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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Xcountry Part II: Execution: "A Flight of First"

Flight Log during planning

*Just a note: In my last post "Xcountry Part I: Planning" I covered what goes into planning a cross country flight. For those of us that are pilots or have astute knowledge aviation what I covered should've been no big surprise. However for those that may be curious about this adventure I just like to provide a little insight into my experience. My mother, who has no earthly idea what all this means, also follows via email.*

This is Part II:

My week called for two back to back cross country flights, one during day light and one at night. I hadn't flown it two weeks at that point mostly due to recent weather. Central Texas is normally hot and dry this time of year, but it turned into Seattle for about seven days which had me feeling a little bummed out. Flying multiple times a week had become the norm for me and I liked my new routine. Each day that there even looked like there would be a break in a weather I would call and talk to a weather briefer just in case. Finally on Thursday of the week the rain stopped I was able to fly the day cross country, and the night was scheduled roughly a little more than 24 hours later on Friday. The unwanted pause placed on my training due to work and weather was over.

I was more excited for these two flights than any others prior to this. It would be my first time really communicating with ATC while there's other traffic and my first experience with a tower controlled airport as well. Puzzle pieces were coming together left and right, and I was slowly realizing that I was well on my way to becoming a pilot.

Since I had completed all of my planning for both flights prior to arriving, we just did a quick review and I adjusted some things according to the winds aloft information I received in the weather brief. We also happen to have a new CFI at the school who would be riding with us in the back so I did another check weight and balance to verify the CG and that we were still under MTOW (maximum takeoff weight), which in the Archer we easily were. Now all that was left was the preflight and to actually fly the airplane, which is by far my favorite part. At this stage in training and flying I'm glad that I don't have an autopilot to rely on, I thoroughly enjoy "hand flying" the airplane.

After taking off the first thing I had to do was open my VFR flight plan that I had filed when I received my weather briefing. To do that I had to tune San Angelo Radio on the COM1 radio to transmit but to receive I had to dial in 110.4 on the NAV1 and listen via the VOR. After making contact I was told to stand by, but the operator never came back. So instead I tuned Gray Tower to request my transition through their airspace. Traffic was low and the controller was helpful, and offered me flight following from approach without me having to ask. After that it was a simple handoff to Gray Approach who was already waiting for me. I wasn't doing badly for it to have been my first time communicating with ATC for an extended period of time. The only time where I missed a call was after I was transferred to Austin Approach, and the controller was extremely busy at the time and spoke like the emcee at an auction. Other than that nothing I hadn't heard before on LiveATC.net. Preparation helped me also, because I already knew which frequencies I would be tuning, and I tried to stay ahead of the game as much as possible by using the standby feature on each radio.

Radio stack similar to the Archer

The rest of the flight was pretty routine, I mean it was a Texas evening so there was the expected turbulence but I was pleased that the winds given to me by the weather briefer seemed to be accurate. I was clicking off checkpoint after checkpoint within seconds of my estimated time enroute (ETE). As I neared my first airport which was GYB, Austin approach told me to begin a VFR descent into my destination. Our guess was he wanted us to get down to avoid traffic or something. We complied and after a midfield crossing I turned to enter downwind on the 45 and landed at GYB.

We landed full stop at GYB so I could review the soft field takeoff procedure which we did while taxing back to the active runway. A soft field takeoff differs from the standard procedure because you apply full aft elevator and flaps 2 in an attempt to get the plane of the ground before you reach Vr. Once you are airborne you lower the nose to stay in ground effect until you reach Vy, the prescribed climb speed, and once at a safe enough altitude you retract the flaps and continue climbing until you've reached your desired cruising altitude.

I'll admit my first attempt was highly unsuccessful but after David explained why it was unsuccessful I tried again and performed the soft field takeoff without any problems. Next stop would be Waco Regional Airport (ACT) in Waco, Texas. After turning onto downwind I was pleased to see that I was already flying my assigned heading, and now I only had to monitor progress. Flight Following was again provided by Austin Center, until the handoff to WACO approach. Halfway to WACO, I was able to tune the VOR and navigate to the airport using my first authorized NAVAID.

Tower offered me a straight in approach to runway 1 over the lake which had absolutely no effect on my landing, which turned out to be a greaser. There's added pressure when there's two CFIs in your airplane. There was no handoff to ground but I received my taxi instructions to parking and complied and had my first FBO experience at Waco Flying Service. I've already written about that experience and you too can read it by following this link: http://standingtalll.blogspot.com/2013/07/waco-flying-service.html.


This day had just gone too nice and I didn't want it to end yet, so I was almost sad when it was time to leave Waco their airport is far nicer than ILE. ILE is my home and my first airport as a pilot so it will always have a special place in my heart. On the way back home I planned a course a little eastern to ensure that we didn't enter Fort Hood's restricted area. Overall it was a short flight back, and I could see the Killeen area immediately passing 1,000' AGL (lake belton and stillhouse lake are almost visible in the above photo), so I decided to do some touch and goes in the pattern before calling it a day. All of my landings up to that point had been excellent by my own tough standards; however the last two out of the three were just terrible. It didn't dampen my joy at all though.

There was a different pep in my step if you will. I really felt like a real pilot for the first time. Being on the same frequency as guys from Delta, Southwest, and all the other airlines, made me feel right at home. Cross Country trips without GPS aid also add more workload to the pilot as well, and I asked my instructor to be "invisible" so that when I solo I know I can do it all on my own and it was a job I felt I did well.   We never lost or in any danger of becoming loss, and my planning proved solid.  I couldnt've have drew it up any better if I tried.

Aviation is where I belong and I'm glad I decided to make the move because in 25 years this has been the greatest thing other than God to happen to me. If you're on the fence about it please spend the $99.00 and take the discovery flight, it's been the best $99.00 of my young life.

* "Pick a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is the saying and I couldn't agree more. For all of those pilots that have made it to the airlines and may be unhappy about your situation, I urge you to look back and remember these times. I ask you to remember the journey of what it took to get to where you are and how bad you wanted it. Being a student pilot brings in zero income, but I wouldn't trade it for the world, and the kid in the candy store look has yet to fade. Honestly I can't imagine it fading for years to come. That's not to say there won't be down times, changing economies etc, but what I am saying is if it's something you want to do pursue it. Even if I never make it to the airlines, I'm already proud of myself and what I've accomplished in just a short time.
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