Tag Archives: Solo

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.
    N94-KRDG-N94
  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.

TimeAndSpeed

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.

 

Lucky Number 10

For anyone on the East coast of the US of “moderate” age, the winter of 2013-14 has already shaped up to be one of the more brutal ones in memory.  Along with a healthy dose of snow, whose total inches this year are already several multiples of the last few year’s snowfall combined, the “Polar Vortex” has brought with it low ceilings, brutal winds, and of course, soul chilling cold.  A Spring Break trip to Fairbanks to escape the winter seems somehow a plausible option.

Polar Vortex – My own TFR

While on the topic of bad winter weather…I’m officially NOT on the like list for the new practice of naming winter storms.  Pure marketing / ratings hype. No real value. Further, while it’s been a bad winter in relative terms, this still isn’t that bad. If it’s a full on blizzard that actually closes schools in Rochester NY you can name it.  Other than that…it’s just a snowstorm.

In between these vortices there were numerous, albeit slim opportunities for me to get my first solo cross country flight in. 7 as of the previous entry..none of which materialized with sufficient margin of safety for my flight to be approved. Numbers 8 and 9 followed the same course as their predecessors.

But then we come to number 10. The new year is upon us.  New hope and of course new weather.  Saturday, January 4th had a chance.  That was, of course based on the weather forecasts made on December 31. By the 2nd it had snowed again. Enough to cover the ground and the plane in a thick blanket of white. Normally that ends the planning for the week. But, the polar vortex, in all it’s sub-zero glory turned out to be a bit of a saving grace.  Due to the extremely low temperatures, the snow didn’t melt. Why is this good? Since it didn’t melt, it didn’t have a chance to re-freeze! So, in the early evening of the 3rd, I trekked out to the airport, snow blade in hand.

snowbroom

This thing is amazing. Took about 30 minutes but I had the plane uncovered with only minimal icing on the leading edge.

Still not “on” but the flight had a chance.

Saturday morning I got up early to check weather and get the preliminary go/no go from my CFI.  We were on.  Another “quick” trip to the airport to get the plane plugged in.  A nice and necessary addition to the equipment list for the year was the block heater. A moment of panic when I realized I was not the only one with aspirations of committing aviation that morning. No outlets to be had.  I knocked on a few hangar doors and was able work out a power arrangement.  The aviation neighborly equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar.  Nice neighbors.

With plane plugged in, I went back to work on the snow removal. I missed a lot of spots the night before but took my time to make sure everything was free and clear.  C172’s have a lot of nooks and crannies where snow and ice like to hide.

2 hours later, with clear skies, and only moderate winds, my logbook was signed and I was ready to go!

As it was still REALLY cold out, I was instructed to spend 3/10’s of an hour letting it warm up (I would be able to deduct 2/10’s from the billing). Fine by me as it gives me a little more time getting the nest set up for flight.

Queue “challenge” 1

The plane started rather effortlessly.  Oil pressure was good and the engine was running smoothly The radios, which typically protest the cold weather by not displaying frequency information for a while came to life immediately as well. But then there was the AI. The checklist says to ensure the gauge has erected and righted itself. Well..it was definitely doing something. Bouncing from bottom to top and back like a basketball. Hmm…one would expect it to be frozen in place due to the weather but bouncing all over the place? Odd.

A radio call to my CFI who was just starting up a plane with another lesson to discuss.  “Wait a few minutes and see what happens.” I waited all the minutes I could.  The bouncing stopped! But then it essentially pegged itself representing a nose dive.

Now it should be noted that the Attitude Indicator is not required for VFR flight but it is definitely useful..particularly for a student pilot embarking on his first real trip away from the home airport. At the very least, the absence of it, or the re-commencement of its dribbling would be pretty distracting.  I don’t think my CFI would allow me to make the flight that way but I could tell we were both quite torn on what to do. After 9 previous weather related busts, a glitchy gauge was NOT an acceptable reason for cancelling the flight.

