Sunday, 26 May 2013

Trip report: California, Nevada range trip Apr/May-13


Saturday 27-Apr-2013

We'd consciously booked to fly on a new American Boeing 777-300 to JFK and then used miles for JFK-LAX on one of the oldest aircraft, an American Boeing 767-200.

Beep at the gate, and for the first time ever, an upgrade to Business Class.  And very, very nice it was too, being a new product.  Better than BA Club I reckon, seating is 1-2-1.


Having been WeightWatcher points watching for a while and having pre-loaded in the BA lounge at Heathrow as we thought we were down the back and paying for drinks with food to keep one alive, the catering was rather impressive, with US-size portions.  I know one doesn't have to eat everything, but.....


The in flight wifi was free as it's on trial; it worked all the way across the Atlantic, no drop outs.  I was able to amend Katy's website, ask Scotty if he'd survived Jason's stag do in Scotland via Facebook etc.


The flight was on time despite sequestration, which was causing around 15min average delay to flights, thanks to enforced leave imposed on ATC.  Immigration was a different matter though, it took around 90mins to get through, so our choice of connecting flight was sensible, allowing 4 hours or so being a good idea.  Off to the AA lounge, where one can get a shrink-wrapped apple and a packet of nuts, but otherwise it's $$ for food and most drink.

The trip from JFK to LAX on N329AA was interesting in that our route went a way north, dipping into Canada around Niagara Falls.  The business class is basically just a large seat, but we were given hand held DVD players and Bose noise-cancelling headsets so not too bad overall for a 5hr 30min trip.

On arrival, the rental car waiting was a Chevy Equisomething, surprisingly good.  Off to the Renaissance for the night.


Sunday 28-Apr-2013

Forecast was great the night before.  We awoke to sea mist and wondering how the ATC system copes if the US weather forecasting is exactly the same as ours.  Finger in the air to a certain extent.  So they were expecting 82F and clear, visual approaches, but got 70F and overcaset with ILSs.

Thinking we'd pick up breakfast later, we checked out and got as far as the parking garage when Nick threw up.  Thinking it was a temporary thing, we set off for Imperial Hill overlooking the northerly runway as neither of us had been before.  



The tables and chairs were rather impressive.  Just along the street is a 'bark park' which tickled me.  A dog-friendly park.  Nick then needed an emergency trip to the loo, so he was delivered to the Embassy Suites.


The view across LAX once the low clag had lifted.



This reporter was filming a piece to camera, presumably something to do with the Boeing 787 which had been cleared for flight the day before.

Nick seemed to have food poisoning or norovirus but felt fit enough to travel up to Oxnard.  The Rte1 through Malibu was very scenic but Sunday evening beach traffic back into LA was terrible, despite the weather being iffy.

On arrival at the Comfort Inn, the receptionist gave me the address of the hospital, in case I thought Nick needed it.  




I left the patient in bed and pottered off into Oxnard.  Much to my delight I found bottles of London Pride and ESB in a local offy for less than you can get in an off licence in the UK.  


Monday 29-Apr-2013

We started at Point Mugu.  As the weather wasn't great we didn't hang around for too long.  Here's what lives in the Missile Park.












We stopped at a rest area on the Rte14 about 6 miles from Palmdale where the road winds down from altitude to the High Desert.  The rest area has a very nice plaque detailing the history of the 'Aerospace Valley' and provides excellent views.


Not being a Palmdale expert, when N27NG a Beech 1900 of Northrop Grumman arrived (it was at LAX the previous evening), I watched it taxi to an area tot he West of the hangars clearly labelled Northrop-Grumman.  Then the hangar doors opened and a rather large sized, very black, craft was towed out.



Unfortunately, Nick was still not in good shape, so badgering him to get his 800mm lens out wasn't appropriate, so all we have are these screen grabs from my Powershot's video.

It could be a B-2A in some sort of test rig, but it didn't look like a B-2 to me apart from the wings.  It just wasn't the same shape, appeared to have fins and was much higher off the ground.  The cockpit was glinting in the sun (or a reflective cover over the cockpit) and seemed proud of the structure, think F-22 not B-2.  Once N27NG departed around 25 min later, it was pushed back into the hangar.

