Category: Flying

New Year’s Day, before dawn

Mostly, we dread growing older. But aging has been good to me, too. I now prefer to skip New Year’s Eve parties, go to bed before the fireworks start, and wake up rested and sober before dawn.

It’s been nearly two years since I decided to change my drinking habits after 25 years of heavy (if, since my mid-20s, generally disciplined) consumption. Since then, I’ve gotten better jobs and have had greater earnings expectations for the future. I was appointed to a municipal oversight board. The futsal club I manage has grown. I’ve shed 20 pounds. I’ve applied for World Cup tickets. I’ve improved my Spanish. I think I’ve become a better husband. I’m mostly over social media. I’ve learned to fly.

I’ve also become a total lightweight of a drinker. I consume two or three drinks a month. I’m tipsy after a second beer, and my body regrets it the next morning.

This isn’t to be smug, though. After putting down the bottle, I’ve also had more time to clearly analyze my failings and failures. Now that I’m unwilling to drink away my anxiety, I have more time to reflect on the nebulous and blundering path of my life. I’m also able to see that there have been successes, as well, and an accumulation of good memories.

This year, I’ll turn 48. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 30 years, 15 of which should be my so-called “high-earning years.” The 15 years after that, I hope to be well enough and comfortable enough to travel, catch up on my reading, and take up new hobbies.

It’s 6:17 a.m., the sun rises at 7:27 a.m. This afternoon, I’m flying.

I’ve got lots of plans for this year.

Over Siler City in N4640B, December 2017.


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Dec. 3: The long solo of KTTA-KVUJ-KFLO-KFAY-KTTA

My report to my CFI:
So, I flew about 300 nm on Sunday, probably 50 miles longer than I’d intended. Let me explain the good, the bad, and the ugly of the trip:

I took off at 11:01. I flew to Sanford, climbed to 4,500, and through the haze I looked at the power lines, looked at my heading indicator, and picked my course. I motored along, trying to decide which side of the power line to fly along. I wanted to fly to the right so I could see the power line better, but my checkpoints were immediately to the right, and thus underneath the plane. I puzzled over this problem and maneuvered the plane this way and that to establish the best line of sight. I was about ready to call for flight following when I noticed a big airport at my 11 o’clock, five miles away. “Hmm, that’s not supposed to be there, is it?” I looked at my chart, looked at Avare. “OH, CRAP. It’s Moore County.”

I did a left 180 and descended to 3,500. I thought for a moment about turning north to intercept the correct power line, but then I remembered that the course of action in the case of a missed checkpoint is to return to the previous one. Furthermore, I decided that making an unplanned turn to the north was a good way to turn a bad start into a really bad day. Even with a free app on my phone.

So I returned to Sanford and found the correct power line. (After the flight, I looked more carefully at the chart and saw that I’d underestimated the challenge of spotting the power line from my Sanford checkpoint–it doesn’t clearly emerge until a mile or so north of town.)

Once established on the correct power line, I called FAY for flight following, which I received. I made it to Lake Tillery without difficulty, and FAY terminated flight following. I remembered that I was now significantly behind schedule so I called flight services at 122.2 and updated my plan. The transmission was garbled (later, I saw that I had 122.4 in my notes for FSS at VUJ), but I could understand the controller. He wanted me to give a PIREP about visibility at 4,500. I told him it was clear but hazy.

Once clear of FSS and FF, I checked the VUJ AWOS and made my radio call. The airport was visible as soon as I turned north from my Lake Tillery checkpoint. The approach over the lake was as lovely as I’d hoped, and I crossed the field at 2,800 and did a left 270 turn into the downwind. It was very bumpy on the way down. I landed (I think with a bounce), found the fuel, called the briefer for an update on FLO Wx, filed a new plan, and took a bathroom break. Then I took off again.

I quickly got established on course at 4,500, and at my first checkpoint I called CLT approach for flight following, which was granted. Eventually I was handed off to FLO approach, who soon told me to descend below 4,000. I assumed it was because of the haze or ceilings, but maybe it was for traffic separation. So I flew into the Chesterfield VOR at 3,500 and turned to FLO.

