Friday, October 14, 2005


Flying Lesson #56: Second Solo Cross-Country

Today I flew solo to Middle Georgia Regional Airport (MCN), then to Baldwin County Airport (MLJ) and back to PDK. The straight-line distance between those three points is about 180 nautical miles, but the flight route is farther than that due to the need to fly around the Atlanta Class B airspace.

I arrived at the airport at about 9:30 AM, but didn't get to take off until after 2:00 PM due to weather.

It should have taken less than 2.5 hours of flight time, but it took me 3 hours because, well, I got a little lost.

Here's what happened: I climbed to my planned cruising altitude of 5,500 feet, and saw thick clouds in front of me with haze beneath them. I decided I'd climb over them to avoid the poor visibility below. After climbing for a minute or so, I remembered that because of the overlying Class B airspace, I'm not allowed to climb!!! So, I stopped climbing, started turning to avoid the clouds in front of me, and then descended to get beneath the clouds. After spiraling down to 3,500 feet, with my attention devoted to watching for traffic, I wasn't where I expected to be, and couldn't identify any landmarks.

I considered that to be "lost," but with the radio navigation aids, I really had a pretty good idea of where I was. I decided to skip my second checkpoint, and go straight to the third checkpoint, which is where I was going to cross Interstate 20. I-20 runs east-west, and I was flying south, so I was pretty confident I'd eventually find it. I found the interstate, then followed it to the point where I was supposed to cross. So I found my checkpoint, but was about 20 minutes late getting there.

Going the rest of the way to Macon wasn't a problem. However, Macon has three airports, and of course, when I finally saw an airport I just naturally flew toward it. I was looking at the VOR and DME, starting to suspect I was in the wrong place, when the approach controller asked "zero-three-mike, are you landing at mike-charlie-november?" After I answered affirmatively, he said "You're heading for the wrong airport. Turn to heading 280 and we'll get you to the right place." He was very nice about it. I just kept saying "stupid, stupid, stupid" to myself.

After landing, getting a Coke, and filing a return flight plan, I took off from MCN for MLJ. MLJ is on a peninsula that juts out into a lake, so it was very pretty and I got that thrill of flying low over water. I did a touch-and-go, then turned north toward home.

Again, there were clouds at my planned altitude, and remembering my earlier mistake, I chose to go under them instead of over them. I had trouble finding one of my checkpoints, but was able to find it by getting on the appropriate VOR radial and tracking it to the right place. Those VOR thingees sure are helpful.

I was a little disappointed with the stupid things I did. However, it has been over a month since my last cross-country flight, which also happened to be my last solo, so it was almost like having another first solo. And frankly, it was good experience to get myself a little lost, because I got to practice getting myself un-lost. On Sunday I'll be making a 400-mile flight, and I hope today's learning experiences will help make that go smoothly.

Logged today: 3.0 hours solo cross-country in N9103M, with 3 takeoffs and 3 landings.

Six lessons to go . . .

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