How can it get any better than flying the famous “bay tour” over San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge with my ex-navy pilot father for Christmas?
The weather had been horrendous for a few weeks, and my dad called and said he couldn’t make the drive up from the bay area for Christmas with my family. In addition, at 82, that is getting to be a pretty long drive and we live in snow country, which makes it even tougher.
I was hoping for a break in the weather to fly down for a visit, although I woke up Christmas eve morning with light snow falling on the deck. However the weather reports in the bay area were much better so I headed down to the airport to get the plane ready. The weather cleared while I preflighted my plane so I called my dad. “It’s on”, I said, “let’s meet at 11:00 at Reid Hillview Airport for a flight”. He didn’t know what I had planned though.
The bay tour has been called one of the most scenic flights in the world. It isn’t published in any formal aeronautical manual, but traffic controllers know what it means when you ask for the “bay tour”. It means they allow you to “tour the bay” up the peninsula above San Jose, Moffett field, San Francisco International airport, downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz and the bay bridge. At one point they allow you to fly straight through the normally impenetrable SF Class B airspace. But you have to be on your game because they transfer you numerous times from controller to controller and they really really want you to do what they say. I did.
I enjoy showing my dad the newest cockpit gadgets like the iPad that holds charts and plates for the entire western US, but I feel guilty at the same time because it is SO easy. My dad flew P2V patrol planes in Alaska patrolling the US / Russia border for Russian submarines during the cold war. But he has admitted that no small part of the time was spent lost in the fog, hoping they didn’t wander too far into Russia to cause an incident. That is because it was SO hard. For example, the navigator would look down at the water to estimate waves and wind drift to apply a correction to what sounded like was a guess anyway at where they were. How could they not get lost? The difference between now and then is difficult to comprehend.
There was no guessing where to go on the bay tour, which is good because if you screw up you could end up in the path of the big jets going into SFO. The weather turned out to be perfect, and the portion over downtown San Francisco and the golden gate bridge was absolutely spectacular.
It was the perfect day.
Merry Christmas, Dad. I love you and thank you for protecting us from those pesky Russian subs.