Monday, September 8, 2008

Some thoughts on the cross country.

I've had some time to think about the cross country from Friday, and some of the things I learned. One big lesson is to be careful about what you pick for visible waypoints. Powerlines appear on the chart but can be very hard to see. I wasn't able to see any of the powerlines I chose. Luckily, Jesse had suggested I choose checkpoints with at least three identifiable features, so I was still able to navigate just fine.

Another lesson is that it's easy to get off of your course if you miss the first checkpoint after taking off. We turned to the south after takeoff, and of course, I missed my first reverse course checkpoint. From there, we were guessing our position (visibility was good despite the overcast layer above us) until we found an airport that was just south of our plotted course. We could have used the VOR but we were trying to just use pilotage and dead reckoning.

A final, and controversial lesson, is whether to fly a pattern at an untowered airport or just do a straight in to final approach. Jesse's approach was to fly over the airport 1000' above the pattern altitude (2000' above the ground) and check the windsock for windspeed and direction. Then, he'd have me fly perpendicular to the downwind and do a turning descent to pattern altitude (and announcing on the CTAF frequency all of my turns). Then we'd join the pattern and make a normal landing. This is done so everyone knows your position and you have more time to look for traffic.

Jim's approach (and he's not alone in his opinion) is to just fly to the airport, announce your position, and make a straight-in approach and landing. It was made very clear to me that this is not the safest plan. When we flew to Willmar, we made a straight-in approach and a Mooney who was doing instrument approaches announced that he was flying a "missed approach" and exiting the airspace. I asked Jim if he was flying towards us or away from us, and sure enough, he flew right over us (Jim had me lose some altitude to avoid the plane. It was probably 500' above us, and not a danger). However, had we flown the pattern, we'd have gotten nowhere near the Mooney. So, when I'm pilot in command, I think I'll do it Jesse's way.


Steve said...

Yikes - planes can sure come out of nowhere fast. We had a Cessna fly directly towards us about 500-1000 feet ahead on our way back home during my X-C on Saturday and I only saw him maybe 10 seconds in advance. Closure rate, even in small planes, can kill you fast if you aren't looking outside and finding the traffic.

I obviously agree with you on the power lines - don't think I'll be using them ever again unless I'm over a forested area. And it's interesting to hear your other instructor likes the straight-in. I'm with you on the flying the pattern idea, which only adds a few minutes at most and just might save your life some day.

Keith K. said...

Yes, no doubt about that, I'm a firm believer. I think if my new CFI suggests a straight in again, I'll ask if it's ok to do a pattern "for the practice".

Steve said...

Nicely political wording there, Mr. Keith. :)

Jim said...

Keith, I think you should tell your new CFI that you will be doing things your way, you are the captain, and if he does not like that, he can sit there and keep his little yap shut. You must present your dominance early in your training, other wise he will be telling you how to fly, and I do not think that is really what you want from a flight instructor.

Just my 2 cents,


Keith K. said...