Friday, September 09, 2005
Flying Lesson #50: Solo Cross-Country Flight
Today I made my first solo cross-country flight, from Atlanta Dekalb-Peachtree Airport to Anderson, SC. On the return trip, I made a touch-and-go at Athens Airport.
A "cross-country flight" is one where you land at a different airport from the one where you took off. To count as a cross-country flight for training and logging purposes, the distance between the airports must be at least 50 nautical miles (which is about 58 "real miles"). To become a private pilot, a student must have at least five hours of solo cross-country time, including one flight of at least 150 nautical miles. Today's flight gave me 2.5 hours, with straight-line distance between airports of over 180 nautical miles. My next solo cross-country flight will be over four hours long, and then there is one more solo cross-country flight in the lesson plan, so I'll be well beyond the minimum requirements.
I arrived at the airport about an hour early, and took care of filing my flight plan, getting a weather briefing, and then doing the calculations for weight and balance, ground roll length, and other performance numbers. The instructor reviewed everything, signed all the necessary endorsements on my student license and logbook, and sent me on my way.
The flight went smoothly. I forgot to switch fuel tanks at the right time, and had some trouble locating the Athens airport, but didn't make any serious mistakes. I was able to follow I-85 the whole way to Anderson, which made it pretty easy to stay on course and note landmarks along the way.
The Anderson airport was quiet. There was a small turboprop parked at the FBO, and mine was the only other plane there. The FBO's offices and lounges were empty except for a couple of people who worked there. They offered me the club car to go get lunch, but I just grabbed a Snickers bar out of the vending machine.
There is a Flight Service Station (FSS) at Anderson, providing local area advisory service. This made closing and opening flight plans easy: a few seconds after I landed, I was asked whether I'd like to close my flight plan, and as soon as I exited the pattern after taking off, I was asked whether I'd like to open the flight plan for the return trip.
I followed a Victor airway (an imaginary "highway in the sky") from Anderson to Athens. This should have made it easy to find the Athens airport, but as I got within ten miles and started looking for it, I just couldn't see it. Athens has a VOR at the field, so I just kept following the needle. I finally saw the airport when I was about three miles away, and couldn't figure out why I hadn't noticed it earlier.
On the final leg from Athens to PDK, I was able to get "Flight Following" service from Atlanta Center. With this service, controllers will notify you if other aircraft come close, and if something goes wrong and you fall out of the sky, they'll have a radar track to use to find you. I had asked for it earlier on the trip up to Anderson, but the controllers were too busy—the controllers' primary job is to assist instrument pilots, so they only provide services to visual-flight-rules pilots when those pilots as for it and the controller's workload permits.
I had a little trouble seeing PDK as I approached. I usually fly in to the airport from the northwest (where the practice area is), so I didn't know what landmarks to look for when coming in from the northeast. But I eventually picked it out of the haze. I heard my instructor's voice in another plane on the way in; he landed just a couple of minutes ahead of me.
So, with this flight out of the way, I have a stage check with the chief flight instructor, a couple more solo cross-country flights, a night flight, and then all I have to do is prepare for the checkride. It looks like I could be a licensed private pilot in just a few more weeks.
Logged today: 2.5 hours solo/PIC cross-country in N4363D, with 3 takeoffs and 3 landings. Cost: $262.