California offers a great variety of attractions for General Aviation pilots… While I was on a “road trip” vacation, and not doing any flying, I couldn’t help but let the aviation geek in me have a little fun and dictate a few extra stops along the route…This past spring, my good friend Brett, a pilot for Compass Airlines, and I decided to do a west coast road trip and see some sights and do some exploring. What was a simple idea quickly evolved to a plan of epic proportions. We would begin in Los Angeles and drive to Las Vegas; the Hoover Dam/Lake Mead; the Grand Canyon; Lake Tahoe; Carson City, Nevada; Yosemite National Park; San Francisco and then a cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway…
As we got closer, I booked my airfare on Delta, selecting first class so that I could enjoy the trip a little more. I planned to arrive on a Tuesday around mid-day and depart the following Tuesday in the morning.
Being an aviation geek, I considered renting a plane and doing some sightseeing, a typical travel activity of mine when I’m away from home… Yet, as I went on planning the trip I realized I could incorporate most of the aviation themed items I’d want to see as parts of the road trip…
I landed in LA and Brett was right there to pick me up, we were on the way to Las Vegas, as I had never been… However, a “bucket list” item stood in between LA and Vegas. The first of the general aviation-themed vacation items I had to accomplish on the west coast. To fully understand the necessity of this stop here is a little background…
About 8 years ago I read a story in the AOPA ePilot newsletter about a craft brewery in the LA basin known as Hangar 24 Craft Brewery. The idea seemed incredible! The founder of the company was a pilot and as I found out during our visit, the company took its name from the fact that Ben (the owner) used to keep his aircraft in Hangar 24 at the Redlands Airport. The proper and correct combination of aviation and beer, flying and then enjoying a cold beer after the flight (drinking beer and then flying is against the rules and dumb…) seemed like a great idea.
For me aviation themed beer was great. Beer is not easily shipped and during the early days of Hangar 24 they didn’t ship glassware either, which meant I was out of luck when it came to getting a Hangar 24 pint glass. Over the years I have developed a pretty impressive pint glass collection, so a Hangar 24 glass was “required equipment” for my kitchen, as we’d say in aviation!
As fate would have it in 2008 the Mansfield Airport was the finish line for the annual Women’s Air Race Classic. The very first aircraft to arrive was a Cessna Cardinal with a husband and wife who served as judges for the event. As a line guy at the time I greeted the two at the fuel pumps and while filling up their Cardinal I made small talk asking where they arrived from. When the husband said they came from the Midwest since their last stop but they had started in Redlands, CA, I think my jaw just about hit the wing of his airplane… I couldn’t believe it. The two were very nice and shortly before they departed at the end of the event, I asked the wife, her name was Pam I believe, if she would do me a favor. I asked her if I could give her $20 and if she could go the brewery, buy me a pint glass and then ship it back to me. When she said yes I was completely overjoyed!
Weeks went by… The request and favor form my new California based friends was not fresh in my mind anymore and when I returned home from work one day to find a box on the front stoop from California, I had absolutely no idea what it could be… I didn’t know anyone in California and I had not ordered anything online recently… I plopped the box on the table and opened it up to find a note from Pam, saying that she was sorry it took so long but here are two glasses and that the folks at Hangar 24 were very impressed by me “drive” to get the glasses. She also taped a dime to the paper, which I found funny. The glasses were $5 each and shipping was $9.90, so she wanted to return the change.
I couldn’t believe it and I was incredibly thrilled to have the glasses. I gave one to a very good friend of mine from the Mansfield Airport, and he still has and uses it today. The other glass is still one of my prized possessions and is reserved for only special occasions. As time went on I continued to be interested in the company and watched from afar at their success and growth.
Now, 8 years later, keep in mind Hangar 8 is only about 8 years old so I have been a fan since the very early days, Brett and I were cruising westbound on Route 10 from LA out to Redlands. As we approached the brewery and airport I was ripe with anticipation, hoping that the beer would be great and worth the wait. The facility is a former hangar at the airport, a holdover from days prior when Redlands Airport was used by the Air Force as a base and was larger in footprint. Now however, the brewery is across the street from the airport.When we walked in I knew I was in the right place, an entire wall lined with taps, an outside, shaded/misted seating area and a variety of Hangar 24 branded items for sale. I walked up to the counter and told the beer tended I was in from Boston and I had traveled about 2,300 miles that day and my first priority now that I was in California was to visit Hangar 24 and try their beer. The young lady at the beer counter was very enthusiastic and quickly presented me with an Orange Wheat, their signature beer, and also my favorite type of beer… She waited with anticipation as I took the first sip. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I lit up with joy because the beer was amazing! I’ll also admit I felt a sense of relief too, if the beer had been horrible, I’m not sure how I would have handled it…
Luckily, the beer and the Hangar 24 experience was well worth the wait and the trip! For the next hour Brett and I enjoyed a prearranged brewery tour and the sampling of a couple of their other offerings including the upcoming Oktoberfest, which I’ll also rate as 2 East Coast Thumbs Up! Even though Hangar 24 doesn’t typically do tours on Tuesdays I had emailed ahead and am very thankful for all of the help. Literally everyone I interacted with before hand via email and in person at the brewery was great!