Always a fan of the “let’s go up and take a look” approach, my CFI suggested I take off and stay in the pattern to see if things would rectify in the air.  Agreed.

Focused back on the flying I taxi into position, make my radio call and am off in the air. At 1200 MSL I make my left turn to stay in the pattern, approaching TPA of 1500 on the downwind.  I look at the AI just as my CFI calls over the radio to inquire. “Is it working?” My response, thankfully, came after a second of consideration. I was initially going to say, “Well, it came off the full on dive but now seems to be indicating a shallow climb…” Which is, of course, exactly what I was doing! Instead, I simply replied “It appears to be working fine.”.

“Text me when you land in Williamsport.”

And like that I was off on my adventure.

Route of flight was very straightforward.  Go direct Harrisburg VOR and then follow the river north to Williamsport.

By the time I crossed HAR I was at cruise altitude of 5500, had flight following coordinated, and into my navigation.  Due to a nice wind out of the Southwest I was making almost 130 knots over the ground.

Fully marked chart on my kneeboard with corresponding fully populated navigation log.  HAR on Nav 1, FQM on Nav 2, General N94-HAR-FQM flight plan in the GPS as backup #1 and full flight plan loaded in ForeFlight on the iPad as backup #2.  No way I was getting lost on this flight! Of course, the visibility was amazing, I just had to follow the river, and I had rehearsed this thing for 10 times so to call myself over-prepared is probably accurate.

FINALLY…had a chance to take some pictures. Save for the old windscreen..the scenery was stunning.

Outside Duncannon checkpoint

Outside Duncannon checkpoint

2014-01-04 15.19.26

2014-01-04 13.18.32

Focused on the outside..squealing with delight on the inside

Focused on the outside..squealing with delight on the inside

Once past Selinsgrove and nicely on course I began to prepare for my arrival.  Approaching from the south, Williamsport has a little challenge in the form of a mountain. If you are into a spiraling descent you can go over it but again, just follow the river and a normal approach can be made.

n94-kipt

KIPT has an ASOS which is updated continuously. By using the ident setting on the COM 2 radio I could just begin to pull it in at Selinsgrove.

What I heard was NOT encouraging. While the winds aloft were around 230/22, winds at the airport were out of 120.  That they were opposite was not immediately troubling.  What seemed off was the wind number.  120 at 13.  Hmm.  That seems a bit strong.

I was handed off to NY Center.  I let them know I was a student pilot (forgot to do that with Harrisburg Departure).  NY Center was quite accommodating.  Went out of their way to ensure I knew I could ask for any assistance required.  While that was reassuring, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. Thank you would have sufficed.  I think I responded with “Roger, will ask for help if needed.”

Getting close to Muncy the wind had not changed direction.  It was now 120 13G23.  KIPT has a Runway 12 so I wasn’t too concerned about a 13 knot headwind.  It was the shorter runway (still plenty for a 172 into the wind) but I would request it if they didn’t immediately offer. The gusts to 23 though was definitely troubling. My limits were a 13 headwind.

After requesting release from NY Center after assuring them I had the field in site (not quite accurate but I knew where I was) I contacted Williamsport Tower.  As hoped, I got runway 12. Enter and report a left downwind.

I was already near pattern altitude so I just started lining up to enter the 45 left downwind.  And then the thing I should have figured out happened.

Quiz question: If winds aloft are 220/22 and winds on the field are 120/13G23 what can you expect?

Turbulence? Well, yes.  How about wind shear? Well, double yes. An essentially 180 degree shift in the wind NEVER happens in a nice linear fashion.  In this case, it was pretty much instantaneous.  Looking back over the flight, the reason was quite obvious.  The mountain.

With winds out of the southwest the winds were blowing over the mountain top.  Of course there would be some turbulence as I got down below the ridgeline.  But then you’ve also got the new, and relatively strong opposite wind in the valley.  Once you hit that zone you get the wind shear.

