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Helloooooo Lancaster

I had my first “cross country” trip today! Now don’t get too excited cross country doesn’t mean that I went across the country it’s just a term for traveling somewhere not right next to your home airport. There probably is a technical definition but who gives a crap. I went to Lancaster Pennsylvania (KLNS) airport.  Whoo hooooo try not to get too excited. Actually it was awesome to finally NOT circle the damn airport with traffic pattern practice!

In preparation for the cross country I had a short ground school (and I mean short) last week on the concepts of navigation via dead reckoning. Dead reckoning involves picking “waypoints” on the ground, on a sectional chart, and carefully measuring the distance in a number of “legs”. The legs are the lines between  two waypoints. Yes, welcome to the 18th century! Now I’m having a hard time getting motivated to be terribly excited about this because in real life you don’t really use this type of navigation. You use radio transponders (VORs) or GPS devices. However, if one day you’re flying along and for one reason or another all your electricity goes out…boom you’d be stuck with dead reckoning. So it’s definitly a skill to be acquired although I suspect I won’t be a true master of it anytime soon.

On my trip, which was a straight line between Gaithersburg MD (KGAI) and Lancaster, PA (KLNS) I had planned out 7 waypoints. The idea was to pick features on the ground that are visible and easy to spot. I wound up with things like antennas and the fork of a river and roads and those sorts of things. You use a stop watch to time the travel between waypoints and given that you travel a particular planned speed and in a particular heading you should be able to predict when you will spot the waypoint. Of my 7 planned waypoints I managed to accurately hit 0. I did eventually see a couple of them (in the distance) and of course we got to our destination but the dead reckoning was pretty dead for much of the outbound trip.

KLNS is a class D airport so it was very interesting and of course a little intimidating talking to an actual control tower. I did fair and didn’t make a complete fool of myself but still don’t quite have the exact sequence of instructions down all that well. After the initial contact I said something like “lancaster approach one three seven seven uniform inbound 10 miles southwest” they responded with “one three seven seven uniform notify at four miles”. I forgot to say with information “hotel” which was the weather condition info that I heard easlier. As I approached the airport and at 4 miles away I say “lancaster approach one three seven seven uniform four miles” and what I was thinking was “hey lancaster where the fuck do you want me to land and what do I do now!!” Fortunately my instructer pointed me (and therefore the plane) in the right direction and everything was actually fine….I had a pretty good landing too!

After landing since this is a real airport you contact ground control. Something like “lancaster ground what now!” Actually they just tell you what exit ramp to use and you just read that back and go. Then we wind up going to the self serve gas part of the airport, gas up the plane, move to a pilot shop area rest for a few, use the facilities (take a pish) and get set for the return trip.

For the return we were, thankfully, not using dead reckoning but used VOR navigation. VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range (don’t ya love nested acronyms!) and is a set of radio beacons trasmitting on a specific frequency throughout the country. You dial up the frequency, pick a direction towards or away from that beacon and then fly such that a bar in the VOR device remains centered in the middle of a dial looking device. The idea is to “center the bar” and if you fly with the bar centered then you are going directly “to” or “from” the particular VOR. It’s pretty straightforward and not all that difficult. It would have been a lot easier if my instructor had actually spent more then 5 seconds explaining all of this but we muddled through. The somewhat difficult aspect was there was a significant lag in the time between pointing the plane to a particular heading and having the bar of the VOR move around. It took easily 10 seconds sometimes between adjusting the course and having the bar center or moving. The end result is that if you were looking at us from the ground we no doubt traced a very long set of S curves in the sky. Not a huge amount of straight flying but it was better then circling the airport!

On the return trip you have to contact Potomac approach to get permission and a new squawk code. I managed to hear the squawk wrong and read it back wrong to no response from Potomac but my instructor got it right. So Potomac said nothing which translates to you have permission to enter the SFRA. Which we did and no F15’s appeared so I guess the squawk my instructor entered was fine. We proceed with nothing much going on to KGAI and inform Potomac approach that we have Gaithersburg in sight to which they say fine, and we switch to the CTAF for Gaithersburg.

We enter the downwind leg on the 45 just fine and have a normal pattern. It was fairly windy around 8 kts which I wasn’t used to and the landing was a little bumpier then I’d like but we did ok. I delayed the flair with my usual skill resulting in a more bumpy then necessary landing…always fun and annoying at the same time! Managed to rack up 2.6 whole hours and didn’t damage the airplane, always a positive thing.

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