Tonight the weather was picture perfect for flying. The air was clear and cool and visibility was better than 10 miles. There was the usual evening breeze from the Northwest blowing almost straight down the runway. The flight planning for this trip to Napa County Airport was a bit rushed. I had planned to get it done the night before, but I ended up having dinner and a couple of beers with some friends so I wasn’t in the mood when I got home. Instead, I spent lunch time at work getting most of the planning done and then finished up the last bits when I got to Tradewinds about 5:30pm. Grainne was waiting when I got there and we went over the plan. She had told me to avoid SFO’s class B airspace, so I planned a route following I680 up to Concord and then track in towards Napa on the Scaggs Island VOR. I was going to use the DME (Distance Measurement Equipment) to determine my turn point towards NAPA. The distance was 59nm and it should take about 39minutes to fly. After Grainne was done checking the flight plan I filed it and we headed out to find 5766J.
5766J had just been washed and was sitting out behind the Tradewinds hanger. It turned out it hadn’t been flown since I found the alternator problem the previous Sunday. We had checked the maintenance log, the alternator regulator had been replaced and this had fixed the problem. I completed a dark and cold pre-flight and the long taxi out to the runway. Tonight we were making a straight out departure from 31R just following to the East of the freeway to stay clear of SJC’s class C. The takeoff and departure was fine. I got Oakland Radio on the climb out and opened my flight plan and then managed to setup flight following like I knew what I was doing. We leveled off at 4500’ over Sunol more or less right on time. The view was spectacular, the whole Bay Area was a sea of lights spread out under us.
The flight North along I680 was smooth and uneventful, we were passed to Sierra Approach just before Livermore. There was a lot of traffic on the radio, I guess it was the evening rush hour of planes into and out of the Bay Area. I turned onto the Scaggs Island VOR radial over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started out over the Benicia Bridge into San Pablo Bay. I tuned into the Napa ATIS and got the weather. There was a 7 knot wind at 150 degrees and runway 18R was in use. This was no surprise its the main runway with lights. Its real dark out over the water, when I planned the trip I thought it might be difficult to find the airport, I had planned using the DME to time my turn towards the field. In the event it was really easy to pick out the airport and I didn’t need the DME. I called the tower and was told to enter right downwind for 31R, it sounded like there was no other traffic flying at the time.
I turned right and started the descent and made the same mistake I’d made at Pine Mountain Lake, I got way too close to the runway on the downwind. This time at least I recognized what I was doing wrong and tracked away from the runway on the downwind to give myself more space on the base leg. The approach was fine and I thought the landing was fine, though Grainne got a bit excited. I was starting the flare and she kept saying “just hold it level”, I could see her almost grabbing the yoke. 18R is another big runway like Castle (5900’) with wide runway markings. I guess I flared a bit high because the “normal” sight picture I’m used to in RHV or Q99 fooled me into thinking I was lower (that is a big runway far away looks the same as a small runway close up). Either way we touched down pretty gently. The tower told us to taxi to the ramp on his frequency and we had fun finding a taxiway diagram to work out how to get back to the start of the runway. Napa is one of those triangular airports with three runways making up the sides, this makes the taxiway layout a bit complicated. Luckily we didn’t get lost, got a clearance to taxi for takeoff, found our way back to the start of 18R and were cleared to take off. I closed the flight plan on the way up.
The flight back was relaxing, just using pure pilotage, no dead reckoning. Grainne had planned some hood work, but by the time I got flight following setup we were over Concord at 3500’ and pretty much hemmed in by the mountains on both sides so no more hard work tonight. I flew us down 680, over Sunol, Sierra Approach gave us the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following. I called RHV tower along side Mission Peak and was told to enter right downwind for 31R. We were just on the downwind when Grainne pulled the power on the engine for yet another dead stick landing. It’s amazing how the engine always quits over Lake Cunningham. Got best glide and turned onto base and final. I had 10 degrees of flaps in and hummed and hawed about putting more in, finally putting in 30 degrees over the Mall. The landing was so gentle, the plane’s wheels just kissed the ground hello, really good! I let her roll to the last taxi way and we headed for parking. Tonight was pure joy, perfect weather, the air was smooth as glass and everything went exactly to plan. I’ve got another solo flight tomorrow. Grainne wants me to do the Stage II checkride on Saturday so I’ll just stay in the RHV pattern and practice the short & soft field takeoffs and landings.