OK today I’m simply giddy with excitement! I got to do my third cross country flight, my longest time in the plane yet, 2.3 hours. I haven’t spent the time to total up my log book yet, but I’ve got to be closing in on 20ish hours of flight time. Today, our route was from KPLU (Thun Field) to 0S9 (Jefferson County Airport) up on the Peninsula. The way I planned it was like this:
Take off out of KPLU and head pretty much due west, crossing over McChord AFB (KTCM). Which means I’d have to contact their tower and ask permission to cross over. Once we were past McChord, and over Harstine Island, I’d turn us just a little west of North and follow one of the designated Airways (Think Highway in the sky) using the Olympia VOR pretty much all the way up to Jefferson County Airport. Passing Belfair and Bangor on the way, being careful not to enter the restricted airspace above the submarine base. We’d land at JeffCo and spend a few minutes there, then hop back in and head back. We’d head a little further east this time flying on the opposite side of Bangor until we got to Vashon Island. At which point we would contact the tower at Seattle Tacoma International Airport (KSEA) and request permission to do the crossing. From SeaTac, we’d head SouthEast, fly over Crest Airpark, then back on the East side of Lake Tapps, over the Orting Valley and finally back at Thun Field.
I plotted pretty much everything out the night before and this morning finished my calculations based on wind velocity and direction and had the plan all nailed down for a 10AM departure. When I was checking the weather, I’m looking outside and seeing crystal blue skies, but on my iPad, a few airports along the way are reporting fog, drizzle, low visibility, etc. What?! So I check the various TAFs (Terminal Area Forecasts) and realize that most everything is going to return to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) by 11AM. I send Meg a quick text after checking the schedule for the planes and instructors at the airport, and ask if she would mind sliding my flight back an hour due to the current weather conditions. She was agreeable thankfully so I modified my plan for an 11AM departure. Fortunately the ONLY thing I had on my schedule today was flying, so I was flexible too. But this was a good real world lesson for me. As a private pilot without an instrument rating, I cannot fly in weather that is not VFR. So this could have just as easily been Teri and I waking up in Friday Harbor one Sunday morning planning to fly back at 9, but having to wait until 1PM or later, or even maybe being there for a couple of days, until the weather was acceptable enough to allow me to fly. Another reason I want my instrument rating.
Arriving at the airport, I checked the fuel in the plane, set up my Garmin VIRB, and did my pre-flight check. I filed my flight plan through Foreflight, and soon enough we were off. The McChord crossing went off without a hitch. After we were past McChord, I called up Flight Services and officially opened my flight plan. I also asked for flight following on our route up. A few minutes later, the controller called us and asked what our plans were. We were flying West and they expected us to be flying north. We told them we were intercepting the radial off the Olympia VOR and would be turning north shortly.
About that time Meg brought out the hood. I’ve learned to get the hood on faster now that I know Meg may mess with my equilibrium while I’m futzing with it! Our goal today was for me to fly under the hood for 30 minutes. We made it 24 which is twice as long as I think I’ve ever been under the hood before. After the hood went on, Meg had me turn on our course North and basically for 24 minutes I just looked at the flight instruments and did my best to track that radial off the VOR from Olympia. I would end up just a few degrees left or right from time to time, but I think for the most part I tracked it pretty darn well! I also felt like I held my altitude really well too.
Meg was in charge of the timer today and we were doing ground speed checks on the way up. For the most part I was within a minute or two of each of my checkpoints. I think we ended up having more of a headwind than I originally planned for based on my check of the weather. But overall the flight up went as planned. As we approached Jefferson County airport, we picked up a helicopter on our left side and rather than fight him for landing rights, we did a quick 360 before we decided what we were going to do. The winds were favoring a landing on runway 27, so that’s what we set up for. My setup was pretty awful and I had us coming in pretty high and fast. So we decided to go around. I wasn’t quick enough calling the go around, but that will come with experience. I will say, when I saw the JeffCo runway, I was a little intimidated. While it’s a bit wider than Thun, it is considerably shorter. And we were getting bounced around quite a bit on final. The second setup was a little better, but still room for improvement. The landing was pretty darn good though.
I closed our flight plan and filed one for the return trip home. We taxied to the runup area, did our pre-flight check and taxied to the end of the runway. Meg wanted to show me what a short field take-off looked like, so I relinquished the controls. She asked me to call out her speed, altitude and heading. Gotta say, pretty impressive to watch that woman fly! You can tell she was born to fly! I definitely made the right decision on instructors.
After we were airborne, she gave the controls back to me and I started to fly my plan back. Once we got near Vashon Island, I tuned in the frequency to the SeaTac control tower and made my call: “Seattle Tower, Cessna one one five one mike, one mile north of Vashon Island at 2,000 with request” . . . It’s like I don’t exist. Silence, except I can hear the controller talking to the other aircraft. Hmmmm. Now what? So Meg says “Do a 360 and I’ll give them a call” so I do and she does. And of course the controller comes right back and says our transition is approved at 1,500 feet, cross over runway 34C on the numbers. So I dropped down to 1,500 and pointed my nose at the Alaska Airlines hangars at the south end of the runways at SeaTac. My first Entry in to Class B, or Bravo, airspace. I did my best to maintain 1,500 . . . when you realize that SeaTac is at 400ish feet, you’re only flying about 1,000 feet above the airport when you cross. It’s pretty darn cool!! There were airliners taxing and one took off just below us as we crossed over them. As soon as we were over, the controller told us to head to the south, and we pointed our nose to 104° which took us right to Crest Airpark.
From there it was a flight I feel like I’ve done a dozen times (OK, 3 or 4) head just east of Tapps, over the Orting Valley, cross over Thun at 2,000′ make a 270° to the right to come in on the 45 to downwind and get ready for landing on runway 34. My setup for landing was one of my better ones. I’m really starting to understand what my airspeed and altitude need to be for each leg of the pattern. The other day, feeling crappy about my progress with my landings, I watched a webinar on perfect landings on http://m0a.com/ and Jason really drilled in that the perfect landing starts with the perfect pattern and that airspeed is king. So I’ve really been trying to be cognizant of how fast and high I am as I’m in the pattern.
My landing at Thun was one of my better ones, so I do think I’m improving. One thing I’m a little bummed about is that my video camera battery died just before we got to Bremerton on the way back. So I’m ordering a couple additional batteries for it so on longer cross country flights, I can swap the battery when we land at our destination airport. That should give me plenty of juice for getting back. So unfortunately I don’t have video of that landing. But I did find a better perspective in the plane for my camera, so I’m getting a lot better view of things. So hopefully when I solo, it’ll be dialed in just right and I can show y’all what I’ve been doing the past few months!!
During the debrief, Meg said to me “OK, our focus now will be on soloing you.” AWESOME! So I won’t be doing any cross country trips for a little bit, mostly pattern work and improving my skills in other areas. I’m hopeful my 3rd class medical shows up in the mail tomorrow or Saturday, so I can at least check that off the list. I’ll work on my pre solo written exam over the next few days and get that worked out. So when Meg thinks it’s time, I’m ready!
This was by all accounts an AWESOME day for me!! I really had a GREAT time flying up and back. And I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really blessed to have found Meg as an instructor, she’s absolutely awesome!!