My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 2/3

Hello everyone – I realise it has been over a month since attaining my Cross Country endorsement, and almost as long since my last post – its been a busy month, and unfortunately I’d been suffering from a bit of CBA Syndrome (couldn’t be arsed).

But its been on my to-do list for so long, that in fact it has migrated over several of them, as other things get ticked off and I realise its time for a new list… the blog always seems to be the “carry over”.  So I am hoping to rectify that so I can get on to more recent news and announcements.

When Last We Met, I was taxiing by myself for Runway 19 at Young aerodrome.  In many ways this trip was to be the culmination of everything I have learned as a pilot.  Every single lesson would be called upon – from takeoff and landing, straight & level, and turns as well as the more advanced subject of navigation, including planning, arrival and departure procedures, situational awareness, and communication – and possibly low-level or lost and diversion procedures!

But to keep it simple, it still boils down to the three main priorities – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

The plan was to leave Young and fly over West Wyalong and land at Forbes for a break before continuing up to Parkes then back via Cowra.  All up, a little over 200 nautical miles which would take about 2.5 hours at the current wind speeds and planned cruise speed of 90 knots.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both giddy with anticipation and shitting down both legs in terror that I was finally about to undertake this flight that was over 2 years in the making.  Despite the common public perception of pilots, I’m no dare-devil, fearless, swashbuckling aviator who laughs in the face of danger.  In fact I am pretty much a coward.  But what I am good at is assessing and managing risk in real-time and I have faith that I have been trained well enough to call upon that training should crisis assert the need.

So having left Brett standing there, and having taxied and lined up on 19, and before I had any time to think about it, I gave it full throttle and tracked the centreline until I was airborne.  This was my first solo flight since earlier this year and I’d almost forgotten how much quicker everything happens without the extra weight of the instructor.  And with the engine just out of maintenance, it climbed like the proverbial homesick angel!

Another nice thing about solo flight, besides the relative silence, is there is an extra seat for all the stuff – I no longer have to balance it all on my lap.  Seems a bit easier to gather the thoughts when I’m not also maintaining a parallel track of thought dedicated to vocalising everything I am doing for the benefit of the instructor.

So up and up I went – 300 feet, flaps up.  1000 feet, turn to the West and set first heading for West Wyalong.  I had planned originally a cruising altitude of 4500 feet to avoid having to consider the VFR hemispherical cruising altitude rules, which state if you are above 5000 feet and traveling in a direction between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic, then your altitude must be an odd number of 1000s + 500 (5500, 7500, 9500, etc) and from 180 to 359 degrees, it must be even 1000s + 500 (6500, 8500, etc).  Just one less thing to think about.

However it was rather bumpy at this level and if I wanted to get above it, I would have to get to 6500 feet in keeping with my westerly heading.

Unfortunately there was a pretty thick cloud base at about 5000 feet so I could not penetrate the layer (legally) and was destined to just tumble along at 4,500 below the clouds (observing separation minima) – shaking and rolling with every updraft until finally the clouds thinned out and I spotted an opening!

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Steering around to get myself between clouds and maintaining VMC separation, I found a nice wide open area and got myself up to 6500 feet in 4-5 minutes or so.  Ahhhh much nicer, and of course I could see much farther as well.

Before long I was overhead West Wylong and making my right turn to Forbes where I planned to stop and stretch my legs and take it all in.  To the left is a wonderful visual landmark – Lake Cowal – which is big enough to see from West Wyalong and track along side almost until I could see Forbes.

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As the wind was more or less westerly (though quite gusty) I joined left downwind for runway 27 at Forbes and did a functional but probably less-than-graceful flapless approach and landing, and taxied to park close to the aero club.

I knew Forbes was a rural strip, but I had no idea that it was going to be utterly deserted – that was a strange experience, never having been the only one at an aerodrome.  Not even anyone in the club house, nearby hangars – no one.  There were tumbleweeds blowing around as if to underscore the situation.  The club house was locked.  The men’s toilet had even managed to become some vortex of tumbleweed congregation.  I guess the overwhelming feeling was “its all on you now”.

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So I walked around some more (and of course called my Mum to let her know I was down safe).  There was a cool crop duster plane that I had a look at.  But time was getting on and I still had to get back to Young so I could start planning for the flight back to Bankstown, and the wind was really picking up and turning into a bit of a crosswind.

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I taxied and backtracked 27, managed a nice crosswind takeoff, and departed the crosswind leg for Parkes to the North.  I had hoped I’d be able to see the famous radio telescope but apparently its quite a bit further out of town and there just wasn’t time.

Since my direction changed to northeast, I settled at 5500 feet though it was still bumpy.  The sky was nice and clear and the land marks I’d highlighted on the map were easy enough to follow until I was overhead Parkes.  I am not sure, but I think when I made my overhead radio call, I may have said “Forbes traffic…” rather than Parkes… it was a big day and I am still surprised I held it together as well as I did.

So I made a conscious effort to relax a bit and breathe deeply to make sure the stress of constant focus wasn’t going to cause any real lapses of attention.

After that it was pretty much a matter of following roads and a river to Cowra then a final right turn back to Young.  Before long, I was on descent from 5000 feet and lined up for a straight-in approach.

Young being the Cherry Capital of NSW, I knew Brett would be waiting there with a fresh locally baked cherry pie for me and several kilos of cherries for his mates back in Sydney.  More importantly, I knew he’d be Watching – so naturally I stuffed up the first approach and did a go-around so I could set up for a better landing.

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I got it down and taxied back to the “terminal” for another break to rest and prepare for the next and final stage – the Cross Country Flight test!

… To Be Continued…

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3 thoughts on “My Big Day – Cross Country Pre-test, Solo, and Flight Test – 2/3

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