Last CFI Flight – First Solo in the Mooney

Before I could fly solo I needed another 1.9 hours with my CFI. We couldn’t make the schedule work last night so we planned to meet this morning to finish it up. I had told him that I wanted to get in some crosswind landing practice. Because I knew Chino…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
14 Jan 2017

Before I could fly solo I needed another 1.9 hours with my CFI. We couldn’t make the schedule work last night so we planned to meet this morning to finish it up. I had told him that I wanted to get in some crosswind landing practice. Because I knew Chino and Riverside would probably be too busy to get the crosswind runways for practice on a Saturday morning I suggested we head up to Barstow-Daggett (KDAG) in the high desert. It’s almost always windy up there, they have a couple runways so we should be able to get a crosswind on one of them, and it should be quiet enough to get in some practice. It looked promising, the winds at KDAG when we left would give us a 6 knot crosswind, not much, but a good place for me to start.

The flight there was a little bumpy until we got up over the mountains and passed Silverwood Lake.

Mt San Antonio (Also known as Mt Baldy) covered in snow with the Cajon Pass in the foreground.

After a bit we were close enough to pick up the AWOS for KDAG and heard “Winds calm…” After flying there just to do some crosswind landings, we arrived at one of the few times that there was no wind. So, after landing there I got set up for the return trip and we headed back to Corona. It was smooth flying again until we got past the mountain ridge and then it was bumpy. However the headwind we had on the way there was now a tailwind and we were seeing ground speeds as high as 190mph.

San Bernardino Airport with 11,503′ San Gorgonio (tallest peak in So Cal) in the background.

The winds when we were coming back to Corona were 060° at 12 knots/gusting 16 knots. It was busy on the radio and I was making my announcements as we were approaching. (The following may not be word for word, but pretty close to the actual calls that took place.)

Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, 2,000′, 5 miles south of the field flying northwest along the foothills, Corona.”
Cherokee: “Corona traffic, white and red Cherokee, two miles south west of Chino, going to overfly the field and enter downwind, Corona.”
Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney entering right downwind for runway 7, Corona.”
Cessna: “White Cessna, taking runway 7 for a right crosswind departure, Corona.”

Just then I see the Cherokee a few miles out in front of us, a little higher than us, and obviously not going to be overflying at midfield like he should be.

Me: (To my CFI) “You see him there, where is he going?”
CFI: (To me) “Not sure.”
Me: (To my CFI) “Well he’s high enough not to be a factor.”
Me: (On CTAF) “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, turning right base for runway 7, Corona.”

I could see the Cessna lined up and starting to roll down the runway.

Cherokee: “Corona traffic, white and red Cherokee, entering left downwind for runway 25, Corona.”
CFI: (To me) “You should tell him what the winds are.”

The Cessna at this point was lifting off, keep in mind that for the past five minutes there have been a number of people calling out that they are using runway 07, and using runway 25 would have had a 12-16 knot tailwind…

Cessna: “Cherokee, what runway are you going to use?”
Cherokee: “Which runway is the active?”
Cessna: “We are using 7.”
Me: “Corona traffic, white and gray Mooney, turning final for runway 7, and the winds are 060, 12 gusting 16, Corona.”
Cherokee: “Oh, I’ll turn around.”

We came in and I had a “whoa” moment as the bottom fell out just as I was beginning my flare. But I was able to hold onto it and we floated a little more before landing. After the taxi back to the hangar my CFI filled in the last entry in my logbook needed for the insurance requirements before I can venture out on my own.

I went home to have some lunch and get a few things done. I told my wife that it was still so strange that I can go out to the airport and fly the plane without asking anyone. She replied with a smile, “Except for asking me…” After only flying the planes at the school, scheduling through them, or having to work with my CFI to schedule time, I can just go there and the plane is waiting for me to fly it, whenever I want.

In recalculating the weight and balance without my CFI in the plane I took one of the 50 lb bags out of the baggage area, it wasn’t needed if I’m flying alone. After going through the pre-flight I climbed in (all by my lonesome, so cool) and taxied down to the fuel island to top off the tanks after flying this morning. I taxied down to the end of the runway and went through my run-up checklist.

My plan was to fly to French Valley and then Redlands, two airports I haven’t been to yet. I originally wanted to fly to Santa Ynez, but I was getting a late start, it had been a long day, and I thought it would just be better to keep this first flight shorter. With a few butterflies in my stomach I took runway 25 and pushed the throttle all the way in. Just like the first time I flew solo in July, I was pleasantly surprised by how much quicker the plane was with just me in it.

After a short roll down the runway I was lifting off, raising the gear, flaps up, fuel boost pump off, and then turning onto the left crosswind leg and heading southeast towards French Valley. It was still sinking in that I was flying my own plane, all by myself. I started making my radio calls about 10 miles out and listened to the others on the frequency to try and figure out where everyone was. I overflew the field at what started out to be 500′ above traffic pattern altitude but ended up being 700′ above traffic pattern altitude by the time I was passing over the field due to still trying to dial in the sight picture for straight and level.

After extending out to the east I made a left turn over the green hills below to enter the left downwind for runway 36. As I was even with the end of the runway I lowered the gear, slowed up a little more, and then put in 15° of flaps. After turning final I put in the rest of the flaps and settled down on the runway for a passable, not great, landing. I still have not been able to fully replicate the first landing I made in the plane, that one was beautiful. At least I know that I can grease one on in this plane, I just need to figure out exactly how I did it that first time…

Next on the plan was to head around the east side of March AFB’s airspace and go to Redlands, another new airport for me. Redlands does not have an automated weather system so instead you have to listen to San Bernardino just to the west. Once I was close enough to pick up the weather at KSBD I began revising my plan. According the winds reported by KSBD there would have been an 11+ knot crosswind at Redlands. I thought that if it was fairly quiet there I would give it a try and see if I could hold the centerline flying low over the runway and if I could I would come around again and try to land it. However, once I could hear the radio traffic for Redlands I changed my mind again. I heard maybe 5-6 planes either in the pattern, on the ground, or inbound to the airport and decided that it was late in the day, I was tired, and I just didn’t want to mess with it. Instead I decided to head back to Corona and call it a day. It was a beautiful flight.

Mt San Jacinto

Lake Matthews with its normally brown hills covered in green from the recent rains.

It was busy there when I got back but I worked my way into the pattern and came around to land. Instead of coming across the numbers at about 70-75mph I was at about 80mph, but I still tried to land it like I was slower… From everything I have read and been told about landing a Mooney if you bounce twice you are going around because the third bounce will most likely be a prop strike. There was one bounce, then a second, and then it was full power, carb heat off, flaps coming up, gear up, holding the yoke forward while rolling trim down, fuel boost off, and me saying outloud to myself “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” There was no harm done, but obviously not what I was trying to do.

The next time around I was more careful and landed without much of a problem, although it still wasn’t very good. As I was taxiing to the fuel island to fill the plane before putting it away I thought about making one more trip around the pattern to see if I could clean up my landings. Then I thought, “I’m just tired, no sense trying that now, I can do that a different day.” So I fueled her up, put her away in the hangar, and headed home. I didn’t feel very good about the botched landing, but was happy with my decision to go around and the smoothness of the go around. I was happy with the rest of the flight as well including the landing at French Valley. All in all, a good first solo.

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