We carried on north, bypassing Mojave, unaware that Virgin Galactic were doing a launch today.  Incidentally, the Point Mugu ranges were being used for a successful scramjet launch from mothership B-52, but we didn't know that either.  Checking NOTAMs didn't enter our heads.

Nick hadn't had any solids but was still ill, so pit stops at gas stations all the way north were required.  We passed near to California City, Inyokern and China Lake.  Maybe next time we'll stop.





Nick had recovered in the late afternoon sufficiently to spot a Twin Otter descending below the hills near Bishop, CA.  So we set off to find it.






Lovely control tower.  No-one at home though.  Bishop, CA is 'BIH' and has a Thai restaurant in one of the buildings that was, presumably, the terminal.







There was a pilot and 3 crew, after refuelling, they started up and took off heading south.  The Twotter was chokka with kit, I was wondering what the power consumption must be!
Twin Otter International operate for all sorts of customers, here's a link to some of the onboard options  http://www.twinotter.com/aerial.htm




Then on to Tonopah....


Night time in Tonopah.  Nick decided to try some solids in the hotel restaurant opposite our motel.  Then he was up all night.....


Tuesday 30-Apr-2013

....I really didn't think we'd make the trip out to Brainwash Butte which overlooks Tonopah Test Range, but Nick was game, so off we went, following a GPS track we'd used last time visited 3 years ago.



I managed to confuse myself, thinking SIte-4, to the south of TTR was actually the TTR, so spent several minutes observing the wrong place.  Much to our delight, RAT55 came on the scanner with a starting issue and we saw it sitting on the ramp at the northerly end of the apron, the opposite end to the Janet parking area.




RAT (RAdarTest?) 55 is NT-43A 73-1155 with large radar radomes on the nose and tail, famously seen flying with a B-2A in Death Valley many years ago.  In the photo above it is near the tower, taxying to the holding point of runway 32.



RAT55 airborne, it's the white blob above the 14 threshold, departing to the north, to where, who knows, but it didn't come back after 4 hours.  I can't imagine the endurance of a highly modified 737-200 is more than that.

Recuperating on the top of Brainwash Butte

The only suitable hat for sale in Tonopah!

On the way back from Tonopah towards Alamo we popped into Base Camp, but there was nothing to see, so onward to Windmill Ridge.


Wednesday 1-May-2013




Up for 0700 breakfast and a scan around the ranges for early morning Su-27 sorties.  Nothing doing.  We decided to set course for Rachel and on the way, the scanner chatter clearly indicated a test was in progress so we stopped at the Black Mailbox to see what was going on.




A B-2A was doing some very steep manoeuvres overhead Groom Lake and around 0930 when time to go home, the captain said 'it's been a real pleasure working with you guys over the years but this is probably my last time, so thank you' before getting clearance back to Whiteman as DEATH11.




Range traffic included the usual fighter school activities.


The scanner went very quiet early afternoon which suggested either something was going on that we couldn't see and hear or that the booking had been cancelled.  Around 1515, we looked up to see this



This was taken on the second and last circuit.  Callsign DOBBY17 was cleared tactical, goodbye around this time, so perhaps that is the callsign of the F-117A.  

It is very odd that I've seen no photos of F-117A over Groom Lake or anywhere else since our last visit in 2010, but they are clearly still flying.


Thursday 2-May-2013

Again, no early morning Russians.  This was to be the first trip ever where we'd seen none at all.  But again it was so quiet on the scanner that instead of heading south, we headed back to the end of Groom Lake Road to observe.
On the scanner, ELLA66 was cleared STAGE-STYMY-DARLO for a Keyhole 2A arrival.  Janet 737 from Las Vegas, but unusual arrival, previously they'd been cleared for Media Day arrivals which basically means staying high and doing a right base for 32 rather than left.  ELLA66 was then told to hold, then shortly after this was corrected.  JESTER61 was cleared to depart to the northwest VFR climbing to 14500ft and shortly afterwards a large UAV/helicopter type object (around 3/4 size of the Janet 737) was seen turning left off 32.  It's difficult to describe the flight characteristics, but rate of climb vs forward speed suggested it wasn't a conventional aircraft.

