Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long Cross Country - Part IV - Lodi to Colusa

This is part IV of the story of my long cross country solo flight.. the second leg of the journey from Lodi to Colusa. After a bit of a rough start I settled down to some fun navigating and talking with ATC.

I took off from Lodi and climbed to 4500 feet for my next leg. This leg would be rather long with no real easy landmarks to below me, I had to rely on heading and looking at the coastal mountain range and looking for a big gash in the mountains where a river comes down from Lake Berryessa.

As expected, I never saw the Franklin airport which was my first checkpoint. I believe I was still climbing when I passed over it. I got flight following after I leveled off at 4500 feet and used the chart and my notes and the mountains and the compass to fly the right heading in spite of the winds. I found my next checkpoint Yolo cty airport without issue thanks to the big picture landmarks.

ATC asked me if I was going direct to Colusa or some other route, they had to figure out who to hand me off to. I told them I the direction I was going (which cut though a corner of the Travis Alert Area). The controller handed me off to Travis Approach and they stayed with me most of the way to Colusa.

I found found all of my other checkpoints. I chose this particular route because it pretty much follows the route I've driven four or more times a year for the last 11 years, the route up I 505 and I 5 to Willows and Thunderhill raceway. That familiarity gave me a bit too much confidence in finding Arbunkle. Arbunkle was just a postage stamp town along a road with other towns that look just like it from 4500 ft above the ground.

Fortunately, I planned for that too. I had notes in my flight plan recording what radial from the Williams VOR Arbunkle was on so I tunedandverified the Williams VOR. Dialed in the appropriate radial and used that to verify the little town I was flying over was the "right" little town. There was, of course, Sutter's Butte right next to the Colusa airport (another reason I chose that particular airport because it would make it hard to miss), but I wanted to fly the plan. I was very happy with the way that backup worked. It showed I finally understood VORs well enough to use them creatively.

Once over Arbunkle I turned towards Colusa and started descent as planned and called in 5 miles when over the Williams VOR. I found the Colusa airport slightly north of my heading, the winds were stronger than I had planned for there. Fortunately, I had my extra landmarks to help find it.

I flew to the airport, crossed midfield at 2000 feet, turned left to go right for runway 31. This time I didn't go an INCH below pattern altitude and I landed OK, not my best by any means, but not horrible and better than Lodi.

I stopped there and took a break and some pictures. I made it almost. I landed at two airports I've never seen before and got over a bit of a scare from my first leg to fly well to Colusa. Something I really like about flying is the way it takes so much focus to do, while much of the focus becomes subconscious (I don't have to think about holding an altitude or *how* to turn to a heading) I'm still new enough at this that I have to think and double and triple check what I'm doing. I hope I keep that habit going for a very long time. I think it will make me a safer pilot.

According to my notes I landed at 1:23PM (2023Z). In any case, I had one long leg left to fly and it was getting hot. So I opened and started drinking my next bottle of water, snacked on a breakfast bar, used the restroom and wandered briefly around the Colusa airport. They had good facilities there for an airport in the middle of nowhere, bathrooms and a pilots lounge with comfy chairs and a soda machine. I wished my friend was in town so I could say hi. But I guess that mean's I'll have to come back again some time. I'd like to visit that airport again and fly around the big butte and see what it looks like from all sides. After I get my license, I can do that any time I want and weather allows :)

You can see more pictures from the Colusa airport and my return trip here.

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