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2019 Q2 Newsletter


Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

Twin-Engine Training Aircraft 


As many of you already know, the club (that is the membership) already owns two “like new” Cessna 152s.  They’re likely the nicest rental 152s in the Bay Area. Members often ask why the club, as opposed to regular members, own these planes.  In a simple word, economics.  The economics of ownership are somewhat complicated. (If you’re interested in knowing more, I would highly recommend attending one of our quarterly ownership seminars).  The bottom line comes down to whether it’s economically feasible to support certain makes and models. For planes like older Cessna 172Ns, Mooney’s, Bonanzas etc. the math doesn’t add up anymore.  These types of planes used to be commonplace on the flight line but over time they became less and less practical for owners to keep and support in the club.  One by one they left, likely not to return.


But there are certain makes and models that enable the club to be more appealing.  Our mission, after all, includes maintaining a broadly diversified fleet and the Cessna 152s are a part of that picture. The club can break-even on these older planes and can thus justify keeping them and actively promoting them to the membership.  These planes are not a threat to existing aircraft owners as they don’t directly compete with various makes and models that do make financial sense for their owners.


Which brings us to twin-engine training aircraft.  Twin engine aircraft are notorious for being expensive to operate, consume lots of fuel, require a lot of maintenance, and rent on a somewhat limited basis.  This, again, makes such a platform not that attractive to regular members to own and operate because they’ll likely end up writing big dollar checks each month to keep the plane operating.  That won’t last for long either. The club leadership has spent an extensive amount of time exploring the possibility of WVFC owning and operating a twin-engine training aircraft.  We have concluded that it’s a worthwhile experiment to acquire a twin-engine aircraft and see if we can operate it at break-even or better and once again increase the diversity of the fleet and attractiveness of the club.


The success of this program depends upon a few factors.  First, we need to find a decent training aircraft, likely from the 2000’s, not from the 1970s or 1980s.  The older twins will likely have poor dispatch reliability along with high or very high maintenance costs.  Second, we need to get the plane to fly enough to make sense.  That’s where the existing membership, that is you, seizes the opportunity to fly the twin whether it’s to attain a multi-engine rating, or to leverage it as a serious cross-country machine.  These planes are often quite capable, are surprisingly fast, and exhibit good climb characteristics.  Lastly, the club can leverage the asset to attract a new group of members who are specifically looking for twin-engine training aircraft. Currently they move right past WVFC because we have nothing to offer.


Stay tuned as we start our search, and if anyone has additional thoughts and suggestions on the matter, be sure to reach out and let me know.


Fly Safe.


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor


Good Bye


After twenty-five years and I don’t know how many newsletter articles, this is the final one.  Probably.  The future is a weird thing, and predicting it is a bit iffy.  However, I have taken a position flying CJ3s (which I love) in Scottsdale, AZ (which I also love), so the chance of re-activating my West Valley membership is pretty low.


BTW, I’ve heard rumors that I was retiring.  I LOVE what I do, and will retire when I fail the FAA physical, which doesn’t look likely in the near future (by which I mean the next 10 years).  But I’ve digressed (again).


My relationship with West Valley has been an interesting one.  It actually began in 1979 when I first joined the club.  It was so long ago that my membership number was just a smidge larger than 1000 – I can’t find the original number, because they weren’t computerized back then.  My membership lasted a week.  After getting checked out, I attempted to rent a plane to take my wife and son up for a flight.  During the pre-flight, I found the plane didn’t have a POH, so I refused to rent it.  The Chief Pilot told me that the plane didn’t need one, and that I should have my own copy of a C-172 POH. I resigned my membership immediately, figuring that a club that was that far off base wasn’t where I belonged.


Flying with the Moffett Navy Flying Club from 1984 to 1994 (when it closed its doors) I added several ratings, gained a lot of experience as an instructor, and in general became a better pilot.  When the Moffett club disappeared, I started looking around, and everyone I respected was joining West Valley.  Figuring that things and clubs can change over the years, I joined again and found that, yes, they had gotten better.