We headed south to Nellis and watched for a while by the Speedway.





F-15C of 131FS Massachusetts ANG






Then on to the rest area on Rte 58 which is just to the north of Edwards AFB.  Unfortunately, it turned out that they were landing from the south, so we saw little.



Looking north towards Boron, CA through a Joshua Tree.  Didn't someone think aliens used Boron as fuel?  Or food?  I must re-read the Desert Rat series one day, probably when I'm retired.

And so to Mojave for the evening.  Nick, bless him, had driven today and was feeling so much better he was up for a Mexican.


Mojave has allsorts but of these two BAC1-11s, the right hand one ended it's career as N161NG of Northrop Grumman equipped with a pointy radar nose.  I think it was based on the east coast, maybe Philadelphia or Baltimore.




Mojave Spaceport sounds classy doesn't it.  The hundred or so stored and scrapped aircraft just make it feel like a bit of a mess.  


Friday 3-May-2013

We had a public tour of Edwards AFB arranged.  This involves meeting the tour bus at Century Circle where a YC-15 and a few century series fighters are displayed.









Dennis was the genial host for our Edwards bus tour.  No cameras allowed, so no photos from here.  Dennis was an ATCO in a previous life, with as you'd probably expect after 5000 tours, some pretty bad jokes.  Most of the guests were foreign.

We stopped at the museum initially with both indoor and outdoor exhibits before we drove along the (fairly quiet) flightline.  We were allowed off the bus into the museum restoration hangar which - we were told - was unusual.  

Anyhow, this allowed us an opportunity to 'pet' a real F-117A (783) which was previously displayed at the Blackbird Airpark but had started to decay a bit following removal of the RAM (?).  It looked fairly normal to me except there was something odd about the exhaust area, it looked like they had covered up the exhaust grilles.  I can't remember whether the intakes were the same, but interesting none the less, especially in the context of internet forum discussion of the possibility that they are experimenting with new RAM and cloaking of the intake/exhaust to further reduce signature.  We looked underwing and 783 had the greay star n bar national insignia as displayed on the one seen over Groom two days prior and in 2010.

After Edwards, we headed south to Palmdale and the Blackbird Airpark and next door, the Joe Davis Heritage Museum.  


Not sure whether this F-16 belongs to the Blackbird museum, I guess not.




SR-71A to the left, A-12 to the right






D-21 drone
























We thought that we'd best check out the airfield at USAF Plant 42 Palmdale before returning south to Los Angeles.





Being a Friday afternoon, not surprisingly, the doors were all shut and nothing going on.

The LA traffic heading south was, I thought, 'Friday light' and we arrived at the Embassy Suites in reasonable time.  Nick was now better, so we went off to find a curry house that we'd previously spotted on the road to Santa Monica.  We ordered a starter each, a mistake, that was enough for a whole meal!  But otherwise, most acceptable.


Saturday 4-May-2013

I can't recall why, but we weren't up too early and enjoyed the free breakfast at 0930 before heading for Imperial Hill.  The landing direction was easterly, which made for some nice shots.  It was now that I wished I had brought my SLR after all.









When the runway direction changes as the sea breeze kicked in, we moved to the Inn n Out Burger on the south side of the airport where there were plenty of plane watchers in the small park.






And when we became peckish, rather than opt for the obvious, we went to the Proud Bird restaurant for a late lunch.  Quite an interesting place, loads of memorabilia relating to the black airmen of World War II.



Many of the aircraft are replicas, but all the same, rather pleasant.
Then off to return the car to Mr Avis and homeward bound down the back of an American B777-200.  I slept for 4 hours or more, the kind Nick letting me have the window seat which affords more possibilities for falling asleep semi-vertical.
All in all, a great aviation trip with lots of interesting things seen.  I still feel sorry for Nick, whose norovirus seemed absolutely horrible!

















1 comment:

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