It was unusual when I taxied up to the runway and there was only one plane ahead of me and none behind as I did my runup. I figured they'd be a lot of pilots looking to take advantage of today's weekend weather. But it turns out I was ahead of the rush as we departed on a 25 minute flight from Montgomery Field to Palomar Airport.
As I entered Palomar Airport's traffic pattern, the control tower asked me to make a right 360°, meaning they had a lot of planes in the traffic pattern. A standard rate 360° turn takes two minutes. After completing my turn I proceeded downwind for a minute or two when the airport tower asked me to repeat the maneuver. There were some mountains less than a mile to my right and higher than me that I kept an eye on since my navigation system kept giving me terrain alerts.
After my second 360°, the tower controller had me continue downwind a few more miles before turning base to make my final approach. One 360° means the airport traffic pattern is congested, two 360° turns tells me they're very busy. But it all worked out.
Flying HomeFlying back to Montgomery Field was even more congested. The busiest airspaces are designed as Class B, also known as bravo airspace, surrounding the most active airports. San Diego's Lindbergh Field and the Marine Corps' Miramar Air Station, both surrounded by bravo airspace, are eight miles apart. About halfway in between these two airports is my home airport, Montgomery Field. Getting in and out of Montgomery Field, without going through bravo airspace, requires a little finesse. Two alternatives are to ask for a clearance into the bravo airspace or to request an IFR clearance. An IFR clearance is like having a second sets of eyes (air traffic control) looking out for my well being; but it also means I'd have to follow their flying instructions which isn't always the most direct route.
When I reached the outer edge of the bravo airspace, I began orbiting the Del Mar Racetrack as I tuned in air traffic control. It was virtually impossible to get a word in edgewise. The air traffic controller was continually giving instructions to the airlines flying into and out of Lindbergh Field. After a long several minutes there was a pause. I asked for clearance into the bravo airspace and she immediacy said, "Unable." I continued to orbit for a few more minutes, hoping she'd call me back, but that never happened.
I began heading back to Carlsbad so I'd be in a less busy area as I dialed in a new air traffic control frequency and requested an IFR clearance to get me into Montgomery Field. Air traffic control issued me my clearance, gave me a heading to fly, an altitude to climb to, and a new frequency to switch to. It seamed that the air traffic controller and I were the only two people on this frequently. The same was true for the next frequency I switched to. Those were good signs that things were not busy where I was being routed to as I began my approach to Montgomery Field.
As I completed my first 360° the tower cleared me to land where I could see a line of planes, leading to the runway, waiting for their departure clearances. That's when I realized the reason for the congestion at Montgomery Field was due to the fact that the airport has three runways and two were under construction. Usually, the two parallel runways at the airport are in use, simultaneously. With the beautiful weather bringing out private pilots, like me, and every plane vying for the same runway, it made flying a bit more exciting. Unlike driving, flying alway yields new learning experiences.