Hunting airports in the Sacramento Valley: Dead reckoning and turning green

Kermit was right. It’s not easy being green. Especially when you are co-navigator for a precision flying contest and the trip involves one hour and 48 minutes of touch-and-go landings, turns, and hunting airports all over a blustery Sacramento Valley.

Yesterday I helped Mr. T attempt to defend his status as reigning “dead reckoning” champion for his flying group. T defines dead reckoning as “Finding a destination without use of any airborne navigation tools or resources such as GPS or radio navigation.” This means flying by using paper charts and visual cues on the ground, basic skills that any pilot needs, especially those involved with personal aviation.

Mr. T at the controls of the Twin Comanche.

The contest involved searching for a series of itty bitty airports and out of the way landing strips, and either completing a “touch and go” (e.g. briefly touching down before taking off again) or documenting the finding with a photograph. The complex part? Submitting in advance a detailed flight plan with wind adjustments and estimates about precisely how much fuel would be burned and exactly how many minutes it would take. And then flying the route accurately, of course.

The airsick navigator. Sometimes it takes me a bit to find my “air legs” if I
haven’t flown in awhile. Dig that pen-holding cleavage. (ha!)

Even though T and company planned in advance, indeed with a dry run of the course the weekend before and printing out Google Earth satellite images of each airport (I accused them all of cheating and was assured that the tactics were acceptable as they all shared flight prep results freely), those little airports were hard to find!

Not only did I turn “green” (aka get completely and utterly nauseated en route), the lush greenery of Spring proved very effective camouflage. Nestled in foothills and farmland of the Sacramento Valley, teeny airports like to purposefully obscure themselves I think.

See what I mean by perusing the photos below. Can you find the hidden airports? I’ve included some gimmes, and some that are definitely difficult! I think visual navigation is one of the more challenging pilot skills to learn, at least to a directionally-challenged person like me!

1. Warm-up #1. Imagine looking at a landscape and trying to pick out the hidden airport.

Low altitude flying makes for stunning photographs.

2. Warm-up #2. Tell-tale signs of a formal airport include brush clearings and runway markings. Also, planes parked on the ramp are usually a dead giveaway.

Rio Linda Airport, Rio Linda, CA. (Yes, Sacramento natives, Rio Linda has an airport!)

2. Warm-up #3

Lincoln Regional Field/Karl Harder Field, Lincoln, CA.

 3. Can you spot the runway?

Van Dyke Strip, near Pleasant Grove, CA.

 3a. You need eagle eyes!

All over California’s farmland live tiny grass or dirt strips for crop dusters and the like.

4. Can you spot the runway?

Goodman Air Strip

4a. If you stare long enough… Well no, not even then for me.

Goodman Air Strip

5. Can you spot the runway?

Mysterious Valley Airport. Pope Valley, CA.

5a. There it is! 

Mysterious Valley actually boasts two airports. One is just to the right of this damn engine that gets in the way of all of my pictures.

6. Can you spot the runway?

Pope Valley Airport, Pope Valley, CA.

6a. It’s poor form to accidentally land on a road, by the way.

The best part about Spring flying? Gorgeous green vistas like this!

7. A freebie

Nut Tree Airport, Vacaville, CA

8. Can you spot the runway?

Lodi Airpark, Lodi, CA.

8a. Okay this one was kind of easy.

9. Can you spot the runway?

Vetters Sky Ranch Airport, Galt, CA.

9a. I find the farmland strips the hardest to spot. They all look like dirt roads to me!

California farm land makes pretty pictures in the Spring.

10. Can you spot the runway?

Borges-Clarksburg Airport, Clarksburg, CA.

10a. Grass strip!


P/S The verdict is still out on who won yesterday’s contest. T came within two seconds of his time prediction, but slightly underestimated his fuel burn. I shall report back!

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