I got tossed pretty good but kept it under control. Definitely found a new, even higher level of focus.  Yes, I considered turning back but fell back on the “let’s take a look” mantra.  I should have done this ahead of time but did make this firm decision on downwind.  I would attempt the approach.  If I was not fully stabilized both on airspeed and descent profile on my base turn I would abandon the approach and fully reset. My lesson for the day for sure.

I reported my downwind.  The controller cleared me to land. There was some additional information given which I heard, processed (I think) and moved on with approach.  Additional information was winds 120/13 G24, Peak Gust 28, blowing, and drifting snow on runway surface. Ok…this is going to be fun.

I made by base turn and things looked correct.  The wind was definitely in line with the runway. There was absolutely zero side drift and my ground speed on final was REALLY slow. Plenty of time to get everything in order.  I had originally planned on carrying only 20 degrees of flaps but 30 was still a good choice.  I took 5 extra knots of airspeed over the threshold to account for gusts. In the flare it was, as is always the case, a matter of patience.  Just hold it off and wait for the plane to land.  The wind swirled a little which caused me to do a little rudder dance but still with plenty of time to get it settled. Very decent landing!

Taxi to the FBO….KEEP YOUR WIND CORRECTIONS RIGHT ALL THE WAY TO THE TIEDOWN! Didn’t forget that lesson this time and today was a good day to remember.

After getting the plane as secure as possible I went into the FBO to get my signature and get reset. Nice little airport with its own mascot dog.  Will have to remember to bring treats next time. No landing charges but the little dog definitely wanted his “fee”.

15 minutes to reset then back into the cold for the flight back.

I got 12 again for departure. Got to experience ALL the bumps and wind shear on the climb out but this time I was ready. Within a few minutes, I was at cruise altitude, clear of the Class D, back on with NY Center and following the same flight plan back home.

So, while I made 130 knots ground speed on the way up.  I was barely making 80 on the way back! I guess everything balances out.

Peaceful, uneventful cruise…and that’s just fine.  My first chance to really enjoy the whole flight.

Wish I could say I nailed the crosswind landing on the return (winds had picked up here as well) but it was definitely passable.

FINALLY COMPLETE.

Patience pays off but it is a hard lesson to learn.

Next XC flight will be a time builder to KUNV prior to my long XC.

In the meantime, I think it will be time for my CFI to start drilling me on airwork (aka making me super humble once again).

Can’t wait…as always.

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

A Valiant Effort

Low, thick, gray clouds.

Just hanging there. Never really raining but serving up this omnipresent and heavy “damp” from which relief will seemingly never come.

The forecast said clear skies in the morning and, well, I wasn’t buying into it.  4 consecutive days of slop and you are conditioned for more of the same.

Saturday morning arrives and the clouds are still there but noticeably thinner.  A diligent breeze slowly working to clear the rest out.

Time to fly? I sent the obligatory text to my instructor including what could be dicey wind information and the hopeful query “Thoughts?”

Response: “Come”.  Finally.

Plan for the weekend (technically it was supposed to start Friday but that was already bagged due to weather) was to take a dual flight and get my re-solo certification…essentially I must fly dual once every 2 weeks to remain certified for solo flight. Assuming success with that, I would try to get the Solo X-Country off on Sunday.

Saturday was definitely windy but in this case a very good thing.  While I wouldn’t get any major airwork done, nor would I work on soft field landings, we would be doing a bunch of x-wind work. Not yet fun to do solo but I love to work on them with the CFI on board.

Cold day but sun coming out for the lesson.  Winds 11 gusting 18 from the Northwest which gave about a 8 headwind and 8 cross wind before any gusting.

I got a tenth of an hour “free” today so we could let the plane warm up as well as wait a few minutes for my CFI to call the renter taking out the Piper and admonish him for doing his pre-flight with the Master switch on.  While it’s entertaining to see her “correct” someone else there was a lesson there.  After the call she said, “That’s why we always leave the beacon light switch on.” When you walk away from the aircraft you will see the light flashing (or not) and know the status of the Master switch.

