Workin’ On Our Night Moves…

John HurlbutFlying3 Comments

Tryin’ to make some front page flyin’ news… Some of you will get that, all the rest of you Google “Bob Seger, Night Moves”.  I got to fly at night tonight! That makes four days in a row flying!  I think it’s time to take a couple days off.  As I’m headed to Vegas this weekend, it may not be until next week that I get to fly again, but the last week has been an absolute blast!  I flew 5 of 7 days, I only wish I could keep this pace up!  But most of what I have left to do are cross country flights, which take a significant amount of time, both to plan and execute.  So I don’t think my pace will be nearly as frenzied going forward.

All day today I was looking forward to tonight.  Nervous anticipation to be sure!  My instructor was teaching ground school tonight until 8:30, so I had to wait until after that to fly.  I got to the airport at 8 and did the preflight check.  I checked the gas and added some oil to the plane, did my weight & balance calculations and checked the weather.  By the time my instructor was done with ground school, the plane was ready to go.

She had to regain her proficiency which means that before we could go flying, she had to do three takeoffs and landings to a full stop.  That was cool because it gave me the opportunity to watch her and see how it’s done.  I have to say I was mighty impressed!  I had my handheld radio and after her second landing, I jumped on the radio and said “that was awesome!” And it was!  SIDE NOTE: Most all of you know I’m a geek at heart.  But can I say, I love all the gear that comes with flying almost as much as I love flying!  Tonight I got to use my handheld radio and my fancy Smith & Wesson Captain’s flashlight.  I’m a gear nerd for sure!

After her third landing she taxied over and I hopped in the left seat. She gave me the mission briefing.  She explained we were heading over to Tacoma Narrows.  I totally forgot that was the plan, I thought we were just staying in the pattern at Thun.  But I was totally stoked to fly somewhere else! I fired up the plane and headed down to do my runup.  Even taxing at night was a little different, it’s harder to make out the lines on the pavement so going slow is key. After the runup, we announced our intentions and I pulled the plane onto the runway. Full power and away we went!

Whenever I fly commercially, I have to have the window seat. I tell everyone it’s because I have an iron bladder, and even on the longest of flights, I rarely need to get up. But in all actuality I love having the window seat so I can look out and see if I can figure out where I am based upon landmarks that I see.  I especially like landing at SeaTac at night, when we come down through the clouds and youve had no visual reference for hours where you might be.  It usually takes me a minute but i can usually figure it out pretty quickly.  

Taking off tonight it was really cool to see Puyallup South Hill all lit up.  The nearly full moon silhouetted Mount Rainier, and I coul make out the lay of the land.  The cabin of the Cessna was illuminated by the red glow from the dome light.  I climbed out a little too steep at first, not having the ground reference that I normally have for clues to my climb angle.  I was climbing at Vx (Best Angle) and not Vy (Best Rate), so I gently pushed the nose of the airplane down and let the speed build up to about 75kts.

At about 1,500 feet, I started a turn to the northwest and continued the climb to 2,000 feet.  I was a bit further to the south than I wanted to be, so as to not clip McChord’s airspace, my instructor had me turn to the north which put us more over the Port of Tacoma.  As the tower at Tacoma Narrows was closed for the evening, we didn’t need permission to fly into their airspace.  We did however check their weather to adjust the altimeter for landing.  We lined the plane up on 19th St in Tacoma and began our descent. 

I could see the rotating beacon at Tacoma Narrows so I knew we were heading the right direction.  Now at Thun field, the runway lights are on all night.  But it looked awfully dark at Tacoma Narrows.  At Thun, we have a four light PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator)  that if you click the mic button in the airplane five times, it turns on, but the runway lights are always on at night.  As we headed over the water my instructor keyed the mic five or six times and it seemed as though Clark Griswold finally plugged in the Christmas tree!  The entire airport lit up!  It was perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!  The white runway lights along with the blue taxiway lights came roaring to life!  It was pretty clear where the airport was now!

Our approach had us coming in on the base leg for runway 35, as we came over the water, I cut the throttle to 1,500 RPM, dropped in som flaps and continued our descent.  We turned final, still a bit high, and dropped some more flaps.  Speeds were looking good.  Nice long, wide runway. Lined up on centerline, let the runway come to you.  (Note: one of the visual cues you use when landing is watching the position of the runway in your windscreen.  If it appears to stay in the same location, you’re on a good approach angle.  If it rises in the windscreen, you’re too low and if it falls, you’re too high.  I don’t really notice it during the day, but at night with all the lights, it’s pretty clear!). We settled down on the runway harder than I would have liked, but a very passable landing overall!   We took off and landed two more times, each landing better than the last.  Especially since this was the first time I had flown this particular airplane since before I soloed, I feel REALLY good about my performance.

We departed after our third landing and pointed ourselves to the South East.  I was looking for the rotating beacon for Thun, but I didn’t see it until we were nearly in Puyallup.  I set us up on the 45 for runway 34.  Turned on downwind, carburetor heat on, throttle to 2,000 RPM.  As we passed the numbers, throttle back to 1,500 RPM, twist of nose up trim, one notch of flaps.  Turning on base, add another notch of flaps.  Turning on final, still too high, drop in the last bit of flaps, line up on centerline, manage pitch for airspeed, power to get you too the runway.  Over the grass, runway made, ease out the power to idle and let the runway come to you.  Round out and flare and listen to the stall warning horn scream.  Touchdown!

Its always a good sign when the number of takeoffs matches the number of landings!   Now the challenge is finding the taxiway, since Thuns taxiways are not lit, you kinda have to search them out.  Found one, announce we’re clear of the active and put the plane to bed!  What an incredible evening!  I think this is about the most fun I’ve had!  I know I keep saying that, but this flying thing just keeps getting better!

After landing, we reviewed what’s left in my syllabus and really I’ve got a few cross country flights to do on my own, my instructor and I have a night cross country to do, and we have a few review lessons to do, but that’s pretty much it.  In the home stretch now!!  According to my syllabus, I have about 13.5 hours of dual and solo training left all together.  Another 6 hours and I will have met the minimum number of hours solo.  I’ve already met the minimum for dual instruction, so I’m thinking I might actually be ready for my check ride after those 13.5 hours of training.   

Now we just need the weather to cooperate.  I’m going to start planning my next cross country flight.  I think I’ll go to either Tillamook OR McMinnville Oregon.  I’ll plan that for next week, weather permitting.

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