I Love (touring) LA (from the air)

Hollywood SignCue Randy Newman… I love to take people up in the air so they can see the perspective I enjoy so much. Los Angeles has a lot of great sights from the air. Because flying around LA’s complicated airspace without a plan is a bad idea, I’ve settled on a standard tour that I use when taking friends and visitors up for a flight. It can be adapted based up desired length, conditions, and what the passengers want to see. Although this is written starting and ending at El Monte, it could be easily adapted for most airports in the LA basin.

WARNINGS!

  1. You are ultimately responsible for the flight. This article gives guidelines of what has worked for me, but that’s no guarantee of safety or avoiding problems. Things (airspace, rules, frequencies, etc.) may have changed since this was written.
  2. Get a current terminal area chart (LAX TAC) and become familiar with it.
  3. You need to be able to fly precisely (both position and altitude), while looking for traffic and communicating to do this safely.
  4. To do this flight, you will be flying low over urban areas. If you have a mechanical problem, your options will be very limited. That’s a risk of this flight.
  5. TFRs – make sure you know the Dodger stadium schedule, as this flight would difficult to do without violating the blanket stadium TFR during a game.

I think of my flight in terms of either specific lines I want to follow (like the LAX mini-route or following the 10) or areas with limits (e.g., between the Griffith Observatory and the 10 freeway). You must understand what the limits are, horizontally and vertically as well as knowing who you need to talk to and when.

El Monte – Downtown

Normally runway 19 is in use and I ask for a right cross-wind departure. I follow the 10 freeway, staying on the north side of the freeway unless instructed otherwise. I climb to 2300′. In good visibility, you can already see downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium. I aim between Dodger Stadium (VPLDS) and the main part of downtown. When given a frequency change from El Monte, I’ll tune in the north LA helicopter frequency (123.025) and at least monitor and hopefully make position reports. You’ll notice that the announcements on this frequency are short and a good test of your knowledge of LA geography and landmarks.Downtown LA

I fly at 2200-2300′ MSL. LAX Bravo airspace starts at 2500′, so precision is important. You can fly lower, but will have to stay at least 2000′ laterally from the taller buildings in downtown LA and will have fewer options should anything go wrong. In the area near downtown, you have all the downtown buildings (Staples Center, Disney Hall, LA City Hall, US Bank), USC/Coliseum, Silverlake, Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign. The LAX airspace down to the surface starts very close to the Coliseum, so I recommend using a GPS or a VOR tuned to the LAX 046 radial to ensure you remain north of the LAX surface area. Another option is to ensure you stay north of I-10 – this is the freeway that runs on the south side of downtown and continues west towards Santa Monica.Griffith Observatory

I usually make a circle around downtown, turn north and make a pass by the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory (VPLGP). Be aware of the BUR surface area in this area. If you want to fly right over the Hollywood sign, you can contact Burbank tower on 118.7 for a short transition.

Downtown-WIlshire-Beverly Hills-Santa Monica-Malibu-LAX.

Heading west from the downtown/Hollywood area, Wilshire Blvd is easy to pick out as it has a number of taller buildings along it and runs straight for many miles. You have Park La Brea (easily visible hi-rise apartment complex), the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA and many large mansions in the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills and the areas around. Heading west, be aware that you are getting into an area where jets on a straight in approach to Santa Monica will be descending.La Brea Tarpits

The area of taller buildings to the west is Century City. There are two tall buildings of triangular cross-section that are easy to spot – those are inside of SMO airspace, so call SMO tower well before those or stay well north. If you follow a line from the Griffith Observatory to the Getty Center (VPGTY) you will stay out of SMO’s airspace, but I usually call tower (120.1) and request a transition towards Malibu. I fly south over UCLA, south of the Getty Center and towards the coast and the Pacific Palisades (VPLPP). I usually fly just off the coast and descend a bit for a better view of the coastline and the houses in Malibu. Be aware this is a popular area for flights, so keep your head on a swivel. LAX surface area starts just 2-3 miles off shore, so don’t stray too far. Point Dume (a prominent bit of land that juts out into the ocean) is a good reference – remain north of a line through that. When I’ve seen enough in this area, I turn around, following the coast back east and south and call up SMO tower, asking for the mini-route and plan to fly direct to the SMO VOR

Getty Center

.

Malibu often will have fog and clouds, when other areas are clear. If Malibu is foggy, I just cut that part out and talk directly to SMO tower for the mini-route.

LAX Mini-Route

The LAX mini-route allows you to fly at 2500′ MSL right over LAX. It was originally envisioned to allow pilots to get between SMO to HHR without flying too high or too far around LAX airspace. It is depicted in a special panel on the LAX TAC, so make sure you have that chart.LAX - A380s