With crosswind corrections properly applied during runup,  and taxi, we were ready for departure.  First significant crosswind takeoff. Each airfield has it’s terrain features and N94 is no different.  In this case, there is a terrain to the Northwest and the hangars on that side of the field.  Where there are breaks in the hangars you get a compression and strengthening of the wind at that point in the runway. This, obviously, is an after the fact description.  I learned that on the fly…so to speak.

Coming down the runway, airspeed alive. 50 knots so craft is getting light.  That funneled wind hits and IAS jumps to 65.  Plane gets really light.  Not the best moment for that to happen but with proper cross wind aileron in, it was a simple matter of getting the aircraft off the ground, a slight pause in ground effect to build up a stable speed and lift off.  So, already a good learning experience.

Great tracking of runway centerline on departure.

I’d like to say it was a standard pattern but with the winds, I had to make some new adjustments. I had the correction in for downwind so I didn’t get blown away from the field but I can say failed to appreciate the strength of wind on the downwind.  Ground speed was quite a bit faster.  So, my turn to base was quite a bit further.  Of course, the opposite was true on Base and Final, where ground speed was WAY slower than normal. Almost comical.

Still a good opportunity to work with more variables than the standard “calm” days.

Tracking on final for the 7 landings was reasonably good. Same as the landing flare, the amount of rudder required demands a level of “assertive finesse” I don’t yet have.  That’s why I was really excited about the tasks for the day.

That little wind funneling…did you forget about it??? So did I. It impacts the landing as well.  Also, at a not so great time in the landing process.  Just need to be patient, absorb the jostle and let the plane land.  Some were ok, some were not the best. All were passable.

We discussed the landings and I said that I tended to always land left of center.  She said that, considering the winds, that made sense.  I corrected and said…no, my landings, when they are not on center seem to be ALWAYS left of center, regardless of wind. Interesting.  She said, it may be your “picture” being off.  Have to think about that a little but. Technically, even on a perfect landing “I” will always be left of center. The plane must be on the centerline. Maybe I’m trying to put the CFI on the centerline??? Who knows…but definitely something to be aware of and work on.

I had really thought the Sunday X-Country flight was going to be pre-bagged but my CFI said to keep it on.  Finish the flight planning, check the weather around 8pm Saturday and we should have a good idea.  In the meantime she would get the 100′ extension cord to plug in the plane’s new block heater so things would be ready to go in the morning.

Cool.

So, planning was completed and everything prepped.  At 8pm the forecast looked good for the beginning of the flight.  With snow and ice forecasted later in the day though it could get dicey. Flight was supposed to start at 9AM Sunday. Dicey weather to be around N94 around 10AM.  Based on that, well, I could go off early but probably not going to happen.

Up at 6AM…weather check.  Marginal weather still coming but now not until 2pm.  Skies clear, wind calm. It’s on!

7AM…new weather….Marginal now coming at 11am.  Hmm…maybe???

Then the current radar image.

InBoundSnow

No doubt I would be able to get off in time but quite likely would have to get a hotel room in Williamsport. They’ve got a Wegmans but other than the Little League Hall of Fame…not much else going on.

Spoke to my CFI and we agreed it was a Valiant Effort but…Cancelled.

Let the weather watch begin anew.

 

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.

n94-kseg

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?”

What???

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.

diversion

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.

 

Night Requirements COMPLETE!

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.

My cheat sheet

My cheat sheet

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.

Jay Rossignol & Arnold Offner - ILS 13 Approach - KMDT

Jay Rossignol & Arnold Offner – ILS 13 Aproach – KMDT

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.

Hershey Park at Night!

Hershey Park at Night!

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.

View FROM the feature

View FROM the feature

Photo Credit

The 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!