Flying to the A zone

June 5, 2008 by Steven W. Ells, Associate Editor

I’ve always loved baseball. My summers were spent playing whiffle ball/stick bat ball on a ball field I helped build on a nearby vacant lot. In 1960–I was 13–I rode a bus into San Francisco to meet my Dad. He took me to see the SF Giants at Seals Stadium. After the game we went out to left center field–it was allowed in those days–to look over the divot chewed out of the turf by the great Willie Mays. I still love baseball, so once a year I fly up to Oakland and go to an afternoon A’s game like I did yesterday.

The Oakland airport is an ideal airport for baseball-loving flyers. The GA side and the airline side don’t interfere with each other and GA ops are handled efficiently by ATC. My wife was going to go with me but she has a personal minimum of staying out of my Comanche when the winds aloft rise above 20 knots. On Wednesday a cold front had moved east of our location and the winds from a building high were forecast to be 44 knots at 9,000 in the vicinity of Oakland. She opted out so I called Balloon John, the local hot air balloon pilot who wasn’t going to be flying that day and he said he would be glad to go to the game.

I have seen and flown this weather pattern before. My experience told me that I would experience some turbulence during climb and descent to my cruise altitudes but that the ride would be smooth. That’s how it worked out. The winds aloft at my cruise altitude were more like 25 knots.  Ground speeds on the way up hovered around 105 knots so it took a good 1.5 from takeoff at PRB to touchdown at OAK. Visibility was over 50 miles.

Kaiser Air Oakland Jet Center, one of the FBOs at Oakland provides courtesy van service to McAfee Stadium–it’s about a 10 minute ride–for fly-in baseball fans. We took off at 10 a.m., and had just gotten to our seats down at field level behind third base when the first pitch was hurled toward home plate. Green grass, the pitchers mound, the crack of the bat, amazing throws from center field to second base–it was all there in front of me again. Once a year is all it takes.

We left a little early because of the need to get back by 5 p.m. Our going-home ground speeds averaged about 155 knots. Think about this because it’s what I’ve been working toward since I bought this little Comanche over four years ago. I choose to live in the boonies of California because I like wildlife more than crowded cities. But my airplane–which cost no more than an average-priced SUV–permits me to get places and do things that are close to my heart in a timely manner; and without having to slog it out on the battle ground that defines California highways. Yea for airplanes and yea for AOPA for helping us preserve this freedom.

Now if AOPA could do something about the winds aloft when I have a family flight planned, I’d be truly in awe!! 

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