March 10, 2007

Number One With A Bullet

After the excursion to Maclellan Ex-AFB last month, I just had to see what was just across Sacramento at Mather Ex-AFB, if only to see what the infamous (sorry, unfamous) Mather Jet Center looked like up close and personal. So here I am sitting in the Cirrus 5,000' above Yet Another JABBAS — a beautiful layered red / orange / yellow sky reflected in the sloughs, channels, and rivers of the Delta below me — on an IFR-in-VMC flight to Mather. NorCal asks me to confirm I'm really on a 045 heading; I check and say sure, sounding a little suspicious; he says "must be quite a wind up there… let's try 035", which prompts me to do a quick-and-dirty crosswind calculation. A few minutes later when he says "75T, descend and maintain 4,000, heading 025", I repeat the instructions and then tell him I seem to have a fifty knot quartering headwind (I started to twig earlier — my groundspeed since about Rio Vista has slowly declined to about 115 KIAS while my airspeed stayed about about 140 KIAS). Curiously, reported ground wind speeds are all well below 10 knots, and DUATS didn't forecast any interesting winds aloft here. ATC responds with something like "OK, I'll keep that in mind for the following aircraft…". It still feels unlikely — what am I doing wrong? I never really resolve it, and on the ILS I have a huge crab angle all the way down to about 1,000' AGL, where it slowly reduces to nearly nothing by ground level. Weird. I'm still sure my calculations were off, but on the return journey half an hour later at 6,000' I had a nice groundspeed….

Anyway, as I discovered, there is no Mather Jet Center — or at least not as far as I could see. Which wasn't far — I was too easily distracted by the Army Medevac Blackhawks next to the taxiway and the various larger freight planes in various stages of loading or unloading all around. But hey, it's quite an airport — two long wide runways, lots of apron space, a nice (working) tower staffed by laid-back sounding controllers, and a bunch of interesting planes hanging around on the apron. It's a shame about the state of 22L a little up the runway from the threshhold — bumpy as hell, rutted, greasy and slippery from all the heavies hitting the surface at high speed — but otherwise, not a bad little big airport.

* * *

Earlier, while strolling over to Hayward's "green ramp" to pre-flight the Cirrus, I notice a bunch of people already hanging around the aircraft … students, being instructed on how to preflight it and a bunch of other club planes. The instructor beckons me over to the port wing and shows me a small but marked dent under the wing near the leading edge, ringed with a black circle and some sort of marker pen annotation. He says it's the result of a bullet, made sometime in the last week or two. I say it's just a rock, isn't it? Nah, he says, it's a bullet, and it's been reported. Probably so, I think, especially around here, but it still looks like a rock ding to me, but what would I know? There used to be a rifle range under 27L's left base at Oakland we used to joke about, and Hayward's not exactly the safest of cities, and there used to be all those stories about planes being shot at by the pot farmers in rural Humboldt and Mendocino counties…. I don't know. In any case he just cautions me to look at it after landing again to make sure nothing's got worse. I will, I will (and I do, of course — nothing to report…).