Vitaliy Musiyenko and Brian Prince have a project they are working on that requires some Sierra mountain photos and I gave them a hand by going up and spending 3 1/2 hours doing fly-bys of many of the major mountains and climbing peaks of the high Sierra.
While I’m not sure they needed sunrise photos, early light would be good and while we were at it I thought we may as well see the sunrise from the top. So I made plans to just camp at an airport near them and meet at 4:30 am in the morning to start the flight.
I didn’t research the airport very well. They are near Visalia and I picked a smaller airport nearby that maybe would be easier to camp at. What I didn’t realize is that Sequoia Field airport is essential on prison grounds. At least two prisons border the airport and after I landed I saw the sign that said, “FACILITY CLOSED FROM 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM DAILY. It was about 7 pm. I called the sheriff and they said, yeah, hold on, let me talk to someone.
Well, someone showed up. A sheriff deputy said he was to check me out, get my tail number, pilots license, etc. He asked, “So did you just come right in and land, without a flight plan?” I said yes, just came in and landed, and its a public airport on the charts so I was pretty sure no permission is needed. He checked and came back and said yes, they had no jurisdiction over the airport so they were checking to see if I could stay, but I should be aware that come 6:00 am, the airport would be used for prison work-duty.
At this point I was done. I was eating a boxed salad I had brought for dinner and told him once I was finished with my chicken Caesar I would be gone. That wasn’t soon enough as another sheriff’s deputy showed up right after the last one left. They said they were told to check me out. Geesh! They said please wait as they were going up the line to see if I could stay but it was clear now that me and my salad were causing a big problem. I left and took the short flight to Reedley. Whew.
I think what was going on is that it is a public airport that takes funds from the FAA. They can’t really tell me to leave but they really don’t want me there. Heck, once I realized what was going on I didn’t want to be there either, but I should have left right away instead of having dinner.
So Reedley was nice except for the water sprinklers. I was smart enough not to sleep on the little lawn there, but still a growing puddle of water chased me and my sleeping bag across the ramp at 1:00 am. So not the best night of sleep.
We met at 4:30 as planned and it was perfect. We took off and by the time we were over Mt. Whitney the sun was coming up. A magical moment. We then spent several hours flying down canyons and over peaks. I did a lot of cross-control side-ways flying in order to fly along the face of peaks but at the same time keep the wing out of the photo. Luckily it was calm so flying near sheer mountain walls was possible. We did a few power-off wheels-down glides down steep canyons that is always thrilling. It would be even more thrilling if the power didn’t come back up but luckily that hasn’t happened.
The following photos were taken by Brian Prince since I was concentrating on flying. Thanks Brian!