As I sipped on my Orange Wheat beer, Cody (a beer tender and tour guide) led us through the Hangar 24 facility, proving great insight on how Hangar 24 operates, their history and their ongoing growth! The tour was fantastic and I finally learned how beer and other drinks are canned, quite the process and one that I never fully grasped before my Hangar 24 visit. Everyone at Hangar 24 was incredibly pleasant, inviting and energetic. The brewery and distribution business seem go be growing and gaining momentum and it was nice to see their beers at a variety of places Brett and I stopped at along our +1700 mile road trip.
The next aviation themed checkpoint on our road trip took us to the Furnace Creek, Death Valley Airport. Better said, cricket land, as there was no sign of a single airplane, not much but an empty airport and tumble weeds. You might be asking why I’d mention going to and airport where there were no airplanes and no people… Well, that’s easy, with a field elevation of -210 (or -211, depending on which sign you believe) the airport in Death Valley is the “lowest” airport in the United States… Pilots shouldn’t expect great performance even with the better than sea level elevations though as Furnace Creek is known for having literally the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth! It wasn’t too bad while we passed through, the 115 degrees in Vegas was the worst heat we saw. After snapping a couple quick pictures, we were off on our way towards Yosemite National Park, with our intended overnight in Bishop, CA.After dinner and some rest in Bishop, we were on the road again, but not before stopping at the local airport, just to check it out. The airport in Bishop is the largest in the valley with one main road serving as Main Street to a variety of small towns including Bug Pine, Independence and of course Bishop, CA. Interestingly enough bishop, CA is also where U.S. Route 6 ends. Route 6 runs from Provincetown, MA all the way to Bishop! Prior to a highway redesignation program by the state of California in the mid-1900’s Route 6 stretched from Provincetown, MA all the way to Long Beach, CA and was the longest road in the country… At the airport in Bishop, we found a great facility, about to undergo a $4 million AIP project to replace all of the current airfield lighting with LED lights! Bishop also has an iconic old-fashioned control tower… A postcard worthy image with the airfields and close by mountains in the background! In the terminal we met Ken the Airport Manager and Jim a pilot for Ameriflight. Both gentlemen were incredibly friendly. Ken and I talked “shop” about our airports and Brett and Jim discussed flying and the classic aircraft that have busted Bishop’s Airport. Ken has a great facility and great team, really a worthwhile stop if you’re ever flying around the eastern California area! Plus, they have great fuel prices and a Thai restaurant in the terminal!
After Yosemite National Park, where we drove through a snow squall, in August, San Francisco and cruising southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway, our next aviation stops were two iconic airports on the Pacific coast (kind of). We stopped at the Santa Monica Airport, because I’m concerned if I didn’t visit it on this trip, it might not be there the next time I head out west to California. The story of SMO is well known in the aviation world as a travesty and unnecessary.
All I have to say is, I don’t get it. I expected a depressed, dejected, lifeless airport and what we found was the complete opposite. The Santa Monica airport is lively and energetic, a place of positive energy. With a great observation deck, aviation enthusiasts can certainly get their fill, especially with the tower frequency projected to the deck. Inside the terminal is Typhoon restaurant (expect a special edition restaurant review soon). Across the street are an aviation museum and the Spitfire Grille, both good takes I’ve been told. The traffic as SMO was all working to fly quite and ranged from Sport Cruisers doing pattern work to a Gulfstream landing while we ate lunch in the restaurant overlooking the runway.The thing that really sent me for a loop a little bit is that the entire airfield is pavement, including the infields (what I called the fields between the runways and taxiways, which are typically grass). For a good portion of the middle of the single runway (3-21), pilots can exit the runway at their leisure. Crossing the paved infield to the taxiway. The first time I watched it happen I was concerned then I caught on. It is an incredible concept and certainly makes things a lot more efficient!
Our final aviation themed stop was the Van Nuys Airport, home of the iconic Runway 16R. After seeing the movies 16 Right and 16 Left (the making of 16R), I sadly have to say I was disappointed by VNY… We visited the observation area, which is a small paved lot, with a really cool painted airport diagram, and some wooden cut outs, but it could be SO much better. The traffic was strong with a variety of business jets coming and going on 16R and a few small aircraft doing takeoffs and landings on 16L. As it turns out one of the other people sitting at a close-by covered picnic table while we were there was a gentleman named Bruce, who we’d run into again shortly.After driving around the airport, taking in the variety of businesses and aircraft ranging from helicopters to Boeing 737 BBJs we stopped at a small flight school called Continental Aviation, located at the southwest corner(-ish) of the airfield. Here we ran into Bruce again. As it turns out Bruce is a lifelong pilot and presently a flight instructor at Continental, he was at the observation area watching a student make some solo takeoffs and landings. Brett and I spent some time trading stories with Bruce and Simon, the flight school owner, both great guys! Bruce was very animated and informative, definitely a great flight instructor, you can just tell he is able to connect with his students and form a meaningful instructor-student relationship. The student that he was watching from the observation area was making a supervised solo and from the sounds of the debriefing, he’ll be moving on to cross country flights very soon!
The aim of my trip wasn’t to see a whole bunch of aviation things, after all I was on vacation but when you love something you’re drawn to it. The trip itself was great, you can see some of the other highlights that weren’t aviation related in the Matt’s Photography section of ReviewBeforeFlight, there are some really cool pictures, give it a look and stay tuned for a special edition West Coast Flying For Food, airport restaurant review from Santa Monica Airport!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9