Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long Cross Country - Part VI - Travis AFB to RHV

This is part VI of the story of my long cross country solo flight.. what happened as I left Travis AFB and returned to my home airport, RHV midafternoon.

The final leg
After I crossed over the runway at Travis, it was time to turn in a western direction for a bit so I descended from 5500 feet to 4500 feet until I reached my next checkpoint, Buchanan airport. From there another descent from 4500 feet to 3500 feet as I turned an easterly direction again. This would set me up well for my final descent when I got over Calaveras into the Silicon Valley. As I leveled off at 3500 I cruised just east of Mt. Diablo peak. I was concerned the air would be turbulent near Mt. Diablo, but it was smooth.

I had no problem finding Livermore (once again I was worried about finding stuff in that particular valley). And the landmarks worked exactly as I expected... there was a valley with a reservoir that pointed directly at the airport. This picture was taken directly over Livermore. You can see the valley and the reservoir I used as pointers to the airport.

I had no problem finding the right dip in the hills to find the Calaveras reservoir. This was another place I was concerned would have turbulence if the wind forecast was correct. I was less worried about it as I approached it though. So far the winds aloft were just fine. As I flew over Calaveras there was almost no turbulence aside from a bit of a bump from wake turbulence of a Southwest jet flying over that area shortly before I arrived. (It is cool sharing the sky with the big boys - and definitely more comfortable doing it when I have flight following.)

KRHV 132147Z 26016KT 10SM FEW030 24/15 A3001
Since I was over Calaveras it was time to get RHV weather and contact the tower. I was still pretty deep in the mountains there, so the weather was "static-y" at first. I thought I heard winds of 290@16. That means the winds are coming from a magnetic direction of 290 at 16 knots. The runways at RHV are aligned to magnetic 310/130. That meant I thought the winds were 20 degrees off straight down the runway and strong. This could be a problem. So I pulled out a crosswinds app I have on my iPhone and thought I was just w/in my signoff, 5.5 knot crosswind. If I landed like I did on my first solo cross country I would be fine. So I'd just have to do that and if I had any problem lining up with the centerline I'd be ready to go around and try again.

As I got closer to RHV the weather transmission cleared up. Then I heard the winds were 260@16! Uh oh. I KNEW that wouldn't work. I didn't even need an app to tell me that. That meant a crosswind component over 12 knots. I had a miserable time attempting to land in a 10 knot cross wind with my flight instructor. There was no way I would attempt to land with that sort of crosswind at this point in my flying "career". I started thinking about plan B.. I figured if winds really were like that now, when I approached the airport, I could go down to Hollister and wait out the winds there if I had to, one of the runways there would be OK.

Time to find out what the winds really were. I contacted the tower, reported my location over Calveras and that I was inbound for landing. I was directed to land on 31R. Then I requested a wind check. (A wind check was were you could ask the tower for the conditions at that moment, instead of conditions 20 minutes before.) The tower reported current winds of 290@12. That was only a 4 knot crosswind. THAT I knew I could do.
I feverishly hoped the winds would stay that way when I actually landed and re-affirmed to myself if I had ANY problem I would go around, and if the winds stayed beyond my abilities I'd go to Hollister.

The tower directed me to do a wide downwind to allow a Seneca to take off on a downwind departure. I saw the Seneca and slotted in behind him. I was cleared to land and began the process, turned base and was blown a little away from the runway. Turned final, focused hard on maintaining correct airspeed and track and alignment with the runway on the centerline, used ailerons and rudder and... landed GREAT!

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