4 corners page header

Day 4 - 30 July 2007 - The Start of the International World Speed Record Attempts

Monday 30 July was to be a long flight - 1287 miles - all the way up the west coast of the USA starting at Montgomery Field, San Diego, California and finishing at Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. One good thing was that the whole of the flight was in the same time zone and in mid-summer the length of the day increases the further north you go.
The plan was to attempt 12 new FAI Class C1b world speed records on the flight up the west coast as part of an overall attempt to set up to 30 speed records during the 'four corners' flight: The west coast records were:

* San Diego to Vancouver
* Santa Ana to Vancouver
* Los Angeles to Vancouver
* Burbank to Vancouver
* Van Nuys to Vancouver
* San Jose to Vanouver
* San Francisco to Vancouver
* Sacramento to Vancouver
* Chico to Vancouver
* Medford to Vancouver
* Portland to Vancouver
* Seattle to Vancouver

The biggest obstacle to a flight of this nature was the coordination of timing the records in a way which complied with the FAI Sporting Code yet minimised any time loss during the flight. Towered airports were used as start / finish points for all but one of the records, and the exception was at Portland where an enroute waypoint was used as the start to allow the use of the same finish airfield for all the records and still meet the FAI minimum distance requirement for the Portland to Vancouver record.

When Steve was discussing the timing of the San Diego start with the tower chief at Montgomery Field it was mentioned that the infamous 'Marine Layer' might affect the start, particularly as the plan was to depart at daybreak. Steve had experienced the marine layer during his flight training at Montgomery back in 1993, but since then he had gone on to add an instrument rating to his high performance and complex endorsements. To have to depart Montgomery on an instrument flight plan was not a problem and indeed Steve intended to file IFR as much as possible during the speed record attempts. By doing so there would be a detailed record on ATC computers as an additional verification of the route flown and the times overhead the various waypoints.


The night before the flight Steve had reviewed the route and filed an IFR flight plan from Montgomery to the first fuel stop at KOVE (Oroville, CA) north of Sacramento. He then talked to SoCal control, who controlled the airspace from San Diego to north of Los Angeles, to coordinate just what would happen about the timing at the start airports. Steve knew that getting through the complicated Los Angeles airspace, particularly flying up the coast from south to north, might be difficult. Flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) means that the ATC facility controlling the flight is responsible for maintaining safe separation between traffic and 'Goofy' would be treated just the same as an airliner in this respect. But of course Steve's plan was for 'Goofy' to cross overhead each start airport at a low altitude so that the towers could certify the start times. It sounded good in theory but SoCal were not too sure, particularly if Steve wanted to stay on an IFR flight plan!

Los Angeles International Airport (KLAX) was the big problem as Steve had starting points immediately south and north of LAX, at Santa Ana and Santa Monica. IFR routes between these two airports diverted aircraft miles inland to miss LAX and that would add a significant time to the two records from south of Los Angeles. There was, however, a glimmer of hope since there are a limited number of VFR routes directly overhead LAX but these normally did not require any contact with SoCal or other ATC facilities - and of course they were only for use in visual flight conditions, ie: clear of clouds. This might be difficult if the marine layer was present which was more than likely during the early morning. A deal was reached with SoCal - Steve would depart Montgomery on an IFR flight plan which would allow a departure through the marine layer to get above the clouds and in turn could fly directly overhead LAX on a VFR transition route. SoCal would cancel the IFR flight plan for the sector overhead LAX but would provide flight following and report the times overhead the start airfields to the towers. In this way 'Goofy' would be a minimum inconvenience to SoCal’s operations on direct routes between each start airfield, an impossibility under an IFR flight plan, and Steve would benefit from not having to descend and climb at each start airfield.

