Tag Archives: navigation

Are we there yet?

Not including a few solo jaunts off to Capital City airport, I have 5 true Cross Country flights.

  1. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Martinsburg, VA.  My first so called navigational experience.
  2. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Reading, PA.  My night cross country.
  3. A solo cross country from Carlisle to Williamsport, PA.  My first 50NM+ solo cross country.
  4. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA.  A “time builder” 50NM+ solo cross country.
  5. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA, to Lancaster, PA,.  My long cross country.

In preparation for the dual cross countries, I had ground school coursework on flight planning as well as a 2 hour 1:1 session with my CFI. 1 hour of good instruction. 1 hour of me just running my mouth about everything else.

During these sessions the focus is on good route planning. Considerations are for terrain, airspace, navigational aids (e.g. VOR’s, prominent landmarks), backup airports, P-40!, winds, weather, and available runways.

Even though I was strictly VFR, I always tried to fly with reference to at least one radio NavAid. In that way, even if I had an issue with finding an expected visual reference, I had a “connection” to a known spot and could at least get to it and get reset. Of course, there was always the GPS but as my CFI would say…”ya never can trust those things…” Or at least the brightness knob which could somehow get turned to dim and stay there during the flight.

8-12 miles max between visual checkpoints.  8 miles was my minimum visibility for flight so, theoretically, I should always be able to “see” the next point. And, that seemed to be a good distance for managing checkpoint timings, calculating groundspeed, and adjusting ETA.

I also learned to fill out a navigation log with everything but the winds and photocopy it. This was a HUGE time saver. That way, on the day of the flight you just need to fill in the up to date wind information and calculate your headings, GS, fuel burn, and ETA . Well, that part is simple . The huge time saver comes when that flight you just filled out gets weathered out and you have to go through the same process 9 more times until the weather cooperates!

So with navigation log in hand, I’m off on the dual cross country flights. Navigationally, the first one was a bit of a disaster. I was task saturated from just flying and communicating. Trying to manage a precise location on a poorly folded sectional map with a penciled in set of checkpoints, while also reading numbers in the handwriting script the quality of which a 2nd grader would scoff at is next to impossible while also trying to hold a heading and altitude in an aircraft traversing the ground at 106 knots (or at least that was what was originally calculated!)

So, lessons learned:

  1. Binder clips are your friend. Get that sectional chart folded exactly how you want it before the flight.  Make sure it will fit on your kneeboard properly and then clip that thing in place. 3 clips minimum.
  2. While that thing is on your kneeboard, you won’t be able to see your navigation log (2 kneeboards???) So, when it comes time to update a timing, you’re out of space. Not easy to shuffle paperwork in a 172. It’s a bit goofy but along with binder clips, Post It notes can be your friend. Put everything you can on that sectional to minimize the back and forth.
  3. A C-172 has an analog clock in it.  Now, that’s nice and “classic” but it sucks for leg timing. A digital wristwatch is helpful but it would probably be better to have a timer within easy reach.
  4. You’re paying your CFI…as part of the lesson, feel free to use them as a storage facility for a reasonable amount of this material. Reasonable must be stressed though lest they decide to test you out on distractions by dropping a chart at your feet and then pulling the engine while you go reaching for it.

Handwriting…I’ve got a terminal case of bad handwriting.  The only thing for that is technology. Printed flight plans from iflightplanner.com or on the iPad with ForeFlight are MUCH more readable and arguably in my case safer.

In preparation for my solo cross country, I had to cover lost procedures and diversions. I knew I was going to get overloaded on that one as well but I definitely tried to prepare for everything. While I didn’t get “lost”, I was NOT happy with my ability to get myself to the “found” place including the calculation of time / distance.

For diversions, on a sectional chart, from a known position, it is not hard to quickly estimate a course and distance with a pocket ruler.

Get a general idea of the course. Measure the distance right off the scale.  Then, without changing the angle of the ruler, move it towards the compass rose of a VOR.  You can estimate your magnetic heading from there.

So, you’ve got a course, and a distance. HOW LONG UNTIL YOU GET THERE?

