I got an email tonight from an Air Force reservist assigned to Vandenberg AFB. It’s about 3.5 hours north of here on the coast.
Vandenberg reminded me of my weirdest airplane flight ever. I was flying to my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Santa Maria, California from San Francisco. I’d spent a few weeks traveling with my pen pal, David. I was 18. This was my first time away from home alone. My first time out west.
I was booked on Hughes Air West, owned by Howard Hughes. He’d recently bought four airlines and merged them. The flight attendant wore one insignia, the pilot another, the coffee cups showed a third.
Look at the photo above. The plane says “Air West,” but the tail still has the Bonanza Airlines logo on it.
This was a milk run: San Francisco-San Jose-Pasa Robles-San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria. I believe the first leg took under ten minutes.
The aircraft was a Fairchild F-27. It’s a prop plane with the wing over the fuselage. I could watch the landing gear extend and retract out my window.
This was exciting. My first commercial jet flight was a few weeks earlier. Now an afternoon of flying!
The route connected small towns. San Luis Obispo actually had “San Luis Obispo” painted on the tarmac. Too small for a sign.
As we approached Santa Maria the pilot informed us there was fog and we’d be putting down at Vandenberg AFB to wait it out.
We landed then stopped on a taxiway. An air force officer came on-board and told us there would be no picture taking.
Vandenberg is the military’s space center. This was the height of the Cold War. I had long hair. Who knows?
We took off again and headed toward Santa Maria. The plane began to descend, making a sweeping downward oval in the sky. We kept losing altitude for what seemed an eternity. With the wing above, I looked down hoping to soon spot Earth.
We couldn’t have been more than a few hundred feet up when we broke out of the clouds. The pilot gunned the engine simultaneously pulling the gear and nose up.
Truck on the runway.
This day is indelibly etched in my mind.