Dawn broke on the Monday morning with mist swirling around Steve's hotel window, so it was obvious that the marine layer had moved in overnight. What a good thing that Steve had spent time the day before sorting out the routing with SoCal. By the time Steve arrived at Montgomery Field the mist had lifted to reveal a low overcast, lower towards the coast and just lifting further inland to reveal the lower slopes of El Capitan far to the east, ready to catch out the VFR pilot trying to 'scud run' under the low ceiling. As Steve already had an IFR flight plan in the ATC system there would be no delay in departing Montgomery.

Cleared for take off 'Goofy' departed west towards the Pacific where the marine layer was at its lowest and sure enough at less than 500 ft Steve was in the clouds - but how thick would the layer be? With 50 galls of fuel on-board 'Goofy' climbed slowly but steadily through the clouds. What was unusual was that there was no turbulence, and this was a sharp contrast to bouncing about through the billowing clouds on the way around Phoenix just two days earlier! Under two minutes later 'Goofy' popped out into brilliant sunlight, with the sun rising above El Capitan which itself stood out proud above the marine layer.

So far so good, but then came the hand off to the first SoCal controller. Of course he knew nothing of the deal reached the previous day, but at least Steve had included in his IFR flight plan the words "World Record Flight - need overhead . . . " and then listed the start airports. Sure enough the remarks were there for the controller to see but he had no idea on how Steve was to get directly overhead LAX. At least Steve was flying on an IFR flight plan so the controller was responsible for vectoring Steve to overhead John Wayne Orange County airport at Santa Ana. This busy airport is just south of Disneyland so perhaps 'Goofy' would be flying directly over the Magic Kingdom which was under Steve's route from Santa Ana to LAX. The clouds magically cleared when 'Goofy' was overhead Santa Ana, but not enough to spot the Magic Kingdom!

Eventually Steve was able to negotiate a route overhead LAX, with the proviso that 'Goofy' would have to descend from the 4500 ft level required to go VFR overhead LAX once past Santa Monica to stay clear of IFR traffic arriving into LAX from the north east. This might be a problem as the cloud tops were now lifting as the sun warmed the air, but there was always the option of a local IFR clearance across Burbank and Van Nuys.

Overhead John Wayne airport Steve glimpsed the runway through the clouds and recorded the passing with his digital camera to prove he had been there. Next it was a turn to the north west, then north directly overhead the two sets of double runways at LAX. Still the clouds stopped a view of what would have been a spectacular over-flight of this very busy airport. Onwards to Santa Monica airport, the starting point for the Los Angeles record, with just a tantalising glimpse of the runway. SoCal ordered a descent to 2500 ft to cross overhead Burbank which meant a transfer from SoCal to Burbank tower and having to explain just what was needed for both Burbank and the ever so close Van Nuys airports. Handed quickly from tower to tower Steve did a sharp turn to the west and over Van Nuys, then a turn northwards heading for San Francisco.

The downside about coming down to 2500 ft over Burbank and Van Nuys was that now Steve had to put 'Goofy' in a steep climb to clear the 4008 ft 'Mountain Peak' mountain and the 3747 ft high towers west of Santa Clarita, which are both so close to Van Nuys. Heavily laden 'Goofy' was climbing steadily, but when mountain peaks loom ahead the climb never seems steep enough! Still more climbing was needed to clear the 8040 ft peaks around the Tejon Pass before reaching the wide expanse of the San Joaquin Valley over 7000 ft below. The views from the air were stunning as the sky was so clear once the smog of Los Angeles had been left behind. Mist shrouded the mountain tops and in the distance the first of many forest fires was clearly visible from perhaps 100 miles away.

The two hour flight from Van Nuys to San Francisco went quickly as Steve enjoyed the fabulous views from 'Goofy' with its helicopter style door windows, and of course its high wing configuration. As Steve flew closer to San Francisco he could once again see the marine layer pushing in from the coast. Even as far away as 80 miles south of San Francisco this layer infiltrated inland valleys. Reid Hillview airport, the starting point for the San Jose record, was in the clear as was the close-by San Jose International airport. But the marine layer was still hanging heavy over San Francisco at 10.30 am even though inland there was not a cloud in the sky. Livermore airport, the start for the San Francisco record, was on a direct route from San Jose to Sacramento, the capital city of California and the start of yet another record attempt.

