"ASTREA 2 this is Chick-fil-A tower - you're cleared to land"
Have you ever flown in to a Chick-Fil-A or your favorite fast food restaurant for a sandwich? Well Bill Liniewicz and I did just that one evening in November of 2013. In fact it was the Chick-fil-A on Sports Arena Blvd about a mile north of Lindbergh Field in the Point Loma Area of San Diego.
No we weren't being renegades, of course the landing was approved by our own Public Affairs Division, Chick-fil-A and even the control tower at Lindbergh Field. It was all for a Teddy Bear drive and fundraiser for Children's Hospital.
The event was not even scheduled to kick-off until around 4:30 pm and a weather check showed Lindbergh Field predicting fog & IFR conditions around 6:00 pm. But the event had been several months in the planning stages and involved multiple police departments, possibly an appearance by the Sheriff himself, and of course all the local TV Stations. News releases had been put out publicizing that the Sheriff's helicopter would be there as well.
I called Lindbergh Tower on the phone and advised them what I would be doing, since I would be landing and shutting down, off field within about a mile of the airport. The always helpful the air traffic controller advised me that they expected the field to go "IFR" around 6 pm. I thanked him and told him my plan was to monitor the weather and the moment I saw the fog starting to move in we would bug out and head east back to El Cajon.
Since both Lindbergh Field and the Chick-fil-A are right on the coast, there would be little question on where to watch for the evil fog layer.
While Bill chatted it up with kids and parents about our helicopter and Aviation Unit, I contacted the even organizers and advised them we would most assuredly be departing early.
As expected a fog bank soon became visible to the west. Bill and I turned our attention from answering questions to intensely monitoring the fog, and how fast it was moving, but still trying to be a part of the event- down to the last minute.
It was not long before we could seen the rings of "visible moisture" forming around the street lights in the area. I told Bill it was time to go! We began moving people away from the aircraft as I donned my flight helmet and gloves. I never made it into the pilot's seat before a wall of fog swept over the parking lot. Within seconds the visibility had dropped to about 50'. I'm not sure I had ever seen fog move over an area so quickly. Ugh...I knew our little visit to Chick-fil-A had just turned into a sleep over!
There was not much left to do now except make notifications. No need to rush at this point, I had all night. I got out the old cell phone and notified Lindbergh Tower, the Unit Lieutenant, the Communications Center and SDPD since we were parked in their city. The next question was, who was going to spend the night with the helicopter? If I could not find some willing deputies, it would absolutely be me.
But I had confidence that somewhere on a a department our size I could find a two deputies who would not mind sitting with a helicopter all night in exchange for overtime pay. I had to look no further than the Bomb Squad and my own unit to find a couple of takers. I understand it was a long night of shooing away the homeless and late-night trolls who stopped to gawk at the oddity.
Yeah.... While waiting for relief to arrive Bill and I enjoyed some excellent chicken sandwiches and hot coffee; Thanks Chick-fil-A!
I caught a ride back to the base, and drove home to get some sleep. I expected the fog layer to hang around the next morning until around 10:30 or so, but as quickly as it set in, it cleared up. By early morning the fog had been replaced by a very strong, warm, westerly wind. As I pulled into the parking lot of Chick-fil-A around 8:00 am, the palm trees were bending in the wind and now the early morning risers were trying to figure out why a lone helicopter was setting in the Chick-fil-A parking lot.
Another phone call to Lindbergh Tower to let them know I would be lifting into their Class B airspace and departing east. Being solo & light in the helicopter, with about 30 knot gust on the nose, made doing a high performance take off over the swaying palms and into the wind a beautiful thing.
"ASTREA 2 clearing to the east."
"ASTREA 2 leaving class Bravo airspace - radar services terminated - squawk VFR - frequency change approved- have a good flight."