West Coast Favorites – So Far!

By Eric McCarthy 

Last time I shared with you some of my favorite New England airfields. There are others, but let’s shift gears and take a look at some that I’ve discovered here in Southern California. I’ve been flying here for about five and a half years, and I fully recognize that I’ve barely scratched the surface when it come to visiting all the great airports the west coast has to offer – but, we’ve got to start somewhere. So here goes:

Santa Paula (KSZP)– Wedged in against a line of mountains to the southeast, Santa Paula is my favorite airport in Southern California. It is such an “alive” airport, full of old hangars and small aircraft of every description. I’ve flown in there a handful of times, and every time there was a busy traffic pattern full of aircraft ranging from Piper Cubs and Cessna 120s, to Decathalons and Swifts, antiques, homebuilts, and of course, more contemporary Pipers, Cessnas, and Beechcrafts. Aeroncas, Navions, Pitts’, and Extras – you name it, you’ll often find them at SZP. Pilots young and old, student and veteran, ply the pattern and ramp, lining up to refuel for another round of touch and goes or an aerobatic training session. In addition to some of the least expensive avgas around, the airport has a nice restaurant overlooking all the activity, and they’ve even got an aviation museum. Despite being non-towered, traffic sorts itself out smoothly, easily accommodating all comers. Once on the ground, open hangars reveal beautiful and pristine antiques and other aircraft in various stages of assembly. There’s a surprise around every corner! Steve McQueen, the King of Cool himself, used to keep his aircraft there in the hangar near the approach end of 22. 

Santa Paula Decathlon.Speaking of runway 22, be aware of the utility lines crossing the approach near the runway – no dragging it in low! There aren’t any glide-slope indicators, but the threshold is displaced to help you over the wires and at 2,700 feet. The runway is plenty long enough for most small aircraft.

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What do You Think?

By Ed Downs

This writer regularly teaches classes for most FAA written exams in addition to flight instruction and conducting special tutoring. Last weekend was no exception, as I taught a two-day IFR program. Yes, aimed at primarily passing the written exam, this class is a bit like taking a drink out of a fire hose. Classes always have a mix of students learning their IFR skills in all imaginable aircraft, ranging from a modest Cessna 150 to a Cessna Citation (really!) with Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) always well represented.  Some students have zero IFR flight training while others are being pounded on by their CFI-I’s to “get the written out of the way,” as they are ready for a check ride. The diversity makes such classes challenging to teach yet fun. This writer started his instrument flying career very modestly, learning in a 1955 Piper Tri Pacer, equipped with a 27 “crystal” transceiver and Narco Super Homer VOR (with whistle-stop tuning!), top- notch equipment back in the day.  As the years passed, advance technology became a part of my world, primarily through air transport aircraft, corporate jets, the most recent GA entries, and even a spacecraft.

Given this background, one of the class attendees caught me on our lunch break and asked an interesting question. This student was planning to purchase a plane, using that plane for IFR training. Budget considerations permit the purchase of a nice used plane with a six pack and upgraded avionics, or perhaps a plane that has already been upgraded to a high tech, flat panel form of display, complete with an integrated database and autopilot. Of course, the latter is more expensive but still a top-end option.  Now came the questions, “Would it be best to learn in the six-pack plane, with good avionics (to be upgraded later), or should I start by learning in a TAA equipped machine?” Good question, eh? What advice would you give?

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A Pacific Island Paradise by Stuart J. Faber

A Pacific Island Paradise 

By Stuart J. Faber 

Have you experienced dreams of a romantic interlude on a Pacific Island? Perhaps you lack the time and resources to travel to Hawaii, Pago Pago or Tahiti. If you are in the vicinity of Southern California, or are in the mood to take a short flight – or even an Amtrak ride – to the San Diego region, I have just the island for you. If you are traveling by car, you won’t have to park the vehicle at the waterfront or drive up a ramp unto a ferry. The island I’m referring to isn’t exactly an island. But it sure feels like one. 

Shelter Island, in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego, is almost an island, so I won’t accuse the city officials of false advertising. Connected to the mainland by a tiny strip of land, this secluded paradise was originally a sandbank in the San Diego Bay – visible only at low tide. In the 1930s, it was constructed to be dry land rising above the tide. Today, it is a colorful collection of eclectic hotels, restaurants, clubs, marinas and public parkland – all within a space of several hundred feet wide and 1.2 miles long.

Shelter Island maintains a 1950s Polynesian ambiance while being home to the region’s major boating center. Marinas, resort hotels, clubs and bayside parks make this area a lazy or lively destination, whatever your choice. You can take a sport-fishing excursion from the island and return with a catch of yellowtail, albacore, halibut, dorado, calico bass or rock fish. The legendary Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn features summer Concerts by the Bay. Jog along the expansive green parks. Your doggie will love the many walkways. At the tip of the island, you can observe the Yokohama Friendship Bell, a large bronze bell that was a gift from the city of Yokohama. 