The Sacramento valley sparkled in the sun with large swathes of green fields alongside the winding waterways heading seaward to San Francisco Bay. Sacramento International is set to the north west of the city with two long and widely separated runways clearly visible from many miles away. Here, as had been the case at Reid Hillview and Livermore airports, 'Goofy' was allowed to stay at 8000 ft with NorCal approach controllers relaying the overhead times to the respective tower. The further north Steve flew the clearer the air and the first fuel stop at Oroville was quickly in sight after Sacramento. Here, when he landed, Steve found 'Goofy' had fuel to spare such was the economy and speed of the GlaStar flying at 8000 ft.

Full tanks at 50 galls meant 'Goofy' could fly for almost 8 hours at altitude and still cruise at around 150 mph so with a likely flight time of a little over 5 hours remaining there would be no need for a second fuel stop near Portland. Only if there had been strong headwinds would this stop have been needed and well over 30 minutes would be saved increasing the overall speed of the records. Oroville was a quick and easy fuel stop and fortunately the speed of 'Goofy' in the descent from altitude rapidly overtook a Cessna C152 ahead and inbound to Oroville for fuel.

After a fast turnaround Steve headed north towards the mountains of Oregon, but first there was a final record to start from California, at Chico where an air museum was founded back in 2004 - http://www.chicoairmuseum.org - not that Steve had time to stop, or for that matter could see the museum from 10000 ft overhead the airport! The terrain started to rise as 'Goofy' headed towards the border with Oregon and soon Steve climbed to 12000 ft where the winds were favourable and the economy outstanding. Even at 12000 ft NorCal wanted to divert 'Goofy' way off the direct track to avoid the 14162 ft high Mt Shasta, so Steve cancelled his IFR flight plan and flew VFR with flight following. Not having to divert meant a spectacular view of Mt Shasta which, with 'Goofy' at 12000 ft, seemed to drift by ever so slowly right at Steve's eye level.

Two records were planned from Oregon, the first starting at Medford Rogue Valley airport and the second from Portland, the capital city of Oregon. Flying at 12000 ft gave Steve a fantastic panoramic view. He could see almost the Pacific to the west and the Cascade Range was to the east. Approaching Medford Steve saw the 9498 ft peak of Mount McLoghlin jutting through the lower level haze. Medford passed quickly below, with cars looking like ants and trucks little bigger. Snow covered peaks dotted the horizon even in late July and the view was even better than Steve had enjoyed two years previously. Last time around Steve had landed at Portland Mulino airport to fly some Young Eagles at an EAA Chapter open day. This time there were records to set so Mulino had to be bypassed even though Steve flew directly over the airport. Mt Hood, at 11239 ft, seemed tiny compared to Mt Shasta, and was directly off Goofy's right wing as Steve passed abeam Portland International airport and started the speed record from Portland.
But even more spectacular sights were to follow as 'Goofy' flew north towards Canada. The view of the three snow covered peaks of Mt Hood, Mt Adams and Mt Rainier standing proud off Goofy's wingtip is a picture Steve will long remember.
Passing into Washington State meant 'Goofy' was nearing the third of the 'four corners' airports, Bellingham International. But first there was another record to start from Boeing Field which houses the world's largest aircraft hangar! Steve had been concerned about getting overhead Boeing Field as he was coming from the south and there was Seattle Tacoma International airport in between. He need not have worried as the word about the world speed record flight must have reached the Seattle controllers as they vectored 'Goofy' directly overhead SeaTac and in turn overhead Boeing Field at 8000 ft. The views were spectacular - first there was Mt Rainier off the right wing, then Seattle city centre ahead, Puget Sound off the left wing, and it was to get even better as the flight continued north into Canada.

