Friday, July 18, 2008

Solo and a Treat

I got to the airport at about 6:10pm, earlier then normal. I preflighted the 152 (while Chris finished up with his prior student) and went inside. Matt (the student before me) was leaving as I sat down and Chris asked to see my logbook. I handed it to him, but was confused. I wondered if he was going to give me some sort of endorsement or sign-off, but he was just checking to make sure my math was correct, and to see if I was low on anything.

Turns out I was: I only had 2.1 hours of solo time, and I need something like 10 before I can take my test. Even if ALL I did from now until my check ride was solo flights I still couldn't do it in exactly 40 hours -- not that I was going to anyway. Some of that time will be done during my solo cross-country and solo long cross-country (a long cross-country is one in excess of 150 miles), but those together will be 5 hours, tops. I needed more.

"Go have fun. I'll be here when you land," Chris told me. No instruction on where to go, what to do, etc. Just, "if you have any problems, come back here." So I went!

I'm getting used to this whole "flying solo" thing, in that I can do it without thinking or worrying too much. I got into the plane and made a quick phone call to my friend Johnny before I took off: "I'm going flying. Be outside in 20 minutes and I'll fly over your house." Now I know that sounds bad, but I was at least 2000' AGL the whole time, and had wanted to explore over by where he lived for a while. Besides, I wanted to practice turns around a point, and his house seemed like as good a point as any.

Nothing unusual happened on the way up. I got cleared off runway 36 for a NE departure, and after a smooth run-up I did just that. The only spot worth mentioning was that once I completed my run-up and requested take-off from the tower, they said, "984 take-off runway 36 without delay." The "without delay" part was key. I had noticed he had just cleared another plane to come in for a landing, so I was expecting him to send me up after him. Nope, he let me go -- I just had to do it fast. So I did, without any problems. It was a little exciting though, seeing as it was something Chris and I hadn't really practiced before this.

So upon reaching 2700' I flew towards Waterbury and traced I-84. I passed by Johnny's house going East once before I saw it, so I turned around and went back, getting it in sight this time. I paged him on my phone, just to notify him I was overhead (but never spoke on it -- since I wouldn't be able to hear anything anyway).

I did three circles over his house (he told me later he did see me, though I wasn't sure if I saw him) before heading NW towards my practice area. I kept the radios tuned to 118.47, Oxford Tower's frequency, to listen for traffic. Supposedly there was another plane NE of the airport where I was, but I never found him, so clearly he wasn't too close. Flying from Waterbury to the practice area a lot more emergency fields showed up, and a lot less hills meant perfectly calm air. I continued West as I had in a previous solo, but with visibility better this time I opted to go further. More hills prompted me to fly higher -- up to 4500' the moment before I turned around (4500' is an East heading, while I was flying West, but I kept climbing until I decided to turn around just to be safe -- keeping a lookout for traffic the whole time). I saw one helicopter above me while I was still at about 3500', but we were never anywhere close.

I went as far as Candlelight Airport (untowered, but I called to warn any traffic I was in the area) which was surrounded by water. Chris said he'd be taking me here for short and soft fields, so this trip helped familiarize me with the area. After getting there I almost instantly turned around. I was doing a good job of checking instruments (is my heading indicator aligned properly? fuel shut-off valve still on? transponder set to Alt?). Oops! I forgot setting my transponder to Alt, so I switched it. It wasn't a big deal (and I told Chris after), but I should've caught it. Next time I'll be more mindful of it -- like my carb heat from the Goodspeed flight.

Flying back was a breeze. I got ATIS and called tower, who told me to enter left traffic and call mid-field down-wind. I was careful to lose altitude (by using less throttle, of course!) steadily on my flight back so as not to repeat the mistake I made with the bumpy landing on my last solo. Seeing as this landing was in the pattern it gave me more buffer room to get my altitude right so I'd be at 1700' by the time I called tower. Everything went fine, including my not-perfect-but-by-no-means-bad landing (started coming in high again, and touched down slightly bumpy). I was pleased.

When I got back to the airport I performed the "after landing" checklist and tied the plane down. I forgot to mention last time, but Chris warned me that if I pass my check ride, then don't tie down the plane properly I will FAIL! I NEED to remember to tie down the plane after my check ride. I went inside looking for Chris, but he was taxiing a plane over from the other side of the airport. (There are hangers and parking on both sides of Oxford.) When he got back, he asked me how things went and we talked for a few minutes. Next week (Tues, Wed, Thurs) we're hoping to go to Grotton, then have me solo to Grotton, plus one day of buffer time, if we need it.

Then Chris asked if I wanted to go for a ride. Him and his cousin Mike (he calls him Mikey) were taking a REALLY nice plane through the pattern once to test it out and see how it handled after Chris's uncle did some work on it. With a 300HP engine, 6 leather seats, GPS, retractable gear, one turbo prop, etc., this thing was a BEAST.

I climbed in the back for a joyride, and after having some trouble getting my door closed (this was the first time Chris was ever actually mean to me, remarking "you can fly the plane by yourself, but you need me to explain how to close the door") we were off. I wish I remembered what kind of plane it was -- some type of Piper, but it was so powerful that Chris was climbing at about 1500 feet per minute and it was going steady. It had so many technical bells and whistles that when he got close to another plane in the pattern a voice came on saying "traffic, traffic" and it appeared on one of the radars. So not just did this thing have the muscles to fly fast, it had the brains too.

Chris's landing was hard -- harder than the solo I'd had earlier. He taxied the three of us back in, then offered to take me up in the Bonanza, which was supposedly even faster. I wanted to, but it was after 8:30 and I had to finish laundry and get ready for my weekend (down in D.C.) so I left. Hopefully I'll get another chance to in the future sometime.

All-in-all it was a great night of flying! Next week should be even better!

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