And that’s where I would begin the mental lock up. If you’ve got the GPS on you’ve got a groundspeed but we all know how unreliable at least mine is. So, you’ve hopefully been taking your leg times between checkpoints and calculating your groundspeed, right? RIGHT?

I already said I barely had room for the sectional chart and navigation log.  Now I need to manage either of these things as well?

Even if I could find a place for it…not going to be able to use it efficiently.

Slightly better but still…BULKY.

There are some rule of thumb estimates, but I like to be a little more precise than that. While I haven’t used it yet, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a useful tool.


Fits right on the kneeboard. Won’t always have the exact information but should have enough to make a PTS level estimate.

Confession: On my Williamsport trip I used the sectional chart and the navigation log as faithfully as possible. I took some leg times, tried to calculate my groundspeed and updated my ETA. But, of course, the GPS was working fine, I was following a major river the whole way, AND I had ForeFlight running on the iPad with the exact same flight plan loaded….which, incidentally was automatically calculating my leg times, my groundspeed and updating my ETA…which allowed me to keep my eyes outside.

On my subsequent trips, the iPad got attached to the yoke via my Christmas gift and, while there was always the paper and GPS backup, it became my primary inside navigation tool (I still did update the paperlog after each leg with the new groundspeed and ETA!). Is that a bad thing? I think you should always have a backup AND be able to do it the old fashioned way but realistically, if technology is there to help you fly and keep your eyes in the sky, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?

On a checkride, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll be able to use is the charts and timer so I’ve got some practice ahead of me.  I’m definitely up for the challenge but also happy I took some of the time to work out a good balance between straight up pilotage and using all available resources to ensure a good outcome for the flight.



142 Days

On November 15, 2013, after a few weeks of business travel delay,  I was officially certified to begin my Solo Cross Country flights.

What does that mean?

FAR 61.109

b. 10 hours of solo time in an airplane, including:
i. 5 hours of cross-country flights
ii. One solo cross-country flight of at least 150nm total distance, with full-stop
landings at a minimum of three points and with one segment of the flight
consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 50nm between takeoff and
landing locations
iii. Three solo takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating
control tower

That’s what I needed to accumulate.

It was still autumn, albeit late autumn but surely the above would be the proverbial walk in the park.

The plan was 3 flights:

  1. N94-KIPT-N94 (Williamsport, PA).  This would be the “short” cross country.  
  2. N94-KUNV-N94 (Penn State), This would be a another “short” cross country.  Essentially a time builder.
  3. N94-KUNV (Penn State) -KLNS (Lancaster, PA)-N94.  The “BIG” one.  The last one.

In November, facing the onset of winter with dismay, my CFI stated, “There are often more VFR days in the Winter time than any other season.” While that may have been a historically accurate statement, this year, not so.

To say that this Winter has been an aviation “challenge” is an understatement.  To say that the weather has been downright horrible, consistently craptastic, and generally VFR Not Recommended is perfectly accurate.

I don’t know if I have the record of planned and cancelled flights but I’ve got to be close. Perfect marketing for getting one to consider an Instrument Rating. Of course, I’ve still got this PPL thing in the works so first things first.

It took 10 times to get the initial flight in. 7 tries (minimum ’cause I stopped keeping track lest I get a severe case of seasonal affective disorder) for the time builder (which will be detailed later) and at least 10 for the Long XC.

On the positive side, I am now a certified Jedi Master ADM as it relates to finding reasons that a XC flight can’t be made. Despite lets say a round 30 scheduled attempts, some of which got all the way up to the point where I had the plane loaded and ready to go, I don’t think there was ever a time where we decided I shouldn’t go when I could have and clearly some which, where I was given the go/no go decision and I said no, it turned out to be the right choice.

But then came April 6, 2014.  The 5th was sunny but horribly windy. Both the Dual Lesson as well as the XC were cancelled. The forecast for the 6th looked VERY promising but as the sun set on the 5th the wind continued to blow.

Sunday morning, bright (well I should say dark) and early, the sky was clear, the air crisp but calm. The forecast was right….and the flight was on.

A little frost to wait out as the sun came up but some time to get everything in order, one last checkout and then off on the journey.

