By Eric McCarthy
Climbing out of Palomar (KCRQ) on the Alpha North departure, we remained relatively low as we turned north over the coastline. Cleared to change frequencies, we contacted SoCal Approach and requested VFR Flight Following for our photo mission in the LA Basin. We had several sites to photograph, the most challenging of which would be a site just south of downtown Los Angeles. I knew we’d be handed off a few times before we got to our sites, so I made sure they knew we had several sites but focused on the first and second when describing our intentions.
I’m happy to provide detailed descriptions of our proposed routing, but I didn’t want to tie up the frequency unless requested to. I also know from experience that little of my explanation would be passed on to the next controller; they’re busy and primarily want to know where we’re headed on this leg, what altitude we’ll be at over the target, when we’re “on-station,” when we’re done, and where we’re headed next. Much beyond that is superfluous.
As we approached Oceanside, the controller reminded us that R-2503A was active, so we planned our flight to be about two miles off the coast to avoid Camp Pendleton’s traffic. Approaching John Wayne (KSNA), we descended to 1,300’ to remain clear of their Class C airspace. The plan was to fly to Emmy and Eva, the two oil platforms just off the coast north of the Huntington Beach Pier, then fly over the Seal Beach VOR (SLI), and Los Alamitos AAF (KSLI) to the first target.
Upon reaching the oil platforms, SoCal requested that we continue on our “present heading” for traffic, but quickly cleared us to turn on course and transit the Los Alamitos airspace at 1,500’. Our site was about eight miles north of the airport, in an industrial park in the congested Norwalk area. I identified our site a few miles out, and we prepared for the photos. I turned over the controls to my trusty copilot, Jerry, strapped on the Nikon, opened the window, and slid the seat back. A few turns over the target, and we were off to find the LA site.
We had to stay down low to remain clear of the Class Bravo, which started at 2,000’ along our route. ATC called traffic ahead, and we spotted a police helicopter crossing our path 500’ below and a couple of miles in the distance. As we approached downtown Los Angeles, we located our next target site just a few hundred yards from the high-rise buildings towering over the city, their tops reaching to our altitude. The location provided us with a spectacular view of the great skyscrapers of the city and the Hollywood hills beyond.
At our location, the controllers turned LAX traffic from downwind to base directly overhead. We had airliners of all description passing over us as we circled the site, but the most impressive were the big Boeings and Airbuses, like this Emirates Airbus A380, turning base for runway 24R. With a takeoff weight of more than 1.2 million pounds, an overall length of 238 feet, and a wingspan of 261 feet, the double-decker A380 is a big bird, and it looks even bigger when it’s hanging, apparently motionless, a mere 1,500’ over you!