Day one: Denver to Oakland
As we launched out of Centennial Airport at 7:00 am on Monday December 26th, a huge mountain wave cloud sat over the foothills of Denver, waiting to rock our wings and remind us that flying is still a challenge and a feat that is not for the faint of heart. After a clearance for a Rocky 7 departure, Red Table transition, then direct to Oakland, we were told that we would climb to 16,000 feet in our single engine aircraft. It was a tough climb. Airspeed wavered, our bodies bounced and we shot on Westerly course towards Golden, CO. Once we made it through the light turbulence, we were on a smooth path over Colorado’s fourteeners, snow covered ski areas, and the most beautiful pinkish-orange-puruple sunrise.
Winter Park, Aspen, Rifle, Eagle, and the Utah State line passed below us as we cruised at true airspeed of around 190 kts. I stared out the window and watched as smooth and deeply snow-packed Colorado mountains transitioned to jagged mesas with only a dusting. The shadows were deep and the sun was low in the East. The colors were an intensified burnt orange hue, reminiscent of the Fall colors of an Oak tree. Utah felt open and vast, speckled with neon blue lakes that still had patches of floating ice. I searched to find shapes in the formations on the water, much like I search for shapes in the clouds.
Because of our 45-50 knot headwinds, we had to stop for fuel in Nevada. We used our Garmin 1000 to locate a nearby airport with 100LL fuel, which is a bit of a task in this desolate area. We chose Tonopah, a small airport with a 7,000 foot runway. Save the crows flying above, we were the only ones around for miles. We landed smoothly on runway 15 and taxied to a double-wide trailer with a fuel tank outside. Did this place even have running water? John and I nervously laughed as we made our way towards a man in coveralls and work boots. He greeted us with a smile and filled our tanks. Fuel is cheap in Tonopah, NV! We paid around $5.40 a gallon, which would take us to Livermore airport in California. As we left this one horse (one airplane too) town and looked to the South East, we saw what looked to be a storm in the distance. With squinted eyes we saw what looked like the mature stage of a thunderstorm as the anvil of a cumulonimbus cloud arcs to the side before rain pounds the ground below. How could this be? We had blue skies all around… as we lifted of into the air, we found that our eyes had deceived us. A desert mirage appeared as we climbed into the quiet and mysterious Nevada sky.
Our instrument approach into Livermore Airport took us over the Sierra Nevada’s, frigid alpine lakes and windmill farms. The decent was smooth, our landing was on the centerline and our airplane was happy. What more could a pilot hope for? I felt an exciting buzz around the fact that we were here to kick off the start of an adventure.
We met with the crew from A Pilot’s Story, a documentary about the passion of aviation. John’s uncle and cousins were also waiting at Attitude aviation. We looked to familiar faces smiling and waving, as we taxied into the beautiful hangar filled with WWII aircraft and aerobatic planes. Meet and greet, lunch and a short rest and it was time to do the photo-recreation of Amelia’s 1937 flight over Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge.
Here is video from our air to air photoshoot as we cruised as a flight of two, in formation over San Francisco and the bay.
As we cruised over Treasure Island, interacting with the photo ship and cautiously making turns while hitting specific altitude marks and speeds, I couldn’t help but get chills knowing that I was flying in the same spot that Amelia flew 74 years ago.
Amelia surely admired the beauty of this coastal city, she surely watched the barges pass below her shining Lockheed Electra, she undoubtedly skillfully navigated her plane over this town which would eventually become her kick off point for her round the world flight.
Here is the shot we were attempting to recreate:
Here is what we accomplished:
Photographer Robert Capps II and the folks from A Pilot’s Story put together this photo shoot and generously donated their time to making this photo great. (Larger image will be available once final edits are complete)
Pride does not begin to describe how I feel about this photo. From the airspace, the weather, the timing, there were so many variables that could have made this photograph impossible. Instead, it was a safe, accurate, perfectly executed photo shoot that I will remember for the rest of my life. I couldn’t help but tear up a bit as I gazed out the window of the plane, down at the same view that Amelia saw.