OK so I’m STILL waiting to schedule my check ride to get my private pilot’s license completed. I think I’ve officially psyched myself out. I know I know how to fly. I think I’m pretty good at following all the appropriate procedures and I know I’m a safe pilot. I just haven’t had time to study for the oral exam and my flight instructor and I haven’t been able to connect to really polish my maneuvers over the past month or so. So I’ve been trying to fly at least once per week.
Last week I went out and practiced some maneuvers and did a flight from Thun Field to Tacoma Narrows, South to Lacey and out to Eatonville and back to Thun. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like I remembered how to fly that day. In fact, coming into Tacoma Narrows, I carrier trapped. Coming into Thun, I had to go around because my setup for my first landing wasn’t at all good. Too low, too slow, it sucked. The second approach was better and I put the plane on the ground without incident. I debated doing a few more laps in the pattern, but then ran through my mental state and realized, I just didn’t have it that day. So I taxied back and parked the plane.
Earlier this week I looked at the weather and the schedule and it looked like Saturday was going to be GORGEOUS and lo and behold, NO ONE had the plane I like to fly (N84823) reserved AT ALL that day! So I booked the plane from 1-4 and planned to do a Cross Country flight to Friday Harbor in the San Juan islands. When I woke up Saturday morning, the weather gods did not disappoint, the skies were crystal blue and not a cloud to be found! I called the flight center to extend my flight to 5PM so I wasn’t rushed up and back. Still no one had booked the plane before or after me.
I sat down in my home office and planned the flight. My flight up, I’d go on the east side of SeaTac and my flight back I’d head south on the west side and cross over SeaTac airport if the controllers there would let me. I planned my route out from Thun Field (KPLU), fly over Crest Airpark (S36), Over Harvey Field (S43), over Arlington (KAWO), Over Whidbey Naval Air Station (KNUW) and finally to Friday Harbor (KFHR).
My route back, I’d depart Friday Harbor, Over Whidbey NAS, South over Jefferson County Airport (0S9), Over Keyport and Poulsbo, finally at Vashon Island, head east over SeaTac back to Crest and back to Pierce County.
I also wanted to make sure I filed and opened a flight plan with Lockheed Martin Flight Services, I wanted to get VFR flight following up and back, I wanted to program the Garmin 530 in the plane with my flight plans each way, I wanted to use Foreflight on my iPad and I wanted to practice tuning in the VORs along the way to find my place on a map. Plus I wanted to do the SeaTac crossing all by myself. (I’ve done it twice with my instructor, but never solo) To top it all off, Friday harbor is located on an Island and I’ve never landed on an island before. AND my route would take me over the Whidbey NAS which is a Class C airport. So I’d get a couple of firsts today too! Landing on an island and talking with Class C controllers. (They’re all class A in my book!)
After I got my flight plan all together, I loaded up DUATS on my Mac and checked the weather and NOTAMS to and from. I made sure my Garmin VIRB Was all charged and ready to go with extra batteries and I got my flight bag packed with everything I needed. I kissed Teri goodbye and headed to the airport. (I’ll be really happy when she can go with me!)
I checked in early and started the pre-flight on the plane. Gas tanks were full. I gathered up all my gear and got all my gadgets plugged in. My instructor was running behind to sign off on my flight plan, so I continued pre-flighting until I was 100% ready to go. The plan was to be in the air no later than 1:30. Well my instructor got caught in traffic, so it was almost 2:20 before I was off the ground. I filed an amended flight plan on Foreflight and I was off!
Once in the air, I tried contacting Flight Services on 123.65, which is the frequency listed in the Airport Facilities directory and on Foreflight. I’ve never been able to contact them on that frequency, so I don’t know why I keep trying? I can’t remember what frequency I finally got them on, 122.something, but I finally did reach them and opened my flight plan. Once I was done with that, I contacted Seattle Approach and asked for VFR Flight Following.
VFR Flight following is cool for a number of reasons. First of all it gives you a second pair of eyes in the sky. The controllers give you a discrete transponder code so they can keep their eyes on you. They’ll alert you to traffic that may be approaching you to help you keep clear. Next, it gets you familiar with listening to ATC and picking out transmissions that are meant for you and gets you comfortable talking to the controllers on the radio. I love it! As you fly along your intended path, the controllers will hand you off from one station to the next. It’s great practice as I move forward in my training and work on my instrument rating.
My flight plan had me just inside the area of SeaTac Class B airspace that started at 3,000 feet and went up to 10,000 feet so initially I was down at 2,500 feet. At one point the controller asked if I wanted to be cleared through Class Bravo airspace and I told him that would be great if they were able. He asked at what altitude I wanted to fly, since I was on a heading of 001 Degrees I told him I’d like to climb up to about 3,500 feet to get away from some of the bumps. He handed me off to the next sector and told me they’d probably be able to give that to me sooner than he could.
