Flying around Los Angeles

While I was in Pasadena on business this week, I rented a Piper Archer at El Monte Airport along with a glider-pilot friend (who sat in the back seat), and went up for 1.4 hours dual with an instructor late Wednesday afternoon.

It was easier getting around L.A. than other big cities because LAX‘s control zone is small, and the surrounding class B has generously high floors. We had no trouble getting VFR flight following for a local sightseeing flight during LAX’s dinnertime rush hour, though SoCal approach didn’t bother calling out most of the traffic we saw.


On the other hand, there was the smog. I’ve experienced the haze around big cities like Toronto or New York, but that did not prepare me for flying in L.A. and Orange counties late in the afternoon.

It was a good VFR day (CAVU for our intents) and from the ground, the sky looked, if not the brightest blue, blue all the same. At 3,500 feet, however, it was a different story — to the west, where the sun reflected off the smog, there was nothing but a wall of white, and I actually had to use the gyros from time to time (depending on our heading). When the smog was a little lower, it looked like a solid cloud layer, even though it was transparent looking up from the ground. I think it topped out around 4,000 feet.


It was a great experience seeing L.A. from the air after spending so much time there on the ground in the late 1990s, consulting for McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing, and I plan to go up again the next time I’m in town. If I had a U.S. license, the FBO would let me rent the Archer without a checkout, based only on 90 days currency on my Warrior — an excellent deal. I don’t know if I have time to get a U.S. courtesy license, but it would be fun to fly up the coast to a different airport.

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5 Responses to Flying around Los Angeles

  1. Blake says:

    Too bad you couldn’t take your warrior down there. Im sure that would be an adventure and a half!

  2. david says:

    Some day — it would be a great way to see a lot of the U.S. along the way.

  3. Dr. J says:

    In medical school, I was in Philadelphia. Now rated the second smoggiest air in the U.S.

    I used to wear sunglasses with a blue tint when I flew! Didn’t help the smog, but I could pretend the skies were blue and I felt better đŸ™‚

  4. david says:

    Dr. J: I flew my Warrior into Philadelphia International in December 2003, but (a) it was winter, and (b) it was IMC, so I didn’t get a good idea of how smoggy it can get in the summer. I think I departed VFR later that week, but I don’t remember that well now. The airport was a good deal at the time: no landing fee, and only $20/night parking at Atlantic (first night free with fuel).

  5. I got introduced to the crazy LA Airspace flying with my late friend Svend, a former flight engineer at Sterling where he was flying Bowing 727. I flew his C172 VFR (We Followed the Road) from Fullerton to French Valley on a typical low visibility LA Sunday. I would not do it by myself without GPS…

    The full story:

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