The day is finally here. I went into work early so that I could scoot out a little early and get to the airport. As would be fitting for the first XC Solo, it was an adventure. I’ll warn everyone now that it’s a long post, but if you make it through hopefully you will find it entertaining, maybe even informative.
My CFI was scheduled to be out on a flight when I was going to be leaving so he had already endorsed my log book and my job today was to check the METAR information for the winds and visibility, then text him with the report. I did that in the afternoon and told him it looked like a go, he agreed.
I got to the airport and he had just returned from the flight but was still with his student so I went out to pre-flight the plane. The guy filling up my plane told me that I might want to check the ATIS info before wasting my time on the pre-flight because if it was over 41°C (105.8°F) then I couldn’t take off. So I plugged my headset in, turned on the radio, and listened to the ATIS. It said it was a balmy 39°C (102°F) so I was good to go.
I finished the pre-flight and started getting settled in. I had brought my GoPro but was having trouble getting the suction cups on the mount to stick. About this time my CFI came out to ‘send me off’ and he helped me get the GoPro set. He reminded me that on initial contact with Ground, Tower, Approach, etc… to state “Student Pilot” and to text him after I landed in Ramona, before I left, and when I got back. Everyone was going to be gone by the time I returned so I was instructed to pull the plane up as far as I could, chock the wheels, leave the log book inside the plane, and lock the gate behind me.
Today I was in N7085R which is a nice plane, it even has a Garmin 300 moving map GPS/COM (which would be cool if I knew how to use it… more on that later). I’ve only been in 7085R two other times, and it was a lot of flights ago. I got my ATIS info and contacted Ground asking for taxi clearance and telling him I had a VFR Request. He gave me my taxi clearance but said nothing about the VFR request so I began my taxi. About halfway to the run-up area I asked Ground if he wanted me to contact Clearance (that’s what we did last Satruday) for the VFR request. He said no and to just stand by on that. He eventually got back to me that the tower would have my squawk code.
I performed the run-up and everything looked great, so I took a deep breath and rolled out to the hold short line.
The tower gave me my clearance with the requested SE departure and I was rolling down the runway, all alone, for a XC flight. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
SOCAL initially had me holding below 2,500′ but then asked what altitude I wanted and when I told them 5,500′ they let me start climbing up.
I passed Lake Matthews and Lake Elsinore (it was a little bumpy over the hills east of Lake Elsinore courtesy of the barren landscape and the fact it had been over 100°F today).
Passing Lake Elsinore SOCAL had a request for me:
SOCAL: “Cherokee 7085Romeo, you have a Seminole (a sweet little twin engine) same direction, same altitude. Turn left 10°”
Me: “Turning left 10°, 85Romeo.”
SOCAL: “He’s quite a bit faster than you so should be passing you soon.”
Me: “Yeah, I’m not very fast.”
Seminole: “We have the Cherokee in sight.”
Me: “I have that Seminole in sight.” (I could see him off my right wing about 5 o’clock)
SOCAL: “85Romeo, go ahead and resume course.”
I had already changed my radio standby frequency to the next SOCAL for when I was handed off and shortly was told to switch over. I was handed off one more time and this guy told me to let him know when I had information Bravo for Ramona. I went to switch COM2 to the Ramona ATIS so I could listen to it while still listening to SOCAL. That was when I realized I could not remember how to switch the frequencies on the Garmin… (Crap) Oh well, I could make do with the one radio. I put the Ramona ATIS on the standby and switched over to it for a few seconds, back to SOCAL in case he had info for me, then back to the ATIS. After a few times switching back and forth I had all the info and hadn’t missed a radio call.
I let SOCAL know I had information Bravo for Ramona and a little after that I told him I had the field in sight and I switched over to the Ramona tower. I started my descent and contacted the tower, receiving the usual “enter right downwind and report abeam the tower.” As you go downwind at Ramona, the ground slopes up. So while normally I would be letting myself lose some altitude as I passed abeam the numbers and made my turn to base, my CFI had said to just be aware and hold a little altitude, which I did. But, I must have not made my turn to base as far away as the other times we had been there, or maybe I didn’t lose as much altitude on my base leg as normal, whatever the reason when I turned final I was higher than I wanted to be.
However, that was why I learned to forward slip to a landing right? It wasn’t the prettiest forward slip to a landing, but I got down fine and put it fairly close to the center-line. I did float down the runway enough that I missed hte first taxiway turn off and had to take the second one. (Including today, the last four times I’ve flown we have done no landing practice, and it shows. Next time I go up before my long XC I want to get in some landing repetitions.)