About 5 minutes after switching over, the controller there did indeed give me 3,500 feet and I was flying in Class B airspace for the first time solo! Cool! I eventually got handed off to Whidbey Approach and they walked me through their airspace and once I was past them, they cancelled my flight following and I switched over to the common frequency for island traffic. I announced I was about 6 miles to the south inbound for landing at Friday Harbor runway 34. I loaded the 45 degree approach for runway 34 into Foreflight and started my descent. Pre-landing checklist and on the 45. My setup for runway 34 was great and the landing was smooth! First island landing! Nice!
After I made a couple laps around the field verifying I knew where transient parking was, I parked the plane, secured it and walked into town for a bite to eat. I won’t lie, I felt pretty darn proud of myself! I did mess with the VORs on the way up too. I tuned in KTCM (McChord), KSEA (Seattle), KPAE (Paine Field) and KCVV (Penn Cove) to figure out where I was in space. As far as I was concerned, my flight plan was executed perfectly on the way up and I was smiling from ear to ear as I walked the short 1/2 mile into town. I decided on a place called Haley’s Sports Bar and Grill and the Blue Cheese burger I had was awesome! I dashed across the street to the souvenir shop to buy Teri a little something before I headed back.
Back at the plane during pre-flight, I found that the plane had sucked down quite a bit more gas than I had planned. I’m used to it using about 9 GPH. I was in the air just over an hour + my runup time. So I should have used about 10 gallons, which should have left me about 14 gallons in each tank. When I checked them one was down to 11 and the other down to 9! So I used 18 gallons of fuel?! Well time to head to the fuel pump and gas up. Glad I checked! If I had just taken off without looking, I may very well have run out of gas on the way back!!
After fueling up, I was pushing it to be back before dark. By the time I did my runup and took off it was about 5:15 in the afternoon. Still as a student pilot, I’m not allowed to fly at night by myself. So I had to be back within an hour past official sunset. I should be fine, the winds aloft had me with a 10ish knot tail wind on the way back so my ground speed should have been about 118 or so on the way back. (Turned out that was about dead on)
After taking off from Friday Harbor, I called up flight services on the radio and opened my flight plan. Then I dialed in the frequency for Whidbey approach to get Flight Following for the way back and keyed up the mic:
Me: Whidbey Approach, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 with request.
Controller: Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 This is still Seattle Radio
Me: Oops! Sorry!
Yeah, I had dialed in the right frequency, but didn’t push the little button to actually put it in my ACTIVE radio. -12 Cool points. No harm, all the controllers are super nice and I’m sure they hear a lot worse! So I pushed the button and called Whidbey Approach for real this time. They set me up with VFR flight following and as I transitioned out of their airspace, handed me off to Seattle Approach. They handed me off a little too early IMHO as I could barely understand Seattle Approach until I got much closer to SeaTac airport. But I made it through.
My flight plan had me fly over Jefferson County (0S9) on my way back, and I briefly thought about landing for a quick bite of pie . . . but The Force is Strong in This one . . . and I resisted temptation. Plus that would have for sure meant I was late! I made sure to avoid flying over Bangor, as cool as I think Navy Jets are, I kinda don’t want to see one that close in the air. I called up Seattle approach with a request:
Me: Seattle Approach, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 with request.
Controller: Cessna 8-4-8-2-3, Seattle approach, say request
Me: I’d like the SeaTac crossing when I get down that far, if you could let them know I’d appreciate it.
Controller: Cessna 8-4-8-2-3, Remain below Class Bravo Airspace and be sure to mention it to the tower when I hand you off.
Me: 8-2-3 Roger, Thank you.
OK so he didn’t outright deny it, but he didn’t clear me through Class Bravo either. As I was at 5,500 approaching the section of Class Bravo that started a 5,000, I started to descend to 3,500. As I was flying along, I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous it was! After all the fiddling I’d done earlier with the VORs etc. it was nice to just sit back and enjoy the flight for a few minutes. The sun was setting off my right wing tip. I was watching sailboats, ferries and freighters play on the Puget Sound behind me. Seattle was gleaming in the afternoon sun. Mount Rainier was turning a wonderful shade of pink. THIS right here is what I’m so looking forward to this Summer, when with pilot’s license in hand, Teri and I can go for an afternoon jaunt to the San Juans for a bite to eat and REALLY enjoy the amazing scenery all around us.
