Learning to fly

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Flight #29
Sept 5, 1999, 10am
(3.0 Solo) 43.0 total

Blues skies and a fairly warm day shaping up. Some haze, but nothing to deter me from going to Alabama. I checked the weather between Cherokee and Gadsden and it showed nothing to be concerned about.

I preflighted the plane and decided to see if a kneeboard made organization of my map and flight plans any better. Boy, did it. Everything clipped in place and easy to write on without fumbling and fussing, the only way to fly.

I took off from runway 22 and climbed to altitude with no problems, although I could see I was going to have to hold about 10 degrees right wind correction to maintain the VOR needle. Soon after I established myself on course, I tried to contact Macon Radio to activate my flight plan but got no answer. I tried again after a bit with the same result, so I gave up. Then I tuned into Atlanta Center and requested Flight Following. He came back and asked if I was VFR; “Affirmative” I said. “Wait one” he said and promptly ignored me for the rest of the flight. Not a big concern, although it would have been nice to have a second set of eyes looking out for me, especially since it was pretty hazy at that altitude.

All of my checkpoints came into view on time and where they were supposed to be, so I relaxed a bit and tried to enjoy the ride. About 11 miles from Gadsden, I called in and got the active runway and remembering our earlier dual flight, started a 500fpm descent to get to pattern altitude by the time I got over the airport. With no traffic anywhere to be seen and thermals bouncing me all over the sky, I entered the upwind for runway 36 and flew the pattern. I remembered that the runway was 150' wide here, so don’t let the illusion fool you and make you land high, and with such a long runway, fly about halfway down before putting it on the ground.

A golf cart Follow Me truck met me as I taxied off the runway and led me to the FBO where I shut down. I checked to make sure my flight plan wasn’t opened and filed a new one for the trip home, then called Cherokee to let them know I made it down OK. After I grabbed a coke and paid for the gas, I relaxed for a bit in the lounge before taking off again. A valuable lesson, Visit The Potty Before Flying, was about to be learned, but when I learned it, I would be 5,500 feet in the air. Oh, well.

A quick preflight and taxi out to runway 6 since the wind had shifted a bit by then. I took off and thanked the FBO guy for his help and flew the FROM radial of the Gadsden VOR. About 2,000’ into my climb I noticed a plane’s shadow on the ground crossing left to right on a collision course with me, but I couldn’t see a plane. I nearly panicked trying to see where he was and finally caught sight of him far below and out of my airspace. Whew. A couple of deep breaths to relax and I tried to open my flight plan, but again, no answer.

So I called Atlanta Center and this time was able to get Flight Following although they said they had trouble seeing me. So I requested an altitude change to 5,500’ and they OK’d it. Again, all the checkpoints were just where I had left them on the flight out and the needles of the VORs were pretty well centered.

Near Cartersille, a couple of big clouds were in my flight path so I tried to notify Atlanta Center that I would be deviating to the north around them, but I couldn’t get an answer. I tried to contact other planes to have them relay my message, but even though I could hear them, it seemed no one could hear me. Unfortunately (sorta), that’s the way it went for rest of the flight home. I was unable to get anyone to hear me, even at Cherokee when I tried to get a pattern and runway advisory. So, heck with it I thought, fly it on in and make do. I entered the pattern for upwind runway 22 with no traffic in sight, when I saw the windsock. Straight out and blowing directly across the runway with thermals bouncing me all over the place to boot. Wonderful...

On final approach, it seemed I was nearly looking out my side window to stay lined up with the runway. But I kept the power in and tried to be patient and let it fly in easy. A few corrections and a kick to the rudders at the last second to line up, and it came down and stayed there. Not bad for 16 knot crosswind gusting 24. As it turned out, Randall had been concerned about me getting down, but Karen said I was fine because I had good rudder control. Next flight: dual night cross-country to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Flight #29
Sept 12, 1999, 2pm
(.9 Solo) 43.9 total

Very blue skies, 85 degrees and a steady breeze blowing right down runway 4. We weren’t able to schedule a flight to Chattanooga this week, so I decided to fly this afternoon and get some thermal landing practice. I called my father in-law and asked if he wanted to spend an hour at the airport while I flew the pattern and he said sure. I picked him up on the way and we headed for 47A. I hopped in the plane after a quick preflight and took off. Most of the landings were OK, but a gust kicked me sideways at the last second on one and I surprised myself with how well I was able to recover. Sure, I had to set it down on the extreme left side of the centerline, but at least it was straight and a smooth touchdown. A later touchdown could have been counted as three landings since I bounced that many times, but I kept it nearly under control and did a full stop. Not a bad day altogether, but I definitely need more midday practice.

Flight #30
Sept 18, 1999, 9pm
(1.3 Dual) 45.2 total

Blue skies all day turned into a cool, clear moonlit night with a 12 knot breeze from the east. We had been scheduled to go to Chattanooga, but with so many people hanging around, we decided to take three planes, go to Habersham and eat dinner at the buffet seafood restaurant at the airport instead, and touchdown at Toccoa to make it qualify for the night cross-country. 12 of us piled into three planes and headed out into the dark. This was my first time with anyone else in the plane besides myself and Karen and I certainly didn’t want anybody getting sick while I was driving. So I nailed the vertical speed indicator to 70 knots on takeoff and held it very steady until we reached 3,500 and leveled off. We were last to take off and it would have been pretty easy to just follow the other 2 planes but I think they were taking a less precise heading than us. At least it seemed to me that they were pretty north of the course, but it was so clear I guess their instructors weren’t as concerned about holding close to the flight plan as Karen and I.

By this time we were lined up on the heading to Habersham and it wasn’t long before we could see the airport off in the distance, just left of my nose with the wind correction. Night navigation is a heck of a lot easier if you can see as far as we were able to. All three of us flew in a ragged, strung out formation right down to base and final. My touchdown was a bit hard because I misjudged the height above the runway a little, but no bounce and the rollout was straight. After we parked and locked up the plane, we all rode over to the restaurant in a couple of courtesy vans even though it was really within walking distance. I think they wanted us to get in as quick as possible since it was pretty close to their usual closing time. $12.95 for all you could eat seafood, with a choice of catfish, fried chicken and BBQ beef too. For dessert, you had a choice of apple or peach cobbler, or ice cream. Everyone stuffed themselves and then we decided to walk back to the ramp so dinner could have a chance to settle.

A preflight in the dark again for the trip back and after a short detour over to Toccoa for a touch and go, we found ourselves #3 again in formation back to Cherokee. Again, the airport was very easy to see from so far away and we maneuvered for a straight-in, downwind landing on runway 22. Not the way I like to land, but it was a piece of cake. I did have to trim it to the stops for a steady descent with the passengers, but no real problems other than a reminder from Karen to watch my airspeed which fell just below 65 knots at one point. Not good, I should have been watching that better. After a fairly smooth touchdown left of the centerline, the extra weight in back slowing us down enough to make the second turn off without having to back-taxi. Written test on Sunday, looking for 100.

Sept. 19, 1999, 10am
Passed the written with a score of 98% and I can’t complain. It would have been a 100% except I changed an answer during my review. I’ve been carrying around the Gleim red study book nearly since the day I began lessons, reading it everyday during my lunch hour, so a high score was not unexpected.

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