Lesson 15: My First Cross Country | 07/03/15

After getting shut down last week due to the weather, yesterday I finally went up for my first cross country flight to Allentown, PA.   I had studied hard, learned how to use the manual E6B flight computer and finished the weather and flight operations sections on my online King course to prepare for the flight.   For some reason, however,  my flying was not as good as I would have liked.   I got some invaluable practice tracking VORs and using visual checkpoints to navigate, as well as applying the communication skills I’ve picked up on VATSIM in a real Class C airport, but my traffic patterns were sloppy and as a result my landing were pretty shabby.   Looking back I think that this lapse in performance was caused by one main reason; instead of focusing on aviating, navigating and then communicating, as the aviation catchphrase goes, I was so excited by the increased level of navigation and communication required to complete a cross country that my focus ordered more from navigation to communication to aviation.   But this flight being my first cross country, I am not too worried about this problem as I’m sure I will get used to keeping my priorities in order as I continue to fly more cross countries.

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We arrived at Fischer about an hour early so I could get all the necessary weather information and complete the flight plan.   When Bob arrived we went over the plans, took one last look at the course and the weather, and then started preflighting the aircraft.   We took off and talked to Morristown tower as we flew our first leg through the Morristown Class D airspace over to Solberg, an uncontrolled airport to the Southwest of Caldwell.   We arrived at Solberg and entered the traffic pattern, encountering much more traffic than one would expect from such a small airport.   My landing was fine until I started porpoising, a very dangerous type of nose wheel oscillation.   But I recovered from the porpoise and completed the landing without any damage to the aircraft.

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We took off from Solberg and Bob decided to work my visual navigation skills by telling me to find Sky Manor airport.   I eventually found it with the help of a lake and the intersection of two highways and we entered the pattern to land.   My landing at Sky Manor was probably the worst of the day, as you can see in the video below:

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After landing at Sky Manor we finally made our way to Allentown, flying slightly off course to the South to look at a grass airport I might fly at while I’m in Philly.   When we arrived at Allentown there was absolutely no traffic.   We initially talked to approach, an ATC center I had never communicated with before, who then passed us to the tower once we had a visual on the airport.   We entered the traffic pattern and made somewhat of a short-field approach due to the close proximity of a runway towards the end of the downwind leg.   Because of this I was fast and high on final and when I entered ground effect, I just kept floating.   I made my transition to landing attitude too early, maybe because the size of the runway played with my depth perception, and ended up hitting the runway hard as the stall warning screamed at me, knowing that if I added power to smooth out the touchdown I would just keep floating.   To add insult to injury, as I contemplated the cause of my sub-par landing, I read back the taxi instructions incorrectly and had to be corrected by the controller.   When we got to our parking spot, we were aided by a ground crew in lining up and then cut the engine and went inside as the plane got fueled up.

GPS overview of Allentown

GPS overview of Allentown

When we got back in the plane the engine decided to take a snooze and we tried for about 20 minutes to start it.   With the help of the ground crew we finally started up, got clearance back to caldwell, and taxied back to the runway.   Two commercial jets landed as we held short of the runway with was really cool to see, but I realized the GoPro wasn’t on and I had unfortunately missed the clearance delivery and the two jets, probably the coolest parts of the trip.   But I put this aside in my mind and focused on redeeming myself on the flight back to Caldwell. We flew direct to Broadway VOR at 3000 feet, and then flew outbound from Broadway to Caldwell, receiving VFR flight following from Allentown Departure, then New York Approach.   We finally arrived back at Caldwell, and I flew my last traffic pattern of the day.   My landing was good, but it wasn’t a short field landing because I floated too long and the touchdown wasn’t as  smooth as I would’ve liked.

GPS tracking of my landing at Caldwell

GPS tracking of my landing at Caldwell

All in all, I think my first cross country was a great learning experience, with plenty of challenging navigation and communication as well as many mistakes that I can use to improve my flying in the future.