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Lancaster Lunch and SOLO!!

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

All the prep work finally paid off, and I actually flew to Lancaster for lunch today…all by myself!

This was my first official “cross country” solo and it all wound up perfect, aside from a couple of amusing nits. To start things off I decide to leave work even earlier than usual figuring I might get to the airpark early and get up in the air early. I manage to get lost on the way to the freaking airpark!! Well not actually lost but I missed a turn and got onto this new highway (the ICC Inter County Connector) which forces me down this superhighway about 7 or 8 miles until I can turn around. Genius. My head is now filled with images of me up in the air “accidentally” turning the wrong way winding up over downtown Washington DC accompanied by a couple of F15’s.

I was just annoyed got to the airpark on time but we rusehd a tad to get up in the air which I wanted to avoid. My head wasn’t all wacked out and I was fine. The routine for this solo was to go up with my instructor and do one pattern, then assuming it was good drop him off then go off to Lancaster. The pattern was fine I dropped him off and then faced the prospect of a trip all by myself. No more circling the airport by myself doing traffic pattern work, this was an actual trip going somewhere!

I set up the instruments and the GPS to fly direct to KLNS (Lancaster) get up in the air and just follow the magenta line on the GPS. It’s really pretty difficult to screw it up. You just follow the bright line and it even has  exact numeric readouts for the desired track (DTK) versus the actual track (ATK). All you have to do is keep the plane pointed to the desired track value. Given a functioning GPS and of course the ability to use the device you would have to be an idiot to get lost (which is perfect for me given my traditionally amazing lack of sense of direction). I was a tad concerned about doing something with the device to put it into some odd mode, so I did very little futzing with it, however I did do a bunch of map zooming in and out and did play with the cursor input which let’s you look at what items on the screen mean, such as the circles defining class B space (around BWI which I pass) and boundaries of the SFRA.

Once up in the air I contact the Potomac Approach people (the SFRA folks) and they say the have me on radar. All is well they see my transponder, a good thing as this is the same plane 52632 that had transponder and PTT (push to talk) button issues on my previous trip to Atlantic City (not a solo). My instructor said nothing was changed in the plane but it was working fine…it was (wheewwwww).

I keep the plane at 2500MSL and just move on over the ground everything was fine no issues. I dial up Lancaster Tower, Lancaster Ground and the Lancaster ATIS and pretty soon I’m just moving along with not much going on.  I even lean the fuel mixture which get’s me a bit nervous as that’s the same control to shut the engine off and I of course imagine pulling out the mixture control too much resulting in an engine shut off (not clear to me if that could happen at cruising speed have to find out!).

Around 15 or so miles from Lancaster (the total distance is around 90NM) you cross the Susquehanna river which is a great landmark and you know that very soon you have to start talking to Lancaster Tower. So I dial them up and say “Lancaster Tower 52632 student pilot 10 miles south east inbound with information Foxtrot”. Call me Captain Sulley 😉

I threw in the “student pilot” as my instructor said I should do that as the controllers will be more patient, and I figured what the hell why not. The controller was definitely slower and seemed to be more friendly, or perhaps I was just imagining that but he tells me to go for runway 8 and enter “right base”. I am of course a bit confused about what is left or right base but figure it out….just not used to using the terminology.  Initially I wound up aiming for what I thought was the runway but it turned out to be a road passing next to the airport….oops. I see runway 8 in plenty of time turn to base for a fairly short final touch down just peachy and I made it!!

