Club Spotlight: The Flying Particles Help You Leave Your Heart in San Francisco

When Tony Bennet sang, “Above the blue and windy sea, when I come home to you, San Francisco,” he probably wasn’t picturing the view out of a Cessna or Piper. For members of the Flying Particles Flying Club based at Livermore Municipal Airport (LVK) in California, that’s exactly how they see the Bay Area.

“It’s an amazing scenic flight,” Club Member Richard Smith said. “You literally aim the camera out the window and people are like, ‘Oh my God, you’re such an amazing photographer.’”

The Bay Tour is a popular flight for many of the club’s approximately 250 members. “It’s very approachable,” Richard said. “It’s easy to do largely because the NorCal TRACON is super, super accommodating. They’re really awesome.”

Flying Particles

The Flying Particles was founded in 1957 by five employees of the University of California’s Radiation Laboratory, now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They began with a Cub with an hourly rate of $3 wet, and soon expanded to include a Tri-Pacer.

In the beginning the club was a university affiliate and only lab employees and relatives could be members. Over the years those requirements were lessened and eventually the club and university served ties and membership was opened to anyone.

Today the club has grown to about 250 members. The club offers a mixed fleet of eight aircraft that includes a Cessna 152, 172, and two 182s, as well as a Piper Warrior, two Archers, and a Mooney.

The Bay Tour

There are two ways the Flying Particles do the Bay Tour. Members either fly south of the Bay Bridge by going west from Livermore toward the Pacific around the southern part of the Bay and then up past San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or they go north of the Bay Bridge by flying on the east side of the Bay over Oakland.

Richard prefers the northern route. “All the great scenery is in downtown San Francisco – the pier area, Crissy Field, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island,” Richard said. “You get all the scenery for a quarter of the work.”

Club members will fly north from Livermore toward Oakland and NorCal will ask if you want to transition the Oakland Charlie or stay out of it. Richard said it doesn’t make much of a difference because they always give the same instructions whether you go through the Charlie or around it.

“Once you’re past Oakland they say stay east of the 880 Freeway and north of the Bay Bridge,” Richard said. ATC will allow you the freedom to do what you want and they’ll still provide traffic advisories. “When you’re north of the Bay Bridge, you do you. If you want to spin around the Golden Gate Bridge a few times and take pictures, you can. They are super accommodating.”

Southern Route

“When you come from the south, they almost always will have you follow the published VFR FLYWAY charts because there are so many airports there – Palo Alto, Moffett, San Jose, San Carlos, and a couple of others,” Richard said. Departing from Livermore, you call NorCal Approach and they will hand you off to Palo Alto Tower and then to San Carlos Tower. The southern route keeps you below the SFO Bravo, which has a floor of 3,000 feet or 4,000 feet between those airports.

As you get near SFO, ATC will have you follow one of the published transitions – either the Pacifica or Bay Shore Routes, depending on traffic. “It’s not hard to fly,” Richard said. “If you are safety conscious, you’re uncomfortably low for a good part of the flight, flying at 1,100 to 1,500 feet and you’re flying over suburbs.”

If you’re going from Palo Alto to the Golden Gate area, you may get the Bay Shore Transition where you go just west of the Bay Shore Freeway, which is the 101 Freeway on the west side of the Bay.

“Every once in a while, if the controllers are feeling nice, they’ll say do you want to transition over SFO,” Richard said. “You’re 1,400 feet over SFO. It’s a view you don’t always get in a small plane.”

If NorCal is busy, they may vector you over Half Moon Bay Airport (HAF). There is another VFR transition, the Coastline Transition along Route 1. “A lot of times they’ll have you fly that and they’ll also tell you to stay below the Bravo, which I’m not a big fan of because the California coastline is fairly rugged, the water is fairly cold, there aren’t that many good landing spots around there if you have an engine problem,” Richard said.

By contrast, the Bay is shallow. “The water is probably about three to ten feet deep over most of it,” Richard said. “The Bay is as undangerous a landing spot as you’re going to have. The Coast on other side is not the same.”

Around the Golden Gate Bridge the water is a couple hundred feet deep and the currents get a little treacherous. 

While not as picturesque or iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the wharf, there a few notable landmarks to view on the southern route. You can fly over Apple's new building, which is a large circle that looks like a big “O”. It is noted as “building” on the Sectional chart on the 210 radial from San Jose VOR.  “It’s a unique building from the sky", Richard said - " When I've flown the southern route, I usually get a mid-field transition over San Jose (SJC) before heading over to the 'building'."

Another interesting building that is on the chart and visible from the air is the SLAC/Linear Accelerator near the VPDSH VFR waypoint. Built in 1966, the two-mile long building runs underneath I-280 and was the longest building in the U.S. until 1999. The SLAC is part of Stanford University. The campus and stadium are also visible from the air.

If you’re in Northern California and looking for a San Francisco treat, consider taking a sightseeing flight over the city. Whether you are looking down on Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge, or the city skyline, it is sure to create memories to last a lifetime, and the flight is simple.

“The Bay Tour is a lot of fun,” Richard said. “It’s very approachable and it’s easy to do. NorCal is super accommodating and super helpful.”



Flying Particles


Livermore Municipal Airport (LVK)

Livermore, CA



Year formed



1981 Cessna 152 ($80/hr + $8 half day)

1977 Cessna 172N ($120/hr + $11.75 half day)

1974 Cessna 182P ($165/hr + $16.50 half day)

1978 Cessna 182Q ($165/hr + $16.50 half day)

1979 Piper Warrior II ($120/hr + $12.50 half day)

1976 Piper Archer II ($125/hr + $12.50 half day)

1977 Piper Archer II ($125/hr + $12.50 half day)

1985 Mooney M20J ($175/hr + $18.50 half day)

Rates are Tach time, wet

Joining fee


Monthly dues

$80 per month


Approximately 250)





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