With my real world distraction training now completed it was time to get lost and divert.
The planned flight was Carlisle (N94)-Selinsgrove(KSEG). From both a point to point navigation and visual standpoint, the flight was VERY straightforward. Get yourself to the river and follow it north.
The biggest challenge of planning the flight was figuring out how to manage folding the two sectional charts I would need. Beginning of the flight was on the Detroit chart and 2nd half was on the New York chart. The river just happens to be right on the edge of both so neither map is really helpful or convenient. Perfect training opportunity. I did ask for cockpit organizational tips but my CFI said it’s a matter of personal preference.
I would LOVE to hear of other’s solutions to this as I clearly don’t have one yet.
I had slyly asked the week prior to the flight which way we would divert. I used the chart issue as my excuse. West would be Detroit, East would be New York. CFI’s evil response “ya never know.”. So it was up to me to guess the where and when.
When: I was guessing it would be at one of the checkpoints I had chosen. Reason: It would be a “last known location” from which we plot a course.
Where to?? East was a possibility but I reasoned we wouldn’t do that because of the Restricted area. No need to really do that lesson, especially since the area would be hot that day.
North past the airport would be a possibility since I will eventually have to fly to Williamsport.
West seemed right.
So, under the premise of gathering “all available information relative to the upcoming flight”, I studied up on each airport (including Google Earth views)within 20 miles and had all the airport sheets on the kneeboard just in case.
On the day of the flight we reviewed the flight plan, the 5C’s for Lost (Climb, Circle, Communicate, Confess, Comply) and what we would be doing. “Any questions?” I said that I didn’t have any questions on the flight but, since I was still working on cockpit organization, AND would be deviating from the planned plan I fully expected to get behind the airplane a few times. Other than an emergency, I didn’t want any “help” figuring things out. Another evil smile…I don’t think there was going to be any disagreement there.
Weather was brisk but good VFR at departure. Forecast was the same for all of Pennsylvania with a few areas of layered clouds around 6000.
Take off was great…but of course, even before getting to pattern altitude that darn GPS went dark thanks to my CFI. My comment was simply “Ya never can trust that thing.” No flight following for this one so we squawked 1200 and monitored Harrisburg Approach. CFI also had her iPad and Foreflight so check on things but kept it angled away from my curious eyes.
First checkpoint is Harrisburg VOR. She always asks for course, distance and time. Satisfied with my answers she said to let me know when we were over the VOR. Typically, she wants me to note the full deflection of the VOR and changing of the To/From flag. I said I would do that but since we were flying visually (and the leaves are now down off the mountain) I said I’ll let her know when we go over that big white bowling pin directly in front of us.
Over the VOR and slight turn to the North to follow the river. Duncannon (Rt 322) and Halifax were pretty good on timing so ground speed estimates were good. At Millersburg (my initial guess), it is announced that the weather in Selinsgrove isn’t looking too good so we are going to divert to the West.
“Take us to Mifflin airport”. Hmm…a trick question? Without looking at my sectional I immediately asked her to clarify whether she wanted to go to Mifflintown or Mifflin County airport. Both would be appropriate. She was happy with the query and said Mifflin County. “Plot a course, tell me what direction you are going to fly, how far it is and how long it will take.” I had a sectional ruler on the kneeboard which worked out pretty well. The distance was 35 miles which happened to be the length of the ruler. Course was estimated by sliding the ruler over the compass rose for Harrisburg VOR (VERY difficult because of being on the edge of the map). Time was 18 minutes. She was ok with course and distance but time…she said we should probably plan for 20 minutes.
“Fly your course”.
I wish it was that easy. I got on my heading and then the questions start. “Can you identify your position?” I knew generally where we were but I wasn’t seeing the landmark I expected. Lesson from first cross country was to find external landmarks and then locate them on the sectional. DO NOT force external landmarks to “fit” someplace you think you are on the map. To make matters worse…each time I referenced the map, my heading would drift. I noted it a few times. Question from CFI: “How do you maintain a heading in the airplane?”
While trying to fly the plane and locate myself on a map, I had this question and, well, I locked up. I confessed / hedged…”Not sure what you are asking”? Response was “Keep the wings level.” CLEARLY, I over thought that one by a ton. It broke the tension.
After a minute more of searching outside, we had another little challenge. That cloud layer at 6000 was actually a little lower. While it didn’t help my visual reference to ground flying, I got my first experience piloting an airplane above the clouds. COOL!
Only about 2 minutes and the layer was gone. CFI then casually mentioned that even though the GPS was “broke” I was allowed to use the Nav radios. Huh? Sure, that would have been nice to know.
Without any more discussion, I looked at my sectional and started tuning in a radio. When she saw the frequency she asked what radio I was using. She was expecting me to tune in Selinsgrove but I did Ravine instead. “Why choose a radio that is farther away?” I pointed to the sectional and said…”Well, there just happens to be a victor airway that goes from Ravine directly to Mifflin County. The course is printed right there along with the Ravine frequency. All I should have to do is tune and turn.” Again, I think I favorably surprised her a little and she wasn’t going to argue the logic except to comment that the further away you are from the radio the broader your track is going to be. Agreed…which is why I was still searching for landmarks.
Despite having the radio tuned in, I located 322 and remained south of it to go via Mifflintown airport.
Note: Drive Ins are great visual landmarks.
Got to Lewiston and turned North. CFI told me to report when we were over the airport. When close I said I have the airport in sight and there was an aircraft taking off. While prepared to land there she then said we’re going back to Carlisle. Same drill.
Navigation back was still an effort me to pick a heading and stay on it. I think the challenge is that I am searching for positive fixes and diverting back and forth while doing so. Need to work on that. She was asking me questions about features and towns. Some I would answer, others I would ignore. I was working on my own way of orienting. Looking for features I could identify, radios / radials I wanted to track (e.g. due West of HAR). Her questions got in the way. So, the only critique I got there was that it was ok to ignore her questions (fly the airplane) but I needed to be verbalizing what I was working on so she could determine if I was making progress. That’s fine by me and a very good point even when flying solo. Nothing like permission to talk to yourself!
When we got into our “valley” I was a little high for the approach and had to do a descending spiral. To prove I knew where I was, I said, “How about we do it over my house”. Not that I planned it but that’s exactly where we came over the last mountain. That was fun.
Still have issues switching from Approach to Landing mindset. On the first approach I was too high. I decided to go around and set it up again. That’s always good practice anyway. Next approach was a little high but I used 40 degrees of flaps (“The barn doors”) and that got us down in a nicely controlled hurry. Leveled off and transitioned into the flare with a nice low ground / airspeed. Great patience. Kept pulling back the nose to just hold everything. Stall horn just inches off the runway. It was perfect. Mains kissed the runway…and then my brain gorked again. For some unknown reason I didn’t just hold off the nose, I pulled back further. WHY? WHY? WHY? Oh look…we’re in the air again. Second “landing” was not a greaser. I was pretty hard on myself. CFI took it in stride and said something to the effect of “Well, we’ll write off that landing…the rest of the flight was great.”.
I was left to secure the aircraft. My CFI asked for my logbook and said to meet her up in the hangar. When I arrived we talked about the flight and my logbook / medical / student certificate was returned…with my Solo Cross Country endorsement. Cool.
So, Williamsport will be my 50NM solo X-Country flight. Planning has begun.
Alas, holidays are upon us. School is out for the next 2 weeks. UGH. Weather’s been horrible so it’s no real loss but I’m eager to get this next phase complete.