SOP, in my experience: NorCal Approach seems to like having you hurtle towards Napa's localizer 36L at (at least) 5,000' over the Bay, with little hints that you'll get lower Real Soon Now. I should bloody well hope so: we're hurtling (in that rather slow and steady way that little C172s hurtle, anyway) towards the localizer at 5,000', and if we don't get lower soon, we'll turn onto that same localizer just outside LYLLY at 5,000' on a segment with a 1,800' minimum, with (quite literally) only a handful of miles to get to sea level for the runway. We get 1,000' lower on the hand-off to Oakland Center, but that doesn't help much; I turn onto the localizer just as Center clears us for the approach with a rapid-fire set of instructions and sends me to Napa tower. Down we go; I calculate we'll need something like a 1,200+ fpm descent to make it, and program that in. Not something I'd enjoy in hard IMC, that's for sure, but since it's a nice sunny fog-coming-through-the-Golden-Gate VFR day, and Evan H. is sitting in the right seat as safety pilot, I let it rip. We get down in time, (barely), and successfully start the circle-to-land for 18R.
Just one of the many enjoyable little perils of the quick IFR flight to Napa (KAPC), I guess. I really like a filed-IFR flight there as a real-world work out because you don't get a lot of leisure time (just one damn thing after another, often enough, especially with the crossing traffic arriving at Oakland or departing San Francisco), it's a short (read: relatively cheap) flight, and it almost always involves a constant stream of ATC requests (vectors, altitude, speed, frequencies) ending in a rushed approach (RNAV or localizer, usually) into an airport I know well from years of visits. Oh, and the trip itself is very, very scenic (not that I'd know that under the Cone Of Stupidity, of course). Unusually, this time instead of going missed and back to Center to do the missed-as-published and have a go at (say) the VOR approach (and unintentionally tie up the airspace around us for billions of miles because we forget to cancel IFR), I decide we'll do the full stop and taxi back for some pattern work. I don't really need too much IFR practice (I'm good until November, at least legally), but my VFR airwork could do with some brushing up.
Tower has us circle west at circling minimums for right traffic on 18R, and almost immediately clears us for the option, telling us to follow a Bonanza that's crossing mid-field above and in front of us for the same runway; he'll land well before we do, if it's a typical Bonanza. It all looks good to me. But that Bonanza — part of the JAL ab initio training facility at Napa, I suspect — stays high and very very (very) wide (don't get me started…), and I have to veer well to my left and slow right down to stop myself from getting ahead of him. Then I think "dammit — let's request the short approach. I can be off the runway before he's turned base at this rate…". Unfortunately tower's preoccupied with something else and doesn't respond immediately, but in the end I get the short approach to 18L anyway and cross well in front of the Bonanza; I'm off 18L before the Bonanza's anywhere near short final. Where had he been all that time?!
18L's a much smaller runway than 18R; it's where I did a lot of my initial PP-ASEL pattern work and landing practice, because it's a nice short(ish) runway surrounded by flat land, not too far from home base (Oakland then and now). I really enjoy doing precision landing work on 18L, and the next five or so landings are a real blast (it helps that I had a steady 16 knot headwind straight down the runway, but never mind). At one point tower asks me whether I want the right instead of 18L; I respond with something like "nah, we'll stay on the left — it's more of a challenge…". She replies "well, it looks like you're doing a great job from up here!". My ego just about bursts, but I can't help blurting out that she's probably jinxed the rest of my pattern work with that sort of praise.
Amazingly enough, though, with the exception of some mild ballooning when I tried to be too clever landing back on Oakland's (long) 27L, the pattern work and landings were well within expectation. Just the sort of practice I needed, I think, and the short hop home (with a clearance for the ILS 27R back into Oakland with the side-step onto 27L for an incoming Amflight Najavo on the right) was pleasingly routine and smoothly-executed.
Later, while refueling at Kaiser, I take a bunch of stealth pix of a Kaiser Air 737 sitting there behind us. Something about the soft light and angular geometries appealed to me a lot; the results are up there somewhere at the start of this post, I hope. Not a patch on Glenn's excellent work, but not too bad either for a rushed low-light pic.
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Sometime during the pattern work at Napa a Beech Staggerwing makes an arrival and landing, but rather disappointingly we don't get to see it close up at all — they're supposed to be quite photogenic. Not as exciting as sharing the pattern at Livermore with a B17 and a B25, but still something that caught my attention.
Something else that caught my attention was the inevitable (and slightly ominous) reappearance of my old nemesis, the Justice Department MD-80 that plies that part of North Field at that sort of time of day, as we were sitting in the runup area off 27R. This time it was departing, it was broad daylight, and Ground kept us well separated, but as John's recent posting on Oakland's Bermuda Triangle argues, you have to keep a sharp lookout and think on your feet in this part of the world at the moment. Not coincidentally, that Bermuda Triangle is a place he and I had to take evasive action in a few months ago to avoid being run over by more than one large aircraft due to what was probably a ground controller losing the plot or simply not caring; I still don't know which. I think my account of what happened that evening is remarkably restrained, in retrospect….