Big Bear Breakfast Hop
October 9, 2005

Click on any picture for larger view.  (Note: The camera clock is still an hour slow.)

A morning breakfast hop to L35 Big Bear's on-field Barnstormer cafe. Scott Schwartz was in the right seat as photographer. We took N4975F departing Montgomery (MYF) over Mt. Soledad. Once clear of San Diego's class B airspaces, the plan was to head straight for Big Bear.

Torrey Pines, Del Mar, San Marcos, Temecula and Hemet were visual waypoints enroute (see route chart below). The flight plan was just about an hour and 14 gallons of fuel with no wind, but because winds aloft were forecast blowing against us, we expected an hour and 15 minutes and a few more gallons burned.

We took-off on MYF runway 28L at 9:30 am.

La Jolla with the Mormon chapel, Mission Bay, and Torrey Pines, climbing to 3,500 ft.

At the Del Mar race track we turned inland toward Big Bear, climbing to 5,500 ft.

Over San Marcos, we climb to cruise altitude of 9,500 ft, where we find a 20 kt headwind blowing against us.

As we reach cruising altitude, we can see Big Bear's mountains far off in the distance.

Over Temecula, Bear getting closer.

Over Hemet, Bear getting closer.

We've already passed Palm Springs to the east of us.

East of Riverside, we climbed again to 10,500 ft, two miles above sea level, and turn slightly northwest toward the valley at the end of Big Bear's lake.

The 12,000 ft mountain leaps from the desert floor to meet us, but we took a lower point of entry to the northwest where the pass was 'only' 8,500 ft.

We passed a deep valley that looks like it formerly held a glacier, but now has only a river and a road snaking through it.

Flying up the lake draining valley at 10,500 ft, we were finally clearly receiving Big Bear's AWOS airfield conditions (though we called on the phone earlier to check).  Winds were 7 kts from the northeast, so we know runway 8 was active.

At 10:30 am, an hour after departure, we could see Big Bear a just few minutes away.

We approached over the lake dam, seeing the boaters below, descending through 9,000 ft.

Lined up on long final approach to Big Bear (L35), descending through 8,000 ft.  Note this is not the preferred approach to landing on runway 8.  The preferred approach is directly over the center-right of the lake, then making pattern entry to the left, then turning right through the pattern to landing.  The preferred approach attempts to minimize noise over the school off the lake end of the runway, and it is not published in the official FAA Airport Facility Directory (AFD) but we learned about it once we were on the ground. Fortunately there's no school on Sunday, so we lucked out and will remember this for the next flight to Big Bear.

After a smooth landing (at 6,750 ft above sea level) at 10:43 am we taxied off the runway and are directed by UNICOM to park on any open white T spot on our left. We shutdown the plane and headed for the airfield cafe.

Scott Schwartz checks out the menu while we wait for a table - the cafe was very busy. After a 15 minute wait we got a table and had a nice breakfast of omelets, fruit, toast, and coffee/juice.

After breakfast we measured the fuel level. We had burned 16 gallons, nearly exactly as expected for a 20 kt headwind. Since we'd have similar winds on our tail heading back to MYF, we expected to use less than 12 gallons returning, or only half of the 24 gallons that remained, giving us a planned 1.2 hours of reserve fuel @ 10 gallons per hour. As a plan B we would be passing several airfields having fuel along the way back.

Scott and N4975F, before the preflight.

Unfortunately the engine wouldn't restart. Three on-field mechanics agreed the starter seemed jammed as they couldn't start it normally, either. It seemed we might be stuck at Big Bear, but after some careful preparations they help us (carefully!) hand-prop the plane the old-fashioned way. Once started, the engine ran normally.  Thanks guys!

The winds had shifted from the northeast to the northwest, but are still light at about 7 kts. Temperature was about 70F, raising the density altitude from 6,750 to 8,000 ft for the airfield, meaning our takeoff distances and climb performance would be the same as if we were at 8,000 ft already. The shifted winds meant runway 26 was now active, so we took off opposite of the direction we landed, which was fine since we had to depart that way anyway.

Short-field takeoff on Big Bear runway 26. We used less than half of the mile-long runway, then turned 10 degrees left to fly out over the center of the lake, according to the preferred procedures in the AFD.

(Not shown.) I had already estimated the takeoff and climb data from the flight manual and we would not have any challenges getting up. The shifted winds meant we had to ensure we got high up enough that the winds burbling off the mountains didn't catch us in a downdraft, so climbing Vx at 60 kts indicated airspeed we got to 9,000 ft by the time we reached the dam at the end of the lake.

(Not shown.) We continued the climb as we turned south to the opening of the lake drainage valley, where it was a bit bumpier than when we arrived, but we kept a solid rate of climb to 10,000 ft, then to 11,500 ft, our cruising altitude to Julian, where the ride was smooth again. There's no way I'd fly to Big Bear in less than a 180 HP plane. Our climb was up into a bit of tailwind shear, which could have stalled us if we didn't keep our speed above Vs + tailwind speed, which in this case was near Vy.

(Not shown.) As we cruised past Hemet at 11,500 ft the GPS showed our groundspeed at 170 kts! We had picked up a sweet 40 kt tailwind, so our fuel burn and flight time would be nearly 30% less. We flew past Julian, then descended over El Capitan reservoir to 4,500 ft to get under the San Diego class B airspace.

(Not shown.) As we approached MYF from the east at Mt. Helix, our radio transmitter had turned fritzy and several quick diagnostics could not fix it, so following procedures for FAR 91.129(d)(2) we squawked 7600 and did a 360-turn at the edge of MYF's class D airspace until they cleared us to land and assigned us squawk 0400. We made a smooth landing on runway 28L, taxied in, shutdown the plane, and called in that we made it back and the starter and radio needed attention. All good standard flight training stuff.

We measured the fuel level at 16 gallons remaining, so we had used only 8 gallons returning from Big Bear, thanks to the tailwind!

Our 98 NM route to Big Bear (L35) is in red below (would be about 89 NM direct) and 110 NM return route to Montgomery (MYF) in blue. The round-trip flight used 24 GALs of fuel in 2.4 hours on the Hobbs meter, leaving us 16 GALs (1.5+ hours) of reserve when we returned. Epilog: Two days after our flight the plane's starter and radio transmit switch were replaced.