In 2000, and again in 2010, the club was in financial difficulty, to put it mildly.  The Board saw fit to bring me in to right the ship both times, and I was able (with a lot of help) to do so.  However, in both cases, once things got on an even keel, I found I’d rather fly than manage the club day-to-day.  The managers that took over the first time got the club back in trouble.  Steve Blonstein, on the other hand, has done a magnificent job managing the club – far better than I would have done.


So, what if anything, would I pass on to everyone (aside from many a “thank you” – so many, in fact that it would go for pages)? From a safety story perspective, very little that I haven’t said before in all of these newsletter articles.


Maybe just a few observations.


1.  West Valley is a member-owned, member-run club in which not enough members are involved. Far too many members treat the club as if it were just another flight club/school.  It isn’t: it’s something special if you let it be.


2.  West Valley has some of the most skilled, experienced, competent instructors anywhere. It has been my honor to fly with many of them, train a few, and learn from all of them with whom I’ve talked or flown.  We have a HUGE reservoir of knowledge, skill, and expertise that a pilot could tap into if he or she wanted to become better.  And that should be the goal of every pilot


3.  OK, so perhaps there is one thing, and it drives my continuing efforts for my own improvement.  “If you think you’re ‘good enough’, you may want to reconsider your standards.”  Just think about it.  I have yet to have a perfect flight, and over the course of over 16,000 hours of flight time, have done a lot of quality flying.  And some pretty stupid things (none of which involved the NTSB, certificate action, medical personnel or mortuaries – which doesn’t set the bar all that high).  But I have done enough stupid things before, during, and after getting into a plane that you will never see a “DAMN I’M GOOD” bumper sticker on my car. As a result, after EVERY flight, I find (it’s not really a challenge if you think about it) at least one thing I could have done better, and make a conscious plan to work on that point the next time.  On occasion, I’ve felt a bit like the Whack-a-Mole, where you solve one problem just to see another one pop up.  Sometimes it’s the same one I looked at 2 flights ago.  The result of this process is that MOST of my flights are pretty good, if I may modestly say so.  I could rest on that level of skill, touch, precision, and expertise, but I’m still striving for the perfect flight.  It’s fun. It’s a challenge.  It’s a never-ending quest.  You should try it.


4.  Good bye, my friends.


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making –   Things We Forget

Have you ever noticed someone hop out of an aircraft to remove the chocks or tie downs that they apparently forgot to remove during preflight? Maybe it has even happened to you. There are plenty of things to forget; pitot covers, engine cowl plugs, tow bars, baggage doors, oil access doors, etc.

One day while watching aircraft on the ramp at San Jose airport, I noticed a Mitsubishi MU-2 load up with several passengers and two pilots. After the aircraft started both engines, I noticed that the chocks were still on the right main wheel. Oops. The crew quickly shut down both engines and a crew member hopped out of the aircraft to remove the chocks. I told myself that I would never let that happen to me…)

Several years later, I was doing a preflight while waiting for the fuel truck to arrive.  My preflight walk-around checklist was interrupted when the fuel track arrived. After the fuel truck finished, I stowed some baggage and completed my preflight checklist. Only problem was, I skipped to the next item on the checklist, but actually had not completed removing the right main wheel chocks. Luckily, my observant passenger noticed the wheel chocks and pointed out my error. Embarrassing!

Interrupting the flow on a checklist can lead to many pilot errors, on the ground, or in the air. Question, if our checklist is interrupted, how can we reduce the risk of missing/forgetting something? One simple method that the airlines and military use is… “If the checklist is interrupted, the crew MUST re-start the interrupted checklist section from the beginning”.

The checklist "re-start" significantly reduces the risk of missing/forgetting something on the checklist.


Please join us for our upcoming flyout to Red Bluff!

Saturday, May 18th, 2019.

Contact Sue Ballew ( for further information.


