Flight 27: First Solo Cross Country
My first solo cross country was scheduled for today. I hadn’t flown alone in ten days, and tried to get some local solo time in. The weather was ideal a few days ago when I had the plane booked, but it had been pulled for a 100-hour inspection.
I tried again the next two days but didn’t fly due to low clouds and then high winds. From the forecast last night, it didn’t look good for today, either. It was cold today (high in the 40s), and the wind was expected to be too strong.
I got to the airport and found that the plane was having work done on it again since someone was unable to start it this morning. My CFI had me go ahead and finish planning the trip, get a briefing, and file a flight plan. By the time I was done the plane was ready.
I had waited for months for this day to arrive- my chance to finally fly alone more than a few miles from home. I flew to Punta Gorda (PGD), where we did our first dual cross country. (See my Cross Country Map.) That’s SSE from here, and I had an estimated 15 knot northwest wind at altitude to get me there faster and delay my return. I was off course a couple of miles to the east, which makes sense.
I knew I was off course by the time I was halfway there, but I was not sure how far off. Most of the area I flew over is sparsely populated, so there are not many checkpoints from which to choose. Most of my checkpoints were roads and towers.
When I pass over a road, it’s easy to recognize it but hard to judge if I’m off a mile or two to one side. (Intersections are better checkpoints, but I had to pick things along the route.) It’s also easy to spot the towers- most of them are 1000 to 1500 feet high- but hard for me to judge my distance from them. (I might have been five miles east of a tower I should have been three miles from, for example.)
There was an unlimited ceiling, but the visibility was only about ten miles due to haze, mostly caused by small fires that seemed to be burning everywhere. The plane performed well in the cold, and since it was sunny I was warm enough in the cockpit.
Once I left my home airport, I didn’t see another aircraft until I was near PGD. Based on the radio, there wasn’t any, which is unusual for a sunny Saturday afternoon.
I arrived six minutes later than my original estimated arrival time, which I thought was pretty good for being off course. (My syllabus says I should be able to arrive within ten minutes of the revised estimate. The winds aloft reading I used to calculate my heading and arrival time is only measured twice a day and could have been off enough to account for the difference. It’s unlikely that the wind speed and direction were constant for the entire flight.)
My CFI gave me the option of doing a full stop or touch & go at Punta Gorda, whichever I was comfortable with, so I planned for the touch & go. That forced me to have the plane under control for one “long” flight instead of two short ones. I also had to think about the return leg before I arrived, so I would be set up to get on the correct heading to get back home.
Apparently there was something going on at Punta Gorda. There was a lot of traffic, and pilots were being told there was a lack of places to park.
Right after I turned final and announced my position, another plane pulled out on the runway at my end. He didn’t announce his departure- he probably wasn’t using a radio- so he probably didn’t hear me say I had him in sight in my best thanks-for-nothing voice. He lifted off soon enough and far enough down the runway that I had time and room to land, but it wouldn’t have hurt him to allow me the right-of-way I was supposed to have.
The return leg was uneventful. I was off course and six minutes late again, and there was no traffic the whole way back. I thought my radio might not be transmitting properly when I asked for an airport advisory three times without an answer, but it turned out that nobody was listening. All I really needed was the runway in use, and I could tell from the direction the smoke was blowing that the wind had not shifted.
Today: 1.9 hours
Total: 35.2 hours
Total Solo: 6.3 hours