First Sunday at Santa Paula
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  Need a Winter Break

Seattle has very grey winters.  The temperature is mild, but you can go for days without seeing a blue sky.  What makes it worthwhile to live there is the short summers and the occasional winter day when the sky opens up and you get achingly crystal clear vistas of the snow capped Olympics and Cascades.  But I digress.  VFR-wise, Seattle in the winter stinks.

Normally I'm not the type to be bothered by weeks of gray overcast, but this in late January 2003 I decided I needed a break.  I decided to pay a visit to the First Sunday of the Month open house/flyin at Santa Paula, in southern California.  SoCal in the winter provides a very moderate blue-sky fix, and Santa Paula (SZP) provides a wonderful airport fix.

Santa Paula Airport

Why Santa Paula?  Santa Paula is a little town in Ventura County in the "Heritage Valley" of the Santa Clara river surrounded by citrus groves and a scattering of old oil wells.  The main attraction for me is the airport, which is a historic field down by the river.  The field is a haven for taildraggers, antique restorers, and antique flyers.

The best part about the field is the openness and attitude of the folks that hang out there.  You can walk right out onto the field and say hello.  Most of the hangars are privately owned and the tenants use them as second houses, with many of the hangars full not only of airplanes and parts but also a couch, a set of chairs, a well stocked hangar fridge, and lots of flying stories.

There is a tradition at SZP that on every first Sunday of the month the tenets hold an open-house from mid-morning until mid-afternoon.  Folks drift down in the morning, have breakfast at Logsdon's Restaurant on the field, and then drive out on the ramp (the taxiways are named after famous plane makers, such as Howard Taxiway, Lockheed Taxiway, etc.) to open up the hangar.  Visitors are encouraged to visit the museum hangar, which has a display of the airport and town's history, and to visit the hangars themselves to chat with the owners and look at the planes.

Flightline at Santa Paula First Sunday

On a good weather day you can usually catch Citabria training in action from CP Aviation, perhaps a Pitts or an Extra checkout, and a smattering of one-of-a-kind aircraft mixed in with the usual assortment of Cessnas and Pipers.  It is the kind of field where a radio is not required and the pattern altitude is flown close in at 800 feet.  If you get sloppy and try to fly a "standard" modern pattern you'll get mighty close to the foothills of the mountain ridge south of the field when turning base.

Santa Paula is home to my friend and excellent Bellanca mechanic Dan Torrey of Mobile Aircraft Repair Service (MARS).  He's usually working on some repair up to a complete rebuild of wood-winged Bellancas, and today his hangar was redolent with the smell of aircraft finish dope as he doing a fabric patch.

Pat was there with a Bucker in his hangar, and he's always ready for some hangar flying.  Two Ryans are next door, a PT-22 and an ST in the middle of an annual.  Al Ball, who is probably the most knowledgeable overhauler of Kinner and Menasco engines alive, walks by with his dog and we chat for a while about acquaintances and Kinners.

Down the field I chatted with a fellow restoring a Howard that has a unique extended baggage door for fitting stretcher patients into the back of the airplane.  Later that day I got an email from the fellow who owns the airplane, who is an F/A-18 captain on tour in the US Navy.  He saw my website which has photos of Howards, and wrote to say hello.  It is a small world.

The temperature was mild, about 55, and a brisk breeze picked up throughout the day coming down the valley from the Pacific Ocean about 12 miles west.  It is right down the runway, though, so nobody has any trouble with the wind.  The breeze is fresh and smells just slightly of the ocean.  I daydream of flying my plane here when I can get VFR out of Seattle.  After walking around I just sit down in the little plot of grass in front of the airport office, by the fuel pumps.

A roar kicks up downfield - a nice yellow Stearman is on takeoff.  The pilot picks the tail up and as the plane passed me by it levitates off the pavement. The loud sound of full power radial thunders by.

Stearman on rollout at SZP

A few minutes later the Stearman is on final.  It looks like he's coming down awfully fast from my boresighted perspective, but he flares out at the bottom and plops on a very nice wheel landing with a slight squeal of the tires.  He turns off onto the ramp (it is all one big stretch of pavement) just beyond my spot of grass, and powers up to slowly taxi back to the runway end, weaving back and forth.  Another minute and he goes around again.  There are no touch and goes allowed at SZP on weekends, which is ok with me because it allows more time to look at the planes taxiing by.

All in all, a most relaxing day.

Flying There

If you fly into SZP, be aware of the unusual pattern and pattern entry procedures.  These are documented on the website.  Do not do a straight in.  When landing to the west, join the pattern by staying high over the city, about 1500', and enter on the crosswind leg.  All patterns are to the south and are at 800 feet.  There are no lights.  There is an orange tetrahedron midfield on the south side of the runway.

If you stay in the area, the Ocean Gateway Inn is the closest hotel, about a mile away on the west end of town.  They're reasonably nice and reasonably cheap, but call ahead during the summer months because the place fills up.

If you have a car, you could stay in Oxnard or Ventura, about 12 miles west on the freeway.  These are rather impersonal burb-towns, but they have beaches and some resort attractions of their own, and lots of hotels available.

If you fly in commercially, you could take a puddle jumper into Oxnard, but it is probably easier to fly mainstream airlines into Burbank or LAX and rent a car.  Santa Paula is about 40 miles north and west of Burbank Airport, I-5 past Magic Mountain, then west on 126 towards Fillmore until you see the signs for Santa Paula airport.