The GlaStar kit aircraft is produced at Arlington airport in Washington State and soon 'Goofy' was abeam Arlington where the parts were put together for Steve's kit 10 years earlier. In the meantime Steve's GlaStar has travelled by train across the width of America, has crossed the Atlantic twice (in a container), had flown around the 'four corners' of America in 2005 with Steve becoming the first British pilot to fly a homebuilt aircraft around the 'four corners' of America. Now 'Goofy' is halfway through its second 'four corners' flight, this time setting up to 30 international world speed records. On the last 'four corners' flight Steve visited the GlaStar factory but this time the focus was on setting the world speed records so Arlington was bypassed. The same fate awaited the San Juan Islands, where previously Steve had enjoyed a low level flight around this spectacular natural arena. The view from 8000 ft was truly as spectacular as it had been from 1000 ft two years earlier and while the 10800 ft snow covered peak of Mt Baker passed by to the east, the San Juan Islands and Canada were off to the west.

Bellingham came and went as landing here would have to wait until 'Goofy' had crossed into Canada and reached the finish line for all 12 records at Vancouver, British Columbia. As Steve was on a US domestic flight plan with both the take-off and landing airports in the USA there was no need to bother with customs as long as a landing was not made in Canada. The FAI sporting code specifies various requirements regarding how far a start or finish airfield can be from the city centre involved, and for the Vancouver finish Steve was able to use CYPK, Pitt Meadows, to the south east of Vancouver city. Pitt Meadows is 15 miles north of the Border, but of course in the air there is no visible border although when flying it is clear to see that the Canadians often have different town and field layouts from their American counterparts. Vancouver Approach allowed 'Goofy' to descend to 2500 ft to do a 180 degree turn overhead Pitt Meadows before heading back south to the USA. Pitt Meadows has a name which certainly fits its environment with water meadows meandering alongside the river flowing down from Pitt Lake and the Canadian Rockies just a few miles to the north.

The finish for all 12 records at Pitt Meadows was timed at 23:42:42 hrs zulu, or some 9 hrs 34 mins 42 secs after leaving Montgomery Field at San Diego which gave an average speed for the direct great circle distance between the start and finish airfields of 122.68 mph. This compares with the average speed between Seattle and Vancouver of 146.17 mph during the same flight. Of course the reason is simple - to set the additional 11 world speed records 'Goofy' had to fly a far greater distance than the direct mileage between Montgomery Field and Pitt Meadows, and during the fuel stop at Oroville the clock continued to run increasing the flight time for all records which started south of Oroville.

Steve had another challenge up his sleeve - to land at Blaine Municipal Airport which was right on the border with Canada. Very difficult to find from the air, Blaine's airspace was controlled by Abbotsford Approach. But Abbotsford is in Canada and Blaine is in the USA! The 2400 ft runway certainly made it an interesting landing for 'Goofy', particularly when there was a direct and fluctuating crosswind with high trees on the approach end of the runway. Blaine is scheduled to close later in 2007 so this was perhaps Steve's only opportunity to land at this interesting little airfield - and there was a bonus of cheap fuel.

As Bellingham was only 16 miles south of Blaine, Steve did not bother to file a flight plan for this 6 minute flight. But Steve wondered what the reception might be like at Bellingham after 'Goofy' 'popped' up on radar screens so close to the Canadian border. Fortunately the reception from Bellingham tower was friendly as clearly they had been expecting Goofy's arrival as they were to certify the landing at Bellingham, the third of Steve's 'four corners' airports visited.

Bellingham Fuel Service was most helpful and loaned Steve their crew car overnight. Having visited Bellingham before, Steve knew just where to go for a tasty wild Pacific salmon dinner. Here, right on the waterfront, he watched a spectacular sunset whilst dining outside in the warm summer evening air.

View gallery