Sunday, September 10, 2000

Dual: First Cross-Country (ORH-PSF-ORH)

This was my first official dual cross-country (greater than 50 nm from home). It was a good one, with a lot of points to remember, so I better write it down while it’s still fresh in my mind. The cross-country planning went pretty well – I got all the airport info (just PSF and ORH, 64 nm, no third leg this time), estimated based on 90 knots airspeed, and did approximate calculations with zero winds. When I called 1-800-WXBRIEF and got the standard weather briefing with winds aloft, the 3000’ and 6000’ winds were both 6 knots, and the interpolated direction for 4500’ was 25° -- so not much wind and a gorgeous day all the way around (I actually called for a briefing at 8:30 am and was told ORH-PSF was “VFR not recommended” due to low ceilings and fog, so I briefly considered flying to Concord, NH instead – but when Mario arrived, I called again, and PSF was clear, so we stayed with plan A – I should have called the Pittsfield ASOS weather phone line directly – when I did later, it was clear).

The first big problem was that the plane wouldn’t start (it was N47261 – plan was for 661, but it was in the shop for a new engine). The battery was dead – someone had flown a night flight with the alternator light on, apparently (you should look for this and cycle the alternator half of the master switch in this plane). We spent half an hour trying to hand-prop the plane, and it finally turned over (with help from Bob Karman and another CFI, Bill – Mario hates hand-propping but he was the one who finally did it after maybe 20 tries). So we were off at 10:30 a.m. Next challenge was getting to runway 11 – only two taxiways were open (construction), so back-taxi on runway was required, slowing everything down. We back-taxied only part way (tower said expedite, traffic on base!), then turned around and did a short-field take off (stay on brakes, 10° flaps, full power, release brakes). We flew left base and departed downwind to the west (magnetic compass heading 297° according to my nav log). My timer and yoke mount worked well, as did the knee board with my nav log and sectional chart. Mario had his GPS mounted but I could not see the screen – he cheated a couple of times, confirming or correcting my assumed positions (though it was really pilotage, holding a heading, timing, and VOR for 90% of the flight).

Once clear of ORH air space, climbing up to 4500’ cruise altitude (west-bound, even thousands plus 500) we called Bridgeport radio (122.2) to activate the flight plan I had filed on the phone (a first for me). Then we called up Bradley Approach (119.0) and requested flight following (yet another first for me – we were near Tanner-Hiller airport and reported this). Good thing I had recorded all those frequencies on my nav log! They gave us a squawk code and new frequency, which I wrote down and entered (only advantage of 261 is the dual-frequency radio, so you can queue up the next needed frequency). Flight following showed its value very soon, over the Quabbin Reservoir – they called out traffic at our altitude, crossing in front of us, 3 miles – we looked but Mario and I could not see the traffic (I missed my chance to say “no joy” on the radio!). Bradley said “if you don’t have a visual, suggest you expedite descent to 4000 feet” – Mario said “my airplane” and dived us down there pretty fast. We then looked up and saw a 172 passing left to right, just about where we had been, maybe ½ mile away. Close one! We had a good view of Westover ARB to our SW at this point.

I had easily spotted Spencer Airport and the Quabbin south dam, and my next check point was Amherst, Mass – but we also had to avoid Northampton airport, just 4 nm away, due to parachute activity (jumpers away at 8500 feet). I diverted a bit north of my planned track and flew right over the UMass campus – I spotted Becky’s dorm area and took a quick picture.

We had trouble spotting the airport, which is right at a bend in the (Connecticut?) river. I spotted what I thought was the airport, though it looked like a dirt strip ( says it’s asphalt, 14/32, 3500 x 50 feet, oh well).

On the outbound leg, I tended to gain altitude up to 4600 feet or so, but Mario reminded me that holding the planned 4500 and planned heading are especially important with flight following – you must report any altitude changes. Visibility was pretty good from 4500’ though there was a lot of low haze. Our next check point was Albert Airport, a small private strip in the Berkshires. I never saw it, but as a backup, I tuned in the Chester VOR and established that I was on the expected 022° radial. I also spotted a carrot-shaped lake with a dam at its S end about 10 nm SE of our position and noted this on the chart (distinctively shaped lakes or lakes with dams and radio towers seem to be the best landmarks).

