Lunch in Vegas

Since I bought my plane earlier this year, I’ve been itching to really go someplace. I don’t mean a quick jaunt to a nearby locale. I mean a serious trip. Chicago, New York, Mexico, Texas, Alaska. Now that’s a flight. Since my niece Joann recently had her second kid and I hadn’t visited my brother Howard in a while, I decided on Seattle. In retrospect, not the best destination for an easy flight.

A VFR pilot’s license is not much good for flying to the great northwest. An instrument rating is really needed. But I figure I’m not in any hurry, so I’ll just hang out until the weather is decent. I knew it would be a while, but if the current forecast holds it’ll be more than 10 days of solid low clouds up there. My aircraft is not turbocharged, so I’m stuck in the lower 15,000 feet of sky, which is also where most of the serious weather happens.

So out of frustration I decided to take a day off and fly to Las Vegas. One of my best friends from the long lost days of high school just happened to have the day off, so he said he could pick me up from the airport and we’d hang out.

The weather was marginal in the L.A. basin, but once I got through the Banning pass it was clear skies and unlimited visibility. There was also a lot of turbulence, but what do you expect flying through the desert and over mountains? When the wind passes over a mountain, it goes up, and keeps going until it hits something, typically a plane like mine.

Arriving in Las Vegas was a blast. This was my first flight into a Class B airport (Class B airports are the largest ones: O’Hare, LAX, Kennedy, La Guardia, etc.). The final approach path into McCarren International was parallel to the Strip, so I got a bird’s eye view of all the new mega resorts, and was just about at eye level with the top of the Stratosphere.

I parked at Signature Aviation, were all the big private jets go. Yeah, flying into North Las Vegas airport would have been a bit cheaper, but I’m at the point where I’m willing to pay a few dollars more for good service. And man, talk about first class service! They send a van out to lead you to your tiedown space, then they chock the aircraft, give you a ride to the building, and take care of your bags. They refuel, check the oil, and even clean the inside of the plane. There are some fees associated with flying into such a large airport, but they waive them if you refuel. They have a kitchen, a great flight planning room complete with computers, phones, and 19″ screens. Also, they have places to rest, shower, and change, and (my favorite) complimentary cars to use while you’re in town. They even have popcorn and beverages for the taking.

You’d think this would cost a fortune, but it only ran me $60 for the day. In fact, all I paid for was fuel and oil–everything else was free. I think it’s such a good deal for guys like me because the large jets that fly in there and spend tens of thousands of dollars of catering, jet fuel, etc. help cover all the complimentary services we small fry enjoy. I was impressed.

Dereck, the aforementioned high school chum, and I drove down the Strip and I was amazed at how much it’s changed. Major new casinos include Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Paris, and Venetian. They’ve also rebuilt the Sahara from the ground up, and reworked the front of the MGM Grand. Plus, the streets have been revamped. Where there used to be a road, there is none, while new highway interchanges have sprung up like liver spots on an 80 year old woman. They just can’t spend the money fast enough out there. Bugsy Siegel would have been proud.

Dereck and I had a leisurely lunch and talked about old times. Seems that this year, our 10th since graduating from high school, is going to be without a reunion! Sad. But times are changing. My high school isn’t even in the same place where it used to be. They sold the old school and built a new one out in Summerlin. I tried to find out where my old friends were, but he hadn’t talked to any of them in eons.

We had some great times in high school. I’m glad I remember those instead of the bad times. Once, we started an underground newspaper, and we’d break into the school late at night to stuff each issue into everyone’s lockers through the air vents. Dereck and I were questioned by the principal one day. He thought we had to be in on it, but we denied everything and were such good students that no one could really suspect us.

After that, they installed a security system at the school. It took us about 2 minutes to disable it, and we responded by breaking in late at night and building a brick wall in the middle of a hallway. The next day students walked through the school, and when one hallway turned to the left there was supposed to be another 200 foot long hall. Instead, they ran smack into a brick wall painted and textured to look exactly like the rest of the walls. Another time we took a car apart and put it back together in the gym. And, of course, there was the time we burned “89” into the grass in front of the school. Wacky kids, we were.

After Dereck and I had caught up and had some chow, we drove by his place and he showed me his art work and photography. I was especially impressed by a 10′ square paper mache based sculpture called “Alien Abduction”. It was built around the plaster cast of a woman’s body, and had numerous tentacles and other things coming out of it. He had some of his photographic work on exhibit in Las Vegas recently, so I paged through some of that before realizing it was time to hit the road. On the way back to the airport, we ran into traffic as bad as anything in Los Angeles. I guess it comes with the territory.

The flight back was alright. It was much smoother, but flying westbound during sunset is always dicey, because you can’t see as well through the haze. And if the anything you’re trying to see is another plane, it can be hazardous. It beats the hell out of driving though, especially on the way back. In fact, on the return trip the GPS reciever was reporting a ground speed of 170 knots (196 mph) in level flight at 12,500 feet. Normal cruise for the Cherokee is 120 knots (138 mph). I left Las Vegas at 6:30 p.m. and was on the ground in Los Angeles at 7:58 p.m.

Thank God for GPS. The Global Positioning System is a system of about two dozen satellites that circle the earth. The GPS receiver locks on to them and triangulates your position, usually to within 50 feet or so. It’s not something you should fully rely on for navigation, but now that I’ve got one I can’t imagine flying without it. It has a moving map, and shows all airspace, roads, cities, bodies of water, airports, navigational aids, and has a database of every airport and related facility in North America.


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