Jun 222014

This morning I was able to sleep in a bit, especially since I slept with ear plugs in my ears because the refrigerator in my room kept making all sorts of weird noises throughout the night. It sounded like whenever the fan stopped, the fridge was going to jump out into the middle of the room and start to dance. Then when the fan wound down, it finally went quiet – until a few minutes later when this episode would repeat itself all over again.

Leaving Porterville

At 530am I finally woke up, got ready, and headed out. My reliable taxi driver informed me that he was doing everything he could to get to the hotel to pick me up. It seems a construction crew had decided to close off all exits into or out of the hotel complex, which was inhabited by a Best Western, A Holiday Inn Express, a Denny’s, and a Burger King. Somehow, after getting yelled at for driving right through the construction zone, he made it to the hotel. But it took another 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get back out. Several other cars were also driving around, hanging u-ies left and right, trying to escape the scene. One SUV, I’m sure, full of Sequoia National Forest tourists stopped and asked us how to get out, but we were just as trapped as they were.

Again, my cabby’s resourcefulness saved my day when he took the big ‘ol International, jumped over a few curbs, and headed straight through the construction zone again. This time no one said a thing to us as they must have figured out that this crazy ol’ hoot wasn’t going to listen anyway, especially with a maiden in the passenger seat.

Off we were to the airport and the cabbie’s curiosity got the best of him. He started asking me all sorts of questions. I told him how I had picked up the Tri-Pacer in Alaska and was headed to Prescott, Arizona. He said he had been to Prescott when he was a truck driver in a past life. He said, “it’s kind of a weird place cause it feels like you’re in the mountains except it’s not really the mountains….haha! You’ll see what I mean when you get there.”

Edwards AFB

About 20 minutes later I took off from Porterville and started heading towards Palmdale. I wish I could have gone straight from Porterville to Prescott, but a HUGE part of the desert there is restricted airspace. I couldn’t even try asking for authorization to fly throughout it since my transponder wasn’t working, so I had to circumnavigate it. Climbing out I noticed the attitude indicator acting funny and was glad it was clear and a million all the way to Prescott.

Don’t trust your instruments

Flying south past Mojave I looked at the vast span of desert in this part of the country and thought, “there’s gotta be something you can do with this land.” Even in the past, while flying over on commercial flights, I would think of ways to install solar panels and somehow capture all that sun energy out here where it seems unlimited. Well, right before reaching Palmdale I looked out my window and realized someone had already had that bright idea – not just solar panels, but wind turbine farms speckled the landscape in this arid region. Well, if not me…at least someone else is taking advantage of that opportunity.

Renewable energy

At the corner of the restricted airspace just outside of Edwards Air Force Base, I finally turned east – right into the sun. I hate getting tan lines, so I tried to cover up as much as I could using the airplane’s checklist and notepad paper. This was one of those rare occasions where I wished I had a paper sectional chart instead of my iPad.

I continued towards Needles airport, which seemed to be, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. I expected a half-abandoned airport with nothing but a self-serve fuel pump there which would have been reminiscent of what they have in Canada. I was pleasantly surprised when I found, not just a little trailer with nice clean restrooms and a telephone, but also snacks, pre-packaged sandwiches, cold bottles of water, and even ice cream cones and ice cream sandwiches! All you had to do was deposit payment in an empty coffee container and help yourself – I love the good ol’ US of A! Canada – get a clue will ya.

Flying East in the morning

I seemed to be the only one at the airport except for another Cessna doing touch-n-goes and someone driving around in a back SUV. Before I knew it, the SUV driver was walking up to me trying to figure me out.

“Are you the pilot?” he asked.

I look around at the deserted place and am tempted to answer, “No, the plane flew itself down here and I’m just the fuel lady.” But, I decide to play nice and tell him that, yes, I was the pilot.

“How old are you?”

This guy’s first question gave me the impression he was a bit clueless. His second question removed all doubt.

After telling him how old I was (and no, I’m not going to tell you what I said), he says, “What! You look like you’re about 18!”

Hmmmm, I’ve heard I looked younger for my age, but c’omon…I’m not sure if he was trying to piss me off or compliment me.

Needles Airport

I decided to ask him a couple questions of my own. Turns out he used to own a Cessna, but hadn’t flown one in a while. He had moved out here from Colorado where his house had burned down due to forest fires, he had been awarded a million dollars from the insurance company, and was thinking of buying an airplane again. So he had come by the airport to see if he could get some flight training.

I told him good luck with everything and went inside the trailer to use the facilities. After eating some ice cream and paying for a sandwich and a couple water bottles, I hopped back in and took off to continue eastbound.

All the necessities at Needles

The sun had risen enough that I didn’t have to cover myself up with paper and checklists and the flight was pretty uneventful the rest of the way. As I descended towards Prescott it got very bumpy and hot, but I landed without a hitch. Moose’s owners met me there and after putting the airplane away, they were kind enough to give me a ride to Phoenix so I could get on my commercial flight back home.

Paradise in the desert

So, just as this adventure began on a commercial flight, it’s also ending on one. Ironically enough, it’s on another Alaska Airlines flight even though I booked with United. United had oversold their flight so they had booked me on this Alaska flight, which is great because it goes direct instead of stopping in Denver, like the United flight was supposed to do.

Ferry pilot selfie on last ferry flight

So, I’m taking this time to jot down my final words as a ferry pilot. It’s weird how torn you can feel when you go from one chapter in your life to another. Looking at the pictures I’ve taken of the volcano tour, the Alaskan glaciers, the Mojave desert, the Panama canal, the Amazon jungle, the Andes mountains, the Florida Keys….etc. etc….I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. But, I also think about the dangers lurking out there, flying in single engine piston airplanes over some of the most remote places on the planet. My little GPS SPOT tracker gave me some comfort most of the time, but no amount of technology ever makes you feel warm and fuzzy during some ferry flights.

I’m glad I got to be a ferry pilot for a few years and work with the people I did. Sometimes there’s a lot of trust involved in aviation. You have to trust your mechanic, your copilot, and even your taxi driver. I’ve learned that contrary to my past beliefs, most people are very kind and are willing to help a stranger in need. As long as you stay on your toes, prepare as much as you can, and have a bit of faith, most things turn out quite all right.

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