Friday, August 22, 2008

Long Cross-Country Complete!

Now that the weather in New England has gotten better for flying, I went from delaying my solo cross-country to Groton for 2-3 weeks to completing both that flight and my solo long cross-country within 26 hours of eachother. Since I've alreadt recapped on the first one, let me detail the Oxford-Groton-New Bedford-Oxford trip now...

A few minutes after 4pm yesterday I arrived at Oxford, where Chris was ready for me. I did my preflight, then we went inside to review the flight plans and everything while the plane got fueled up. Chris asked for my flight plan, which I have maticulously detailed: one page for the OXC-GON flight, one for the GON-EWB leg and the third page for the EWB-OXC return flight, all complete with airport diagrams, checkpoints, radios frequencies and notes as needed.

Chris asked me: "what's your plan for Providence airspace?"
"I plan on staying south of it from Groton to New Bedford, then flying over it at 4500' from New Bedford back to Oxford."
"How will you know you're high enough before you enter their airspace?"
I pointed to the notes section on the third page of flight plans and read it outloud: "If not at 4500' by first checkpoint, circle and climb to 4500 feet. If needed, call Providence (134.5) below 4100 feet."
Visibily impressed, Chris replied, "ok, yeah, you're all set then." I love it when my hard work and attention to detail shows and is done correctly.

Chris signed off everything in my logbook, then wrote a quick note for me on a small piece of paper. He folded it in half and wrote "In case of emergency" on it before folding it in half one-more time. He then told me:

"I've done this for all of my students for this flight - all nine of you. Don't open this unless there's an emergency. You can open it when you get back, but not before then."
Curious, I half-jokingly asked: "What is it? Identification in case I crash? I have my driver's license on me."
"Haha, yeah, that's fire-proof paper," Chris laughed.

I promised not to open it until I got back, and while the tempation to peak was hard, I kept my word.

When I climbed into the plane I turned off the VOR to prevent radios problems like those from yesterday's flight. Chris hadn't flown this plane since I tied it down last night.

Everything went perfectly smooth during run-up and take-off. Chris was in front of me on the taxi-way, flying his brother to Hartford. His take-off and climb out were flawless, of course. Mine weren't bad, I noted as I accended. I've certainly gotten much better at holding center-line.

Having just made this leg of the flight the prior day, I forgot to use my flight plan until I was already passing Waterbury (my first checkpoint) and onto my second. Two-three checkpoints later I stopped looking for checkpoints: I knew where the airport was, and I had the "digital VOR" which was quickly becoming a favorite tool of mine. (Chris had told me I could use anything in the plane to make this flight; every tool was at my disposal.)

When I got to Groton, everything went smoothly. I took a few photos and a short video of the airport (and a close-up on my face - by mistake - of me saying "Welcome to Groton" over the sound of the engine) as I taxied back to runway 23 for a take-off. Still the only runway at Groton I've had the chance to use.

Before requesting take-off for the second leg of the trip I reviewed my flight plan and sectional (which had flight paths and checkpoints marked): what was my heading going to be? what altitude was I flying at? what was my first checkpoint? how far out was it? etc. Once I felt relatively confident about flying to an airport I'd never seen before, I got clearence to take-off and depart northeast.

During the take-off roll on the runway birds were flying out of the way, which is usual, but I came within feet of striking one on the lower-right side of my plane almost as soon as I took-off. I'm not sure what would have happened, but I was able to remain calm and focused, which I proud of. There's not a whole lot you can do with a sucidial pidgeon when you're flying -- just don't get yourself into trouble trying to avoid hitting it. Sort of like when you have to avoid running over a squirrel in a car: do your best to avoid it, but don't choose to run into an oncoming truck to save the squirrel. Aside from that the climb out was both smooth and BEAUTIFUL. I took more photos and another short video clip, which will be posted eventually (my apologies for not posting all my promised photos yet!).

