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.

Trouble Brewing

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.

Until then....

Google Earth Track:
Long Solo Cross Country
Logshare: Online Logbook


Steve said...

Congrats on knocking out the solo XC - great write up and love the video. I've hand-propped the Champ and it's quite an experience... no matter how many precautions you take there's always the "I'm about to get mowed down" feeling when you pull on the prop. 4.5 is quite impressive, too - that's some serious flying.

I heard that "ugh" when you touched down at Lake Superior! Don't worry, that's my most common sound when landing these days... funny thing is, they still look smooth and most non-pilots would probably think they're great. Speaking of Lake Superior, that looks like a great airport and a decently scenic area to boot.

Keith K. said...

Glad you liked the video! I didn't know the "ugh" came through until I watched it a few times - it really wasn't that bad of a landing, but we strive for perfection, right?

I needed 3.5 hours to bring my solo XC to 5 hours, that's why this flight was so long. But other than the starter issue, the flight was very smooth.

Originally I was going to land at Sky Harbor (DYT) airport, right on a thin stretch of beach with water on both sides, but I decided against it. Having two runways appealed to me from a crosswind perspective, but I would like to land there some day.

Now, I read that you have your checkride scheduled. That is awesome, I bet your nervous and excited. You'll do fine, though. Good luck!

Steve said...

If we didn't strive for perfection, we'd get complacent - right? :)

Gotcha on the distance - we do two short XCs and then the long, so I already had something like 3.6 before I went on my 260-miler. Sky Harbor sounds like another pretty place to land, hope you get to go there some day. I could see Lake Erie a ways out when I went to Bowling Green and hope to fly to Put In Bay (PIB) which is a small island just offshore in Lake Erie probably next summer. Gotta love all the water around the Great Lakes.

Thanks for the luck on the checkride... I'm lookin forward to it and same to you!

Paul said...

Questions, questions, from someone not nearly along in the process as you.

"Well folks, we are nearing the end of our journey together."

Does this mean you're not going to be writing about flying any longer or just that you'll be writing about "regular" flying once you're certificated?

I liked the video - it's always fun to sit in the right seat while someone else flies. How did you mount the camera? I was thinking it might be useful to record some of my approaches and landings.

Your log doesn't show any hood time? Did you just not include it in the online book?

Thanks for keeping up such a well-written and interesting blog!

Keith K. said...

I'm not sure how much I'll write after the checkride, as the mission of this blog is more to document my training. I'll probably still write about life after training, though.

I mounted the camera using a Bogen "Magic Arm", as seen on Mythbusters and similar shows. It's an articulated arm that allows you to position a camera in any orientation you want, then lock it down solidly. I clamped it to the right seat arm rest, and it worked really well. I made sure it didn't interfere with the controls or door operation (of course!)

I did have some hood time as part of my training but didn't log it. I have to check my paper logbook to see if it's logged there correctly.

Thanks for the kind words. The flight training is fun and I hope I'm providing some measure of entertainment to the good folks reading my blog.

Steve said...

I've got similar plans... maybe not every single flight, but I'll probably write up a blurb or more most of the time once I get the PPL.

Aside from sharing experiences with other people like yourselves, it's awesome to have a log/diary of my experiences.

Rob said...

Heh heh... Bong Airport... heh heh heh...

Bob said...

"Now I was pissed. Stuck in Superior, 2/3 of the way through my long cross country"
Wow! I can feel your anger. MAN! What a thing to happen on your long XC. I remember mine clearly. I can remember how intense it was. Such pressure to not screw things up (and try to stay on time). Something like that would have flipped me out too.