Tag Archives: VOR

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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!


Loop and Lands

The midday sun slowly peeking through the cloudy morning haze provided a glimmer of hope that the dual night cross country flight would occur. With the forecast originally being for full overcast, to see the yellow rays of the sun and even some blue skies…get the flight plan ready!

Arriving home from work I said my hellos to everyone and then quickly went to the office to get everything in order. Flight plans had been prefilled with everything except the winds.  Experience had taught me to make photocopies of the plans up to that point just in case they ever needed to be redone. Weather briefing seemed fine with light and variable winds along the route of flight and 6 miles of visibility (warning 1). Airmet Sierra just north and west of our position which did not currently impact our route of flight (warning 2). Only oddity during the call was that the briefer knew my name and aircraft before I told him???

I decided to ask about that and he said I had a profile online linked to my phone number.  Hmm.  I thought it might have been because I had done a version of the flight plan on a flight planning website (although I did not file it). Turns out it was because I had created an account on the Lockheed Martin website with a plane profile which they could now use.  So, creepy but useful??

Driving to the airport, the air was a bit heavy.  The sun warmed land coupled with a now cloudless sky was eagerly giving back its heat into the sunset (warning 3).  My instructor came out during preflight and we talked through some options.  We were worried about fog / haze but decided we would “take a look”.

As typical, I had to fuel the plane up. After nearly 3 weeks away, things were moving rather slowly although not unfamiliar.  In the run up area we pulled in the Capital City ATIS. My CFI asked if there was anything in there that concerned me.  Wanting to say No…Let’s Fly! was of course the desire but I definitely heard it. Temp / dew point spread was less than 2 and we knew it was cooling off rapidly(final warning). It was going to get soupy.

It’s like a Merry go Round

So, still flying (phew) but into backup plan 1.  Instead of cross country we would do night take offs and landings. I need 10 total.  Have one from the previous flight and will get 2 if/when the cross country occurs so on the menu tonight…7 landings.

On the first night flight the winds were from the East so instead of 28 we departed and landed on 10.  I had never landed on 10 so it was ALL new.  I had no references at all and that probably helped.  That landing was pretty good.

Tonight we would be on 28 which I’ve landed on countless times. Lots of references, lots of familiarity…in the day time…when you can SEE! That turns out to be a big liability at night.

N94 only has 1 light setting.  So, with 3 clicks of the mic, the aeronautical version of the clapper does its job and the runway goes aglow. Very quaint.  Not much to look at.

As we take off, everything is routine.  On the climb I look behind to spot the runway and, while it’s only lights, I can clearly see that I am on the centerline. Turn base, reach pattern altitude, turn downwind…hmm, was that too early? Can see the runway but not yet judging distance.  Seems closer…of course, I don’t have my little rock quarry as a guide.  It’s there but as dark as a hole in the ground! Answer…yes, I am a little too close.  I make a little correction to create some distance and commence the descent.  Turning base…the airplane is stabilized but I am all kinds of disoriented.  Basically…I lost the runway. Wasn’t sure at that point what I was looking for.  I eventually spotted the runway threshold lights (along with a set of night landmarks) but by that point the rest of the descent was all out of whack.  I called the go around early.

Then, during that portion of the flight I noticed I couldn’t hear anything in the headset.  Radio went dead? We were both puzzled. She flies while I tinker. Nope.  I fly while she tries a few things.  When the intercom isn’t working you truly realize how hard it is to hear another person in an airplane.  Final cause??? Looks like I knocked the volume control when re-trimming for the go around.  Stupid error but a good one to make in training because it’s going to happen again.

On the plus side, while she was flying she set up the downwind leg and the spacing was much better.  I still had a little issue finding the threshold on base leg but plenty of time to get things stable.

7 landings in all.  The first two were decent but rusty.  3-4 I had nearly nailed until I totally didn’t.  Great patience rounding out and holding the flare until I jerked ever so slightly on the control and whoosh! Balloon time. And of course those typically end with a bit of a jolt. And they did.  We discussed approach speed of 65-70 and she said to try 60, especially with the 30 degrees of flap.  I have decent speed control on approach so I guess there’s no longer a concern and making a slower approach.

Much softer landing as I had less energy to bleed off. That’s now in the book of tricks.

And then, of course, so I wouldn’t be complacent, landings 6 & 7 would be without a landing light. A TOMATO FLAMES + FLAPS is a mnemonic most student pilots will encounter during their training and one I got into during the trip to Taiwan.  It’s a way to remember required equipment during VFR flight (A TOMATO FLAMES) and VFR at night (FLAPS). While I wasn’t going to turn down the maneuver I questioned my CFI about landing lights being required equipment (the L in FLAPS).  She said they were not and asked me what the heck the A TOMATO FLAMES thing was. So, a discussion ensued.  I recited everything in the mnemonic (good on me for remembering it…at least I learned something during the business trip). She said that all the other items were required but not Landing lights.

“And besides, the landing light could blow out during the flight so you’ll need to learn how to make the landing.” Not one to turn down the opportunity, I said “Well, sure, the engine could blow out as well but of course, that’s required equipment!”.  At least it got a laugh but I don’t think one is supposed to joke about those things…at least not while airborne.  So we had a bet to be settled later.

No landing light….no problem.  In fact, they were 2 of the best landings of the night.  Can’t explain why…not going to question it, just going to smile because the lesson ended on 2 good landings.

Of course on the wager…I was wrong.

I pulled up my A TOMATO FLAMES reference and did my victory dance. She pulled out the REGS (damn those things) and showed me that Landing Lights were required…..when the plane is FOR HIRE.

<Lawyer Mode On>

“Well, I’m renting this plane…and I’m hiring you to teach me how to fly it….” So…landing lights are required.

Nice try…but no dice..

<Lawyer Mode Off>

Somebody owes somebody cookies.

Somebody owes somebody cookies.







Soft field / Short Field work this weekend.

Dual night….well, there’s a plan to do it next week.

We’ll see…

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.