Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina – “26 miles across the sea … “, or so says the song.

Can you say, “California, 50 years ago?” The one constant of the many trips I’ve made to the Airport in the Sky, KAVX, is peace. And quiet. Oh, sure, there’s the occasional sound of airplanes taking off and landing, but when the man-made noise dies, the sound of the island remains. Quiet. A gentle southwesterly breeze carries the aroma of sage. You can’t hear the surf because you’re insulated by 1600 feet vertical distance and a couple of miles horizontal, west – and there’s usually not much surf on the channel side.

You can camp on any number of campgrounds on the island – if you’re of the camping bent. You can take the bus on the winding 45 minute ride into Avalon and stay in any number of small hotels or B&B’s. Or, you can wander into the airport’s DC-3 Restaurant and gift shop and munch on a buffalo burger, buy some souvenirs, and relax.

They still fly a DC-3 out here a couple of times a week – although, more and more, its flights are replaced by a Caravan. More’s the pity. Although they’ve thinned the herd, you can still spy buffalo meandering around the hillsides.

Mostly, though, you can relax.

There’s a landing fee of $25 but you get to pay it in the little tower building that houses a kind soul who takes your money whilst you gaze out on the island, the airport, the ocean, or the bitchin’ photos of airplanes past. It was once served by flying boats and amphibs that flew from the mainland and is part of the island’s charm.

That 26 miles across the sea is from Palos Verdes and, as you look eastward, it seems a whole lot closer than that. Our route from MYF goes over OCN VORTAC, then follows V-208 for 51nm to SXC VORTAC, and a short hop from there to enter the right traffic pattern for Runway 22. 51nm over open ocean can seem a tad intimidating. Even at 10,500 feet, if your engine quit at the midpoint your feet would probably get wet – the closest land is Dana Point and all they have is a little beach and a marina. Gibbs Flying Service rents life vests for a small daily fee, if you’d like that security blanket.

The airport is perched atop a hill and it’s a tad creepy turning base leg with the abrupt drop off to the channel just 1602 feet below. The breeze is almost always from the southwest and that breeze travels all the way across the ocean, climbs up the hills to the southwest, then down the length of the runway and drops down into the channel.

The Runway is 3000 feet long and is uphill from the approach end of 22 to a crest about 2100 feet away, leaving about 900 feet that you don’t see from the end of the runway. Pilots tend to fly higher on final approach because of the downdraft at the end of 22, then, as they start the flare, the last 900 feet of runway drops out of sight and, oftentimes – knowing that there is a steep drop at the southwest end of the field – they jump on their brakes thinking that they’re about to run out of runway. Many is the pilot who’s flattened his tires on the runway, mistakenly thinking the runway is nearly a thousand feet shorter than it really is. There ain’t no repair shop at AVX, so should you flatten your tires, you’d better have a friend with tires who is willing to bring them to you and replace them.

It’s a wonderful flight, even if you’re only going for a buffalo burger and fries. It’s restoring, relaxing, invigorating and peaceful. It always puts a smile on my face and always makes me nostalgic for the California that I never knew, before the freeways and the real estate developers and the politicians turned the mainland into something it should never have become. Oh, well – at least we have Catalina.

Posted in Aviation Stories