The midday sun slowly peeking through the cloudy morning haze provided a glimmer of hope that the dual night cross country flight would occur. With the forecast originally being for full overcast, to see the yellow rays of the sun and even some blue skies…get the flight plan ready!
Arriving home from work I said my hellos to everyone and then quickly went to the office to get everything in order. Flight plans had been prefilled with everything except the winds. Experience had taught me to make photocopies of the plans up to that point just in case they ever needed to be redone. Weather briefing seemed fine with light and variable winds along the route of flight and 6 miles of visibility (warning 1). Airmet Sierra just north and west of our position which did not currently impact our route of flight (warning 2). Only oddity during the call was that the briefer knew my name and aircraft before I told him???
I decided to ask about that and he said I had a profile online linked to my phone number. Hmm. I thought it might have been because I had done a version of the flight plan on a flight planning website (although I did not file it). Turns out it was because I had created an account on the Lockheed Martin website with a plane profile which they could now use. So, creepy but useful??
Driving to the airport, the air was a bit heavy. The sun warmed land coupled with a now cloudless sky was eagerly giving back its heat into the sunset (warning 3). My instructor came out during preflight and we talked through some options. We were worried about fog / haze but decided we would “take a look”.
As typical, I had to fuel the plane up. After nearly 3 weeks away, things were moving rather slowly although not unfamiliar. In the run up area we pulled in the Capital City ATIS. My CFI asked if there was anything in there that concerned me. Wanting to say No…Let’s Fly! was of course the desire but I definitely heard it. Temp / dew point spread was less than 2 and we knew it was cooling off rapidly(final warning). It was going to get soupy.
So, still flying (phew) but into backup plan 1. Instead of cross country we would do night take offs and landings. I need 10 total. Have one from the previous flight and will get 2 if/when the cross country occurs so on the menu tonight…7 landings.
On the first night flight the winds were from the East so instead of 28 we departed and landed on 10. I had never landed on 10 so it was ALL new. I had no references at all and that probably helped. That landing was pretty good.
Tonight we would be on 28 which I’ve landed on countless times. Lots of references, lots of familiarity…in the day time…when you can SEE! That turns out to be a big liability at night.
N94 only has 1 light setting. So, with 3 clicks of the mic, the aeronautical version of the clapper does its job and the runway goes aglow. Very quaint. Not much to look at.
As we take off, everything is routine. On the climb I look behind to spot the runway and, while it’s only lights, I can clearly see that I am on the centerline. Turn base, reach pattern altitude, turn downwind…hmm, was that too early? Can see the runway but not yet judging distance. Seems closer…of course, I don’t have my little rock quarry as a guide. It’s there but as dark as a hole in the ground! Answer…yes, I am a little too close. I make a little correction to create some distance and commence the descent. Turning base…the airplane is stabilized but I am all kinds of disoriented. Basically…I lost the runway. Wasn’t sure at that point what I was looking for. I eventually spotted the runway threshold lights (along with a set of night landmarks) but by that point the rest of the descent was all out of whack. I called the go around early.
Then, during that portion of the flight I noticed I couldn’t hear anything in the headset. Radio went dead? We were both puzzled. She flies while I tinker. Nope. I fly while she tries a few things. When the intercom isn’t working you truly realize how hard it is to hear another person in an airplane. Final cause??? Looks like I knocked the volume control when re-trimming for the go around. Stupid error but a good one to make in training because it’s going to happen again.
On the plus side, while she was flying she set up the downwind leg and the spacing was much better. I still had a little issue finding the threshold on base leg but plenty of time to get things stable.
7 landings in all. The first two were decent but rusty. 3-4 I had nearly nailed until I totally didn’t. Great patience rounding out and holding the flare until I jerked ever so slightly on the control and whoosh! Balloon time. And of course those typically end with a bit of a jolt. And they did. We discussed approach speed of 65-70 and she said to try 60, especially with the 30 degrees of flap. I have decent speed control on approach so I guess there’s no longer a concern and making a slower approach.
Much softer landing as I had less energy to bleed off. That’s now in the book of tricks.
And then, of course, so I wouldn’t be complacent, landings 6 & 7 would be without a landing light. A TOMATO FLAMES + FLAPS is a mnemonic most student pilots will encounter during their training and one I got into during the trip to Taiwan. It’s a way to remember required equipment during VFR flight (A TOMATO FLAMES) and VFR at night (FLAPS). While I wasn’t going to turn down the maneuver I questioned my CFI about landing lights being required equipment (the L in FLAPS). She said they were not and asked me what the heck the A TOMATO FLAMES thing was. So, a discussion ensued. I recited everything in the mnemonic (good on me for remembering it…at least I learned something during the business trip). She said that all the other items were required but not Landing lights.
“And besides, the landing light could blow out during the flight so you’ll need to learn how to make the landing.” Not one to turn down the opportunity, I said “Well, sure, the engine could blow out as well but of course, that’s required equipment!”. At least it got a laugh but I don’t think one is supposed to joke about those things…at least not while airborne. So we had a bet to be settled later.
No landing light….no problem. In fact, they were 2 of the best landings of the night. Can’t explain why…not going to question it, just going to smile because the lesson ended on 2 good landings.
Of course on the wager…I was wrong.
I pulled up my A TOMATO FLAMES reference and did my victory dance. She pulled out the REGS (damn those things) and showed me that Landing Lights were required…..when the plane is FOR HIRE.
<Lawyer Mode On>
“Well, I’m renting this plane…and I’m hiring you to teach me how to fly it….” So…landing lights are required.
Nice try…but no dice..
<Lawyer Mode Off>
Soft field / Short Field work this weekend.
Dual night….well, there’s a plan to do it next week.