The tower asks me my destination and I say the restaurant and he tells me to take ramp “Golf” and taxiway Delta cross the runway to the restaurant. I pretty much knew which way to go but didn’t quite catch that it was ok to cross the runway to get to the restaurant so double checked when I got there he said yes and then proceeded to talk me to a parking spot on the “west ramp” area. I was going to park in front of the restaurant where I saw another plane but he said turn right you can’t park there…I’m still unclear about where he was talking about but I saw a whole bunch of T shaped parking spots in an area to the right. The only confusing aspect is that there was no one else parked there so I wasn’t sure that was correct….but I guess it was as I just pulled up to a spot, shut down and breathed a huge sigh of relief actually getting there in one piece and not making a fool of myself to the tower, always a concern 😉

I had a wonderful Philly cheese steak sandwich that was amazingly fresh and inexpensive. I highly recommend the place. After lunch I climb back in for the return trip. I decide to see how much fuel was left and there was plenty. I do the usual airplane prep get in and even do the runup right there where I was parked as there was no one anywhere around and it seemed like a reasonable place. I set up the GPS for KGAI and after everything checks out I contact Lancaster Ground asking for permission to depart to the south west. They point me right to runway 31 and I head off. Definitely useful having the airport diagram handy it certainly helps keep one turning to the correct places (duhhh). I pull off to the run up ramp area just next to runway 31 tell Lancaster Ground that I’m ready to depart, they say switch to the tower frequency which I do and then ask again to depart. They clear me right away so I just taxi on over look to be extra sure no one is coming and take off.

I’m up in the air and turn pretty much 180 around to get on track and start following the magenta line on the GPS back home. It’s probably a good 50 miles until you need to start dealing with Potomac Approach so I just fly along keeping a very careful eye on the engine readouts, temperature, altitude, RPM,  and all that. I lean the engine again and still think I doing that somewhat half assed as I don’t have a good feel for it and don’t want to muck with the mixture too much.

The time arrives and I contact Potomac Approach with “Potomac Approach 52632 with you” he responds with “52632 squawk 0001 and stay outside of the SFRA”. I readback the squawk but think to myself what the fuck do you mean “stay out of the SFRA” !! And what is this 0001 squawk number is that something special?? I want to go home….but I quickly realize that they might do that until they see me on radar. Pretty soon he says he sees me on radar and I think he said stay out of SFRA space again (but I’m not sure). In another minute I talk to Potomac Approach again and say “Potomac Approach 52632 I’d like to go to Gaithersburg” he says “clear to Gaithersburg maintain code”. I guess I misheard that second stay out of SFRA call. Everything was fine and I just kept on going.

Pretty soon I was getting close to Gaithersburg and today I made sure to stay at 2500MSL as yesterday I was at about 2000MSL and had a hard time spotting the airport. I was pretty sure I saw Gaithersburg at about 7 miles out so I tell Potomac “Potomac Approach I have Gaithersburg in sight” he responds with “change frequency and keep the code” or something else unintelligible but I knew that all was ok and I just kept on going and switched to the Gaithersburg CTAF. Previously I had dialed up the Gaitherburg AWOS and determined I should use runway 14.  At about 4 or 5 miles out I call to the CTAF “Montgomery Traffic 52632 on the 45 to downwind runway 14 montgomery”. At about the same time a Citation calls in that he was on the downwind to runway 14 and asked about traffic. I tell him I was on the 45 to downwind and gave him my position as 4 miles out to the north east. After another 30 seconds or so he asks again for my position we talk and after not too long he says he has me in sight and says “I’m doing 190 knots so I’ll be out of your way”. (translation: I’m a shit load faster then you just stay out of my way) I also see him about 200 ft higher then me and at around 10 o’clock to my left. He does just zip on in. I wind up following him on the downwind and I call out  “Montgomery Traffic 632  extending the downwind and  number 2 on runway 14”. I do the usual landing maneuvers and of course did the checklist first (I set the mixture to full a while ago to be sure I wouldn’t forget that.) I had a long final since I wanted to give the Citation room and had a real greaser of a landing with was a nice way to end the flight.

But wait there one more thing.

I pull off to the first exit hold where I’m supposed to and start the after landing checklist. I shut off the lights, lean the mixture for taxi and WHOOPS…I manage to pull the mixture too far and actually shut the damn engine off!! I was glad my instructor wasn’t there to see that bozo move 😉  I turn the ignition to restart and it comes back to life quickly (whewwww). I taxi on in and that’s all for my first real solo adventure!
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