute. We proceeded south toward the Santa Monica Mountains, and could see the Century City towers miles ahead before we turned east under an increasing cloud cover.
Although Dan had filed VFR with flight following, intending to head east at 3,500 feet, it became apparent pretty quickly that the cloud cover—which was now solid—was at only about 3,000 feet. Dan had to check in with the various airports as we flew nearby to let them know we were in the vicinity at around 2,700 feet altitude—not much higher than any planes flying VFR directly toward us at 2,500 feet. Although we could easily see directly below and several miles to the sides, forward visibility was much more limited. It was a bit bumpy with the turbulence just below the clouds.
Cruising along at 160 mph, we flew just south of the famous huge-lettered HOLLYWOOD sign on Mount Hollywood, and right over the dome of the Griffith Park Observatory. As we advanced just under the now-100 percent cloud cover, we flew over a complex of freeways and then followed the San Bernardino and Pomona freeways east, passing Brackett and Cable airports on the left, and Ontario and Chino airports on our right.
As we approached Flabob Airport, just west of Riverside, Dan contacted Unicom, since there is no tower, and got landing information. Since 1,400-foot-high Mount Rubidoux was on the downwind approach to 3,200-foot Runway 24, Dan angled south and circled left around Mount Rubidoux to make a perfect approach and landing at the airport.
Flabob Airport is one of the older airports in America (1925). It has long been internationally famed as a paradise for homebuilders, antiquers, and all those devoted to sport, recreational and family aviation. Since 2000, the Wathen Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to historic aviation preservation and aviation education of young people and the public generally, has owned it.
EAA Chapter One, the first chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, is located at Flabob Airport and was established in 1953. It’s the largest EAA chapter in the world and growing daily. Flabob and EAA Chapter One boast a rich history in homebuilding and experimental aircraft. The chapter holds a monthly BBQ and membership meeting. Guests are welcome. Pilots in command receive a free meal, so fly in and enjoy the food! EAA Chapter One also shares the field with Vintage Aircraft Association Chapter 33, which has its own clubhouse on the west end of the field, and meets every third Saturday of the month at 1:00 p.m. Usually lunch is provided (donation suggested) at noon.
After parking the airplane, we walked the short distance to the Flabob Airport Café. The friendly environment and view of the airport activity blend with good food at reasonable prices from an extensive menu. It’s open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.
Now it was my chance to learn more about Dan Katz. Dan’s partner in Hollywood Aviators is Farid Azad, who was Dan’s instrument flight instructor. Although Dan never really intended to become a pilot, and was the co-owner of a successful advertising agency, he had been “flying” the Microsoft Flight Simulator for several years “just as a fun thing to do.”
As Dan states, “In 1998, Cessna had included in the most recent version of Flight Simulator a certificate for actually doing a demo lesson. It was $39 at the time. I just wanted to know what it felt like to be in a small plane so I could enjoy the computer more. I went to Whiteman Airport, gave them the flight certificate, and got into a Cherokee 140. I was terrified and thrilled at the same time! I thought, if I don’t die, I’ll have a fun time!”
By the time he landed, he thought, “I could do this. I could really learn to fly!” While still operating the agency, he took lessons and earned his pilot certificate, and is instrument rated. In March 2004, he sold his share of the agency business to his partner. Dan and Farid decided to open Hollywood Aviators.
Dan says, “Other flight schools where I’d flown were sort of a cross between a garage, a hangar and a pool hall. I wanted to have a place that was stylish. Farid and I designed it together. He has a great aesthetic, and I come from the design and graphic arts background.”
They opened in July 2004, with four airplanes, and now have seven.
“And then came the worst rains in 120 years!” he said. “Business took a dive for awhile, but as soon as the rain stopped and Daylight Savings Time came up, all of a sudden everyone wanted to get in the air.”
We gobbled down the $100 hamburgers (they’re actually priced at $2.75 each, but that doesn’t include the total hourly cost to fly a Bonanza about 80 miles each way!) and ambled back to Dan’s Bonanza. The flight back to Van Nuys Airport was about the same as the flight to Flabob, in reverse, but took a bit longer, apparently due to a headwind. We flew at 3,000 feet just under a full cloud cover until we reached the San Fernando Valley, where it cleared to partly cloudy. Dan made a right downwind approach to Runway 16R and greased it on. Great flight both ways.
For those of you who have never flown in a light plane, Hollywood Aviators offers a $49 Discovery Flight. One of its FAA-certified flight instructors will sit right seat and guide you from takeoff to landing, but you’ll be the one flying the plane. The 60-minute introductory lesson includes a pre-flight briefing, half-hour flight and post-flight debriefing.
Hollywood Aviators also offers an aerial tour of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley. Taking off from Van Nuys Airport (where scenes from Casablanca and so many other movies were filmed), you’ll soar over world-famous landmarks and see scenic diversity that’s unmatched. Limousine transportation and dining packages are available.
For more information, visit [http://www.hollywoodaviators.com] or call 818-994-2004.