Imperial County airport is located south of the Salton Sea, five miles east of the El Centro Naval Air Facility, and within an array of Military Operation Areas (MOA) and Restricted Airspace . The airport has two runways that are almost perpendicular but do not intersect. On this particular flight, we had not planned on but we landed on both runway 26 and 14. On our initial approach, the winds were light but out of the west so we elected to land runway 26. Upon landing, we taxied back, and prepared to takeoff for our return trip. On departure all appeared to be normal, other than the Blue Angels practicing five miles away at El Centro Naval Air Facility. As we climbed through 1,000ft AGL, heading north towards the Salton Sea, the airplane started to shake and vibrate accompanied with a loss of RPM. After a quick thought of “This isn’t happening”, I reduced the power, pitched the nose down, and turned direct to the airport and headed for runway 14. By reducing the power to near idle, the shaking and vibration was minimized. As we headed for the airport, we determined suitable off-field locations to put the airplane down should the engine quit. As it turned out, the engine did not quit, and we made an uneventful straight landing on runway 14. We ended up waiting around for about three hours, walking the airport, meeting like minded aviators, and watching the Blue Angeles practice five miles to the west before a Cirrus SR22 arrived to take us home. The cause of all this excitement was a couple fouled spark-plugs that needed to be replaced.
Santa Monica is a towered airport located in Class Delta (D) airspace just north of Los Angeles International Airport. The airport has a single runway 4,973ft long and aligned 03/21. The airfield dates back to post World War One and was the “home field” for the Douglas Aircraft Company that produced the DC-2, DC-3, DC-4, DC5, DC-6, DC-7 and a few other aircraft during World War Two. For a number of years the airport has been a point of contention with the city and is planned to permanently close in 2028.
Dodger Stadium and Downtown Los Angeles
Ontario International Airport is a large airport primarily used by commercial operators and air taxis. The airport is located within Class C Airspace and operates two parallel runways. 26R/8L is 12,198ft and 26L/8R is 10,200ft long. For this flight, I contacted March Approach after departing French Valley (F70) for Flight Following. They handed me off to SoCal Approach who had me fly direct to the Paradise VOR and then vectoring me to the approach before contacting Ontario Tower. Ontario Tower cleared me to land on 26R behind a Boeing 737. Landing behind an aircraft of that size can create hazardous wake turbulence to a smaller airplane like the Cessna 172 I’m flying. Therefore, I kept my flight path above the Boeing 737 and landed past his touchdown point on the runway.
Calexico airport is about 122 miles east of San Diego and 62 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. This airport is unique in that it parallels within yards of the United States / Mexico border thus the portmanteau name Calexico. Calexico International Airport is an Airport of Entry with US Customs, services both Jet A and 100LL fuel, and has a good Mexican restaurant on the field. The runway aligns with a 08/26 heading and is 4,683ft long x 75ft wide, in good condition, and is used primarily by general aviation aircraft.
This flight was different than many of my recent flights in a couple different ways. As of late, most of my flights have been through busy airspace requiring clearances from SoCal Approach and control towers. On this flight, no clearance was required but we did have to stay clear of the restricted military airspace to both the west and east of our route. As told by the photos below, the topography is also drastically different where I have been flying. Within a short distance, we took-off from French Valley at 1,350ft elevation, passed peaks rising to 8,000 to 9,000ft, and then dropped down to 226ft below sea level at the Salton Sea. The ruggedness of the Colorado Desert mixed with the heavily irrigated Coachella and Imperial Valleys is absolutely beautiful.
I accidentally set the GoPro Session up sideways thus the vertical video.
Glamis Sand Dunes in the distance.
Looking South into Mexico.
Zamperini Field, like many of the other Southern California airports, was built and used by the United States Army Airforce during World War Two. It was completed on March 31st, 1943 and was formally known as Lomita Flight Strip until it was closed at the end of World War Two. The airstrip was turned over to the local government and the name was changed to Torrance Municipal Airport and then to Zaperini Field in honor of Louis Zamperini, a well-known athlete, war hero, and subject of the movie “Unbroken.”
The flight from Hemet Ryan to Zamperini Field takes you through the various complex and busy airspace of southern California. A quick glance at the Los Angeles Sectional chart below demonstrates what I mean.
There are a couple resources and systems in place that actually make this flight relatively easy. First, the airspaces on this route are set up in a manor that provide an east/west corridor that could be flown without any clearance. Using a Terminal Aeronautical Chart (below) highlights these corridors much more clearly than the Sectional charts do. While this flight could be conducted without entering controlled airspace (except the destination), it is much easier and safer to fly this route using VFR Flight Following. Contacting SOCAL Approach provides traffic advisories and clearance through all airspaces in route.
Longer video with SOCAL Approach audio.
Lone Pine airport is located in the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Like many airports, Lone Pine was used as a contract flying school by the United States Air Force to train pilots from 1942 to 1944. The airport sits at an elevation of 3,680 with two runways. The longer primary runway 16/34 is asphalt while the shorter 13/31 is dirt. Some points of interest of Lone Pine are the Alabama Hills and the Mount Whitney Portal. The Alabama hills host a series of unique hills and rock formations and since the 1920’s 150 movies have been filmed here. Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States at 14,505ft.
Abandoned Manzanar airport