4.5 hours later, I was back in Carlisle, mentally and physically exhausted but also finally done.

Only 142 days from start to finish! Walk in the park.  Well sort of.

Text to CFI to let her know I finally did it.

“Great!! Now the work begins.”

More details on the more “interesting” aspects of the Long XC later including a debatable radio instruction inbound to KLNS.

For now…it’s clear this student can get the plane from A->B->C->A safely.

Now, I have to prove I can really fly…like a pilot.


7th Times the Charm??

It’s no surprise that at this time of the year the opportunities where conditions will be favorable for flying…or, more specifically, in my case, flying solo cross country will be limited.

For that reason, I had organized my work / vacation / weekend schedule to include several opportunities.  The idea was to get not one but all 3 of my cross country flights done.

I would have to do N94-KIPT, which would fulfill the 50NM requirement. I would do N94-KUNV which would be a second 50NM trip but have the secondary purposes of familiarizing me with another field and building towards the 5 total hours of Solo Cross Country. Last trip would be N94-KUNV-KLNS-N94.  This would fulfill my long cross country requirement.  Then I would be able to move onto the final phase of training and checkride prep.

So far…NONE of the above have been accomplished.  Not from a lack of trying.  I stopped counting but I know I am at least coming up on attempt 7.  Weather has just never cooperated on the date / time I picked.  As my luck would have it, my crappy weather days always seemed to be bookended by some beautiful flying days.  At least somebody’s getting to fly…just not me.

So, I’ve learned patience (not really) and to keep the bags always packed.

It’s Christmas, so no flying today…although the weather is naturally perfect for flying.  That makes sense because my last weather related cancellation was yesterday.

Next time to try…tomorrow morning. Weather, solidly IFFY. Super.

Well, at least I did get an aviation related smile today.  I’m constantly checking the weather lately and this morning was no different.

While it wasn’t in the raw METAR, I noticed something quite interesting in Foreflight’s weather translations.

Photo Dec 25, 7 17 09 AM

Lost Procedures and Diversions (2 of 2)

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.


Dual Night – First Flight

2013-10-09 18.49.42


Really don’t need to say much more (although I always do). With that being my first view of the night sky, how could any of this be bad?

And it wasn’t.  Night flight is a little daunting at first but it is definitely a different world up there.  I’ve been on a few night Cessna flights as “co-pilot” and, while definitely visually impressive, with no formal responsibilities, I didn’t really appreciate it.

No stars that night but a beautiful pastel sunset, a crescent moon playing peek a boo through the cloud layer, visibility literally as far as the eye could see, and smooth, cool air. Tranquility.

But of course, this is a lesson so there is work to do.

Pre-flight had 2 oddities.  One of the flaps made a small clank on its first 10 degrees.  The mechanism was secure and the rest of travel was smooth.  Made note of it in the squawk sheet but nothing to ground the aircraft over. 2nd item was a single distinct backfire on startup. Only odd since I had never heard it before from this plane. It occurred again after the refuel so my CFI was there for that one.  Again, odd, but since the engine was running very smoothly, nothing to ground the plane over.

Tonight’s tasks: Take off, exit the pattern.  A little steep turn work in the practice area and then off to do some night VOR navigation. Direct to, Track Outbound Radial, Turn back towards and intercept a specific radial…all with wind correction.  Altitude and speed to PTS.

A little issue initially with settling in my altitude prior to the 360’s.  It was just a matter of getting the trim right for the power setting. I did set about 100 RPM’s slower than normal which is what got things out of sync.  I am happy I am learning the airplane’s specific settings though.  Turns were on the money.

We set the VOR and began tracking to it.  About 15 miles. The winds were out of the NE tonight which is atypical but also a nice challenge.  Inbound tracking was quite simple and at this point the altitude was absolutely nailed.  Actually had some time to talk and look around.

Tracking outbound and back inbound were equally smooth.  Just some mountain wave turbulence as we went past the ridges.

I think my CFI had some other things in mind but the city scape was too inviting. She said…”let’s forget about the VOR and do some scenic flying.” Always mindful of the “surprise” I agreed.  There were no surprises tonight. We made the call to Harrisburg approach and said we would like to go lower and orbit the downtown area.  We were asked to maintain 3,500 but were cleared to fly around at will.

