Thursday, January 31, 2008

2nd Solo Cross Country

Courtesy of Skyvector.com
I suppose if January is going to give you a day as nice as it was this morning, you gotta go, Thursday or no Thursday. It was ice cold, about 15 degrees F when I arrived at the airport at 8AM, but sunny and calm. The airplanes were plugged into their block heaters which kick on at 6AM but I had the feeling that might not be quite enough. I went through the preflight in my down jacket, hat and gloves and everything seemed in order except that the engine needed a quart and the last guy to fly didn't fill the tanks... doh! At any rate, the plan today was to fly to a tiny podunk airport near Ravenna, Ohio called Portage County (29G). This would be somewhat of a two-legger as I planned to fly roughly a 300 heading, overfly the Akron VOR and, then head nearly north to 29G. I pulled the plane out of its hangar, got everything situated as far as the map, timer, E6B, etc, went through the pre-ignition checklist, turned the key and.... not much happened. The prop on 549, my 152 trainer, spun around a few times but it was clear the battery was pretty much frozen.

Oh well, I called Mike and let him know what happened, and proceeded to tell him I was going to head to work. "But hang on", Mike said, "we have another trainer!". "But Mike, 45M only has one radio, one OBS and no GPS!". "Well then it will be good practice for you"... So ok, I was planning on using ded reckoning and VORs for navigation anyhow but the GPS in 549 is certainly comforting to have. Besides, I was familiar with 549, as I had done just about all of my training in it. But before I could talk myself out of it I had preflighted 45M and pulled it out on the ramp. Don't get me wrong, 45M is a great 152, in fact to me it feels like the motor pulls a little harder than 549, but lets just say the cockpit is a little lacking in the avionics department, at least comparatively. Of course 45M fires right up, so no more chance for an excuse, and I'm off departing runway 35. I played it super safe by flying around the pattern, climbing above pattern altitude, and then overflew PJC to mark my time and get my heading correct.

Well it wasn't long before I realized something wasn't right, I hit Ellwood City as planned, but I soon realized that my checkpoints were not appearing. I did not know it at the time but Mike and I deduced later that the winds aloft had swung from being nearly from the west when I called the briefer and did my planning, to north-north east. Where I was holding a bearing of 300, my aircraft was heading more like 270 due to a lack of proper wind correction. I did get a little panicky particularly because I knew I was flying close to Pittsburgh International class Bravo airspace. I dialed in the Akron VOR and much to my surprise it was telling me to fly a much more northerly heading that I expected. This did not sit well with me as I had still not thought I was so far south of my plotted course. I was about to turn around not wanting to continue further without finding a recognizable landmark when I just happened to look straight down, and lo and behold, out of sheer luck, I was directly over Youngstown Elser airport (4G4) and one of my checkpoints! I immediately course corrected and dialed in my 300 radial on the ACO VOR and then, seeing how the needle was moving away I finally realized something was up with the wind. I course corrected and held the VOR heading and eventually overflew the VOR (my first TO-FROM flip experience) and then headed the last 7 miles up to 29G.

The airport was deserted and the runway in need of repair, but I swung the plane around after landing and navigated back home much more confidently using the landmarks and ded reckoning primarily with the VOR for backup. I would say all-in-all it was a great experience not to have the GPS on board as it showed me 1) how important it is to stay on your checkpoints and 2) I do have the capability to fly a fairly minimally equipped airplane X-country. I would recommend that every student perform their cross countries, at least one of them, with a heading change and ditch the GPS!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First Solo X-Country

Courtesy of Skyvector.comJust had my first solo cross-country, and while everything went very smoothly and to plan, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience to fly by oneself to another airport and return safely back home. My instructor and I chose Port Meadville (GKJ) as it is almost a direct north heading and you can practically follow Route 79 all of the way from Zelienople to GKJ. The weather was a balmy 37 degrees F with virtually no wind to speak of but a rather low ceiling around 2,500 to 3,000 feet AGL.

I got to the airport around 9AM performed a very thorough preflight, called in for a briefing and calculated my wind correction angle and heading from the winds aloft the briefer gave me. I pulled the plane out and went through the checklists which always do a good job of smoothing out the butterflies. Before I knew if I was calling my departure and enjoying the great lift the cold air provided. The trip was rather uneventful and I was able to hit my checkpoints within 10-30 seconds or so. I also shot some radials from a few VORs to double check but with 79 off to my right, it was pretty easy to feel comfortable with the navigation.

Approaching Port Meadville, I left the view of 79 and followed Route 19 which according to the map would take me straight to GKJ. The airport is actually hidden from view from the south by a ridge but faith in the map proved to serve me well and the airport popped into view on time. I had check the ATIS, there was no local traffic announcing a runway so I chose runway 25 and announced my intentions. Downwind for 25 at GKJ is interesting in that you basically are heading into a mountainside and then parallel that on base right over Route 79, pretty cool. The landing was relatively decent and soon I was taxing back for the takeoff.

The trip back was just as uneventful as before and I played the "what-if-my-engine-were-to-quit-now" game a fair amount. Soon Lake Moraine was in view, I announced on the PJC frequency that I was landing and Mike chirped on his handheld to check in on me, he was there getting ready for a lesson with another student. After landing, filling up and shutdown, I joined Mike for a debrief and a taco at the local Mexican restaurant right on the airport. I wasn't able to dally long as I was scheduled to join the CEO of BitArmor and the wives for a little R&R at the Pitt-Seton Hall hoops game. A pretty darn good way to spend a Saturday!
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