Home Learning to Fly Flagstaff/Sedona Is General Aviation Safe To Catalina! The First Solo Adios Six Four Romeo


Date: Friday 28th December 2001

Route: P19 -> FLG -> SEZ -> P19

An unusually cold, cold front has been sitting over Arizona for the past few weeks. Result has been lots of snow in the upper mountain regions, specifically Flagstaff. The buzz of "its snowing up there" even reached the ears of the tyrant, known as the Number Two Son.

So I am under pressure to go up to see snow. Yeah, we could drive over, but it may be easier just to fly. At least more fun. More challenging. More unusual. 

The kid loves the idea. The wife is not so enthusiastic, but does not veto it. So one morning I pack the kid in the car and head over towards Stellar Airport to crank up the favorite N5264R.


Austin agrees to come along, so I pick him up and head to Stellar Airport. We do the usual preflight of the aircraft, wheel it out of the hangar. Avi wants to sit up front, I fashion a high chair out of pillows and a fat book, and he can now see out over the high instrument panel.

We take off towards the South, then turn around and fly heading North. North of Stellar lies the dreaded Phoenix Class Bravo, I have to be careful not to violate airspace boundaries.

Using freeways and familiar roads as navigation markers, I stay out of the Bravo core, at a low altitude (2500ft)

Avi wants to fly, but I decline as we are still within Phoenix Class Bravo.

We call Scottsdale and get a transition clearance. So from there it is over Pinnacle Peak and clim up and away to fly over the rims of towering peaks of mountains surrounding Phoenix. 

Soon we are out of the city boundaries and climbing. Gorgeous views. High peaks. I turn over the controls to Avi, who does his best holding a straight and level attitude while I take a break. He can hold the plane on a reasonable bearing and straightness using the attitude indicator and the directional gyro. The Microsoft Flight Simulator has taught him how to do that. D*** kids and video games.

As we climbed over the mountains, I tuned in Flagstaff VOR. As I twiddled with the dial, I noticed the huge tall peaks of the San Francisco Mountains (12,500ft) perk up at the horizon. SF Mtn is at Flagstaff. Who needs a VOR needle to follow when you have such a landmark.

After about 20 minutes of mountain flying the valley becomes wider and clearer and hues turn red. We see the absolutely breathtaking cliffs of Sedona. The picture to the left does not quite do justice to the magnificence

As I look out of my window and see Sedona, I realize how close we are to Sedona airport. Immediately, I get this urge to go there. I was not planning to, but it looks so inviting. (The airport is clearly visible in the photo on the left - it is the flat straight white line, in the foreground).

But we keep trucking, up to Flagstaff.

Closer we get to Flagstaff the snow on the ground builds up. We establish contact with Flagstaff Airport. I can barely see the airport from about 10 miles away, but the map says it is beyond that curve in the road, so it must be there. I can sure hear the controller and he gives us clearance to land on Runway 21.

Since we are flying North, we are perfectly setup for a 45 downwind entry to 21. Soon I see the airport, and go into the patterns. The wind is gusty, the pine trees are soaring upwards, and suddenly I realize this is my first landing off the beaten track, with passengers. I subconsciously mutter to myself "damn, I cant land this thing here!". Those words get transmitted on the intercom, turning Austin's legs into jelly.

A little bumpy in the air, but 64-Romeo touches the ground with grace. The runway is *huge* - wide and long. We taxi off to the FBO and jump out into the fresh crisp cold air, with snow piled up all around.

The FBO (Fixed Base Operation) at Flagstaff, called Wiseman Aviation, is simply beyond compare. Run by a dedicated couple it is charming. A guy in a golf cart pulls up and flags us to a parking spot. He lays out nice red carpets to step out on. Then shows us to the "office".

The office is lovely, gleaming wooden floors, gentle fire in the fireplace, a cat on the comfy sofa--it looks like home as home is supposed to be. Hot coffee, chocolate chip cookies, pilots lounge, planning room, clean restrooms--no charge. The kid grabs handfuls of cookies and deposits crumbs on the floor. That is his genetically programmed duty.

Wiseman offered to sell us fuel, but since we flew for just an hour on tanks that hold 5 hours of fuel, it was prudent to decline. Taking off from a high-altitude airport (FLG is 7000ft) with full tanks is not prudent.

Austin and Avi go out and play in the snow. Standard screaming and snowball fights.

Time for hunger pangs to set in. The cafe at FLG is closed for winter. We could take a cab ride into town, that is the only option at FLG.

The lovely landing strip at Sedona (SEZ)  flashes in my mind. Sedona is blessed with a nice restaurant on at the airport. It is a place where flyers from all over Arizona congregate for lunch. 

So off we go to Sedona Airport Restaurant!

The ride from Flagstaff to Sedona is a treat. Fly along the Oak Creek Canyon. Over the majestic cliffs and pine forests. Peer into the canyon. 

Do not even think of emergency landings here. Keep the engine happy, please.

Soon after the Oak Creek Canyon we came upon the city of Sedona (below) and the famous "aircraft carrier" airport. Perched on a "mesa" or high flat mountain top, is the runway, with sheer drop offs on each side. The runway slopes downwards from north to south, hence pilots prefer to land from the south (going north) and takeoff from the north (going south). This also avoids buzzing the city, and keeps the mystics happy.

SEZ is uncontrolled, and the radio traffic was incessant. Planes are landing and taking off and approaching from all sides. Since landings and takeoffs are in opposite directions, it is quite a mess. I found a few seconds of radio silence, started calling in my intentions. I flew over the airport at mid field and joiced the left downwind patter.

The elevation and the unconventional view threw off my elevation perception. As I was on short final, I realized I was diving at 90kts into a strip a few hundred feet away, at over 600 off the ground. Too fast, too high.

Of course, as the keep telling you at flight school "do not get macho, do not do anything stupid." The advise suddenly hit home and I announced on the radio "Cessna 64-Romeo on short final, we are going around".

Next time around was better, but not by much. Too high again, but this time I decided I had enough space and time and nerve to bring out the big guns. I jammed in the right rudder and held direction with left aileron. The plane descended like a stone (recall, slips!). The airspeed was on the mark at 70Kts, and when I took off the cross controls, 64R was poised to land.

Touchdown was followed by lunch.

Service is slow, but the location is perfect. Food is way better than what you would expect at any airport restaurant.

We spent a great deal of time hanging out at the restaurant overlooking the runway. Eventually it was time to head back.

Jump into the trusty plane and off we go to Phoenix.

The city is easy to find, just head for the four-peaks and keep on the right. Follow the outbound path back, fly over Scottsdale and then Rt-101 and graze Chandler (class D) to enter Stellar on a downwind.

Mission accomplished. Tach time: 2.7 hours. Amounts to a $143 charge for plane and fuel. Well worth it.