Sunday, August 06, 2000

Dual: Mini-Cross Country

There have been a lot of days when I've been outside, looked at the sky and thought, "what a gorgeous day -- I wish I were flying!" Well Saturday was one of those days, and I WAS flying. Blue skies with a scattering of puffy white fair-weather cumulus. A little bumpy here and there, but nice. This was all-dual, 1.7 hours C152 with Mario.

I used the airport directory and NY sectional chart to do most of the pre-flight planning for a mini-cross-country, flying ORH to ORE (Orange Muni, just N of the Quabbin) to FIT (Fitchburg, along Rt. 2, over Gardner -- even saw the Gardner VOR) and back over Sterling to ORH. I hoped to detour E to fly over West Boylston and the Wachusett Rsvr., but the first part of the flight took longer than expected. Even though it was too short to be an official cross-country, I figured it would be good practice to get all the info, mark up the chart, fill in the forms, and all that. Then on the flight, following the chart, looking for visual checkpoints, finding and approaching unfamiliar airports, etc. -- just like a real x-country. It's purely a "local" flight for Mario, but I never flew into any of these airports, so it was authentic to me! Total ground distance was only 68 NM, but flying around to properly enter the patterns probably doubled that!

Mario was impressed with my flight planning -- I even got the weather and winds aloft at 3000 feet (only 6 kts at 20 degrees) but I didn't complete the corrections in my navigation log. It was harder than I expected to follow the chart on my lap while juggling 6 or 7 frequencies (ORH's 120.5, ASOS and CTAF for ORE and FIT, CTAF for Gardner when we overflew the airport at 3000 feet, ATIS for ORH, back to 120.5). I also had to look for check point landmarks, plan my entry to each pattern, and fly the airplane! I forgot a lot of stuff along the way, but Mario said I did OK.

Things to note:
• Frequency congestion is a big problem -- 3 or 4 area uncontrolled airports use 122.8 as CTAF, including ORE, and it was very noisy. It took a while to figure out that 32 was the active runway, and it took me even longer to figure out how to enter the downwind at 45 degrees for this since I was approaching the airport on the runway heading! A straight-in approach is bad form at uncontrolled fields (people need to see where you are before you just show up on final). I ended up doing a big circle around the airport which took a long time.
• Watch altitude and airspeed! I climbed to 3300 or descended to 2800 a few times from my planned 3000 (not a normal VFR cruise altitude, but OK for less than 3000' AGL). I should have cruised faster on some legs -- 100 knots maybe. Pitch, power, trim! I should try using the rudders more for slight corrections to course (due to bumps or my wandering attention). If the airplane is trimmed well, it won't climb or drift so much when I'm fiddling with the radios. With flight-following on future x-countries, ATC will expect you to stay at your planned altitude.
• I need to practice forward slips at altitude! I came in high into FIT and Mario told me to do a forward slip. I aggressively pushed full right rudder as he had done earlier, and rolled left at the same time, but I pulled back on the yoke! BAD MOVE. Perfect cross-control set-up for a spin at maybe 1000 feet AGL. People die this way. Fortunately the C152 is forgiving and Mario caught it in time. I need work on this!
• I did OK finding the airports, though I didn't hold my planned magnetic course very well, and I didn't re-adjust the directional gyro to the whiskey compass until I passed Gardner and realized the heading could not be right if I were heading right for FIT (which I was). I got a few of my checkpoints, missed others.
• Over-flying Sterling is a bad plan due to glider traffic there – we stayed further west, passing just east of Mt. Wachusett. We saw two gliders well above us to the SE. There were also "parachuters away at 9500 feet" over ORE. These things made Mario a bit nervous. I was not worried (big sky theory, or maybe just naive?).
• GET ATIS! Before calling ORH on return I forgot to get ATIS until Mario hinted that I had forgotten something. I also need to review arrival and departure plans. It would have been nice to know the active runways before I got so close to ORE and FIT. I wish N67661 had a better radio (one with a button to toggle between active and standby frequencies -- then you can tune in the next one when you have a free moment and just flip it in when needed -- 261 has this but it climbs like a dead dog, so I'll stay with 661 when I can).
• I need a knee board for flights like this -- juggling the loose chart and the other paper where I had written the TPA and CTAF info was distracting. This is a small taste of cockpit management -- I could see this being VERY important on longer x-countries. I need a timer too -- and maybe bifocals! The text on the sectional is small and looking at my watch is distracting, but I need to be timing the legs of the flight, and restarting the timer at each leg!
• On departure, from uncontrolled fields, you need to climb straight out to TPA and depart on a 45 degree turn (R or L) from there. Then turn to heading when you are at least 500' above TPA. At a controlled field, if you get "right turn approved," you can turn to course any time, though you usually should clear the end of the runway first (but OK if you are not at TPA yet).
• Photos were cool since it was such a clear day, BUT... it IS distracting, even when I say "your airplane" for the shot. PLUS I need a point-and-shoot camera with telephoto. The wide-angle Samsung doesn't cut it.
• TRIM, TRIM, TRIM! Both for cruise and for pattern/approach. Trim for the speed I need! I don't do this enough, and I'm not consistent on altitudes because of this. I also play too much with the power, which is bad because it messes up your speed (and trim), which you are counting on to meet your flight plan. There are a lot of things to keep in mind up there!
• Need to practice VOR intercepts and localization in Fly! or X-plane -- I used the Gardner VOR (GDM, 110.6) one time to figure out where were along the first leg (since I couldn't find the Barre race track, my second check point), but I was awkward with it. Another thing to juggle!

There's more I'm sure but I need to get back to work here. I've scheduled my first totally solo flight for tomorrow (8/8) at 5 pm, to practice pattern work on my own at ORH, if the weather is OK and cross-wind is less than 4 knots. This is followed by an hour of ground time with Mario to plan a longer cross-country together. I need to do some prep for this tonight!

Time: 1.7 dual, 0.0 solo, TT 30.6/0.5 hrs, C152 at ORH

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