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2018 Q1 Newsletter

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

A look ahead to 2018

I usually use the first quarter newsletter article to let the membership know what to expect for the coming year.  So here we go for 2018.

First off, the ramp at Palo Alto.  Construction started early in January and will be conducted in 4 key phases.  The first 3 phases involve the apron and the tie-downs.  Phase 1 covers the old A through L rows.  It will take about 4 months, involves pouring a foot of concrete into the base to stabilize the surface, costs about $10M and should look great when it’s done.  We’ll also get the self-serve fuel island back when it’s completed.  Phase 2 will incorporate the middle section of the apron and likely wrap up later in 2018.  The third phase, which will affect most of our current tie-downs will occur in 2019.  The runway redo will likely occur in the 2020 timeframe and we’re already discussing how to minimize the impacts on operations at the airport while that part of the project goes on.

The club itself has several priorities for 2018. 

One – Member Programs

In 2018 we are starting an all-new instrument ground school.  This is in addition to our already running PPL ground schools at PAO and SQL.  We are also planning to increase the number of Safety Seminars throughout the year. There will be 4 larger quarterly events.  One such event is our 46th anniversary party set for August.  It will be an 80’s theme party following on from our 70’s theme party last year that celebrated our 45th anniversary. 

Our quarterly new-member events are being ramped up to once a month and will now be hosted by our Member Services Team.  We are also planning on shifting our summer BBQs to a new time on Wednesday evening before the open Board Meetings. This is to encourage members to meet the board members and participate in more of the meetings.

There will be a continued focus on our social media presence with expanded coverage on most of the popular sites.  Additionally, 2018 will likely be the year we welcome the 12,000th member to the club.  Stay tuned for that event and how we celebrate it. 

Two – The Fleet

There never seem to be enough planes!  The survey we conduct on an annual basis shows that while we’re doing better, there’s still pent up demand for more airplanes. So, once again we will be focused on further growing the fleet.  The fleet is currently at 52 aircraft and the year-end goal is to be somewhere in the 55-60 range. 

For maintenance, there are several initiatives underway.  In early 2018 we returned to 3 full-time A&Ps with a fourth now in training.  We will likely return to 7-day a week maintenance sometime during the year.  We’re excited to announce that Cirrus Aircraft has selected WVFC to be a Limited Service Center for our Cirrus fleet which will improve turn around-time for maintenance and parts, especially for the newer aircraft under warranty.  We have started a new wash/detail program where the planes are hand-detailed on a quarterly basis so the fleet should look better on the ramp.  We will continue to ramp up our maintenance facility in San Carlos which has helped significantly with efficiency for the fleet at that airport.  Finally, we are continuing a program to put all the aircraft maintenance records (aka log books) into the cloud so that any member can look at any aircraft logbook at any time.

Three - Infrastructure

There are several changes coming in 2018.   We will be introducing Mac computers into the club houses so members will now have a choice of Mac or PC.  We will be refreshing the loaner headsets with a more consistent offering at both locations.  The WiFi issues at San Carlos will be tackled with some new hardware that hopefully gets us back to where we once were.   We will also continue to add various wall hangings at both locations, many of which have an interesting historical story to them.

Four – Safety Culture

We are making some key strategic changes in the area of safety.  First, the Safety Office is being renamed to Flight Operations and Safety (FOS for short).  We would like to welcome CFI Jim Higgins as Director of Flight Operations and Safety.  The team will include Ashley Porath, Manager of Flight Operations and Safety, and Mike May and Don Styles, both club CFIs who serve in contracting roles to help with many of the flying aspects of the department.  Jim has several plans we will be working on.  One is improving the way and how quickly we communicate safety issues to the membership.  He will be working more closely with the CFIs to make sure that the club safety culture stays at the top of everyone’s agenda so we can continue to be proud of our great long-term safety record.  Jim has a new office, the one that’s off the breakroom area in the Palo Alto clubhouse.  Please stop by and say hi to Jim when you get a chance.

We hope that many of the above items enhance your experience at WVFC.  We are so fortunate to have such a great and diverse membership.  If you have any ideas, big or small, come on in and share them, send us an email, call, or even better come and have a bagel, donut, pizza, burger, or hot dog at one of our many events and say hi.

Safe Flying in 2018.


