Dual Cross Country


It was a long time coming and after a Saturday cancellation and borderline weather on Sunday the Dual Cross Country is now crossed off the list.

Over the last several weeks there have been a lot of new flight training experiences, all of them good, some of them mildly uncomfortable or disorienting but nothing really outside the context of my past experiences.  Put simply, these new things fit in somewhere.

Presumably, this cross country, which, with the exception of being a bit longer than the other flights of done to another airport (within 25NM) should be the same. Well, that was my first mistake.

Despite all of my meticulous planning, re-planning, cross checking, verifying, paperwork organizing, note taking, even mentally rehearsing each aspect of the flight, when I was officially in the flight….


It wasn’t that bad but wow, I’ve got a lot of little things to work out before these become routine flights.

Saturday was a rainout so I had already re-booked for Sunday. Sunday was “supposed” to be clear but with frontal passage there were going to be some winds. The rain did clear and, the morning brought forth a brilliant blue sky, a gentle breeze, and a cool, crispness of air which makes the green color of the leaves seem out of place.

Flight was at noon though and things were definitely changing. Winds picked up to 330/15 in the air and around 310/12 on the ground.  Clouds rolled in and were scattered or broken at 4500.  Original limits for this flight were to have ceilings of 6-8 thousand and 8 miles of visibility. Scattered 4,500 is not a ceiling but broken is…so, now it was a matter of interpretation. I decided to work up the flight plan and go to the airport. Like a geek, I had filled out the navigation log with all the standard items in advance and photocopied it.  Now, all I had to do was get the wind for the day and fill in that portion of the plan.  The photocopy…would be used for a later date..’cause that’s probably the same flight I will do solo.

I pre-flighted the airplane and all was good.  My CFI was out on a lesson and a little late so I worked on cockpit organization. Watching her come in for landing, the Piper was fully crabbed into the wind.  Cool to watch but…I knew I would have that waiting for me later…which I also thought was cool. I WANT practice on these but definitely like the benefit of a 8000+ hour CFI along for the ride.

We talked about the flight and decided we would fly it at 3,500.  We were right on the limits of the hemispheric rule but still ok. She asked how I thought I would be with the choppy air.  I could only respond that I wouldn’t know until we were up there. Answer: Not my favorite way to fly but not really an issue.  Much easier when I am on the controls though as at least I feel that the bumps are my own fault. 🙂

Route of flight was N94, D->HGR VOR, D->KMRB.  We had 4 checkpoints along the way between 8-16 miles apart.

She asked me to note the time off and then begin tracking time between checkpoints.  She would handle radios. I wanted to do it but right now she said to focus on the flying. Ok. First checkpoint is abeam Shippensburg but still direct HGR.  We had HGR tuned on the Nav 1 and in the GPS flight plan so, from an instrument standpoint all was in order.  Visually, though, even with the wind correction angle and being technically “on course”, I didn’t like the flight path.  I said it was taking us over some terrain which we would normally stay clear of (tough to make an emergency landing on a mountain). She agreed and we diverted a bit to the north and then adjusted the course to re-establish direct HGR.

Visibility was awesome! You could see 20 miles which made things quite easy for visual checkpoint flying. With the winds, we were about 2-3 minutes off the flight plan for the first checkpoint.  While she was asking me for adjusted times between checkpoints, I made the mistake and thought she was also asking me to do the accumulated time. That started the brain overload.  That, and I was getting upset with my inability to hold a good altitude. Got too spoiled flying in calm air.  Gusts would come in and we’d get lifted up a bit…which I would then compound by not adjusting…working on 3-5 other things at the moment! Next thing I know..+300 feet.  Always up, never down which I guess is the better way to err.

We made our checkpoints as planned…although neither of us noted that we passed Greencastle on the wrong side.  The note was to cross I81 at Greencastle but we didn’t specify it precisely enough. That little mistake caused a bigger issue on the way back.

Radio work…I was happy that I heard all the calls intended for us but I was not really getting the frequencies and processing all of the information. Initially I was concerned about my ability to take on this task when in solo but I realized something later on…my CFI was with me and as is typical, during these flights I am flying the plane, adjusting things as she commands, dutifully and hopefully correctly answering questions from her about the flight, position, etc., and, like the good student, trying to anticipate what the next question would be. I let my buffer get totally full and I get behind the plane. It definitely hurts the brain but I love it! I’d rather test my limits with her there than by myself because then I at least know where they are.

The flight itself was not that difficult and, with some better cockpit organization I am actually not worried about doing it solo.

