Sunday, October 16, 2005


Flying Lesson #57: Long Solo Cross-Country

Today I flew to a magical far-away land: Alabama. OK, so it's really not that far away, but my route from Atlanta to Montgomery, then to Huntsville, and then back to Atlanta was over 500 miles. I wasn't looking forward to this—I was expecting it to be an ordeal—but it was super awesome. (I really tried to come up with a more sophisticated description than "super awesome," but that's the best I could do.)

The weather was perfect. I do mean perfect: not a cloud anywhere in Georgia or Alabama, cool temperatures, and crazy visibility. I was seeing things clearly from 40 and 50 miles away. When visibility is that good, everything looks closer than it is. I'd see a checkpoint up ahead, and think "Wow, I'm almost there. I'm making really good time," but then it would take another 20 minutes to get there.

As I entered the traffic pattern at Montgomery (MGM), I heard the controller clear somebody for a low approach. Looking far off the approach path, I saw an F-16. I thought seeing an F-16 close up in the pattern would pretty cool, but then the controller told me to extend my downwind leg, as I'd be following the third F-16. So I got to watch three F-16's make low fast approaches and then snap up into very steeply banked turns (85 degrees?). It was like I had my own personal airshow.

When I turned final, the controller had to ask a couple of the pilots to go around, so I saw F-16's speeding over my head as I led my little flying brick down to the runway. After landing and turning off the runway, instead of immediately running through my post-landing checklist like I should have, I watched one of the fighters zip down the runway, and I heard and felt the thunderous WHOOSH as it passed just a few yards behind me. Then a few seconds later, another one did the same thing. Very cool. (And I'm sure the F-16 pilots were equally thrilled to get to see a Piper Warrior up close.)

This flight went a lot better than my shorter Friday cross-country. The weather played a large part in that, but I also felt a lot more in the groove.

If every flight was like today's, the flight school would be getting every cent I earn. As things are, they are only getting most of my money.

Logged today: 5.7 hours solo cross-country, with 3 takeoffs and 3 landings. Cost: $622.

Five lessons to go . . .

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