The tower had asked before I landed if I was going to be parking and I had let her know it was just a taxi back and she gave me taxi clearance as I was leaving the runway.
I stopped at the run-up area to text my CFI to let him know I was there on the ground. (I also texted my wife who was worrying…) I downed a bottle of water and then I proceeded to play around with the radio to see if I could figure out COM2. Eventually I gave up, thought I switched back to COM1, and taxied out to the hold short line to call up the tower. No response… I switched on one of the buttons I had turned off and hear this:
Tower: “xxxx how am I coming in?”
XXXX: “You sound clear.”
Tower: “Okay, thank you.”
XXXX: “Did you need something?”
Tower: “No, just a radio check.”
Tower: “Cherokee 7085Romeo, how am I coming in?”
Me: “You sound good and clear.”
Tower: “Okay, because I’ve been trying to call you with no answer.”
Me: (Dang it!) “Sorry about that… holding short of runway 27, requesting NW departure.”
Tower: “85Romeo, cleared for takeoff runway 27 and NW departure.”
Me: “Cleared for takeoff runway 27 with a NW departure, 85Romeo.”
I was back rolling down the runway and up into the sky. Shortly after takeoff I requested the frequency change back to SOCAL, Ramona tower gave it to me, I thanked her, and switched over to hear a very busy controller. Lots of planes, sky divers getting ready to jump at Oceanside, one plane asking for flight following and being told, “not today” and squawk 1200, it’s just too busy… I heard that and thought “Oh boy, CFI wants me on flight following if at all possible, at least I am going to be playing the student pilot card.”
Finally there was a break in the radio traffic so I jumped in with my request, preceding it with ‘student pilot.’ The controller threw me a bone, asked what altitude I wanted and if I was still going to Chino, and then told me to keep the same squawk code I was using and ident.
The flight back was nice, took some pictures, sent my wife a text as I passing over Temecula (You can’t drive and text in CA, but I don’t know of any flying and texting laws), and worked my way back up my route to Chino. I got back over Lake Matthews and SOCAL was trying to look out for me, not knowing that I know my way back to Chino from Lake Matthews very well as it is our practice area.
SOCAL: “Cherokee 7085Romeo, do you see the 15 freeway off your left wing?”
ME: “Yes I see the 15, I’m over lake Matthews right now.”
SOCAL: “If you follow the 15 north it will put you on a base leg about 5 miles east of Chino, let me know when you have the field in sight, begin VFR descent at your discretion.”
ME: “I’ll follow the 15, beginning descent, will report when i have the field, 85Romeo.”
I waited a couple minutes, let SOCAL know I had the field in sight, and they told me to switch to the Chino tower for the last piece of the ‘adventure.’
Me: “Chino tower, Cherokee 7085Romeo, student pilot, I’m about a mile east of the 91-15 interchange, inbound for landing with information Bravo.”
Tower: “Cherokee 7085Romeo, enter left base for runway 26R.”
Me: “Enter left base for runway 26R, 85Romeo.”
(I crossed the 15 freeway, turned north for my base leg, and waited for the tower. Every other time the tower will call when I can turn final and I’m cleared to land. Sometimes it isn’t until just before I would need to turn, but they have always called. I was also the only plane up there at the time. So I stayed on my base and passed 26L and was quickly approaching the point to turn for 26R, still nothing from the tower. Then I passed 26R and thought maybe she forgot about me, even though I was the only plane up there.)
Me: “Uh, tower, do you want me to make a turn to the right and come around for final?” (If I went too far I would run into Ontario’s approach.)
Tower: “Go ahead and make a left turn toward the runway, looks like you flew right past your final.”
Me: “Will start a left turn, sorry about that, I must have missed the landing clearance.”
(Short pause from the tower.)
Tower: “No, you didn’t miss it. I hadn’t given it yet, but you could make your turn to final anyway. You are cleared to land 26R”
(I had figured her last instruction was just to enter left base, I wasn’t going to turn final without her instruction…)
Me: “Ok thanks, cleared to land 26R, 85Romeo.”
It wasn’t pretty, I was a little fast, floated, a small bounce, and then settled down on the runway. The tower gave me taxi clearance before I even got off the runway and I made my way back to DuBois. I was surprised to see the ground crew guy was still there with the hanger doors open. I shut everything down, texted my CFI (and wife) that I was back safe and sound, and then peeled myself out of the plane (it was still a lovely 95°F outside), turned in the plane log book, and got in my car where thankfully my AC works well.
It was a great adventure, and the feeling of defying gravity and floating around the sky is like none other. Next up, a night flight next week.