If you are inflicted with a severe case of island fever, in a matter of minutes, you can hop over to the downtown Gaslamp District and the symptoms will disappear.  We headed for Little Italy and visited one of San Diego’s premiere, and in my view, the best new restaurant in town: 

Born and Raised, 1909 India Street, San Diego 92101, 619/202-4577,

This place has its own butcher shop and aging room. Just about any cut of beef is available from a 10-ounce wet-aged flat iron steak to a 22-ounce dry-aged bone-in New York Strip. The slow roasted prime ribs of beef were remarkable. For non-beefeaters, the choices are charcoal roasted chicken, San Diego fresh caught fish of the day, duck a l’orange or seared scallops. For starters, I recommend the shrimp Louie, steakhouse salad or the French onion soup. Sides of crispy potatoes, mushrooms or asparagus were divine. 

Kona Kai Resort & Marina, 1551 Shelter Island Drive, 619/221-8000, San Diego, CA 92106,

Not only is this resort the best place on Shelter Island, it’s my go-to choice for any visit to the San Diego area. What I love about this resort is that we were cuddled up on a small, tranquil island in low-rise accommodations with picturesque harbor views as we looked to the left and an expansive, green parkway as we looked to the right. We felt miles away from the noise and rumble-tumble of the city, yet we were moments away from the Gas Lamp District, Little Italy, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, LegoLand and the USS Midway. 


Guest Accommodations

Kona Kai, a Noble House Resort, has recently undergone a top-to-bottom expansion and refurbishment. The newly designed and renovated 170 guestrooms, plus junior and executive suites, are finished in sparkling California colors of turquoise, yellow and gold with subtle touches of wood trimmings. Guests may select accommodations with views of the marina, the private beach, Coronado Island or the glistening pool area. 

The spacious deluxe guestrooms encompass 360-square-feet of living space plus an outdoor patio. Eight new Coastal Revival Suites and 33 new Endless Summer Suites, designed by Degan and Degan, each 420-luscious-square-feet, highlight the resort’s natural waterfront surroundings. The Revival Suites have double-sided fireplaces and a private balcony. The Endless Summer Suites are outfitted with double-sided fireplaces and vibrant hues of red and orange. Two larger suites each boast 645-square-feet. 

Your pet-friendly accommodations include a private beach, two full-service swimming pools, a 7,000-square-foot Spa, Tiki Bar, pool bar, private adult cabanas, in-room dining, beach fire pits, complimentary internet and more.

Things to Do

Once settled in, you can step outside and immerse yourself in the beauty of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Relaxing poolside, enjoying the views from the private beach or gathering with family and friends around a bonfire are a few ways to get into the mood. If you want to try a few ocean-going vessels, rent one of their watercraft. Enjoy San Diego Bay with a variety of water sport activities ranging from kayaking to stand-up paddle boarding or jet skiing. Saunter down to the only private beach in San Diego for badminton, volleyball, bean-bag toss, sand castle building, bonfires and cabana rentals. Or hop on a beach cruiser and ride around the island on a bike-friendly path. 

When night falls, gather around the fire with family, friends and fellow guests to make s’mores. S’more kits are available for purchase throughout the resort—in your minibar, at Island Boutique or in the nearby fitness center. Your purchase of a Kona Kai S’more Kit supports the local Point Loma Girl Scouts Chapter. On Friday nights, gather by the pool for a family-friendly movie. Cozy blankets, fresh popcorn and juice will be provided. 

As a registered resort guest, you can participate in unlimited complimentary fitness classes taught by certified trainers and instructors. Located in the resort’s impressive fitness studio, three or four classes for all age groups and fitness levels are offered daily. 


By all means, don’t miss Chef Hendrickson’s signature dishes at Vessel Restaurant. This is not your grandparent’s stodgy “formal attire resort” cuisine. Chef creates tantalizing entrees such as sea bass with porcini dust, wild mushrooms and smoked bacon Dijon sauce. I dug in to the thickest and juiciest pork chop I’ve ever tackled. This critter was served with mustard parsley spaetzle, upland cress and caramelized cipollini with a sour cherry glaze. I lurked around the table and sampled starters of a BLT wedge salad and a sumptuous taste of New England clam chowder. I eventually talked a colleague into a hunk of short ribs with marbled potatoes, cippollini onions and baby carrots. Finally, I coveted, and reluctantly shared, my own cauldron of steamed mussels in a broth that was out of this world.

Vessel is also great for lunch, breakfast or brunch. Lobster Benedict, flat iron steak and eggs, fish and chips or fish tacos are sensational and on Sundays, accompanied by live music. 

I almost forgot. Key lime pie for dessert is excellent as is the chocolate lava cake and the crème brûlée.

