This past Monday, I flew down south to join a bunch of other Hume staff at Forest Home for a Christian camping convention. With our new baby coming in just 2 weeks, I decided to rent a plane, knowing it would probably be my last time piloting a plane for quite some time. Jeremy Peet was my co-pilot for the flight... and was soon to be in for quite a ride for his first-ever flight in a small plane.
Jeremy and I set out from Fresno at about 2pm, knowing that we could be in for "a little bit" of wind and clouds when we got down south. As we got over Bakersfield, I decided to go toward the high desert, rather than over the Grapevine, since there appeared to be a wall of clouds lining Southern California. We climbed to 9,500' and headed over Tehachapi. As we descended over the desert, we were greeted by a massive downdraft coming off the mountains that immediately slammed us down about 500'. Both of our heads hit the ceiling of the plane. Jeremy's even hit the door and knocked it open for a second. Everything in the plane was in disarray. Early in my flight training I was taught to just "fly the plane" when something goes wrong. As we were being tossed every direction, (even at some points could see the ground directly below and in front of us,) I just simply held on and flew the plane. After being thrown around for about 30 seconds, things got better and the worst was behind us. At least that's what I thought.
Looking south toward the L.A. basin, it was obvious there was no way we would make it into the Redlands airport. With clouds to the south, and still experiencing massive winds, we headed to the Victorville airport, a runway 150' wide and over 8,000' long, basically giving us a lot of room for error. Ten minutes later we landed in a 20 knot crosswind and were thrilled to be on the ground. It was the most challenging landing I've ever had.
The Victorville airport is way cool. It's an airline graveyard of sorts, where planes that have been furloughed end up getting parked. We pulled up to the tower and parked just a few yards from a 747. The staff at the airport took great care of us. We were able to rent a car and were on our way to the conference in less than a half hour.
The next day Jay and I drove the rental car back out to Victorville and flew the plane into Redlands in what we call "severe clear." Wednesday, we headed home at 10,500', flying across the north end of the L.A. basin, over the Grapevine and up through the valley... one of the easiest flights yet. I just went online and was able to pull up air traffic control's tracking of the flight home.