The flight to New Bedford (EWB) was calm. I found myself almost completely ignoring my flight plan, and just using my marked-up sectional to figure out how to get there, and how to make sure I was clear of Providence airspace. Again, the "digital VOR" was helpful too. The most exciting part about that leg of the trip (aside from the stunning water scenes below me) was a small Diamond (a type of plane) that passed below me, but he was well clear of me. The fact that I was able to scan and find other traffic successfully felt good though.

On the route I finally figured out how New Bedford got such a weird airport tag of "EWB": New Bedford -> newbedford -> nEWBedford -> EWB. That helped me remember both the name, and the tag, of the airport.

Coming in for landing everything was going fine. I finally was entering the downwind leg of the pattern, meaning I could do a more "typical" pattern landing in terms of when I put my flaps down, etc. I was coming in so high that I made sure to decend rapidly. When I got to pattern altitude (about 1070' there) and was setting up for landing on runway 23 (yes, 23 at EWB too) I was still decending. I slowed my decent a bit, but still opted to make tighter traffic once I was cleared for landing. As I'm making my turn base - then final - I heard the tower clear someone to take-off on the runway. I slowed my flight down and thought about radioing the tower "Uhh, tower, comfirm 987 clear to land runway 23?" but decided it might rub the tower the wrong way; besides, I was perfectly able to space out a bit and land clear of the departing craft.

I made my landing smoothly and tower asked where I wanted to go. I requested "transient parking" which I thought was the name of "temporary" parking at an airport, but the tower asked me to repeat. I used the word "temporary" this time to make sure my intentions were clear, and stated that I was unfamiliar with the airport. (Despite having a crude diagram on my flight plan I'd certainly never been there before, and was by no definition "familiar" with where to park.) After all, there's no point in using the correct terminology (assuming "transient" even was) if it doesn't get the idea across.

The tower gave me instruction to taxi via bravo to parking, though I didn't understand where he instructed me to park. I decided to try to find out myself before asking him, but first he had me hold short of crossing taxiway alpha as a jet came towards me and took alpha to the runway. He then instructed me to continue to parking once the jet was clear, where I found a young man directing me where to park. I was approaching him, but didn't turn when he apparently wanted me to. Clearly I should have gotten more familiar with hand signals. He made a gesture to explain to loop around into the parking spot, which I did. Upon turning off the engine I apologized and told him I was a student pilot - the only person I told the whole trip. He was very understanding, and directed me to the bathrooms.

I tied the plane down, had some crackers I brought along and called Chris as I was instructed. He congradulated me and told me he wouldn't be there when I got back, but to call him again then. I made another call to a friend, but ended up leaving a voicemail. I used the bathroom, got some water, took a few photos (they'll come, I swear!), then checked my fuel. I had enough, but there was no reason NOT to put more in, so I had Paul - the guy who helped me park - put in 4 gal in each wing. Since the cost of fuel was built into the plane rental, I got a reciept so I could get paid back.

I checked the planes fuel after paying for it, but that was the extent of my preflight since I'd only landed 15 minutes ago. I untied the plane and got cleared for take-off back towards Oxford. Nothing usual about it, but still AWESOME that I was in Massachusetts - after crossing Rhode Island - alone in a plane. I focused and commanded the plane to climb to the 4500' cruise altitude I'd chosen for my flight back, clearing Prodivence's airspace at 4100'. I made it to the altitude as planned, without having to circle over my first checkpoint like I'd read to Chris, but I still wasn't comfortable. See, Providence is a class C airport - which is pretty big, like Bradley in Connecticut is. Even though I was 400' above the top of their airspace, I knew there would be traffic - BIG traffic - in the area, and I didn't want to risk dipping 500' and getting in trouble. I decided to call Providence approach.