The restaurant decor is flashy, yet tasteful and relaxing. You will feel comfortable in jeans or your most fancy attire. The atmosphere is indoor-outdoor in feeling with a 360-degree bar as a centerpiece. 

The Spa

SpaTerre offers a variety of luxurious salon and spa services, including nail care, bridal services, massage therapy, facials, body wraps, scrubs and other globally inspired treatments. The 7,020-square-foot facility has custom treatment rooms, a full-service locker area with showers, steam rooms and relaxation areas. One of the most popular treatments is the customized full body exfoliation followed by a milk bath and soak. The heated quartz sand bed, known to generate a deeply affecting warmth, provides the ultimate in physical and mental relaxation.

Meetings, Reunions and Weddings

If you are planning an event such as a pilot’s club intimate get-together or a high-powered corporate event, Kona Kai is an ideal choice. The resort has more than 55,000-square-feet of flexible and diverse function space. More than 13, 000-square-feet of indoor space can accommodate up to 500 of your buddies. There is hardly a better venue for outdoor events. Over 43,000-square-feet of outdoor space, including a private beach and a new outdoor terrace can handle up to 350 folks. If you decide to pop the question and the answer is “yes,” Kona Kai is tailor-made for a Pacific-style wedding. 

Kona Kai Club

You may enjoy this resort so much, you might want to join the Kona Kai Club. For a monthly fee, members can use the resort as a home away from home. Membership includes access to all facilities, unlimited access to the fitness center, two guest passes per month and many more benefits.


I love to fly into San Diego International Airport (KSAN). The prevailing active runway is R27. Descending over the San Diego hills, weaving between the jutting buildings, buzzing past the old El Cortez Hotel has always given me thrills. The experience is reminiscent of the harrowing landings in between the high rises at the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Bay. Most instrument approaches are to Runway 9. I assume that, because of the hills along the Runway 27 approach, there are less obstacles to contend with. Whenever I’ve flown into the field in actual instrument conditions, I’ve been assigned the LOC approach to Runway 27, which in essence, is a back-coarse approach. Another advantage to landing at SAN is its proximity to downtown as well as the island resorts. The field is virtually in the heart of the city. Signature Aviation, 619/298-7704, is the FBO there.

In my recent visits to San Diego, I usually head for Montgomery Field – or what now is known as Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport. (KMYF). Runway 10L/28R is 4,598-feet-long. Runway 10R/28L is 3,401-feet in length. Runway 5/23 is 3,400-feet and is infrequently used. Field elevation is 415 feet above sea level. There are ILS, LOC and RNAV approaches to Runway 28R. Gibbs Flying service, 858/277-0310 is an old-fashion, friendly place with reasonable tie-down and fuel prices. Casa Machado Restaurant, 858/292-4716, is another reason why I prefer KMYF. It’s among the dying breeds of airport cafes. Perched on the airport since the 1970s, they serve an impressive array of authentic Mexican cuisine. 

When the island-hopping mood overtakes you, hop over to Shelter Island. 






Favorite Airports

By Eric McCarthy

I’ve still got a lot of this country to explore, but now that I’ve had a chance to fly on both coasts I thought I’d talk about a couple of my favorite airports – so far! In some cases it’s location, location, location – in other words, just where the airport places you, what’s nearby. In others, it’s the airport itself – the atmosphere, if you will. This may turn into an ongoing thing, and I’d love to hear suggestions from you – I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to visit your favorites, but it’s nice to have a list of recommendations.

Since I spent most of my flying life there, let’s start on the East coast.

To learn more about the mission of the Katama Airfield Trust and to support the preservation of the airfield, please go to the Katama Airflield Trust website: (Photo courtesy Katama Airfiled Trust)First up: Katama Airpark (1B2)– I know I’ve mentioned this one before but it’s really one of my all-time favorites! Katama Airpark on Martha’s Vineyard scores on both points – a great little airport and a fantastic destination. Just a short hop from almost anywhere in southern New England, the airport is located in the southeast corner of the island, just south of the picturesque town of Edgartown. Its offers three well-maintained, grass runways, although in all the times I flew there I only landed on other-than runway 21 once. Runway 21/3 is a 3,700-feet turf runway always maintained in excellent condition. The approach to 21 brings you right over Edgartown Harbor and all the beautiful homes and yachts that line Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. There’s usually some interesting planes parked there, and they’ve got a nice restaurant at the airport that often requires a wait to get in, but the real attraction is what’s nearby: the beach! Upon landing and paying your tiedown fee, you can taxi to a parking area literally across the street from one of the best beaches on the island. And when you’ve had enough surf, sand and sun, walk back to the road and a trolley will take you to Edgartown for shopping and restaurants. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to get to Katama, but it’ll be high on my list when I get back to the Boston area. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer day!

While we’re ‘at sea’ on the East coast, there are a couple of other island airports that make my list: Nantucket Memorial (KACK) and Block Island State (KBID)

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