3rd time’s the charm right? In this case, thankfully yes. The morning skies were crystal clear, made brighter by the fact that daylight savings time is now over. Winds were calm to variable with the promise and smell of winter. It was cold outside but cold is just fine.
My CFI had a fully loaded schedule for the day but our discussion during the Saturday lesson (Short Field / Soft Field…a post for another time) raised hope that she “might” be available for the dual night on Monday. I booked the plane but not the CFI.
The good weather Monday morning gave way to a high overcast but still perfectly good flying weather. Around 2pm I sent the hopeful text to see if the flight was still on. 30 minute delay but YES! This would give me time to do the preflight, fuel the plane, and, most importantly get myself organized first for flying the plane but also for the normal barrage of queries, quizzes, interrogations, and distractions offered by my CFI during these flights. Now that I know this is the “norm” I am prepared.
Preflight was routine with the two happy exceptions that the cover was already off and the prior pilot had fully fueled. That hadn’t happened for at least the last 8 flights. So, a little more time to try out some different cockpit organization methods.
For night cross country flight you are obviously juggling an extra variable in that you can’t see everything directly inside the cockpit. So, the red flashlight comes in very handy. But…where to put it in relation to the kneeboard, prefolded / highlighted sectional chart? I was originally going to try 2 kneeboards (I bought one and a colleague gave me an extra) but that seemed like overkill. The kneeboard was the primary writing surface and the place to store the flight plan, runway information, and checklist. I just kept the sectional off to the left side for the flight. This method seemed to work well. Watch with easy to use, lighted stop watch for timing segments was also a very good piece of equipment to have as the analog clock in the dashboard is, to me, altogether useless.
This time, I also pre-marked my sectional with the checkpoints so I didn’t have to keep flipping back and forth from the flight plan.
Once I got my weather briefing / winds aloft, I added the segment times to the post it notes. That, turned out to be the game changer. Side note though…Orange highlighter on a sectional looks great in the day time. At night, under a red flashlight…well, it’s the same as the analog clock…altogether useless!
Departure review: Route was fine. I was told I would do all the radio calls except for one she would do as we got to Reading. I was ready for this and had even rehearsed a few of them in advance. Though light, the winds were out of the East so I was planning for a 10 departure from Calisle and a 13 arrival into Reading.
We departed Carlisle in to the night sky direct to Harrisburg VOR. I had the VOR tuned and the GPS flight plan loaded but focused on flying the plane, watching for my visuals, and checking the times. Great practice and I am sure something I will have to demonstrate going forward since, with my CFI, things always seem to “break” while flying.
Flight following was all set up and with Harrisburg VOR being my only non visual checkpoint made, I altered course for Reading.
The clouds were still above us but visibility was outstanding. Aside from being able to see all my landmarks, it also led to a few moments of quiet in the cockpit as we both just happily looked around.
We passed north of the city but it’s quite a landmark. Normally we look for lights at night but the river (one of my checkpoints) is equally good for its distinct lack of lights.
Each checkpoint came in within a minute of plan which was good given the variable winds. We noted a few interesting lights, not indicated on the sectional.
No, we weren’t that close or that low to Hershey but I wanted to give an idea of just how the scene could create an interesting light combination from 10 miles away.
We picked up the Reading ATIS and I was wrong, 31 was in use. So, it would be a standard left downwind entry. We were both looking for the beacon and once located began a standard, smooth descent from 3,500 to 1,400.
So, the beacon is often hard to locate. There is terrain off the approach end of 31 with, what turned out to be a very distinctive feature.
We agreed that is WAY better than a beacon.
Landing at Reading was extremely smooth. Of course, as I was congratulating myself, the full taxi instructions came through (this was that one radio call my CFI had made) and I missed most of it. I got the turn off of the active which was the most important and then called back for the rest. I was a bit embarrassed but was told I did the right thing.
Taxied back to 31 and took a few minutes to reconfigure airplane and paperwork for the return. For fun, I planned a different route back. This would be Southwest then West crossing directly over Lancaster airport and then off to Carlisle.
Again, the first leg was to a VOR. Got to fly an actual airway, be quizzed and properly responded that I was not going to bust Class D and even get a scenic overflight of Three Mile Island. Again. ALL very good landmarks.
Flight back had 3 “learning” experiences.
1) On departure from Reading I turned onto the runway as cleared but, not realizing the width of the runway I lined up on the left side. Not a big deal, more of a laugh than anything else. Recentered myself and took off. That wasn’t the learning experience. When I departed and altered course towards Lancaster my CFI asked what the planned heading was. I looked at my flight log and gave her the number I read. I didn’t question what I said before I said it but she certainly did afterwards. I read the wrong number and, had I flown it I would have ended up in Philly…well, pointed that way but I would have hit the mountain first! Fortunately I was flying the plane based on the initial GPS line and not to the heading I said. I definitely have to get all that information straight in advance. Basically, I had the flight plan folded a little differently than the previous one and I just looked at the wrong column. Like I said, it’s different in the dark.
2) I was really good at altitude control…except for 2 times during the flight where I went up (never down) 150′. During both of those times I was either working a radio or adjusting the GPS. As I would reach for those instruments with my right hand, my left hand remained on the yoke. Since the seats essentially suck and wobble a little, my left hand also became a bit of a brace…meaning…I pulled back ever so slightly for support. Result….150′ of altitude, 50′ of which are outside the PTS. So, I got that one figured out.
3) Landing at Carlisle was not great. Probably tried to do the pattern too tight and came in high. I called my own go around. Next one was a great pattern but a sloppy landing. Keep flying until the plane is off and tied down.
A long day but a great lesson!
And with that, the night requirements are complete. I got my solo endorsement renewed and we’re moving on to Diversions and Lost Procedures.
With those done, it will be on, finally, to the solo x-country. Here’s to fair skies and zero business trips!