"Providence approach, Cessna November 48984 with request." After a minute with no reply I repeated. That time I got an answer.
"November 48984, state request and location."
"November 48984, departing New Bedford, flying west towards Oxford-Waterbury, request flight following."
"48984, squawk 0444, ident"
"November 48984, squawking 0444"
Once I changed my transponder from 1200 (for standard VFR flight) I pressed the "ident" button to confirm the change. They then called back: "November 48984, got your ident."

They were very busy, as was Bradley approach during my one experience with Chris. I noticed a Boeing 737? 747? decending about 7-10 miles in front of me, so I went a little further south to stay clear. In fact, it wasn't until I got much closer that I even realized I was passing over the path a Boeing just took. Awesome! I was a little concerned, however, that approach didn't warn me about that traffic, so I kept my eyes peeled for other traffic, not wanting to rely on approach. It was tough though, since I was heading west -- directly towards the setting sun like last evening's return flight.

"November 48984 Airbus 6000 at 11 to 12 o'clock" they called me.
"November 48984, could you repeat the altitude?"
"6000 ft, 1000 ft above you, between 11 and 12 o'clock" he repeated. If he was annoyed, it wasn't clear.
A moment later "984, traffic in sight." Let me tell you, those things are HUGE, even when you're 1000' below and not directly under them. I knew I was clear of him though, so there was no worry, and I was almost past the busy area, having only seen the two jets.

About 10-20 miles later I requested to terminate flight following. This one took a second call again, but was then granted. I realized I was well south of my flight plan's path, but using the "digital VOR" and my sectional I realized I didn't care about the flight plan. I knew where I was, I knew where I was going, and I knew what I was doing. It was pretty cool being so confident in my ability.

Most of the rest of the flight back included me snacking on peanuts (all long flights have peanuts, don't they?), singing to myself ("Whole New World" was still in my head), taking photos (mostly of the sunset) and relaxing (including barely touching the controls). It was a nice, though at moments boring, flight back. I tried to figure out breifly how to turn on the AM radio Chris once showed me that the plane had, but gave up quickly. I decided it was best not to start twisting a bunch of knobs I thought was the radio only to find out it was something critical.

As the sun crept behind the final peaks of the mountains out west, I knew it was going to be another twilight landing. Having just been through one yesterday, and today confident in my tools and abilities, I was unfazed. When I finally got to Oxford I made all my radio calls, spotting the traffic I was to follow and set-up my landing perfectly. I noticed as I decended on final that I love the way an airport looks at night: like Christmas with all the little white, red, green and blue lights adorning the runway and taxiways. With all my flaps in - something I hadn't done for either previous landing that trip - I was coming in nice and slow. Like yesterday's landing back at Oxford's runway 36, I noticed ground effect almost worked in opposite again: instead of hovering for a few seconds above the runway the plane felt like a giant magnet was dragging it down. I kept applying back-pressure, but not fast enough, so I jerked it. Oops. I definitely stopped decending, but I was now doing the "burp" that often ends in a less-than-smooth landing. I pushed the nose over and managed to flair slightly, making for a smoother landing, but still not the best of the day.

The ATC cleared me to taxi back to Classic Air (he must be so familiar with 48984 by now that he knew where I wanted to taxi to) and I took a few photos of the sunset behind the tower as I taxied in. I turned off the plane, logged my time and tied it down. I left Chris a voicemail and was finished. My long cross-country was done.

On the drive back to my house, Chris called and congradulated me again. He told me to call him back on Sunday to plan what we'll do next, but until then he'd text me the number of the guy I'd be taking my check-ride with to call Friday (today). In 2-3 weeks, I will be taking my test. My next lesson will be sometime next week, so you can expect my next post then. Until that time though, I think I'm taking a break - I'm exhausted after flying 4.7 hours solo in a 26 hour span. My flying this week is done.


I stopped for gas en route and pulled out my wallet. I almost forgot about a small piece of paper that was folded up inside it, reading "in case of emergency." Having kept my word to Chris, I finally opened it. It read:

Emergency huh
To bad
Figure it out!

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