Santa Rosa's current conditions are overcast with plenty of fog. The forecast and the weather brief confirm that it should start to clear up around 10-11am.
Our planned time of departure is 10am.
On the drive down to Hayward, the clouds hang low over Oakland. I reiterate to my wife that we might get weathered out, and that we might not make it to Santa Rosa. I'm telling myself this as much as I'm telling her. While I had gone on a good 2 hour flight the day prior with my friend Dave, I was anxious to get back into the air again today.
"If we can fly, the worst case scenario is that we fly east over the hills, and then north to Santa Rosa, okay?"
We exit the highway in Hayward at 9:26, a lack of any Sunday morning traffic gave us a 20 minute commute and time to kill before we went to the airport.
After refilling our coffee cups, we mosey over to California Airways to pick up the keys.
The weather in Santa Rosa is still prohibitively cloudy while I pre-flight the plane. I decide to forge ahead, if the airport is still clouded over when we arrive, we can fly north to Healdsburg or simply return to Hayward.
Preflight complete, I brief my wife on how to use her seatbelt again, start the engine and we taxi towards the runway.
With a run-up complete, I decide to show my wife what a soft-field takeoff looks like.
Clearance received, Flaps to 10, mixture rich, transponder to "alt", yoke all the way back. We start to roll onto the runway. Slowly advancing the throttle forward, the nose pops up. Pushing it down a bit, we climb off the runway. Flying 10ft over the runway, we accelerate to the necessary speed to climb (and then some). I pull the yoke back gently and we spring from the runway before resuming a normal 75 knot climb.
Turning right over the golf course, we fly towards Mount Diablo and clear skies.
Over Danville I ring up NorCal Approach, who at the moment is too busy for me. Patiently I wait for the frequency to mellow out, and ring them up again.
"NorCal Approach, Seven-three-three Papa-victor 6 miles east of the Hayward Airport at two thousand seven hundred, climbing to four thousand five hundred, request flight following en route to Santa Rosa"
I pick up my squawk code, level off at 4,500ft and look at the mat of clouds along the western side of my route at roughly 3,800ft.
The air over Danville and Walnut Creek is still mostly Echo airspace, but the upside-down wedding cake that is SFO's Bravo airspace still covers it between 6000 and 10,000ft. If I want to get any higher, I'll need to pick up clearance.
"NorCal Approach, 733PV, I'd like to request Bravo clearance to climb up to 6,500 to keep clear of this weather."
"733PV, NorCal Approach, cleared into Bravo to 6,500ft"
Beginning my climb, I point out to EC that I've never requested or received Bravo clearance. What I don't tell her is that I've never been up past around 5,500ft either.
Leveling off northeast of Richmond, I get the camera out of the back seat and ask/tell her to start taking pictures.
The Carquinez Bridge
The route up to Santa Rosa is overflying the boundary of clouds on the left (west) and the absolutely clear skies to the right (east). We're making good time, but I'm concerned about the conditions at Santa Rosa the entire time.
Within 15 miles of the airport, Oakland Center asks me what my conditions are. A subtle way to ask "hey nitwit, you're not thinking of landing at an airport that's still IFR are you?" I inform the controller that it's 100% clear up at 6,500, but Santa Rosa is still looking cloudy, and we'll be evaluating our options. Satisfied with this answer, he lets out a quick "roger" before tending to other aircraft.
Within 10 miles I ask to terminate services, and switch over to Santa Rosa tower. Jumping frequencies I start out with:
"Santa Rosa Tower, Skyhawk Seven-three-three Papa-victor at 6,500ft 10 miles to the southeast with Kilo. What are the current conditions on the field?"
"733PV, Santa Rosa Tower, the field is currently IFR but we should be going VFR soon."
With the airport in sight, the north end of the field is clear, the east of the field is clear, and some of the west is clear. I inform Santa Rosa that we'll be circling to the east for a little bit until the rest of the clouds burn off. Not 5 minutes later, Tower informs me that the field is now VFR and I'm cleared to enter left closed traffic.
Pattern altitude is 1100ft, we're at 6,500ft, we need to get down. The quick way is to execute an emergency descent, the way that ensures my wife will continue to fly with me, is to perform a good 500fpm spiraling descent. A couple circles and we're down to about 5000ft and my patience starts to wear. Gently I increase the bank angle of the plane, increasing our rate of descent from 500fpm, to just over 1000fpm.
Around 2200ft, we've made another revolution and are pointing at the airport. I decide to demonstrate a forward slip for my dear unsuspecting wife, pushing our descent rate close to 2000fpm, causing a "wooahhhhh" to come from the right seat.
Entering the pattern, we're cleared to land. I inform the passengers that I will need to concentrate so the tour guide portion of the flight is over.
My landing flare is slightly fast at 65 knots, the float was inevitable but not cause for concern. With a light jolt the mains touch down and we exit the runway.
The family we're meeting for brunch are suitably impressed with my piloting skills, having witnessed nothing but my landing. I'm willing to accept the compliment while the wheels turn in my head on what to improve upon.
The post-brunch flight back to Hayward is rather uneventful. After punching a "direct-to" course to Hayward into the GPS, I practice my pilotage skills and point out the various wine country airports along our route.
The skies are clear, the wind is calm and the sun is shining. Approaching the San Pablo Bay I pick up clearance through Oakland's Charlie airspace to transition towards Hayward. Allowing us to overfly both Berkeley and Oakland.
Berkeley and Mount Diablo
I warn the passengers that the flight might get a little bumpy, as the mid- afternoon air over the cities tends to provide some turbulence.
The Skyhawk isn't bounced around too much on the way over Oakland.
Entering the pattern for Hayward, I start getting set up again for the landing, Turning final for 28R, the 6 knot headwind changes the descent profile a bit, requiring a little more throttle.
Overflying the California Airways office, we plant our feet squarely on 28R and exit the runway.
In the three weeks that I've had my pilot's license, I've flown at least one cross-country trip every single weekend. So long as the weather cooperates, I'll keep it up. As soon as the weather stops cooperating, then I suppose it'll be time to begin my work as an IFR student pilot.
I wonder where I'll fly next weekend?