This is a follow on story to Around the World. If you feel like you've missed something please read the earlier story.
ATC - Air Traffic Control — The people on the ground who try to keep air traffic flowing and safe
GA - General Aviation — Non-commercial aviation, private planes
CTAF - Common Traffic Advisory Frequency a radio frequency, used by all traffic at an airport without an ATC tower, so that all pilots self announce their location and intentions, so that other pilots can know who is doing what, when.
VFR - Visual Flight Rules Flight using your own eyes and without ATC control.
IFR —Instrument Fight Rules Flight under the direction and control of ATC, used in bad weather and above 18,000 feet, following predetermined routes and procedures
After having been home a few months and recuperated from having gone round the world in my Corsair, a World War II fighter, I started thinking about the Southern route. Many planes transferred from the States to Europe, especially the North African and Southern European Theatre, by flying across the Atlantic from Brazil to Africa. I'd see parts of the world I had missed the first time and avoided a couple places I didn't want to see again.
I looked at the distances from island to island across the South Pacific and realized the Corsair might not make a few of those hops. That might be a problem, running out of gas over the Pacific. I knew I needed a plane with more legs. Over the winter I traded my Corsair for a North American P-51 Mustang. The P-51 was better suited to making the kind of hops I intended. It had been built to fly long distances not to land on carriers and carry thousands of pounds of bombs. The plane was built small and sleek to reduce parasitic drag which make it screaming fast with a cruise of 350 knots. I researched the differences and one thing that stood out was the Mustang had a range of about 2,200 miles, it would allow longer hops with less flying time and to have plenty of fuel reserve.
I did the same upgrades to the Mustang as I had the Corsair, modern avionics, the oxygen system, and I stripped the 50 calibers out and put them in the Mustang.
There were some issues but lady luck was with me and I got the whole thing flight planned ... One thing I did in the planning was to allow more time in the flight plan for staying over at stops. I had learned that several days of long hops left me drained physically and mentally, so I planned in more multiple day stops to let my batteries recharge.
The day I was supposed to leave came up much too quickly. If I hadn't done this once before, I would never have gotten everything done in time. The plane was ready; I had the clearances to the various countries, I had the maps and en route procedures, I was ready as the morning sun was just peeking above the mountains when I started that big Rolls-Royce designed engine. Yes, the US plane had a British engine. The only similar American engine, Allison, was a piece of junk compared to the Packard designed by Rolls engine and the later P-51s were fitted with the Packard built engine. The heavy rumble bounced off the concrete and filled the air as the blue smoke was blown aft by that big paddle propeller. I called into Ground control and got taxi permission from my hanger out to the end of the active runway, 20. The controller cleared me to the end of the active. By the time I got there, the engine oil was heated and everything was reading in the green. I switched the radio to the tower frequency and asked for a straight out departure. I ran up the engine and checked the magnetos, got permission for departure, taxied out to the center of the big concrete runway, applied throttle, and in seconds the Mustang lifted off from the runway and climbed up and away.
I climbed up to 15,500 feet and contacted ATC. Even though I was flying VFR I would be flying through Los Angeles air space on my way to Baja. I asked for Flight Following VFR and was told to squawk 1347. I know that seems high for a prop plane but there is a speed limit of 250 knots below 10,000. So if I wanted to cruise efficiently at 350 I had to get above that altitude. I settled back and cruised down that long boring valley. At the southern end of the valley I veered just a little to the west to go through the gap in the mountains where highway I5 cuts through the mountains. That is an easy landmark to follow.
ATC handed me off to LA Approach so I changed frequency and they gave me a new squawk. One of the things I had learned to do was when I got handed off to a new ATC, was to tell them I was a student pilot. That's because the ATC people talk so fast unless you are doing this all the time, you can't follow them. They slow down for student pilots. I read that in the heavies, i.e. commercial jets, the pilot not flying is the one on the radio because it all goes so fast the guy flying can't do the radio and fly the plane. I believe it. And I know the ATC folks have to talk fast especially in the congested space because they have so many planes they have to be bang-bang-bang. But for us poor VFR pilots not used to it, they talk too damn fast. I had to wonder if they really believed a student was flying a Mustang but the girl did slow down when she talked to me.
Once over the mountains I flew out over the big LA basin and stayed at 15,500feet. About 10 minutes later, the ATC came on and asked if I could descend to 5,500 feet. I looked around and didn't see anyone else. But then I thought, why would she ask? Because there are big jets coming from the east and descending into LA? I didn't have any desire to fight with them but I also wanted to maintain my speed. I came back asking for clearance to maintain 350. She said standby and asked me to turn slightly east, which I did. I guess she decided to route me around the heavy rather than have me fly 'too fast.'
I stayed level at 15,500 feet. It was a nice day in LA; you could see the ground through the smog. I got handed off a couple times as I went south. I watched as San Diego slid by to the west and I knew I was flying out of US airspace. I could imagine the lines at the border now that Homeland Insecurity was running things, but there was no immigration control at fifteen thousand feet. It is a funny feeling knowing you are now in a different world. I had learned how different the rules could be. There was a moment of faint unease, but it soon passed and was replaced by the elation of setting off to do something so unusual. How many people had ever done what I was about to do? I crossed the little arm of Baja and set off down the Gulf side. The water was a beautiful pale blue. It was the season for the grey whales to be in the gulf so I kept a look out. I thought I saw a few in the shallow waters and maybe even one breaching, but I was a little high for sightseeing.
La Paz Mexico is a medium sized city, a harbor, on the Gulf of California. The airport is to the southwest. The one thing I didn't like about it is that there was no separation between the big planes and the little planes. They even used the same parking apron. I didn't like the idea of one of those commercial jets running up their engines and flipping my plane onto a wing tip. I made sure it was chained down well when I got out.
Where I trained, there was a former Air Force base that had been turned over to the city. It had a two mile long runway and didn't have a manned control tower anymore. It was perfect for certain kinds of training, like landing practice, flying the plane one foot over the runway and holding it steady. You could do that for two miles.
The thing is, big cargo jets would also use the same runway. I remember once landing and turning off the runway and having a 707 go rumbling by as he landed right behind me. A Cessna feels pretty damn small as a 707 goes screaming by. I hadn't liked it then and didn't much care for it now.
I bedded down the plane, got it fueled, and grabbed a taxi for the city. I had learned to fill up the fuel the night before. By filling the tanks with fuel, you got the air out. Air has water vapor which can come out and drip down into the fuel. Airplane fuel does not mix with water and it can stop an engine. I would never have thought of something like that until I started flying myself. There are a million little things that pilots have to learn.
I didn't know which would be more death defying: a Mexican taxi or a bus. I chose the taxi since it would be faster and therefore I'd be exposed to the grim reaper for less time. The cab dropped me off near the harbor at a nice little hotel. I checked in, took a shower, and grabbed a couple tacos from a stand before joining the locals for the siesta.
I woke for dinner and found a restaurant in the harbor that looked like it specialized in seafood. I ordered fish. It must have been the Baja version of Veracruz, since it was a lot of the same stuff and it was delicious. The waitress also brought cactus. Yep, cactus. I had seen these in small markets before, so I knew it was edible. But it was new to me. I have had lots of strange foods before, eel, octopus, alligator, and horse so I wasn't put off. I asked and the girl showed me how to eat it. It wasn't half bad. I tell you what; it was a hundred times better than some stuff Americans eat like Okra. Ugh. Okra, that's like eating snot. I'd much rather eat cactus.
I turned in early since I had another hop the next day.
.... There is more of this story ...