The one oddity was that with the winds out of the East, the approaches for KMDT and KCXY were essentially right in line with the city.  So, we were basically flying circles on the inbound traffic pattern!

Next task…turns about a point…with the point being the Capitol dome.  I laughed for a second..”won’t that get us some Blackhawks for an escort?” “Nah…they don’t care about Harrisburg.” Mindful of the wind direction and the higher than normal altitude I set up for my precision maneuver.

One thing about night flying as it relates to other air traffic.  MUCH easier to spot them (or at least their lights). Also, with being just above the approach path you can see a lot of it. So, we took turns pointing out the traffic  and then she had me keep breaking off the turn…not for avoidance as we were quite clear but “for a better look”.  SO cool to have regional jets skimming along silently underneath the little 172.

We finished 2 laps and decided to head back to N94.  Easy flight back.  My first landing ever on 10 and it has to be at night.  I didn’t have any landmarks for the proper pattern but she gave me the ones to use on the approach.  After turning on the pilot controlled runway lighting I had a few moments trying to locate the field but once I spotted it, the approach was pretty routine.

A little high but my CFI said…”At night, a little high is fine…throw in 40 degrees of flaps” which she calls the barn doors and the plane comes down quite nicely. Landing was best one in a while.  I was hoping to go around one more time but we had 1.4 in and it was time to call it a night. Re-approved for daytime solo.

Can’t wait to do that again.

NB: I had originally thought (and scheduled) my first 50NM solo cross country for next week.  I had written to my CFI to ensure I was authorized to do so and she responded yes.  When I mentioned it that night though there was some confusion.  She said I wasn’t yet authorized and further, the location I spoke about wasn’t the one I would do.  ???? Guess there was a mix up.  I still have to cover lost procedures and diversions…which I should have realized. So, no solo x-country yet but instead…we’ll do the long dual night and hopefully get the balance of the night requirement completed.  Not a bad compromise..See, it can be done!



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.

Another level….and that’s not always a good thing

Labor Day…

Weather was great and the plane was available. I succeeded in completing my first solo to the practice area and back. I had a little apprehension as this was the first time alone with no site of the field but, since I had been there several times before, it was all pretty routine.

Of course I was excited and totally on my game for it. This was the next step in the process and the main door opener which allows me to refine my skills…aka…keep drilling the basic maneuvers until they are up to PTS without boring my CFI to tears!

The primary objective of the flight was to get to the 3 primary boundaries of the practice area and back. In between it was my discretion but no stalls, slow flight, low flight, etc.  Ok, no problem.

So, I did a climb to 4000′. Level off on my heading and try and work on nailing down the cruise power settings and trim. What I originally thought was difficult becomes a lot easier when you have a few uninterrupted minutes to work on it.

Small freak out moment when, there was no “work” to do. A chance to take a breath and look outside for the purpose of looking outside.  Not, checking for level attitude, traffic, birds, coordinated flight.  Of course, that’s always being done but I got a chance to just look around. In the quiet my mind started back to work and said I should be looking for emergency landing points! So..break was over.

Flew to Shippensburg and made a right turn back towards Newville. Along the way, I descended to 3000 then 2500 feet. It was a throttle / trim controlled descent.  Just pull back a little throttle, let the nose drop until I had about 500 fpm and trim it for hands off.  Again…something I hadn’t been able to do before amongst the other work but not, pretty easy.

In Newville I approached the water towers we usually do turns around a point on. Didn’t plan on doing them that day but used it as a visual reference. Left 270 at standard rate to put me back towards the south. Start descent towards pattern altitude.

Entered the pattern and this time properly shifted my brain into landing mode. All went smoothly (used the sign trick) and the landing was really good. Had enough time so I went around the pattern again. This one wasn’t as good but I’ll definitely take it.

My Flight. I really like the “smoothness” of it.  The one little extra curve towards the approach side was me buying a little time to make the rest of my descent.

And then…

My CFI is on vacation.  A week off from flying right when things were really starting to move.