Jim Higgins, Director of Flight Operations and Safety WVFC

Why is taxiing so expensive?

The bad news is that in the past four months we’ve had four major insurance claims totaling over $100,000—all from bad taxiing.  Fortunately, the only casualties were financial.  But when we renew our insurance next year, we will all feel a little pain and suffering. Taxiing challenges are not unique to WVFC, however, our current PAO setup (tight spaces, construction and inadequate markings) means we have it worse than most.

Why are so many good pilots so bad at taxiing?  I think it’s the unfortunate intersection of three seldom considered facts:    

1.  Taxiing is the least interesting part of the flight.  It receives the least attention and is typically too casually executed.

2.  It’s the phase of flight that requires the most precision with the tightest tolerances and least room for error.

3.  To make it all even harder, we do it in vehicles with lousy ground handling and fenders that stick out 20 feet wide, 90º opposed to our direction of travel.

Believe it or not, our fellow members have hit another club’s parked and tied down airplane, a couple of fences, and a fuel truck!  Most taxi problems tend to involve the yellow line, but not in the way you might think.  With the two fence strikes, it’s pretty obvious that the pilots were distracted (getting weather, copying clearance, avionics fiddling) and veered off the yellow line.  But the crazy part is that with the parked airplane and fuel truck incidents, both pilots defended themselves by saying that they were on the yellow line. Unfortunately, the truck and other plane were on the same yellow line—but they were there first!

So what do we do?  As a club, we need to apply the same level of care to the taxi as we do to the flare.   It’s easy to understand how taxiing can be difficult.  We just have to remember that challenge when when we are actually doing it.  To help with that, the safety office will be rolling out a “safe taxi” initiative over the coming weeks.  But please don’t wait for the formal program to begin taxiing without breaking anything, especially the bank.

Thanks for listening to my rant,

Jim Higgins

PS—In the coming months you’ll notice that Ashley, Mike, Don and I will be pursuing new ways to support our membership to be as safe as possible.  One example is that we will be communicating to all members a monthly summary of incidents so we can all learn from each other’s misfortune.  To maintain anonymity all names will be withheld, with one notable exception:  that of the NEXT member to hit something stationary while taxiing.  Please don’t be that member.  You might just get the safe taxi initiative named after you.


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

When Things Go Wrong: Variations on a Theme 

A recurring theme in my newsletter articles has been that things occasionally go wrong in airplanes.  Sometimes, it’s pilot error; sometimes it’s controller error; sometimes it’s the plane.  And, of course, the more you fly, the more likely it is that you will have one (or more) of these things happen to you.

Here are two recent cases:


I was returning to HWD from SoCal in a Pilatus one night recently, and after setting the brakes, did my normal preflight inspection, in which, as usual I found nothing wrong. As I got to the “Starter – PRESS” part of the checklist, I pressed the brakes (even at idle, an engine that can crank out 1500 HP is quite capable of moving an airplane) again.  The left pedal stayed pretty much where it was, but the right one went down a fraction of an inch.  Not enough to raise any eyebrows, but something to consider and “note to self” to see if it happens again.  Taxiing to the runway, everything seemed normal, and fortuitously, I didn’t have to stop at the end of the runway, but got cleared for my IFR departure prior to HWD reaching the end of the runway.

Following my landing back at Hayward, I noticed a bit more travel on the right brake than on the left, but by pumping them once, they were back in synch.  During the taxi to APP, the right brake still felt a little “soft” for lack of a better word, so I figured I’d report it.  Turns out it was a good thing.  The next day the mechanic looked at the brakes, and unscrewed the brake line with his fingers – no wrench required.  Somehow, I doubt this was the factory accepted torque setting.

I was probably a couple of stops (brake applications, not flights) away from having no brakes on the right side.


Taking off from Hayward recently in a Pilatus, I got a ding and a red light as I brought the power up.  Since the engine can over-torque on the takeoff roll, especially when the plane is cold, I reflexively reduced the power a smidge (an amount calibrated to remove the red light and continue the takeoff), and flew non-stop to San Carlos to pick up the owner and a couple of other passengers.  That flight is so quick, and so busy that if there was anything wrong I didn’t notice.  Well, obviously, if there had been anything sufficiently wrong that it would create an Amber Alert or a Red Warning, I would have noticed.  Aside from a ding that is painfully loud, it won’t shut off until it’s acknowledged,

An hour later, I had loaded up my passengers (the airplane’s owner and a couple more) and started taxiing for takeoff.  The plan was the San Carlos One departure, up the coast to Seattle, and dinner at Verrazano’s.  OK, so a couple of those aren’t actually on the flight plan.

