May 31, 2012

T. F. R., Mate...

Dominga (part of my Instagram series)

As we circle Alcatraz in the gathering dusk at 2,500', we hear the Northern California Approach controller ask yet another small GA plane whether they knew there was a TFR over AT&T Park… and that they were about to blunder into it. This has been happening all evening — NorCal even asked us, even though we were miles away, whether we knew about it; we didn't (it wasn't NOTAM'd anywhere — I think you're just supposed to infer these things from the stream of orange-shirted Giants fans on BART or something), but I always steer clear of stadiums like that anyway (I just assume there's a TFR over them), and we'll never get within three nautical miles of it this flight in any case.

And what does "TFR" stand for, Dominga asks? I suppress the urge to tell her the very familiar Australian phrase it stands for — a phrase that'd be entirely appropriate right now given the number of pilots seemingly asking whether they've just crossed into the TFR — and explain it's about temporary flight restrictions, and that we just have to ensure we don't get close to AT&T park. Which is fine — we're heading off towards the Golden Gate now, and there's no way in hell I'll end up in that TFR.

And so it goes (no, this wasn't leading up to yet another "how I blundered into a TFR" story): in something of a reprise of a previous flight, I'm up over the Bay on a VFR Bay Tour with Dominga and James, a couple of friends associated with a local coffee shop I go to a lot (as does John, occasionally, come to think of it). And it's a great day for it: few clouds, warm stable air, and the Bay coming alive in the evening light. Woohoo! Dominga takes this moment of elation to tell me this is something of a test for her — she has a serious fear of heights. Oh well, I think — now she tells me… but except for some nervousness when James or I turn too steeply, she takes it all in her stride, and in the usual sign of a successful flight for me, no one starts screaming "we're all going to die!!!". In fact, as far as I can tell, both Dominga and James enjoy the flight a lot (I've been asked to do it again).

We potter on above the Bay, giving Dominga a chance to fly a little, then head off towards Napa, where we land and let James swap with Dominga into the front seat. Napa's dead — I'm not sure if that was a zombie we saw shuffling very slowly towards the FBO or what, but there didn't seem to be any humans around except in the tower — and we depart quickly back towards Oakland via Concord and the Diablo Valley. James gets the hang of flying very quickly (I get the impression he's been in small planes as a student a long time ago but not since), and if it weren't for the gathering stratus coming in over the hills, we'd have stayed out longer.

The stratus doesn't seem to cover Oakland itself (at least according to ATIS), but it's hugging the hills around Hayward enough for me to ponder getting a clearance back in. But as we approach the clouds, I firewall the throttle and climb over the layer, hoping it'll disperse in time for the descent into Oakland. And so it does, but only just — I'm on the verge of asking for a clearance the entire way in to somewhere abeam Hayward Airport (KHWD), when the layer clears suddenly and things are clear VFR again.

We land in the late evening darkness, the video game effect taking over on final, and once again I land back at Oakland. Mission accomplished: a very pleasant VFR Bay Tour with friends who actually enjoy flying. Well, mostly: Dominga's still afraid of heights.

Some photos from Dominga's iPhone:

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