Monday, October 09, 2006

Finally I did my X-country solo

As I had previously mentioned, I had some problems trying to get my long x-country flight done. The first day I was supposed do it I scrubbed it due to bad weather. I rung the weather brief guys and they mentioned lots of lovely things like "visibility obscured in the hills", "thunderstorms in the area" and "winds gusting at 34kts".....all wonderful things you DON'T want to meet when you're alone and many hundreds of miles from home.

The next day saw Matt and I go for a jaunt in my friend John's BEAUTIFUL bi-plane. I made my way to the school while Matt was having fun doing lazy eights and I replotted my route with the weather. The weather was behaving itself at least....but someone had take "Foxy Girl" up on a checkride and didn't get back on time. As the minutes, and then hours, ticked by, John was saying if it was him he wouldn't go up because the visibility was worsening as the evening came in and the haze was quite bad aloft. So I decided I'd scrub it again and go for a jaunt up towards French Valley to familiarise myself with the area I'd fly in during my flight test. But I got halfway there and had to turn back because sure enough, that clag John had predicted made it impossible to see very far. So home I came.

The following day was much better though. I woke up to blue skies, no clouds and made my way in to the school. Replotted the route for the winds again (3rd time's a charm) and off I went. I was flying "Foxy Girl" for this one and felt quite happy in the fact that she had GPS which, if all else fails and I find myself having the same general sense of direction as my mother, I could switch it on and figure out where to go. Luckily Kevin had showed me how to use it on our duel flight a few days earlier.

But something was amiss as soon as I set-off. I noticed that the track I was flying was taking me away from the track I wanted. Which meant one thing....the bloody winds on the NOAA website were old...AGAIN!!! To be honest, the weather available to pilots in the U.S. is bollocks. They only update the winds twice a day, so they can be 12 hours old when you use them. Unlike in Europe which updates the weather 6 times a day!!! So I had to make course corrections in flight. I made it safely to stop number one.....Imperial Airport. Here was were the fun started. First of all, I was too high coming in to land. So I sideslipped all the way in, but then I floated a good bit down the runway because I was carrying about 5kts too much, and I had a heavier than normal landing. On top of that, I need to get a piece of paper signed by a witness to prove I was there. But do you think I could find anyone? There wasn't a soul about. I must have walked round for about 20 mins, until I saw this guy running along the fence on the outside. BINGO....I nabbed him (he was apparantly having trouble with his own plane or something) and he signed my paper. And off I went to stop #2...Thermal airport.

This was much better....flew in, approached the runway....which is very very VERY long, and made a nice soft shortfield landing. I stopped right were the exit to taxi to the ramp is and made my way there. I couldn't remember where I needed to go to get my paper signed, so I called Matt and he gave me dirtections. A brisk walk there and an ice-cream later and I had my second signature. I basked in the sunshine.....about 30C, chatted the nice lady there for about 5 mins and went for a pee before setting off again. I was now beginning to feel like a real pilot....having a set destination to go to, a flight plan to follow etc etc. Off I went and headed South to avoid the looming mountains to my right. I think most of all that I'll miss seeing mountains when I get back to Amsterdam.....It'll be weird flying around a country that's as flat as a pancake. Anyway, I intercepted a radial for a Julian VOR (a radio beacon) and flew towards it, over Borrego Valley airport. But between Borrego valley airport and the VOR the winds became turbulent. At one stage I dropped about 200ft in a matter of seconds. So I climbed higher hoping to get out of the downdraughts. It helped, but only a little bit. I overflew Julian and aimed South to El Capitan reservoir. I heard one of the other instructors, John Locke, doing the same trip with one of his students only going the other way, so I told them about the severe turbulence. And shortly afterwards I was nearing Gillespie, pre-landing checklist complete and clearance from the tower. But again, nearing the field, between two hills...Rattlesnake hill and Twin Peaks I encoutered some windshear. I dropped 200ft odd and lost about 10 knots in airspeed. But I landed safely and let ATC know about the windshear. They warned other pilots about it and I taxied home. All in all a pretty eventful, adventurous and fun trip. I can't wait to do another time as a fully fledged pilot :-) Matt and I relaxed for the rest of the day by going to see the USS Midway, an old aircraft carrier.

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