During an enroute climb, power is set to either 36.9 PSI or 780 degrees ITT, whichever is reached first.  And in EVERY previous flight, 36.9 is reached before the temp comes up anywhere NEAR 720, to say nothing of 780 until the plane is above FL 200.  Yet on this flight, we were temp limited almost immediately after takeoff, and that isn’t normal, which caused me to wonder why.  Curiosity may kill the cat, but it can keep a pilot alive.  Trying everything I could think of (Inertial Separator closed, Bleed Air inhibit) I got no improvement, and, no surprise, there is nothing about this in either the POH, or in the emergency checklist – I checked.  As I continued to puzzle out what the crud was going on, I listened to the plane.  Everything except the power-temperature relationship seemed, sounded, and felt normal.

At 10,000 feet, instead of being able to get 36.9, we maxed out on the temp at just over 18 PSI.  Two thoughts occurred to me – first, maybe there was a bleed air leak, but I wondered why it didn’t show up as an engine fire (hot air in the engine compartment triggers a fire alarm).  Second, maybe it was a temperature sensor issue.  I wasn’t even TEMPTED to act on that one.  If the temp was real and I over temped it, the cost would be a smidge above $1,000, 000 and it would be an RGE (Resume Generating Event for the uninitiated).

At this point, I’m no longer going to Seattle, and need to break it to the owner, who still thought he was.  My preference was to go to Mather, which is where the maintenance facilities are, but the owner wanted to go back to San Carlos so he could score a commercial flight to Seattle (he still had a meeting to get to).  As an aside, if YOU hate traveling commercial, can you imagine how much an airplane owner hates doing so?

I coordinated with ATC, explaining that I had an engine problem, and I needed to return to SQL NOW.  ATC gave me direct SQL and wanted me to descend to 5,000, but with a flaky engine, I was thinking that altitude was my friend, so I asked to stay at 13,000 until I needed to descend.  I was at 13,000 over SFO, at which point, I can make the runway entering a right downwind for 30 even if the engine quits.  Surprise, they offer me straight-in on 12 (wind is variable at 3 Kts).  So, I initiated a “space shuttle approach” - full flaps, gear down, power idle and if it isn’t as fast as the space shuttle, it’s the same steep approach path.  From 13,000 feet at SFO, I was able to land straight in at SQL.  It’s kinda fun, actually.

At this point, we still don’t know what the issue is.  After a test flight with a mechanic (David Vital, former WVFC Chief of Maintenance), in which everything was completely normal, the maintenance folks are going to be chasing down a couple of leads, but until something stays broken, they can’t find the problem.

At this point, I usually have some kind of observation about things that apply to club aircraft, and most of this stuff doesn’t.  With one very serious exception: airplanes talk – they rarely yell, but they do say things – and pilots should listen, especially if what the plane is saying is different from what it normally says.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Expect the Unexpected! 

Today was an average busy Sunday at PAO with several aircraft waiting in the 31-run-up area for takeoff. While waiting, I noticed that many pilots when cleared for takeoff would take a quick look at the runway 31 approach to verify that no aircraft was landing. This is especially important at non-towered airports, but is also a good practice at tower-controlled airports. My flight instructor (and hopefully yours) instilled the habit of “look BOTH WAYS before taxing onto the runway”. 

Now the story…. Several years ago, I took a friend to Charles Schulz – Sonoma County Airport (STS) where we had a great lunch. We returned to the aircraft for our preflight walk around and I noticed numerous aircraft in the pattern overhead. We listened to the ATIS, then called STS ground for taxi. The wind favored runway 19, and we received instructions to taxi from terminal parking via taxiway B, then right on taxiway Y to runway 19. The run-up area is located adjacent to the approach end of both runways 14 and 19. STS is unusual because runways 14 and 19 actually intersect at the runway threshold. Our run-up was complete, so I requested takeoff on runway 19 for a straight-out back to SQL. The tower controller cleared us to cross runway 14 and cleared us for takeoff on runway 19. As I approached runway 14, I took a quick look both ways, but particularly at the approach to 14 for possible landing traffic. No traffic! Then I looked further to my right to look for traffic landing runway 19. I suddenly noticed a Cessna on short final (300 feet out) for runway 19. I immediately stopped on the hold bars for 14/19 and was about to press the mic button to contact the tower, when the tower control shouted “GO-AROUND Cessna xyz…!!!”. The Cessna quickly executed a go-around. I asked myself, what just happened?

