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, September 02, 2006

Alone In The Sky?

KRYV 021815Z AUTO 11006KT 10SM SCT047 23/12 A3019 RMK AO2
KSBM 021953Z AUTO 06007KT 10SM CLR 23/11 A3020 RMK AO2 SLP224
KUNU 022035Z AUTO 08005KT 10SM SCT048 SCT060 24/11 A3019 RMK AO2

Today was a big test. First solo cross country. And it took some piloting skills to get this one done.

I met Adam at the airport, where he examined my flight plan (RYV-SBM-UNU-RYV) and, satisfied I was ready to go, endorsed my logbook. I took my plane with my preflight walk around, practicing in my mind what I would explain to an examiner when the time comes. The first minor surprise came when I started the plane and tuned in the AWOS on the radio. The winds were still light, but they had shifted to the right, meaning Runway 11 would be my takeoff runway instead of Runway 5. One final check of my cockpit organization, kneeboard strapped to leg, map folded, and I was off. Just after liftoff I called Green Bay FSS over the Madison VOR to open the flight plan.

The first event of note was as I approached Hartford. I made a call on Hartford CTAF that I was transitioning the area en route to Sheboygan. Another pilot responded by saying he was southeast of the airport towing gliders. I could not see him, but I replied that I would stay to the northwest of the airport and continued on.

This is the village of Kewaskum, from the south looking north at 3500' MSL. As I neared Sheboygan, the scattered clouds cleared away and the wind shifted back around to the north. I would be using Runway 3 in Sheboygan, a decision backed up by the local traffic flying the closed circuit at the airport. I was approaching from the southwest, and I heard a call from a Beechcraft Bonanza approaching from the south and at a slight greater distance. I looked to my right rear, but that's a blind spot in a Skyhawk. I announced that I would enter the pattern on the upwind leg while the Bonanza announced he would go straight in. If he doesn't see me, then there's a slight chance my path can cross in front of his with bad results. He contacted my over the CTAF to try to get a fix on my location, and I told him at that time that I would do a left 360 turn to let him by. Just as I began my turn he announced that he saw me and thanked me for the courtesy. I landed at Sheboygan (flared late again, pretty much a 3-pointer) and brought the plane to the parking area where I then contacted Green Bay FSS via GCO and closed the flight plan.

That part done, I doubled checked the gauges and set the radios for my next leg. I then taxied to the runway, took off, and did a couple of touch and gos before leaving Sheboygan for Dodge County. Not long after leveling off at 4500', I was startled by another Cessna flying north , crossing maybe 500' above me. There was no radio call or anything. For all I know the plane might have been on a different frequency. When between airports, or in areas where there isn't an airport nearby, a pilot can choose whatever frequency to monitor that he feels will be most useful; there's no specific frequency. Let's call it another good reason to abide by the VFR altitude rules.

Except for the bumpy air and the return of scattered clouds, things were uneventful until I neared Juneau. I fixed on a water feature that I thought was near Beaver Dam and I aimed to the left (south) of it. Turned out I misidentified the feature and was actually the Horicon Marsh, and I was about 3 miles south of my plotted checkpoint, which was Mayville. Once I reoriented myself I turned toward Mayville then began my descent into the pattern for Juneau. The AWOS reported calm winds at Juneau, which was unexpected to me. Now I'd have to pick a runway. Since I was heading southwest, why not try Runway 26? I made my initial call on CTAF, then heard a plane that was taking off from Runway 8 and heading toward Juneau, the opposite of 26. I was now confused. Which runway to use? I made a left turn, then moments later the plane that just took off passed below me. I had made a serious mistake in judgment, turning into the path of a runway. If I am going to deviate my course while on approach, I must ensure I am not crossing any extended runway paths. This was certainly the low point of the flight; I was pretty rattled. After the first plane left, I was alone in traffic, so I decided on Runway 20 and entered the pattern on the crosswind. I made two landings at Juneau, and both were awful. I don't know if it was a light crosswind, or that I was still a little off from my close encounter, but I just didn't have it together. So after the second landing I thought to myself "just get this thing back to Watertown, and by the time you get there you'll be more composed."

So I headed south on my final leg, the short 13 miles or so to Watertown. Over the CTAF I could hear Adam, with another student this time. A different feeling, to be sure. I entered the pattern for Runway 11 and setup for the landing. Another bad landing, with a main wheel coming off the ground to boot. I got the wheel down, then decided to take off again. But since I landed long and took extra distance to correct the plane, I was running out of runway. I managed to get her off the ground with 500 feet to spare, but it was another case of bad judgment. This is going to be the last landing, better make it good. I know I wasn't properly catching my sight picture on final all day, let's focus on that this time. Let's make sure the speed over the threshold is good. And so it was as I turned final; height was good, speed was good, and I was centered. Look over the nose down the runway. Flare. Hold it. Hold it. Let it settle. Nose up, and touchdown. Best landing in a while. And somehow the difficult moments didn't seem so bad. I had just completed my first solo cross country. Two hours in the air by myself. Great flying. This time though, I taught myself some lessons.


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