Jack Gageby's Website
First Flight to Las Vegas - May 1968
I received my private pilot ticket in the spring of 1963 and then got married to Janice Vazzana that summer. Marriage stopped my flying for about 5 years, during which a son and daughter were born, and a home was purchased. There was hardly enough money to live on. Certainly no money for flying.
In 1968 with some overtime I started budgeting $12/week for flying. Friend, Matt Halper, was a member of a club at VNY, which I joined. The cost was $15/month fixed fee and $7.50/hour for a Cessna 150, and $12/hour for a Cessna 172. With around 80 hours in my logbook I was flying again.
OK, let’s go the Las Vegas! I had never been more that 150 miles from home base before. Time for an adventure. To get the cost down, I asked our neighbors, Jim and Marge, if they would like to go on an overnighter to Las Vegas. Yes, they would.
We depart early on Saturday in early May, on a beautiful morning. The air is clear and smooth. Our route is from the Van Nuys Airport to the Palmdale VOR, to the Daggett VOR and then direct to Las Vegas (the Las Vegas VOR being on McCarran Field). I had never talked with an approach control before this flight. About 20 miles out from LAS I call Las Vegas Approach Control. He identifies me, and says to descend to 4000. At 4000 feet, rapidly approaching the airport, I wonder what is going to happen next. There are no further instructions until we are directly over the airport. The controller says, “Turn left to enter a left downwind for runway 19R, and contact the Tower.” I’m still at 4000, 1800 feet about the ground!. I call the Tower. Tower says, “Cleared to land.” Well that was easy.
We had a nice evening, attending the Tom Jones show. When Tom Jones began to sing, Marge jumps up and lets out an uncontrollable shriek of sexual excitement. Everyone at our table looked in amazement. Her husband, Jim, wanted to crawl under the table.
Sunday morning comes. I check the weather with the FSS. It is a dust storm in Las Vegas and expected to stay that way all day. The wind is blowing about 40 knots with gusts to 60 knots. The visibility is less than a mile in dust.
It is decided that the wife and neighbors will fly home on TWA. I will stay over night and fly home alone on Monday.
Their TWA flight does not leave until the last afternoon. With nothing to do, we all sit down at a blackjack table. I had no blackjack experience. 4 hours pasted and I was only down $10. I was hooked on blackjack from then on!
Monday at 5 AM I’m awake. The wind is blowing, but only about 20 knots out of the south. The visibility is good. I file a VFR flight plan with FSS. My route of flight is from LAS along Highway 15 to Daggett, direct to Palmdale then to VNY along Highway 14 to the Newhall Pass. The weather briefer says the conditions looks good for a VFR flight to VNY, except for a 30 knot headwind. There was one other thing. It was 2000 foot overcast at Daggett. I asked for the cloud tops at Daggett. He said he didn’t know but I could probably fly over the cloud layer.
At 6 AM I took off and headed south along Highway 15. Approaching the town of Jean there was a cumulus cloud forming. (Jean is near the Nevada-California border). The base of that cumulus was about 9000 feet. There was an updraft of over 1000 feet/minute under that cloud. I just kept the C172 in a level attitude and went up like an elevator. I had never experience this kind of an updraft before.
I level off at 8500, my planned cruising altitude. At Mountain Pass, I fly between two cloud layers. In the pass I turn right, following Highway 15, and head towards the Daggett VOR. The cloud layer above me slopes downward towards Daggett. Out of the pass there is visual contact with the ground. I am forced to descend to stay under that cloud layer above. Flying into the headwind my progress over the ground is a snails pace. The cars and trucks below are going faster than me.
Flying along Highway 15, near Baker, I tune to the Daggett Flight Service Station frequency and listen. The FSS operator says to a CESSNA 150 pilot who is taxiing out for takeoff, “Wind 260 at 35 gusting to 45. It’s a good day for an accident.” I think, “Sure glad I’m not landing at Daggett today!”
Over the Daggett VOR I give a position report to the Daggett FSS. (The Daggett Flight Service Station was closed many years ago). “Daggett Radio, this is Cessna 2728R, over the Daggett VOR, at 05, 6500, on VFR flight plan from LAS to VNY. What is the weather at Palmdale and Van Nuys?”
“Cessna 28R, wx at Palmdale is zero zero in snow showers, you will not be able to proceed VFR beyond Daggett.” I replied, “Roger. I will be landing Daggett. Cessna 28R.”
Wind 35 gusting 45 was a far greater wind speed than I had ever experienced. I rationalized to myself, “The wind is right down the runway. Shouldn’t be too bad.” I approach on a right base entry to Runway 26. The crab angle on the base leg is extreme. On final all seems well. I fly the ship down to the runway at high speed with only 10 degree of flaps. The landing is OK. But then I have a major problem. How do I get off this runway and park this airplane? On the ground airplanes act like a weather vane. I come to an intersecting taxiway. I see some buildings off to the right and decide to taxi toward them.. Luckily the cross taxiway goes off at about a 60 degree angle to the runway. I don’t believe I could have gotten the plane to turn 90 degrees to the runway. The wind is too strong. The best I can do was jam in lots of power and ride heavy on the right brake. I inched my way along this taxiway and make it over to the first bull-dock and am out of the wind.
It never entered by mind that if one landed in real high wind conditions it might not be possible to taxi off the runway. You can figure that at 40 knots a high wing, single engine, Cessna probable cannot be turned 90 degrees to the wind direction. Thirty years later I was monitoring the Fox Tower on a real windy day. The tower reported to an aircraft requesting landing clearance that there was a Cessna on the runway and the pilot of that Cessna was unable to taxi off the runway due to the high wind.
The bull-docks at the Daggett Airport were built during WWII to protect workers from the high westerly winds as they worked on some aircraft for the Russians. There are 3 parallel bull-dock structures. My estimate from memory is that each bull-dock is about 1000 feet long and 50 feet high. They look like ½ of a building. The east side of each bull-dock is open so you can easily move aircraft and machinery into and out of them. They are closed on the west side, to protect from the prevailing west wind.
I walk over to the Flight Service Station to see what was going on with the weather. The FSS room fills up with pilots and passengers coming from Las Vegas. A storm cell is moving in from the west. It blankets Daggett with rain. At an elevation a few hundred feet above the airport the terrain becomes covered with snow. We sit and wait for the cell to move off to the east. The FSS specialist announces to the crowd that there is an overdue Cessna. The overdue Cessna is 2728R. Why that is my airplane! I say, “That’s me!”….”I told you I was on a VFR flight plan to VNY and that I was landing DAG.” The FSS specialist looks me in the eye, “Sir, unless you say the word, CLOSE MY FLIGHT PLAN, we do not close it.” My reply, “Oh…” Another lesson learned.
After about 3 hours the cell moves east of Daggett leaving a blue slot going west toward Fox, Lancaster. All the pilots start their engines and head for Fox. The wind is so strong it takes an hour to get from Daggett to Lancaster. On both sides of the route are towering cumulus to 20,000 feet or more.
Everyone piles into Fox. The terminal building is filled with the same people that were at Daggett. We wait a couple hours and then the cloud tops recede down to maybe 12,000 to 14,000 feet. The high performance aircraft depart flying high over the tops. 28R and I just don’t not have it in us to attempt the cloud tops. I am tired. Very tired.
I called Janice at home in Chatsworth. She drove out to get me. During the drive home, I stare out the window and relive the day’s flying in my mind. It was a great adventure. I love this flying stuff. I couldn’t wait for the next adventure.