Will [Try to] Fly for Food

A full moon journey to Falcon Field is spoiled by restaurant operating hours.

The idea is simple. Wait until the moon is just about full, then take a sunset flight down to Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ, have dinner at Anzio’s Landing restaurant there, and fly back in the light of the full moon.

We’ve done it many times before in the R22. But now we had two extra seats. We could share the experience with friends.

John and Lorna couldn’t come. Lorna has the cold John had last week and she just wanted to rest up for the trip to Quartzsite the next day. So we asked Stan and his wife Rosemary. They said yes. The plan was to meet us at Wickenburg Airport at 5 PM. I’d left the helicopter out, so it was just a matter of a quick preflight and safety briefing before we loaded up and flew out.

At 4:45, I decided to call Anzio’s, just to make sure we could get a table. The phone rang at least eight times before a machine answered. The short story: Anzio’s was closed that night. It would be open on Sunday nights starting next weekend. Sheesh.

Time for plan B: the restaurant at Scottsdale Airport. Scottsdale is a bit closer, but I don’t particularly care to land at the airport there. For one thing, the tower controllers tend to be very cranky. I think they hate helicopters. Second, they don’t let helicopters park anywhere near the restaurant. So that meant walking a quarter mile or more. But the food at the restaurant there is relatively good and I could deal with cranky controllers. I’d done it plenty of times before. Better make sure they’re open.

The phone rang seven times before a machine answered. They close at 5 PM on Sundays.

Deer Valley and Glendale both have restaurants. But I wasn’t interested in eating at either of those, even if they were open. I wanted a nicer dining experience. Although Sedona is nicer, I wasn’t keen on crossing three mountain ranges in the dark for the return trip. So it looked as if we weren’t flying for food.

Mike called Stan and spoke to Rosemary. They decided on a local restaurant. With the possibility of a flight afterward, I decided.

So we ate at House Berlin, which is one of my favorite restaurants in town. I had the walleye, which was excellent as usual. Mike had the wiener schnitzel. (House Berlin is the only restaurant in town with veal on its menu.) Stan and Rosemary had sauerbraten and pork medallions respectively. Everything looked and tasted great. So at least the dinner portion of our evening was saved.

Afterwards, we headed out to the airport. It was dark, but not completely dark yet — we could still see lightness on the western horizon. The moon was out and nearly full (it fills out in two days), but there were a few clouds up there with it. They were light, thin clouds, the kind the moon could shine through anyway. I used a flashlight to check the fluids and we all climbed in. After starting up and warming up, I made a radio call and we took off into the night.

This was the first time I’d flown a helicopter away from Wickenburg at night. I usually fly back and that’s usually from Falcon Field. So it was extremely odd to head southeast, with the moon shining right into the cockpit. The moon reflected off the water running in the Hassayampa River, making it look like a glowing ribbon below us as we crossed. Once we left the lights of Wickenburg, I followed Grand Avenue and then Carefree Highway. The rough plan was to head out to Deer Valley. I punched it into the GPS so I could aim right for it. At night, Phoenix is a sea of lights and a GPS is a good tool to help find one set of lights among the others.

We saw Lake Pleasant to our left. The moonlight reflected off the water magnificently. We crossed over the dirt track near Pleasant Valley Airport and near the three dirt runways of that darkened field. The moon was lighting up the desert, making it possible to see some of the details of the terrain. But high clouds kept the moon from being really bright, so the experience was not as impressive as it usually is.

Seven miles out of Deer Valley, I called the tower and requested a transition down I-17 to the Loop 101 with a turn there to the west. The transition was approved — Deer Valley was dead quiet — and we agreed on an altitude. By that time, I’d entered the light zone and we were surrounded by light. Instead of the moon illuminating the cockpit, ground lights did the job. I followed my intended route as the controller talked to an inbound Bonanza pilot and a police helicopter that was probably on the south tower frequency. Then we were heading West, away from the airport. The controller approved a frequency change without me even asking. I wished him good night and continued the flight over the Loop 101.

During the whole flight, all of us were talking. Well, to be honest, it was mostly Mike and Stan. Rosemary was very quiet and, for a while, I thought she might be nervous. But the flight was smooth and I was flying about 500 feet higher than I fly in that area during the day, so we weren’t very close to the ground. Nothing to be nervous about, unless she’s just nervous flying at night. I know a lot of pilots who won’t fly at night. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Not only is it depriving the pilot of a wonderful experience, but it’s preventing the pilot from ever getting comfortable flying at night. He’ll never be able to fly at night, even if he has to, if he doesn’t get comfortable doing it.

Of course, I cheat. Most of my night flights are with a full moon providing plenty of illumination. The horizon is easy to see and there are usually at least some ground lights for reference. I’d have to have either poor vision or a bad brain to lose track of which side was up.

We left the lights after Sun City West and headed toward Wickenburg. I didn’t even have to punch it into the GPS. Grand Avenue was to our left and Carefree Highway was ahead of us. I flew over the proving grounds, where cars or trucks were driving around the track in the dark. That’s when I noticed that it wasn’t quite as clear as it had been when we left Wickenburg. The clouds had thickened up a bit and there seemed to be some haze down in the valleys. The horizon wasn’t the fine line it usually was.

After Morristown, we followed Grand Avenue back into town. I turned on the runway lights, made a call into the airport, and followed Sols Wash northwest, to avoid flying right over the houses. I was about 300 feet higher than I usually was, so my descent to runway 23 was a bit steep. But it was smooth and before long we were parked on one of the helipads and I was cooling Zero-Mike-Lima down.

We’d been out for about 40 minutes. It had been a nice flight. Stan and Rosemary really seemed to enjoy it.

I left Zero-Mike-Lima out for the night — it was cold and neither Mike nor I had brought a jacket. I’d put it away in the morning. We finished the evening with a drink and more conversation at Stan and Rosemary’s house.

What do you think?