Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long Cross Country - Part III - RHV to Lodi

This is part III of the story of my long cross country solo flight.. the first leg of the journey from Reid-Hillview Airport (RHV) to Lodi. I'll refer to different checkpoints, if you want to know what order they come in, refer to part I of the journey. I made some mistakes on the way, or, as my CFI says, I had a great learning experience.

After a careful preflight inspection of the plane, going through all of the appropriate checklists and requesting flight following via ground control at RHV. I was in the air and on the way to Lodi! This picture shows the first leg of my trip.

As expected the winds were nothing like forecast in the Bay Area, knowing that I focused more on flying pilotage to ensure I was going the right way instead of blindly following a heading. I would turn to a heading, try to see something in the distance I should line up with, or some land marks I had identified before hand to orient myself and the keep adjusting my heading to stay on course.

I didn't get lost. It was a real relief to be able to fly into the Livermore area and not get lost. That is where I got totally lost two months before, one of those great "learning experiences" that is not fun to experience, but I did learn. I was leery of going there again, but I think I chose Lodi airport, in part, to force myself to face the uncomfortable memories and prove I could do it right.

Scott's tips about Byron and Stockton helped.. Byron was hard to see, but I identified it by looking at the lake and the canal leading to it. Then did as I planned and looked for the big town with the break and the smaller town to the right and found the Stockton airport OK.

Between Byron and Stockton I had a bit of a scare, the engine RPM kept creeping up (I wasn't descending, I checked), so I kept dialing it back down to 2400RPM which was my planned cruise power setting. Now I don't know why I did this but this is what I did... the engine seemed to be running slightly rough, like it was too lean, so I kept enriching the mixture a bit - I was probably moving the knob the wrong way and thereby causing the roughness I was trying to fix. Finally I moved the mixture too far the wrong way, the engine ran REALLY rough. (If you lean the fuel mix to far, you starve the engine of fuel and eventually it will stop running, not a desirable condition for flight.) Immediately put the mixture to full rich, the engine smoothed out again, I re-leaned and left it *alone* until the proper time to mess with it on descent.

Flying from Stockton to Kingdon I flew the calculated heading and used the roads and tracks to ensure I was going the right way. I found Kingdon much easier than I thought I would and turned towards Lodi airport. I called in 5 miles out and started descending. I didn't see the actual Lodi airport until I was almost over it (it was much smaller than I thought it would be) I crossed midfield over 1400 ft. I got to this point before the parachute planes started working. Then things got weird.

I crossed midfield, leveled off at 1400 ft as planned. I went away from the airport to what seemed far enough out and turned left (to do a right pattern for runway 26). I was trying to get to 900 ft pattern altitude and kept thinking I was high. I got on the 45 and turned downwind as a larger plane took off with parachuters on board. He announced what he was doing on CTAF and I let him know I could see him. Something just looked wrong and I couldn't put my finger on it. It was rather turbulent too.

The wrongness bothered me, so, instead of turning base, I kept flying downwind, away from the airport. I announced my intentions to fly away and try again on CTAF so the other plane knew what I was up to. Finally as I flew away I realized what was wrong. I was reading the altimeter wrong! My mind was saying I needed to go lower, my subconscious just would NOT go lower, which is good. When I finally realized what was going on I realized I was about 500-600 ft. AGL (above ground level)!! Fortunately, this airport is in the middle of a field so I wasn't low over people or structures, I was low over fields and trees. That explained the extra turbulence, the trees blocked the winds.

I climbed back UP to pattern altitude, re-entered on the 45 and everything looked "right". I flew the pattern normally and came in for landing.... and got sucked in to an optical illusion. The runway at Lodi is much narrower and shorter than I'm used to. I flared late, bounced twice, but held the plane off and let it settle to the runway safely (if not stylishly). I was down and very glad to be there.

The runway there is not "smooth" at all, but it was good enough to land on. I taxied off the runway, announced clear on CTAF, cleaned up, and went through the checklists. Going through the checklists helps me get centered again, and ensures I don't miss anything! I stopped there on the taxiway with the engine running and drank some water, re-organized my notes and navigation log for the next leg. I probably sat there for 5 minutes just shaking off what just happened. I also got to watch some parachutists land in the field next to the airport.

I had stalled long enough and had no desire to spend any more time in this place. Shake-off complete, pre-take off checklist complete, I announced I was taking the runway and took off for Colusa.

Do you want to know what I'm talking about when I say "on the 45" or "downwind"? Its all about where you are in the traffic pattern. Long time readers will remember I came up with a document with everything I know about the pattern. You can view it here, share the knowledge, share the joy of Pattern Work!"

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