Arrival Martinsburg.  We got cleared for a right base which was new for me (will come in handy for flights to Capital City).  With the cross wind howling, my CFI only advised me of one thing…realize this is an 8815×150 runway so it will look deceptively close. More than twice as long and 3 times as wide as what I practice on. With the extra size, even with the stiff crosswind, and near full rudder deflection, the landing wasn’t too bad. Plenty of room for error. I was a little off center but managed to get it straight and only a small bounce.

Taxied to the FBO, shut down and went inside to talk about that leg and what to do next. 

My grade was Very Good. I complained about the altitude control but she didn’t think it was a major issue.  We talked more about the navigation side of things and ensured we were clear on the checkpoint timing.

We got updated winds and filled out the return leg Nav Log. And of course…the twist…”Oh, on this leg, your Nav 1 radio and GPS will be down.” My original plan had a few checkpoints where I could cross check 2 Nav radios for a more precise position but that was overkill. So, having Nav 1 out was not a problem.  The GPS…well, it would show how much of a tool / crutch it is. I won’t lie…it’s VERY helpful to have that thing running.

Back for the abbreviated pre-flight.

Pre-Flight for Return Trip KMRB-N94

Pre-Flight for Return Trip KMRB-N94

My little plane…all alone at a sleepy MASSIVE airport.

Largest US Airplane

Largest US Airplane

The “other” planes sitting around.  Say hello to the C5 Galaxy. I am sure these take Wake Turbulence to a whole new level.

Flight back was equally bumpy and, with the “radio problems” a little more difficult. The main problem was, not associated with the navigation per se… In my mind, I knew where I was and I believed on course visually.  I was NOT flying the plan though and it led me to miss a city (well, not miss it but fail to identify it).  It was not from a lack of helping “prompts” from my CFI..”which city is that below us?” What’s that airport? What major road runs through it. I just blew it.

Major lesson learned on de-brief….Don’t try to make what you see outside the plane fit to what you expect it to be on the map. As soon as you see something that doesn’t fit, you need to quickly adjust your search. On a day like today with high visibility, it was no issue but I can see where this could get one in trouble when the visibility is equal to or slightly less than your checkpoint distances.

How coincidental…I just came by this.  Same situation…wonder who his CFI was???

I thought through the chain of events this morning and sent an email to my CFI.  It wasn’t an excuse but my explanation.  She did not require this…but I did.

Of course, I’ve been thinking through the flight yesterday and “going through the tapes” on Cloud Ahoy. I wanted to dig into why I missed Greencastle.

So, what I’ve found is not an excuse because I clearly got a little disoriented on the way back but an explanation which was based on a chain of events started on the N94-KMRB leg.
As soon as we made our first turn towards HGR VOR off of Carlisle, I made the comment that our flight path on the calculated magnetic heading was looking to take us over the terrain and that wasn’t desirable.  You agreed and we diverted a bit towards the North to stay clear of the terrain and still track direct inbound on the VOR.  On that new route, the checkpoints were still essentially the same and considered accurate although I noticed we still passed Greencastle on the wrong side.
Inline image 1
On the way back, despite having the new magnetic headings, I flew significantly less than the calculated heading.  In some cases, as you noted, I was at 010 instead of closer to 048. Thinking back as we were referencing the Potomac landmark I pointed out the edge of the ridge line as essentially the line we had flown in on (actually a little north of it)…and ultimately what I visually flew on the way back. So…like the first leg, we passed Greencastle to the north. northwest.  Only this time I was getting myself confused between cities.
So, like I said, not an excuse but an explanation.
I still think it was a good idea to stay clear of the terrain both today and on any other flight.  In that case, I would change the flight planning for this trip slightly to fly northwest enough outbound from Carlisle to intercept a radial direct HGR VOR which would remain clear of the terrain…essentially what we did.  It would eliminate the Greencastle X-I81 reference but as it would take us closer to Chambersburg (and it’s now very prominent features!), I believe that would be a suitable reference. “


X-Wind Landing in Carlisle was a challenge and a bit rough.  I am fine with keeping the plane aligned on approach but in the flare when the controls are not as responsive I tend to lose it a little and..by the time you start making corrections, you’re essentially too late. I definitely had a little help on the end but like I said, I would rather explore the limits with her on board.



Next thing…KCXY to FINALLY get the “short” cross country off the list. Night flying follows and eventually the solo cross country.


2 thoughts on “Dual Cross Country

  1. Pingback: Solo Cross “Town” | Flight 40

  2. Pingback: Are we there yet? | Flight 40

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