Rich's Quest For Flight

My father was a pilot. He died doing what he loved to do. It has been a goal of my life to become a pilot. Now I have chance to do so. Follow me as I pursue my dream.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

KRYV 200136Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT060 20/14 A3004 RMK AO2
KMSN 200153Z 00000KT 10SM BKN055 18/16 A3005 RMK AO2
KDLL 200155Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 18/14 A3006 RMK AO2
KUNU 200236Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT035 SCT050 18/14 A3008 RMK AO2

Boy do I love to fly at night!

So here was the plan: takeoff Watertown (KRYV), touch and go Madison-Truax (KMSN), full stop at Wisconsin Dells (KDLL), full stop at Dodge County (KUNU) and back to Watertown. Total distance of 111 nautical miles. It wasn't looking promising earlier in the day, as a trof was forecast to be moving across southeastern Wisconsin bringing overcast conditions with a chance for rain. Fortunately that proved inaccurate as the trof moved through faster than forecast, the breezes shifted around to the north, and the cloud deck dissipated. It turned out to be a beautiful night, with near calm winds at each airport and no turbulence in the air.

Even though I had the route plotted weeks ago, I still spent 3 hours reviewing each checkpoint of each leg. Since 02E has two navigation/VOR radios, I made sure each checkpoint had two VOR fixes. I made sure I had all frequencies for all airports listed on my flight plan along with runway diagrams and pattern information. The less I had to look at a map or look something up in the Airport/Facility Directory, the more attention I could spend on flying the plane.

I preflighted the plane while there was still some light, then I reviewed tower procedures and discussed our landing options for Madison with Adam before we got in the plane. We took off from runway 5 in calm winds, cleared the pattern, and turned toward Madison. Here begins the most nerve wracking part of the whole evening: talking to controllers. Madison is in Class C, radar controlled airspace, meaning I have to establish contact with approach control and follow their instructions based on my announced intentions. I'll spare the details, but this exposure to controller communications went a bit better than my first attempt during the Appleton cross country flight back in July. The controllers have a tendency to speak fast, and if they request something or direct something I haven't heard before, I just don't understand it. Those were the calls that Adam answered. Otherwise, I handled the basic communications fine. What I'll do is spend some time reading the Pilot/Controller Glossary and commit as much of it as I can to memory. But the perhaps the second coolest thing all night was when we were cleared to land on Runway 32 while a Northwest Airlines Airbus was instructed to position and hold on Runway 36. Imagine that! Big tin waiting for the little guy!

The landing itself was a 3 pointer, but straight, so we cleaned her up and took off, staying on the runway heading as directed by the tower. Depth perception is really tricky at night; the runway seems to stay low until you're on top of it, and then it's too late to flare. So the trick is to adjust the sight picture by watching the runway edge lights until you are almost level with them. Since we were on runway heading, and that heading was taking us to the Dells anyway, there wasn't much navigating to do on the second leg of the trip. Once we had the airport in sight, we called Madison Departure and asked to be released from control. They agreed and we made ready to land. I originally planned to land Runway 1, but since the wind was calm it was easier to enter the pattern on the downwind for Runway 19. I gave a shoutout on the CTAF, and hearing no other traffic, we executed our approach. So with the bright lights of the Ho-Chunk Casino adjacent to the airport, we landed. Now for the longest leg, to Dodge County.

This would be the longest leg, and without direction from any ATC, we were completely on our own. Actually, only I was. Adam brought his handheld GPS and had it mounted on his yoke, so he knew where he was. Gotta get me one of those things. Night navigation is easy as long as you've planned your checkpoints well, including timing. Keep the right course, and when the watch says you're there, just look out and make sure you're flying over lights. All of that time spent plotting VOR intersections and it came down to simple pilotage. We came to Beaver Dam, and I was drawn to two sets of lights. The first was of the Beaver Dam Raceway. Little cars going round and round, way cool from 3500'. Then, just after that was the Dodge County Fairgrounds with the annual county fair in full swing. Those two facilities pointed us right to the Dodge County Aiport just 4 more miles away. Winds were calm, and no traffic reporting, so I chose runway 2 since that pattern was the easiest to enter. The landing was average at best, and we pulled off and taxied back to the top to depart for Watertown. As we climbed and entered the downwind leg prior to leaving the pattern, the nightly fireworks went off back at the fairgrounds. Very cool.

A bit of a tailwind got us back to Watertown a few minutes quicker than usual, and I made right traffic to land on Runway 5. This was the best landing of the night, so with that feeling of satisfaction we made for the ramp and parked the plane for the night.

I asked Adam what was left for flying before the checkride. Two, maybe three solo cross country flights, some instrument flying, and final prep before the checkride. Things are really getting clear now. Hard to imagine I could have made it this far when I was struggling with landings back in May. Thanks for hanging in there; it's been my pleasure to share my quest with all of you. Stay tuned for the next installment.


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