About flight following: This trip has made me a permanent believer in this service. I feel much more comfortable being under continuous ATC surveillance and being handed off from controller to controller on such a long trip.

I made a number of radio miscues, however, starting with a comically incorrect readback of an advisory from FLO approach. “Cessna 89433, the airport is on your 12 o’clock at one-one miles.” Against all logic and situational awareness, I read it back as “one-point-one miles,” and he said “That’s ELEVEN miles.” I did know where I was, though and I didn’t correct him and tell him that FLO was at my one o’clock. I saw Darlington airfield per my plan, and I found my checkpoint to turn to the south toward FLO. I made my 10-mile call and was immediately cleared to land on 19. Coming into the field, I realized I was going to have to do a right base, which I don’t think I’ve done before. It was awkward, but I timed the turn correctly and landed. I was going too fast for the turnout and the plane momentarily shuddered before I corrected. (Sorry.)

Fuel, snack, weather brief, flight plan. Issue with the mag on runup. I’ve noted your prescription for future such occurrences. I garbled the taxi clearance, and the latest Wx, but I got it cleared up and departed on 9.

I climbed to 3,500 and turned toward my heading. FLO departure kept me on frequency and handed me off to FAY. I tracked FLO VOR outbound and then switched to FAY inbound. My use of VOR was much better on this trip. Instead of flying directly for the radial, I simply set my heading 10 degrees or so to the opposite side of the radial, and let my plane gradually get on course. Much better. I did, however, notice a discrepancy between the radial I thought I was tracking (045), and what Avare was showing me. This discrepancy narrowed as I neared FAY.

FAY brought me in on about a 10-mile long final to 4. I was cleared to land before I had the airport in sight. It wasn’t a problem, because I knew how far out I was, and that I was on course.

On the ground, it was a repeat of last week: After 4 pm, and a nervous wait for my fuel. I called the briefer for a Wx update and a new plan.

Perhaps it was exhaustion, or perhaps it was my impatience to get home, but I then made several radio errors. I botched my taxi clearance after landing, and had to repeat the correct taxiway. Then, when sitting at the hold-short line at 4, I failed to read back a hold-short for a landing plane. I was re-prompted and made the readback. I departed runway heading, at or below 2,000, then was cleared to climb and resume navigation. Then came my most serious radio error. I was on departure frequency 133.0, and then I heard the controller say “Cessna 8xxxx, contact me at” I read it back and tuned in and flipped over. When I reported, it was radio silence. I flew like that for a couple more minutes, then radioed again. Still silent. I returned to 133.0 and told the controller I thought I’d misheard an instruction to contact at “Negative, stay with me on 133.0 until you’re terminated.”

I think part of why I made this error, aside from fatigue and carelessness, was that a couple of times during the trip, the controller botched my call sign, saying something like “89443.” I never clarified this, and maybe I was lulled into thinking that there’s a certain amount of sloppiness with call signs that’s tolerated. Still, next time I get an unexpected instruction like a change from the departure frequency, I’ll do the readback carefully and make sure it’s correct before I flip over. And when I hear my call sign said incorrectly, I’ll at least read it back with emphasis, like “that’s eight-niner-four-THREE-three.”

Between the sunset and the haze, visibility was poor climbing out of FAY, but it was much better at 4,500. I tracked the 347 FAY radial all the way to TTA without difficulty, and had the airport in sight 10-15 miles out. Landed at about 5:05. Maybe 5:03.

Unfortunately, I made one final error on what was, I thought, a good flight overall: I forgot to close my last flight plan. They called the airport and my cell phone. Fortunately, I got in touch before they scrambled the choppers, and the FSS guy was nice about it–he’s a friend of the club, evidently. He’s giving a presentation early next year.

