Flying In “Fifi” (Day Three) — Into Palm Springs

Monday I flew in “Fifi” from Camarillo to Palm Springs and shared pictures from the loading, takeoff, and flight over Simi Valley. Yesterday I shared pictures from our trip over the Los Angeles basin.

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Getting to the far east end of the Los Angeles megalopolis we flew south of one of the more odd airports in the area (at least in my somewhat limited experience). The San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) is the former site of Norton Air Force Base, which was decommissioned in the 1990’s.

The plan was (and still is, I guess) to make it a major alternative to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) since LAX is massively overcrowded, at and above capacity, and has very little ability to increase capacity. There are other alternatives for commercial air travel into and out of the Los Angeles area – Burbank, Orange County, Long Beach, and Ontario all have significant commercial services. But they’ve all got their own limitations on growth, so for at least thirty years the politicians have been looking for someplace to have a second, huge, major airport.

There have been plans off and on to put one up in the Lancaster/Palmdale area of the Antelope Valley, and SBD is another attempt to do the same. There is always talk of high-speed rail links to the new proposed site, but none of those plans have ever gotten off the drawing board either. Hell, they can’t even get light rail or the subway to get to LAX! (But that’s a different rant for a different day.) I heard the other day that the biggest growth industry in SoCal was designing NFL stadiums that would never get built. Designing secondary major airports that will never be built must be a close second to that.

Anyway, when I was doing my flight training we flew out to Redlands Airport (REI) one day (just off to the right in this picture). At the time, SBD didn’t have a control tower and anyone landing or taking off had to use the standard procedures for an uncontrolled airfield. The main use of SBD was (and still is) for cargo aircraft. I was warned to watch out for converted DC-10’s and 747’s barreling in and out of there using only VFR procedures, which I still consider to be astonishing. Big planes like that need to be watched over by ATC!

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Then we had company ourselves, a hundred yards or so off the port wing. Not a rogue cargo jet, but a friendly SNJ-5. We were under surveillance, but it had been pre-arranged so that someone could get some high-quality air-to-air photography done. You can see the photographer sitting in the back seat with the canopy cracked open, his camera trained on us.

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We did a couple of big, wide 360° turns out over the Fontana and Colton areas while the SNJ-5 dipped and dove around us to get the pictures they needed. Here we’re just coming up over the Rialto/Miro Airport (L67) at the lower right, before breaking off and heading over the mountains.

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Going through Banning Pass, the San Bernardino Mountains to the north were still showing snow up around Big Bear and the ski resorts there. It may be Southern California, but with many of the peaks up over 10,000′ we have snow and skiing to go along with our sun and surfing. Also, if you notice the land’s a bit “crinkled” here, blame San Andreas. It’s his fault running parallel to our path, left to right through the pass at the bottom of those foothills. One of these days, the bottom half of this picture is going to be about ten feet closer to San Francisco than the top half and there might be just a few unpleasant side effects.

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Running though the Banning Pass pretty regularly are winds, and lots of them. Our ride had been pretty smooth up to this point, but once in the pass we started bouncing around and doing some “interesting” slips and skids occasionally. Coming through the other side, miles after miles of power generating windmills can be seen.

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A number of my fellow passengers were of the opinion that the windmills were ugly as sin and ruining the landscape. I’ve always thought that they were beautiful and graceful, their “lazy” spinning a calming thing to watch.

Of course, in addition to the windmills, there is a LOT of empty out in the desert with a LOT of sun, so solar power farms are springing up everywhere. With the combination of solar on the ground and windmills above, this overstocked pile of empty is producing a bigger and bigger percentage of our energy supply every year, which is a good thing.

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When we got to Palm Springs we did one “show” pass over the runway before pulling into the pattern and landing. I was really impressed with how “Fifi” handles at low speed and low altitudes in banking around the pattern. We’ll often fly like that in a commercial jet, but somehow it’s different with those four huge 18-cylinder radials roaring out there on the wing of a seventy-year-old bomber.

Finally we were on the ground in Palm Springs, with Mt. San Jacinto towering to the south. It was warm in Palm Springs, 92°F, but still nothing like the 107°F daily average and 123°F record high temperatures they have in July and August.

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Yeah, grinning like an idiot again. I have to give so many thanks to the Commemorative Air Force B29 B24 Squadron and the crew of “Fifi” for the opportunity to join them on this flight. Tom Travis and Joe Broker, our pilot and co-pilot, and Don Thurston, our Flight Engineer, gave us the ride of our lives up in the cockpit seats. Gene O’Neal from our SoCal Wing of the CAF, who also serves as a crew member on “Fifi,” is on my Christmas card list forever for helping to get this set up. It was an adventure I’ll never forget.

IMG_7549 smallOf course, after an hour’s ride in a B-29 to get from Camarillo to Palm Springs, it’s a three-hour-plus ride on the SoCal freeways to get from Palm Springs to Camarillo. (I’m not complaining, mind you — I’ve seen it take five-hours-plus.) My thanks as well to Bill O’Neill and his son for ferrying us all back home. It was quieter than in “Fifi” (oh, and thanks to John Knopp for having the sense to bring extra earplugs for the terminally clueless like myself who didn’t think of it) but the conversations were easier to hear.

It was really a great day’s adventure.

2 Comments

Filed under CAF, Flying, Photography

2 responses to “Flying In “Fifi” (Day Three) — Into Palm Springs

  1. Mary Creasey

    Hi–John is quite jealous of you right now…8-)…he’s no longer able to climb into an airplane like this even if we could afford it (which we can’t).Nice pix! — Mary Creasey

    Liked by 1 person

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