From the north, SMO tower coordinates requests for the mini-route; they ask for a ‘destination’, so I normally just say Torrance, as that’s the direction I’m heading. The mini-route will not be available if the clouds or visibility are too low or if winds have LAX landing to the east. When you request the mini-route (and it is available), you will be given a series of instructions you will need to acknowledge – from Malibu, this normally includes a squawk code, instructions to fly direct to SMO VOR  (located at the SW end of the runway) at 2500′, and remain clear of the LAX Bravo until cleared by LAX tower. The SMO controllers seem most concerned that you read back the requirement to remain clear of LAX Bravo until cleared (that makes sense). As you approach the VOR, you usually are instructed again to remain clear of Bravo until cleared, maintain 2500′ and fly direct LMU (Loyola Marymount University – look for the big white LMU letters on a bluff between SMO and LAX) and contact LAX tower on 119.8. You should already have that frequency loaded and ready to flip, as you don’t have much time to contact LAX. The controller you will be talking to at LAX normally handles helicopter requests and should radar identify you and clear you into the LAX bravo. You should already have the SMO 128 radial (and/or SMO-VPLSR on your GPS) for guidance. You are in LAX airspace for a very short time and will often be given a frequency change to Hawthorne tower (121.1) while you are still over the south LAX runways

LAX-Redondo-Palos Verdes-Long Beach

Point Vicente

I tell Hawthorne that I’d like to depart towards King Harbor (VPLKH) and they have me squawk VFR and change frequency. As long as you stay above 2400′, you’ll be above TOA airspace. If you’d like to descend now, you can contact Torrance tower (133.075) for a transition along the coast. As you approach the Palos Verdes peninsula, tune in the Palos Verdes and Long Beach Practice area frequency (121.95) and fly just off shore, listening and making position reports. I use LIMBO intersection as a limit reference – LAX surface area starts there, so don’t go that far off shore. The scenery along Palso Verdes is awesome. At Point Vicente, there’s a lighthouse and then turning the corner, we have Terrenea and Trump National golf courses and several beautiful coves en route.

If you really want to do the full tour, head across the channel at this point for Catalina, but I’ll leave that for now and continue around toward Long Beach. {for a side trip, call TOA tower again and ask for a transition to see the Battleship Iowa and the Vincent Thomas bridge}.

P1030693

As I near Pt Fermin, I call Long Beach tower (119.4) and ask for a transition. For a longer tour, I transition along the shore. For a shorter tour, I transition NE towards the 91/605 interchange (VPLFX) and descend to fly at 2300′ north along the 605 back towards EMT. Either way, I fly towards the Queen Mary for a view, the dome (where the Spruce Goose used to be housed), cruise ships and downtown Long Beach.

Long Beach-Orange County-Disneyland-EL Monte

Anaheim Stadium

Along the shore in this area, we have Los Alamitos bay, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach. The Huntington Beach pier is under SNA airspace, so you’d need to contact SoCal  approach if you want to continue along the shore.

I normally turn inland at Emmy and Eva platforms and head towards Disneyland, but staying just outside John Wayne’s airspace. For reference, use TOZEK->VPLSC as a guide. In order to be legal for the Disneyland TFR, I climb to 3500′ on this leg. [If you’d really like to get a good look at Disneyland, contact SoCal and head for a touch and go at SNA, asking to depart toward EMT afterwards – they’ll vector you right over Disneyland within the TFR.] Along this section, you  have good views of SNA, Mile Square Park, Disneyland, Anaheim Stadium and can usually see Newport Bay well. At this point, I turn back direct El Monte and descend over the Pomona Freeway and contact EMT tower.

Sightseeing Tips

  • You need to keep one eye outside and one eye on the altimeter for most of this flight.
  • I find that most people doing sightseeing tend to fly over a point of interest when you should attempt to fly to the side more. You balance being close with being able to see without banking too steeply.
  • If you have multiple passengers, try to vary having sights on the left and right side of the airplane.
  • If you have a choice, fly so as to have the airplane between the sight and sun. This makes for less glare, and better views and pictures.
  • Try different times of the day. On smoggy days, the morning is usually better visibility. On clear days, try the warm light of a sunset. Mid-day means less chance of having to fly into the sun, but can leave harsh shadows.
  • Slow down. I usually fly at 80-90 kts for most of my sightseeing in a 172 – this is fast enough that you shouldn’t have to fly noticeably nose-high, but slow enough to make it easier to what you want to see.

Cheat Sheet

KEMT tower 121.2
KEMT-VPLDS (<2500′ MSL), remain north of 10
LA N Copter: 123.075
VLPDS-VPLLC (<2500’MSL) N of LAX (113.6) 046R
VPLLC-VPLGP
VPLGP-VPGTY
Contact KSMO tower 120.1 if south of this line < 2700′
VPGTY-VPLPP
VPLPP-BAYST
BAYST-SMO (VOR)
Contact KSMO tower 120.1 for LAX mini-route
SMO-VPLSR (2500′)
LAX Tower 119.8
HHR Tower 121.1
VPLSR-VPLKH
TOA Tower 133.075 if < 2400′
VPLKH-LIMBO (stay east of LIMBO)
Palos Verdes/Long Beach Practice area 121.95
LIMBO-FERMY (follow coast though)
LGB Tower 119.4
FERMY-VPLQM
VPLQM-TOZEK (3500′ follow coast)
TOZEK-VPLSC (3500′)
VPLSC-KEMT
This works out to a 1.5-2 hour tour, assuming flying slower and making some lazy turns when interested.

6 thoughts on “I Love (touring) LA (from the air)

    • Thanks Patrick. I had thought about posting a link of that type – the only caution to those who click through is that you want to follow some lines, want to stay on one side of other lines, and just use others as a guide of the general area.

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