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC


Columbia: A Great Flying Destination


Last fall, my family of four was once again looking for a fun flying adventure.  While we enjoy overnight trips, the other things we had going on called for nothing longer than a day trip.  We hadn’t been to Columbia (O22) in a while, so we planned a flight and headed to Gold Country.


Columbia is a non-towered airport about an hour flight from San Carlos and Palo Alto.  It sits in the Sierra Foothills at 2120 feet elevation, requiring at least a Low Mountain Checkout to fly a WVFC plane there.  The airport can be somewhat hard to spot, being surrounded by trees and amid rising terrain.  Following the magenta line on the GPS and using Google Maps or other mapping software to visualize the layout before the flight both make it easier to find.


The airport has two runways.  The paved runway is 4673 feet long; the turf runway is 2607 feet long.  Of course, unless you’re with an instructor, you have to take the paved runway.  The airport hosts firefighting operations, so during fire season you may be sharing the airport with firefighting aircraft.


On the airport is a small terminal with bathrooms and a refrigerator case with ice cream bars for purchase.  Between the two runways is a fly-in campground including flush toilets, hot showers, and fire rings.


A main reason to visit the Columbia airport is the Columbia State Park.  The park-town is less than a mile walk from the terminal building. Part of that walk is along a fairly busy road, but it’s not too bad.  The state park preserves the Gold Rush town of Columbia.  Many of the buildings remain from the 1850s.  The town’s businesses and exhibits retain the feel of the Gold Rush era.  If you did not choose ice cream from the airport’s case, there’s an ice cream parlor upon entry to the town.  There’s a place to pan for gold, a stagecoach ride, a blacksmith shop, candle making, a candy store, bookshop, and several curio shops.  There are a few restaurants and saloons in town and just outside the state park.  (Of these, El Jardin Mexican is by far my favorite.)  There are also hotels if you want to make it an overnight but don’t care to rough it in the airport campground.


The town has special events throughout the year.  There’s an Easter egg hunt, a Gold Rush Tent City recreation, lantern-lit tours during the winter, several events at Halloween, and a Fly-In on Father’s Day Weekend.  Google “Columbia State Park Events” for links to the festivities.


To sum it up, Columbia is a great flying destination.  It’s far enough to count as a cross-country trip.  The terrain near the airport is interesting and different from the Bay Area, without the challenge of crossing the Sierra.  Once there, the town offers everything from a $100 hamburger to an overnight trip taking in a show at the theatre.  The town’s events and the changing seasons offer a reason to come back.


Daniel Ruiz, WVFC Board of Directors,


Flying “El Torito”


Every year my family and I visit Costa Rica.  We always try to fly down there and learn and compare on our experiences with the locals.  At the end of the day, a pilot is always learning.

I have had the opportunity to fly with local schools in the past, but this February I flew with Pablo Fernandez in his 1955 Piper Tri-Pacer, PA22-150, the only plane of its kind in the country.  The plane was nicknamed “El Torito” (little bull in Spanish) as many pilots considered it a “wild” tail-dragger to land.  As there is a general bias that newer airplanes are safer, most of their GA fleet is tricycle.  In fact, the plane was for sale for some years, but received no offers given the stigma the Tri-Pacer had over the years.  Furthermore, the previous owner had a mad bull painted in the fuselage.   Pablo was smart and ended up getting his training from CFIs that work with Crop-dusters in the agricultural areas of the country.  He got his endorsement and now he is showing the guys in the highlands that “El Torito” knows how to “behave”.

“El Torito“ is a beefed-up version of the original Pacer.  It has all the STC’s for the following; a Univair conversion to conventional landing gear, an upgrade from 150 to 180 hp via the installation of an O-360 A4A engine, Stewart Wingtip extension and Gap seals in Horizontal and Vertical axis, larger tires via Aero Classic Smooth Tundra, and Peter Aviation Auto Fuel conversion which allows the engine to run on regular gasoline, an important convenience and economical factor.

