The Liberty Gazette
July 24, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The marine layer made its predictable appearance as we joined Red and Marilyn on a morning walk along the northern California beach. It’s part of their morning routine, making the half-mile walk down a dirt road from their home on the airstrip in Fort Bragg, along the shore for a scenic stroll and back again. The temperature rarely climbs past 75 and the mist from crashing waves refreshes sea kelp collectors and beach-going dogs taking their two-leggers for a jog. This foggy, cloudy layer comes in off the ocean and moves up through valleys and canyons of the rugged coastal range of Northern California. That day it was about a thousand feet up and maybe a few hundred feet thick, but dense. Very dense. It doesn’t burn off quickly, but it does break up inland.
Linda: After our relaxing stay with delightful friends we took off to the east with good visibility under the cloud layer. The further we flew up the valleys, the higher the clouds rose and began to fall apart, the bright afternoon sun shining behind us as we climbed out over the mountains north of Sonoma and on to Bakersfield. This was a good place to stop for the night. In the morning we’d go somewhere I’d wanted to go ever since I first heard Mike describe it – Santa Catalina Island, “the island of romance.”
Mike: Climbing above the mountain range between Bakersfield and Los Angeles we crossed it at 7,500 feet, descending back into the haze on the other side, north of the San Fernando Valley. Across the busy and complex airspace surrounding Los Angeles we flew over Los Angeles International itself, over the Palos Verde Peninsula, and then out to sea.
Linda: Mike has landed at the “Airport in the Sky” many times before, often while working as a flight instructor in Long Beach. Perched atop a 1,600-foot mountain with the terrain dropping away on all sides, this runway offers an interesting visual experience. We flew over the island’s isthmus, a narrow strip of land with a natural harbor on each side that separates the northern part of the island from the larger southern part where the runway crowns the rock. Turning south, we entered the traffic pattern and set up for landing. I had been warned that the runway will look a lot shorter than it actually is on short final; because of its slope the western third of the runway isn’t visible. On approach the sight picture is surreal. It looks like you are about to land on a very short aircraft carrier. Because of the rocky edge it is common for pilots to approach the runway too high at first.
Mike: My first flight to Catalina was 35 years ago when I had maybe 75 hours in my logbook. I’d been briefed but the whole picture still took me by surprise then and I had made three landing attempts before I finally figured it all out. That first flight was in a Grumman-American Cheetah like ours. But the only time I had ever stayed on the island was as a camper. This time we were going to spend some time in a place I had long wanted to stay, the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel. Next week we will tell you more about it. Until then, blue skies.