She’s back and I had 2 lessons planned. Weather Saturday was iffy but Sunday looked good. Instead of pushing my luck I asked if we could do the cross country planning on Saturday as a ground school lesson and on Sunday I would do my solo to Capital City.

Cross Country planning N94-KMRB.  I brought donuts (’cause I’m a suck up???). Nah, they had the pumpkin donuts and it’s that time of year.

Pumpkin Munchkins!

They were appreciated and the planning session went great. We had looked at this flight before during ground school so it wasn’t that hard.  The difference this time??? I actually understood 100% of what I was doing.

That flight is planned for next Saturday. It will obviously be dual and she said she will manage the radios…but I am going to see if I can get her to let me do them at least on the way back.

Today was the scheduled trip to Capital City.

Wind was calm but I saw something I had never seen before on the weather information.

Ceiling OVC 003.  003! Uh…that would be fog.  The airport is on the river so that wasn’t looking well.  8AM flight was pushed out until 10.  I was up early anyway (after a lot of planning the night before) and now had nothing to do. Why not close the pool? ‘Cause..it makes perfect sense to start a major project on a whim when you have 90 minutes to kill. Nope…I’m not that bright sometimes.

It was clearing up so I wrapped up project 1, got my weather briefing and headed off to the airport.

Plane hadn’t been used in a few days so I was going to give it a pretty thorough pre-flight. My CFI came out to talk over things and said the weather had cleared and I was good to go. Just…I should plan to put fuel in it before the flight. Ok.

Then, things started to go a bit odd. And off. And I still don’t know why.

I had the checklist which is crucial for me but I found myself jumping around on it. WHY? This doesn’t normally happen. I took my time checking and re-checking but now everything was out of flow. Satisfied that I got through everything I went for fueling. No big deal there but then it was time to start up and go to the run up area.

Closed the door but didn’t have the seatbelt on. It’s easier to get it first then close the door.  Open the door, grab the seatbelt and close the door. Put seatbelt on after securing kneeboard and organizing the cockpit. Then I am getting ready to start up and notice outside the door the pitot cover is on the ground. It

That part I got…

It must have fell out when I opened the door to get the seatbelt. So…reverse everything to go grab that. Then I notice there is another plane “waiting” for me to get out of there so he can get fuel. I know not to hurry but sure…you try to get things move along.

I get started and move off to the run up area. Same issue with the checklist.  I can’t seem to get my mind focused on the task at hand.

NOW I have to start thinking through the flight I am about to do. I hadn’t pictured it like this. A minute to get things re-organized and then I tune in Capital City ATIS.

Used to approaches on 30


As I am transcribing I notice that there is missing information (instruments not working on the field?) AND they had flipped the runways and to Right Traffic. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t have been an issue but it turned out to be that one extra variable I wasn’t prepared to handle.

I am chalking this up to good ADM.  I decided not to make the trip to Capital City this time and instead went back out to the practice area.

I am sure I will look back and say it was the right decision but I am NOT happy about NOT completing the flight as planned. I got some more air practice, 1 really good and 1 “normal for me” landing but I didn’t get to another airport. It will come but I am short on the patience and want to make sure I am not having a shortage of confidence.

On the ground with the plane secured I texted my CFI per instructions to let her know I was back. I told her I had not made the trip to KCXY.  On the way home she called and verified that was the case.  She was a little concerned…”I have another student I was ready to send out there and was interested to know why you didn’t make the trip.”  I explained the situation and said I wasn’t prepared for that approach (I must have looked up EVERYTHING else the night before). She explained it would have been a simple right base (which, in retrospect…duh!) entry but I had made the right decision.  She would talk to me about it later…’cause she was about to send another student out on that same flight!

NOT HAPPY. But, like I said, I will probably look back and say that I made the right decision.

And..it dawned on me later…I changed my flight plan and did not tell my CFI I had done so. She said if I went up and it looked at all dicey I could return but she never said I could change my mind and go out to the practice area. So..if something had happened, they would have been looking in the wrong place.

Of all the things….I can now say that slip is the one I am most upset about.

I know better than that and I will not let that happen again.