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 127.xxx.” 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 127.xxx. “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.

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