Death Valley to Kern Valley to Santa Paula

Catching up Tuesday April 24th 2018:

Airspace around Death Valley consists of, in part, MOA’s (Military Operations Area’s), restricted airspace and military low level training routes. Nellis AFB (Air Force Base), China Lake NAWS (Naval Air Weapons Station) and Edwards AFB aircraft, can be found operating near the area.

With military airspace and fighter jet traffic in mind, it was another pre-dawn awakening. Overnight accommodation had been at the local Stovepipe Wells village hotel.

The BZIM was packed, ready to go by 6am, just as dawn approached. Mountain tops glowing orange in the distance. The cool morning temperatures would make the flying smoother. The military won’t be flying yet too, I hoped.


The BZIM at Stovepipe Wells (L09), Death Valley


Crossing the pass near Pinto Peak, looking west towards Panamint Springs

Departing straight out, runway 23, it was a slow steady climb from Stovepipe’s 25 feet elevation to the 5500 feet needed to pass the first ridge, north of Pinto Peak, eleven miles away. Crossing the ridge, the plan was to descend, towards the desert floor below.

Approaching the MOA’s, I listened to  Joshua Approach, the controlling ATC authority. It  was a surprise -so early in the morning- to hear the the military controller, speaking to obvious military call-signed aircraft. Although only one side of the conversation was heard, a picture was slowly being painted of fast jet aircraft in the area. One jet was given a clearance which included ‘the transition’. The ‘transition’ I took to to mean the infamous ‘Jedi transition’, the name given to an area where military aircraft switch between defined low flying routes. It involves flying through Rainbow Canyon, low and at high speed. This was directly where I had planned to descend towards after the ridge.

External Link to The Jedi Transition images

Instead, the BZIM’s climb continued. Two way radio contact was established with Joshua Approach. I was now happier knowing the military knew I was in the area, but disappointed not to be able to fly Rainbow Canyon myself. The only aircraft seen though, was a civilian Beech 90 King Air, also skirting the R2505 restricted area, in the opposite direction.


Jedi Transition low level military flight training canyon!

Reaching an altitude over 9500 feet, the flying was smooth, calm and the views were simply breathtaking. Snow covered mountains peaks to the west, scorched deserts and mountains everywhere else.


Looking south east


China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station


Inyokern Airport

Stovepipe Wells to Kernville.tif

Skirting R-2505

Rather than fly over the mountains to the west, the western edge of R-2505 was followed south until reaching Walker Pass (5246 feet), near Indian Wells. Here Joshua Approach were thanked for their service and the BZIM descended between the mountains routing to Kern Valley airport (L05).


Stunning approach to Kern Valley


Runway, camping area to the top left near runway, apron and hangers bottom right

Flight time from Stovepipe Wells to Kern Valley was a leisurely 2 hours 19 minutes. Distance flown, 133 miles.


The BZIM at Kern Valley


Kern Valley airport and the BZIM


Looking towards the airport cafe and a friendly welcome

Generosity and kindness, was again, something I would find at Kern Valley. At the cafe, I was welcomed by Shoan and Bea, who cooked up a hearty breakfast. Telling the story of my adventure, Paul Shoemaker, a local pilot, insisted on paying. Paul then offered to drive into town, to get fuel, for my external tank. Although I pressed him to accept payment, Bea told me that I was be wasting my time trying to pay. If Paul wanted to pay, I should let him. Thank you Paul.

Another local “back-country” pilot arrived, asking, why I ended up in Kern Valley.  During research for my trip, I was searching online for airfields that offered “camping under the wing”. Kern Valley promotes this pastime, having a camping area on the airfield, so it featured quickly in search results.  Seeing images of the picturesque airport, Kern Valley airport was always going to be a ‘target’, camping or not.


Stunning backdrop for 1952 Cessna 170B N8326A



I learned there are many small dirt strips dotted around the area, many not marked on any official aviation chart. I had overflown a few, thinking they were private airstrips. As the BZIM had no brakes, I had little thoughts of ‘ticking off’ a few… Perhaps one day.

Fron the airport, many military fighter aircraft were seen to pass to the west of Kern Valley. Here low flying route IR236 begins. Seeing F15’s, F22’s, F18’s descend into the valley, I was glad to have stayed flying high earlier in the morning.

Two hours after my arrival, it was time to say goodbye.  A fly past was aborted after realizing I would have been flying too low and close to workers cutting grass.


Climbing out of the area


looking back towards Kern Valley

My next destination, and stay location for the next few days, was Santa Paula airport.

A new brake cable had been sent from P&M Aviation in the UK, to Santa Paula c/o the airport manager, Rowena. Here I would fit the new cable.

Santa Paula is the home-base of fellow pilot, trike owner and amazing videographer, Henry ‘TrikeLife’ Imagawa.
Henry has been making awesome trike flying videos for years! The airports, scenery and obvious freedom seen in his videos, is a major factor in why I wanted to come to, and fly across the United States.

Henry’s videos are truly inspirational.


follow the road, flying between the hills and mountains, not over!

The flight towards Santa Paula was uneventful. Aware I would now be approaching potentially busier airspace, I chose to stay low, flying between hills and mountains rather than over them. Exiting the hills east of Bakersfield, undulating land was briefly followed by a flat valley. Soon the final mountain range would be weaved, following Interstate 5, avoiding a number of Condor sanctuary areas, where overflight of at least 3000 feet is required.



undulating land


not sure what to think of this!



Interstate 5



Spot the Cessna


Circling Cessna



Fillmore High School football ground

Flown distance from Kern Valley to Santa Paula was 122 miles.
Time taken was two hours twenty one minutes.

Kern to Santa

Santa Paula is only 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Approaching the airport, there was no sign of the coastline in the distance. Haze and low lying clouds were out to the west.

Soon after parking on the transient apron, I was introducing myself and being welcomed by airport manager Rowena. I was offered use of the en-site airport pilot accommodation for my first nights stay. With an added bonus, it included access to a washing machine and drier. Good use was made of both.

Within an hour of landing, Henry TrikeLife arrived. Henry offered a home for the BZIM, along with a place for me to sleep for the second night at Santa Paula, in his hanger.

I briefly met Henry at SunNFun two years previously. My heavy Scottish accent had been difficult for Henry to ‘catch’ first time, but even back then, after telling him of my planned adventure, he gave me a business card. “You contact me and we can fly together”. Here I was, two years later. Henry would soon fly with me as I crossed the Pacific coastline. But not today. Visibility wouldn’t improve until late Wednesday afternoon.

The brake cable was scheduled to arrive “by Friday 27th”, three days away. As is ever the case, a car is a necessity in America. Henry dropped me off at Enterprise, provided me with the keys to his hanger and said he would return Wednesday around midday. Time to relax at the ‘airport hotel’.


Circling Cessna lands at Santa Paula


Piper J3 Cub – N6900H st Santa Paula


Cessna 177 N3171T, Santa Paula

One thought on “Death Valley to Kern Valley to Santa Paula

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