Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Long March.
Well folks, we are nearing the end of our journey together. The last major training milestone has been surmounted, and all that remains is some review, the written test, and the checkride.
But, let's back up a bit. On Halloween I was scheduled for my long solo cross country flight. I agonized for two night over the route, and checkpoints, and VOR fixes. My route, Flying Cloud to Brainerd to Superior, Wisconsin, took me over some very sparsely populated areas. I'm not talking about the suburbs here, or farm country. There are large swaths of land in northern Minnesota where nobody ever bothered to build a house. So, you can see my motivation for not getting lost.
Friday morning arrived and I checked the weather. Sunny, cool, and calm all day, at Flying Cloud airport, Brainerd, AND Superior. I couldn't believe my luck - uneventful takeoffs and landings, smooth air for flying, great visibility, and no clouds to speak of.
Pete, my CFI, met me at the airport to endorse my logbook (a student pilot can only land at airports specifically approved for solo cross country trips) and give my flight plan and charts a quick inspection. He liked what he saw, asked a few questions, and turned me loose.
Now, the plane I usually fly was in the shop for routine maintenance, and the only plane that was available was a Warrior that had been at the Crystal airport (Thunderbird has a school there too). I asked the desk person what the radio stack was like the previous day and he said "oh it's like most of the other Warriors". WRONG! The communications array was a single frequency radio with a single frequency VOR, both with mechanical knobs and displays. That's right, the frequency was displayed with painted plastic disks that rotated. I wasn't happy, but I had no choice. There were no other planes available, so I preflighted the plane and fired it up. To be completely fair, the radio really worked well and although it was more work to juggle all the frequencies on one analog radio, the quality was superb and was not a negative factor on the flight. In fact, I was hearing aircraft making positional calls at airports 90 miles from my location.
The first leg, a 113 mile jaunt to Brainerd, Minnesota, went very well. Minneapolis Center had me on radar and was giving me traffic advisories (and once had me climb from 3000 to 3500 to stay clear of another airplane - thanks guys!). I landed behind a Mesaba Airlines twin prop plane and taxied back to the runway for takeoff. Soon I was airborne again for my 100 mile trip to Superior, Wisconsin. I strayed a little from my course but was soon back on track and picking up checkpoints. I was also tracking the Duluth and Brainerd VOR's so I was able to stay the course. About 20 miles or so from Superior, I could see Lake Superior, which is the largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area, not water volume). 25 miles from Duluth I contacted Duluth Approach and received traffic advisories coming into the Twin Ports area. Landing at Richard I. Bong airport was uneventful, and the wind was very calm.
As I taxied into the FBO (fixed-based operator) for fuel, I did not know that a critical part of my airplane was about to fail. I parked the plane and went into the building to find a bathroom and figure out how to refuel. A kid with a book on flying jammed his finger towards the back of the (very nice) FBO office and with one mission complete, asked him how I could get fuel. He said it was self-serve but I'd have to taxi closer to the pump as the hose wasn't long enough. So I jumped in, started the engine, and taxied over. Fueling was pretty easy and soon it was done. I buttoned up the plane, got out my checklist and turned the ignition key.
Huh? Did I forget something? I checked all the switches, dials, and fuses but everything looked fine. Every time I tried to engage the starter, I just got a THUNK. I wasn't happy. But, I went back to the office (the kid was currently in the air giving some other youngsters a ride) and tried to find a mechanic. I found a guy named "Skip" but he said he "only worked on Bud's equipment". There was a mechanic at the FBO but he was at lunch. I then called the flight school and we checked a few things, mostly wiring, and pretty much figured the starter was fried.
Now I was pissed. Stuck in Superior, 2/3 of the way through my long cross country, and grounded for such a stupid reason. Arrgh! I walked back to the shop to see if the mechanic was back, but it was just Skip. I explained what was going on, and he agreed to see if he could help. He came to the same conclusion regarding the starter, then said, "well, hmmm....I suppose I could hand prop it." I said "isn't that dangerous?" and he replies "well, yeah it is. Turn on both magnetos and STAND ON THE BRAKES". So, and I apologize for my language here, but that MAGNIFICENT BASTARD started the plane on the fifth pull. Skip is a true blue, born and bred, STEELY-EYED MISSILE MAN. Read that again so you don't forget.
Warrior 2240G surged into the afternoon sky, 90 minutes behind schedule and itching for open air. The first section of this last 145 mile leg followed a four-lane highway. I had some VOR fixes for waypoints, and after that, some pretty unique lakes. I kept on track for Princeton, and then turned south towards Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie. I did this to avoid the Class Bravo airpace around MSP airport.
Once I left the Princeton area, I hit a couple checkpoints then put the chart away. I was in familiar territory and didn't need it. I checked in with Flying Cloud tower, was told I was number 3 for landing. I followed another Warrior (that I've flown in a few times) into the pattern and made a nice soft landing. I was happy to be home, and relieved to not be stuck in Superior.
There you have it, the whole story of my long cross country. I'll make a few more entries, and then I'll be taking my checkride.
Google Earth Track: Long Solo Cross Country
Logshare: Online Logbook