The tower controller was obviously steaming MAD, and the story unfolded. Apparently, the Cessna had been cleared to land runway 19 immediately prior to my call to the tower for a runway 19 takeoff clearance. The tower controller, who was trying to space landing and takeoff traffic, had given the Cessna clearance to land runway 19 and had advised the Cessna that there was one departure (us) runway 19. Why was the controller fired-up? The Cessna decided to make a very short approach to runway 19 and did not advise the tower. The controller had assumed that the Cessna would make a normal size pattern and approach.

Many years of looking both ways before taxing onto the runway finally saved my bacon…)

Expect the Unexpected!


Upcoming Flyouts:

Feb - MHV
March - O22
April - 1O2
May - KMEV
June - KMER

Dates and locations subject to change. Contact Sue Ballew for further information:


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

All Roads Lead To Vegas

One of my family's most frequent flying adventure destinations is the Las Vegas area.  My wife's father lives in Boulder City, about fifteen miles southeast of the Strip.  We fly our 182 there typically twice a year.  Before it was a place to visit family, Vegas was a fun weekend destination with friends.  Vegas makes a great general aviation destination: some club aircraft can make it there without a fuel stop, the Las Vegas airports usually have good weather, and the airports in the area have great support for the small-plane pilot and ship.  

For most West Valley aircraft, the mountains between the Bay Area and Las Vegas dictate two main routes.  Each of those routes has some choices to make, depending on in-flight conditions.  The two routes either cross the Sierra Nevada north of the highest peaks or south of them.  After discussing the airport options, I'll describe the two routes and their variations.

Once in the Las Vegas area, there are two general aviation airports to choose from.  McCarran, the airline airport, is also an option.

I've never flown into McCarran myself, mostly due to the higher cost of operating there.  Parking is $40 per day and there is a facility fee of $60.  The facility fee is waived if 15 gallons of gas are purchased at a cost of $8 per gallon.  There is an additional security fee of $15.

North Las Vegas and Henderson are two General Aviation airports located 8nm and 6nm respectively from McCarran.  Both towered airports have great FBOs.  An Uber, Lyft, or cab will have you to the strip in about fifteen minutes.  For both airports the parking fee is $15 per day, one night waived with a 20-gallon fuel purchase, and fuel is around $5 per gallon.

So, if you're flying the Southern Route, consider stopping at Henderson.  If coming from the north, North Las Vegas is a good choice.

The Southern Route

The Southern Route heads southeast from the Bay Area towards Bakersfield.  At the southern end of the Sierra Nevada it heads east and then heads northeast near the Daggett VOR.  The trip across the Central Valley, assuming good weather, is fairly straightforward after departing the Bay Area airspace.  Arriving near Bakersfield, the choices begin. 

First, Bakersfield and airports near it are about halfway to Las Vegas.  The airports here are also more tightly spaced, have better services, and cooler temperatures than the latter half of the flight.  All this adds up to a good place to stop for fuel.  There are other options later if you need it, but they're not as good.

The most conservative, reliable route departing Bakersfield is to head toward Palmdale.  The Tejon Pass, a bit farther south of the direct route, is at 4200 feet.  The Tehachapi Pass is at 4000 feet but is narrower.  Either pass skirts the highest mountains and adds about five minutes to the flight. A route from General Fox (KWJF) or Palmdale (KPMD) to DAG remains clear of the MOAs and Restricted Areas before heading into Vegas.  The first few times I flew to Vegas, this is the route I took.  Later I learned of a great shortcut that adds little to no risk to the flight but shaves off a decent amount of time.

