Flying your general aviation airplane to San Francisco to catch a Giants game can be tricky. Pilots can attempt to wrestle their way into the line of big-airplane traffic at San Francisco International Airport (good luck!), or they can fly to the San Carlos Airport and walk the mile to the local Caltrain station for a quick trip to a station that's only two blocks from AT&T Park. Special trains run on game days.
The San Carlos Airport is located four miles south of San Francisco International Airport. There are other reasons to fly to San Carlos. Some are fascinating and some are zany, but there are attractions near this small airport, perched between U.S. Highway 101 and the waters of the San Francisco Bay.
The San Carlos Airport has one 75-foot-by-2,600-foot runway. Airport manager Mark Larsen says that the airport has recently added overruns to both ends of the runway.
The airport elevation is 5 feet and patterns are flown over the bay — left traffic for Runway 12 and right traffic for Runway 30. Aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds are prohibited from using San Carlos Airport. Prevailing winds usually favor Runway 30.
There is one RNAV (GPS) approach for Runway 30. Not that it will be needed. Contrary to the foggy conditions that are common at many airports located near large bodies of water, Larsen says, "it's very rare that we have a low overcast here."
San Carlos Airport recorded more than 155,000 operations during a recent year — that's an average of 424 a day, and it means that this is one busy little airport. The San Carlos Airport staff has formulated a comprehensive set of operation and safety procedures that are available on the San Carlos Airport Web site. Taking a few minutes to review these procedures is the responsibility of every visiting pilot.
Having alerted pilots to the busy airspace located near San Carlos, I should also acknowledge the excellent service provided by the approach and departure controllers who work the airspace around San Carlos and the south bay. Talk to them — it'll make your bay-area flying safer.
There are two restaurants on the airport. The Sky Kitchen is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's located on the northeast ramp next to transient parking in the administration building. There's also a good pilot supply store and a Hertz car rental location in the administration building.
Izzy's Steak and Chop house (opens daily at 4 p.m.) is located just outside the airport boundary (there's a gate in the fence) at the northwest corner of the airport. There's also a Fairfield Inn located next to Izzy's.
The Hiller Aviation Museum occupies a large building on the west side of the airport and it's certainly worth a visit. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Visitors are treated to an aviation cornucopia including a full-size reproduction of Frederick Marriott's Avitor Hermes, Jr. — a 45-foot-long hydrogen-filled balloon that flew for a mile on its first flight on July 2, 1869, and is cited as the first unmanned airplane to fly in the United States. Significant aviation events from the early days of San Francisco Bay area aviation are prominently featured.
At the other end of the flight spectrum is an authentic Boeing Condor. The Condor flew in the 1980s, had a 201-foot wingspan, was made almost exclusively of carbon fiber, and was capable of staying aloft for up to 80 hours. It was powered by twin 175-horsepower liquid-cooled Teledyne Continental TSOL-300-2 engines. Hiller helicopters, including the XH-44, a helicopter that first flew in 1944 and featured a coaxial-rotating main-rotor-blade design that was years ahead of its time, feature prominently in the museum's floor exhibits.
Other significant exhibits include a wide range of piston engines, including such rarities as a Franklin 4AGTC-199-H3 four cylinder that generated 113 horsepower from 200 cubic inches of displacement, and an engine built in 1909 for the Wright brothers that featured roller tappets, a design feature that has recently been reintroduced by modern piston-engine manufacturers. The museum also has the nose section of a Boeing 747. Visitors can sit in the captain's seat and pretend they're landing a jumbo jet.
Aviation devotees can drive down Highway 101 for a few miles, take the Moffett Field offramp, and spend time learning about America's airships and the details of their West Coast air base at the Moffett Field Museum. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday. Visit the Web site for more details.
The Coyote Point Museum for environmental education is a few miles north of San Carlos in San Mateo. This museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and features more than 150 rescued animals that are native to California.
San Carlos, known as the "City of Good Living," is located in the center of the San Francisco Bay Area, 25 miles south of San Francisco and 25 miles north of San Jose, in the northern end of California's Silicon Valley.
Then there's the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia — that's right, PEZ, the little rectangular candies that seem to exist to lure people into buying the latest zany-looking dispensers that pop out the candies with a quick flick of the thumb. More than 550 of these unique candy dispensers are exhibited. PEZ dispensers have become so familiar that a Seinfeld episode centered on a PEZ dispenser. For more information, visit the Web site.
Of course, San Francisco is a world-renowned tourist destination. All it takes is the slightest curiosity to find at least a week full of fascinating attractions in "The City," which is located just a few miles north of the San Carlos Airport. But that's another story for another day.
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