Approaching the next section of Class B airspace that drops to 3,000 feet, I dropped down to 2,500 feet to stay just under the big boys. Plus I still had flight following and was talking to Seattle approach. They handed me off to the Tower and I bid them adieu. I called up the tower on 119.9 and let them know I was there, and then the fun began!
Me: Seattle Tower, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 with you on one one niner point niner.
Controller: Talking to some passenger jet, a few moments of silence and then
Controller: Cessna 8-4-8-2-3, Seattle Tower, Seattle Altimeter is 30.19, Cleared through Seattle Bravo Airspace to the East, at and maintain VFR at 2,000, Cross over the numbers to Runway 3-4 Center Eastbound Say Altitude
Me: (Holy crap, did anyone get all of that?) Maintain VFR at 2,000, Cross over the numbers at Runway 3-4 Center – Roger 823
Controller: Cessna 8-4-8-2-3, And say altitude please (Crap I knew I forgot something!)
Me: 2,400 descending for 2,000
Controller: Thank you
WOO HOO! Not only was I cleared through Class Bravo airspace, I was allowed to do the SeaTac crossing, specifically the Mariner Transition. The crossing to the south is called the Mariner transition and the crossing on the north is the Seahawk Transition. (Makes sense, Safeco Field is South of Centurylink Field) So depending on which way the traffic is landing at and taking off from SeatTac, depends on where they want you to “cross the numbers”. On Saturday the traffic was landing from the south on to Runway 34 Center and taking off to the North on Runways 34 Left and Right. For point of reference runway 34L/16R is the “3rd Runway” for you Seattle natives. So they give you an altitude that isn’t too high and isn’t too low and tell you which runway’s numbers they want you to cross over. So this time they gave me 2,000 feet and runway 34C. They have you cross over the side where the big boys and girls are landing. All planes should be at their lowest altitude at that point, the ones landing and the ones taking off. If they had you cross over the opposite end, there’s a good possibility you’d get smacked on the underside by a 747, and that would as my instructor says be “drama”.
So I made it a point to NAIL 2,000 feet as I crossed over. The previous time I did the crossing, I was crossing over Runway 1-6 on the north side of the field and was given an altitude of 1,500 feet. As I was crossing over one of the controllers called me out by saying “And watch out for the Cessna crossing over at one thousand FOUR hundred feet.” OK I get it, I was low. But this time, 2,000 feet dead nuts. In fact, I was pretty damn proud of myself all day, I was holding altitudes that I set.
After the SeaTac crossing was complete, the tower controller had me do a South East turn towards downtown Kent. Shortly after that, she told me to Squawk VFR (Set my transponder to 1200) and radar service was terminated. No more VFR Flight following for me. That’s OK, I could actually make out roughly Thun Field from where I was over Kent anyway. I flew up the Kent valley being sure to stay below Class Bravo airspace, since I didn’t have my clearance any longer. When I was over the Orting Valley, I switched over to the Thun Field frequency and heard someone say “Don’t land just yet, I just hit a big goose and I need to get him off the runway” Ahh the dangers of aviation. Sounded like the goose put a big dent in the wing too. Poor goose.
I landed just as the sun was setting, and my setup for the landing was perfect. Two white, two red on the PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) and I greased the plane onto the runway. I taxied back to the ramp and secured the plane.
Saturday I feel like I put everything together:
- I got a weather and flight briefing before flying
- I created and filed a flight
- I pre-flighted the airplane
- I took off and contacted Flight Services in the air to open my filed flight plan up and back
- I talked to the controllers to get VFR Flight Following up and back.
- I practiced navigating with the VORs, the GPS in the airplane and Foreflight on my iPad
- I talked to controllers in Seattle and Whidbey and flew through Class B airspace twice!
- I got to do the SeaTac Crossing
- I filled up the airplane in Friday Harbor
- I remembered to close my flight plans on both legs so no one came looking for me.
I honestly cannot remember a day I felt better flying! This was just the confidence boost I need to get me totally psyched to take and pass my Private Check Ride with the FAA Designated Examiner! This day is exactly what I’m looking forward to doing this summer with my sweetie and some friends! Hop in the plane and go somewhere way too far to drive, just for a bite to eat and fly back! Flying makes your state just a little smaller. Makes out of reach places accessible. Makes lunch taste better. Flying actually makes the sun brighter and the sky and water bluer. This has been a dream for 32 years, it’s time to get it done and to call myself a pilot.
Tomorrow my instructor and I will plan a couple of ground and flight lessons to get my final prep done for my check ride and I’ll schedule it. I can’t wait to have this done and take Teri flying with me for the first time where it’s just she and I!