The airspace east of Bakersfield is the Edwards Air Force Base R-2508 Complex (there is no R-2508 depicted on civilian charts).  Many of the Restricted Areas are marked as extending from the surface to unlimited and in continuous operation.  Much of the time, however, some of the complex can be transited.  In particular, R-2515 and R-2524 can be traversed VFR at or above 7000 feet.  R-2506 only extends to 6000 feet in any case.  The easiest way to get this clearance is to be on Flight Following before or around Bakersfield.  Once in contact with Bakersfield Approach, ask the controller if it's possible to transition R-2515 and R-2524.  If they're not too busy, they will call Joshua Approach and let you know if you can anticipate the transition.  If they're too busy, you'll have to wait until you're east of Bakersfield, near Tehachapi, to request the transition directly with Joshua Approach.

On the weekend and holidays, I've never been denied the VFR transition.  However, I've also never been cleared to transition any of the R-2502 Restricted Areas.  This means that even with the R-2515 and R-2524 shortcut, there's still a choice to make.  The route to the south of R-2502 is slightly longer than the northern route, but has a lot more civilization: a few civilian airports, I-10 and other large roads, and several towns.  The route to the north crosses beautiful terrain but is desolate.  For this reason, I usually pass south of R-2502.

Note that even in the absence of a clearance, there is a path through the Restricted Areas near the Trona airport known as the Trona Gap.  I would not advise attempting to fly through there without GPS.  Furthermore, if the Restricted Areas are active, there may be activity in the Panamint MOA.  Overall, that is a route probably not worth taking if the Restricted Area clearance is denied.

All three of these routes setup nicely for an arrival into Henderson Executive Airport (KHND).  Las Vegas approach may be able to give you a Class Bravo clearance, but it's also easy enough to stay below the Bravo.  Getting to North Las Vegas from the south is a little tricky.  The Las Vegas Terminal Area Chart publishes two VFR transition routes.  Studying the transition routes and airspace is imperative before attempting them.  At night, Vegas is especially spectacular.  However, the mountains are not well lit and the Bravo floor is not much above the surface.  You should fly in the area during the day before trying a night flight.

The Northern Route

The Northern Route crosses the Sierra Nevada north of the highest part of the range, then crosses Death Valley and enters the Las Vegas area from the northwest.  To get across the Sierra crest and over to Owens Valley, there are two passes.  Crossing over Yosemite and Tioga Pass offers a few advantages: it's absolutely gorgeous and while the route does not offer abundant choices for an off-field landing, at least there are some open spots and roads that pass through the area.

The other pass is just west of the Mammoth airport and the Mammoth Mountain ski area.  Most of the terrain there is lower than the Yosemite route, but it is true wilderness.  There are no roads or civilization.  If I choose the northern route, I always plan to cross over Yosemite.  However, especially in the summer, there can be cumulus buildups over that route that make the pass near Mammoth a better choice.  As always when flying or crossing the mountains, in-flight conditions may demand a detour or landing if the weather isn't cooperating,

Once across the Sierra, the route heads toward Bishop, then lower terrain southeast of Bishop before heading directly to the Las Vegas area.  Bishop is more than half way to Las Vegas and the last chance for a fuel stop.  There are some small airports along the way but they don't have fuel.

The Northern Route offers great sightseeing opportunities and is a reasonable choice if heading to North Las Vegas.  However, due to the mountain crossing and the mostly uninhabited areas over which it passes, it is a riskier option.  In terms of total time, the northern route to North Las Vegas is about the same time as the southern route through R-2515 to Henderson.

Flying to Las Vegas is a great way to combine general aviation with a fun weekend.  In addition to the casinos, restaurants, and shows, Las Vegas offers a wide variety of outdoor activities.  It's also a good stop over or jumping off point to other Southwest adventures.  Choose a route, choose an airport, and explore.

* Please note that all trips to Vegas in WVFC aircraft require a Low Mountain Checkout. If you chose to take the northern route to Vegas, a regular Mountain Checkout is required. WVFC also requires an Extended Rental Agreement for any trips planned outside of California and strongly encourages CFI involvement in planning.


Save $60.00 a year on regular dues or on regular family dues by prepaying your dues for 2018. 

Regular: $600

Regular Family: $240

Email to ensure your spot!

 *6 Month Minimum Commitment.  Early termination will result in charge for the discounted difference.  Safety incentives still apply.