Now we were only 17 nm from Pittsfield, and I spotted a large town just over a hill with a radio tower – the chart confirmed that this was Pittsfield, and I spotted the airport just to the SW of the town, but very faint. I think Bradley terminated our flight following at this point, and I tuned in the ASOS to get winds and altimeter setting for PSF. I then called up the CTAF (122.7) and gave our position, requesting the active runway. It was 26 with right traffic. As we got closer, we could see the reason for right traffic – two hefty mountains that would be right in the way of a left pattern for 26 and 32. I swung to the NW, passing over downtown Pittsfield and a high, wooded mountain ridge to enter the pattern on a 45° to the downwind (TPA 2200 feet). With reminders from Mario, I called my position on each leg to Pittsfield traffic (which was nil at that point). I lined up and made a rather long, sloppy touch-and-go, climbing up over the hills that seemed to pop up rather quickly off the west end of the runway. Climbed back to TPA, then turned right to take up my course.

At this point I tuned in and called Bridgeport Radio (Flight Service Stations are called “something Radio” in flight) to close my flight plan to Pittsfield. Two strange things – I got Burlington FSS, and there was a mix-up on whether I had filed out and back (I had not, though I thought I did when I told the weather briefer that I was coming right back, only a momentary stop at PSF – Burlington FSS closed my flight plan for me). So we flew back without a flight plan, but we contacted Bradley on the last-used frequency (good thing I wrote it down!) and resumed flight following.

I got the Bradley guy a little annoyed when I made several course changes over the next few minutes, trying again to swing a little north and avoid the parachuters around Northampton. He had to call me out several times to other planes because my course was changing. We also missed one or two calls for us – bad move – but we were busy and Mario was telling me stuff. We again flew over UMass and I tried to take another couple of pictures, but Mario got annoyed with this, because we also were trying (and failing) to spot an airplane that radar had told us was nearby (our 11 o’clock, climbing through 4500 – we were at 5500’ on the way home, as high as I have ever flown on my own).

Again I got my main checkpoints (Amherst, Quabbin dam) and we soon spotted ORH, a little patch of white just below the haze line to the east. We got Bradley’s OK to switch frequencies briefly to monitor ATIS, then we shortly asked to discontinue flight following so I could call up the tower. We requested a straight-in approach from around 10 miles out (since my return heading was 109 and runway 11 is 110), another first for me. We were told to report 3 mile final (Spencer airport is a good reference for this, it’s about 4 nm west of ORH). It was hard judging my descent from that far out, and I needed to keep my speed up because of following traffic. Tower said to land long (to avoid long taxi on runway) and turn left at taxiway Bravo, way down at the far end of 11, “no delay” due to following traffic (a 172 I think – the C152 is always the slowest thing in the pattern). I tend to land long anyway, so this was no problem!

All in all, a pretty good flight. I did most things right, kept track of my position, flew the airplane well (held 90 knots cruise and was right on 5500’ on the trip home). Now I’m ready for a three-leg cross-country next Sunday in Los Angeles (EMT-F70-CNO, El Monte, French Valley, Chino). Some things to keep in mind for future flights:
• For making minor course corrections when your hands are busy elsewhere (writing notes, tuning radio, etc.), the rudder pedals do a real nice job – smoother than yoke corrections! Of course you have to be trimmed well for this to work.
• It’s important to hold the planned course and altitude if you are on flight following – you want to be a predictable target.
• Call the local weather at the destination to get current conditions, don’t just rely on the weather briefer.
• If you want there-and-back flight plans, you have to tell the briefer this, it isn’t automatic, even if you tell them you are just doing a touch an go.
• Remember sunglasses, especially for the LA flight next weekend!

Time: 2.2 dual, 0.0 solo, TT TBD hrs, C152 at ORH