Nov. 26: The short solo KTTA-KRCZ-KFAY-KTTA

Lightly edited version of my report to my CFI:

Well, I made it back at 5 pm. Maybe 5:01 or 5:02. The three balked landings at KRCZ contributed to it, of course, and my last leg was about five minutes longer than it needed to be because my VOR radial took me a little west of TTA… I didn’t realize I was slightly off-course until I finally saw Scary Tower farther to my right than I thought it should be. I was still south of the field, but I had to turn upwind at 030 for a couple of miles so I could cross midfield at 2000 feet.

I also lost a little time during my preflight, when I pushed the plane back and found a pool of oil under the nose tire. Jay and Tom came out to look at it and concluded that the oil had come from a different airplane–and I agreed with their reasoning.

Anyway, I took off at 1:48, so I was pushing it already. Opened the flight plan without any trouble this time. Hit all my checkpoints down to KRCZ and timed them, as well. I thought about requesting flight following–I tuned to Fayetteville approach and listened, but it was dead. The only thing I heard was another pilot trying to raise the controller for flight following, and he gave up. So I didn’t try myself.

So, I had trouble landing at KRCZ. The first two approaches were way high and I didn’t even consider trying to salvage them. The third one, after a longer downwind, was probably salvageable, but I wasn’t inclined to do any slips. I was committed to flying very conservatively, so I did another go-around. I extended the downwind even farther and this time I made the field on a stable approach. Landing was fine. I think part of my problem landing here was my relative unfamiliarity with 4640B. I’ve noticed that the throttle seems to want to creep up, more so than 89333 and 89433. It’s quite possible that I was high on final the first three times because my power was actually above 1500 despite my efforts to retard the throttle. I didn’t think to check to see that I was still at 1500, though.

Fueling was a pain–the ramp where we fueled last time is closed, so I had to park on the other side of the tanks and drag the hose and ground wire a good distance to the plane.

I left RCZ at 3:15, and short field takeoff was smooth and uneventful. Perhaps I was fortunate, because once I was at cruise I noticed that I was already leaned out. I don’t remember leaning out during the climb… so *maybe* I left it lean before takeoff, despite my lights, camera, action. I will pay extra attention to this step in the future.

I found the correct waypoint for turning toward MEB, and I was on top of it before I knew it. I had trouble identifying Red Springs and it felt like it took far too long to intercept the 64 radial for FAY. (Does Red Springs have three white tower-like structures in kind of a line?) I did eventually get to that radial, but I may have been farther north than I should have been, because it felt like a very quick trip inbound to FAY. (I was too focused on the VOR, locating Red Springs, and listening to ATC to remember to crosscheck my position with Avare, although I did use it on the first and last legs.) FAY ATC brought me in on a long final to Rwy 4, and the landing was stable, although I came in a little too high at the end. Because the runway is so long, I just kept a stable approach with power-to-idle and let myself overshoot my aim point by 100 feet or so. Touchdown was smooth and on the center line. I turned off at Charlie, although I could have made Delta with more aggressive braking. I was erring on the side of caution, though.

Radio comms with FAY were fine. I stayed on tower frequency while on the ground. I guess they were short-handed today, hence the radio silence above Sanford on the first leg.

I fueled and called Flight Services. The briefer noted that I was behind schedule and amended my ETA. I got my clearances, read them back, and took off for TTA at 4:24 😨. I missed my first two checkpoints. FAY departure kept me on frequency until I was 10 miles south of TTA. My approach was cautious and by-the-book. A lot of traffic was landing right before sunset, and I crossed the field at 2000 and did a right teardrop into the pattern. I’ve been having a lot of sloppy landings at TTA lately, but this time I did a smooth, stable landing and turned out at Alpha 3.

One thing I noticed on this trip: I’m getting a lot better at picking airports out of the landscape.

I was nervous on the first leg of this trip, but once I took off from RCZ, my only anxiety was about being behind schedule. The three Signature ramp hands at FAY took a really long time to fuel my plane. I wanted to go do it for them.

Other points: I did better maintaining a stable cruise altitude, but I struggled to hold the VOR heading on the last leg. I just need to be systematic about it instead of chasing the needle all over the place.