Winds can be strong in the Country for many days during the winter, particularly because the mountains build-up updrafts, downdrafts, and whirlpools as the day heats up and cools down.   Also, the shores are not far from the base of the mountains creating a clash of masses that is visual from the air in any large mass of water.  The air masses look like small fronts in the surface of the water.  Flying early in the morning is the norm for general aviation.  Many schools start training at 6:00 AM and then break for lunch time and part of the afternoon as safety becomes an issue and the day gets hotter.

There are interesting regulatory differences that I have observed over my flights down there and probably worth sharing.  For starters, all flights require a flight plan, even pattern work.  You contact ground control and they give you the ATIS and a transponder code.  Second protocol is for the pilot to provide the controllers the name of the pilot, passengers, and how many hours of fuel on board.  If the airport has no control tower, you must contact “Coco Radio” on 126.8 (in un-controlled airspace between 3000' and 4500'...for flight following) and provide the above information, then below 3000' you are on open airspace on Unicom 123.0 self-announcing and looking for traffic.  

When it comes to fuel management, the airplane must have an instrument that provides the available fuel or (and this is the interesting condition, OR) any instrument that provides the fuel flow.  Pablo has an FS450 installed and that is his instrument of choice as the reliability on the consumption is excellent and at the same time the fuel gauges become less reliable due to long climbs, descents and turbulence.  I confess, I was a bit nervous seeing the old fuel gauges at empty while enroute. Knowing we had the visual of the fuel during the pre-flight, and ME observing no leaks from the tanks, it was a matter of going back to high school math to understand that we still had enough fuel for the trip.  When it comes to routes and assigned altitudes, there are well established corridors with minimum enroute altitudes.  Thank God we have GPS as the waypoints are now depicted in the box!  Airspaces are few but corridors are the key.  Last, night flight is only approved under IFR rules.

Pablo is an experienced pilot who started in paragliding and power-paragliding.   That has given him a tremendous edge on understanding the winds.  I started to notice his control of the airship in the turbulence we were experiencing moving from the mountains near Pavas airport (MRPV) to a grass strip in the town of Aranjuez (MRAJ), not far from the coast, 100 ft AGL.  Landing in Aranjuez is an awesome experience; complete grass strip surrounded by palm trees and just a few hangars at the end.  After parking, we did a quick post flight check and I noticed that the grass was not your typical grass at the golf course.  This is a thick grass used in the feeding of cattle.  This grass has pros, among them more drag and a more resistant surface.  The cons, this is food, as I noticed that a medium size calf appeared out of nowhere just focused on enjoying breakfast like the runway was his.  Some the locals started to move the beast away from the field. 

At the field you have two schools dedicated to teaching in gyrocopters and there is one skydiving club.  Pilots are encouraged to go to the big kitchen of Mr. Oreamuno, the landlord, where he would treat you for all the food you can eat.  The hospitality is second to none and the “hangar talking” is the norm.

We headed back to the capital circa 9:30 AM due to family obligations and to avoid stronger winds. Winds had already started to pick up.  Updrafts were developing from 3000 AGL as we were entering the valley.  No thunderstorms yet.  We followed one of the corridors and upon approaching Pavas you can notice that the airport is on a cliff.  Thus, Pablo chose to land long on the runway to avoid the turbulence close to the threshold area.  We landed towards the second taxiway and easily exited the runway, yet I could see Pablo working hard demonstrating his crosswind landing skills in a taildragger.  All that training is paying off.

So, what are my conclusions from the flight?  As always, get the right training and use the right equipment for the missions you want to fly and complete.  Pablo’s perseverance in choosing the right training is another lesson on finding smart ways to get our wings for a bargain.  Last, get familiar with other regulations, they are there for a reason.  Understand that reason and use it to raise your safety margins.

Last but not least, Pablo is more than happy to take WVFC members visiting the country for a flight. Feel free to contact him.