The weather finally cooperated and I was able to complete my first dual cross country flight. I’ve been trying to get my cross country in for about a month, and the weather has been so wet and windy that it was cancelled multiple times. If you’re a student pilot, you have experienced training delays at some point along the way too. It’s just part of being a pilot, you learn that the weather is always a factor no matter what time of year you fly.
The weather is beautiful today. It’s clear with a high of 45, and winds on the ground are gusting to 10kts. We decide on an east course to Raleigh Executive Airport (TTA) in Sanford. It’s 81nm and with a nice tailwind going out, the calculated time to arrive is 40:36. The wind report is 269 at 15kts going east and we’ll be flying at 3500’. The trip back will take a bit longer as it’s forecasting 260 at 35kts at 4500’. We will have a direct headwind so the same course back is coming up to a return trip time of 1:09:20.
I love the navigation part of flying. I had no idea of what went into flight planning until I went through ground school. Getting the sectional chart out, picking a place to fly to, marking your course, and picking landmarks along the way to look for, is like going on a treasure hunt. I love the fact that I have calculated my heading, distance and time between each of these spots on the chart. I had to make calculations for going to TTA and returning to JQF. With the headwind that will greet us for our return, the times are almost double even though the distance is the same.
I calculated weight and balance for the trip, and determined fuel consumption as well. I pulled out the AFD (Airport/Facility Directory) as part of the flight planning to get the field elevation, runways and frequencies that I’ll need for TTA airport. It also tells you specific things about the airport that you might need to know, whether they have avgas, any obstructions or right traffic patterns instead of left. All of these things are an important part of navigating and being aware of the surroundings. This is a new airport for me, and I knew nothing about it before looking up the information on it in the AFD.
TTA has a field elevation of 246’ with runways 3 and 21, left traffic patterns and it’s a 6500’ asphalt runway. CTAF is 123.075.
Once everything is ready, it’s time to preflight and make sure the plane is ready to make the trip too. It’s still cold out with a temperature of 40 degrees and with the wind, my hands are numb. 02 Victor passes the preflight inspection but when it’s time to start the engine, even after priming several times, he decides he’s not going to start today. The logbook shows he hasn’t flown in a week and our temperatures have dipped into the teens the last couple of nights. After a few attempts to get him going, we end up calling the line to give us a jump. So, with good weather and a flight plan in hand, we are yet delayed.
No worries here though, after charging for a few minutes, Victor starts right up. We make sure the alternator is showing a positive charge on gauge before we head out. It’s looking good.
It seems like forever since I’ve flown, so the feel of getting behind the controls is exhilarating. The thought of getting out of the pattern and flying to a new location is exciting. We’ll be going over areas that I’ve never flown before and I’m looking forward to the adventure.
I quickly realize that cross country flying, although fun, is a lot of work too. I started my time just before takeoff and as we turn from the airport, I have to start looking at my calculations. My first point will be over the town of Mt. Pleasant and I have it listed at 14nm with a time of 7 minutes from here. I continue my climb to 3500 feet, check my heading, watch my airspeed, check the gauges, lean out the mixture, listen and watch for traffic and now look for landmarks. Whew…I never knew that flying would be so busy but it makes the trip go by very fast. The view is amazing from up here. It’s hazy in the distance but we have good visibility for the flight.
I have visited the town of Mt. Pleasant recently. It’s a small place but I recognize the area easily from up here. The next spot I’ve marked is a lake at 17nm with a time of 8:31. I’m not far from Mt. Pleasant when I see the lake. That was easy but now I need to determine which part of the lake I’ve marked as it’s much bigger and more twisty than I would’ve thought it would be. Looking at the sectional, I have the far side of the lake where it jets out the furtherest marked on the chart. I will mark my next time from there.
It’s a little windy and we hit some slight turbulence but nothing major. It’s interesting using ‘flight following’ today as they pass you off to other controllers along the way. We went from Charlotte to Greensboro to Raleigh during this trip. The airways are a little busy when you are using flight following but it’s comforting to know that you are being watched the whole way.
Once we get TTA in sight, Raleigh releases us for our VFR approach. My times and calculations for the trip out were spot on and I’m feeling good about it. The only landmark I picked that was difficult to find was a river and a railroad that we couldn’t see till we were on top of them. One thing I’ve learned about picking landmarks now, is what works well and what might be better for the next trip to pick. I could see a couple of other airports along the way, even though they weren’t directly in my path. I flew close enough to them that on a day like today, I can see them and check my sectional to help determine my location.
We also dialed in two VOR’s that are on either side of us so that I could see how to use them to determine my position if I’m not sure. We dialed in the Liberty VOR and the Sandhills VOR to get our radials. I traced them to where they cross and it showed that I was exactly on the course that I had marked to TTA.
We made it to TTA on schedule and stopped to stretch our legs and checkout the airport. I parked between two Cessna, one was Victor’s twin and call sign Whiskey, which made me chuckle.
Checking the oil before taking off, found Victor a little low on oil, so we added a quart, checked everything out again and hit the airways for our return trip.
The headwinds are causing us to have a ground speed of 68 today at 4500’. At least we don’t have to stop for red lights or traffic, so although slower than the trip out, I wouldn’t want to travel it any other way.
The flight was an amazing experience today. I learned how to use ‘flight following’ and VOR’s. I used my new skills for pilotage and dead reckoning to navigate. Just when I thought I’d never get to do a cross country, everything came together.
There is nothing quite like navigating from the air. It’s work and planning, but it’s also fun and exciting. To think that I made what would be a 2 1/2 hour drive in 40 minutes by air is incredible. Flying isn’t about saving time, although that’s a plus, it’s more about the adventure and the view. It’s about controlling this amazing bird, guiding it, controlling it to a specific place and back again, knowing that you plotted a course, planned it out to the last detail, made it to your destination and back again safely. In the process, you soaked in the view and breathed life into what would otherwise be an ordinary day. You took life by the wings and turned it into a marvelous adventure, and who doesn’t need a little adventure in their life from time to time?
May your skies be blue and the wind be in your favor for whatever adventure lies before you today…