Monday, October 6, 2008
A Flock of Seagulls.
Today was supposed to mark the start of the last phase of my training. But it really didn't work out that way.
I took the afternoon off so I could plan my stage II check ride. This was to be a final check to see if I had the skills to navigate a cross country trip in an airplane. So, I broke out my calculator, E6B flight computer, sectional chart, and ruler and went to work. The trip was a flight from Flying Cloud airport (FCM) to Alexandria (AXN). This is an 118 mile flight but we wouldn't really be flying it. The routine is to start the flight, go out to a few checkpoints, and then "divert" to a nearby airport. I thought I had everything all set, all contingencies accounted for, and every possible piece of information gathered. I even guessed the top 5 airports that the check instructor was likely to pick, and had critical information for each of the airports.
By now you can guess that everything did NOT go to plan. I found the first couple of checkpoints, and then things started falling apart. The check instructor kept asking "ok where are you right now?" And that's where I started to "get behind" the airplane. As I was trying to figure out where I was (and to be honest, I should have been always aware of my position), I didn't notice that I was seriously drifting off course.
The first mistake I made was getting the winds aloft (windspeed and direction at the altitude I'd be flying) at 12:30. I was not informed that there would also be an oral test portion of the stage check. So, I calculated my course and speed by using a wind direction of 180 degrees. We took off at almost exactly 2:00pm, so my data was 90 minutes old already.
I didn't discover this issue until I had gotten lost. We finally found a town, circled it, saw the name on the water tower (Annandale), and diverted to Maple Lake Airport. After I overflew the airport, I saw that the wind was right down the runway at 100 degrees. Yikes! The wind was 80 degrees off of where it should be.
I'll spare you the embarrassing details of my fumbling around trying to tell 28 different lakes apart from each other. The bottom line is, for some reason I couldn't navigate my way out of a paper bag today, even though I did really well on my first dual cross country to Willmar. It was pretty hazy today for some reason, but I think the wind direction really goofed me up.
Ok, enough whining. Here's a summary of where I screwed up and how I need to fix them:
Incorrect Wind Direction: Check winds aloft just prior to takeoff.
Not finding next checkpoint: Space checkpoints closer together and make sure they are unique enough to positively ID.
Not using all resources: Cross reference multiple VOR's to get a positional fix.
Hazy weather: Not sure...weather reports said 10+ miles of visibility, only thing to do would be to turn back. Hazy weather not really the cause of my problems.
Airspace: Be aware of what airspace I'm in and make appropriate radio calls to ensure safety.
Ok, there were a couple of things that I did ok that I should add here so that I don't get too depressed. One thing that I needed to improve was pattern work at unfamiliar airports. When I actually found Maple Lake, I overflew 500 feet above the pattern and then entered the left downwind at proper pattern altitude. I then put together a pretty good base and final approach. I did not panic when I flew through a huge flock of seagulls that was roosting on the runway threshold as I landed. Also, the landing was a pretty good one.
Next flight is a practice cross country to a nearby airport to sharpen my nav skills, then a short make up flight with Rob to demonstrate good skills in the areas that I screwed up this time.
So, everyone who had my up on a pedestal can now take me down a peg (a whole peg!). I've got work to do.