Sunday, January 15, 2012

One day, five airports, lots of fun

Last week I took my birthday off from work. Who wants to work on their birthday? not me! So I went to play in the air instead :) 

My mission for my birthday flight was to get more used to landing at different airports. I realized a couple things in my recent flying. One is if I could do cross country flights without landing, I'd do it. I prefer to be in the air. Two, I'm not comfortable with approaching and landing at airports I'm not familiar with. The best way I know to get over something I'm not comfortable with in flying is to do it more often. I was fortunate to have a new friend, a tail wheel and glider pilot, who wanted to see what like to land in a tricycle gear aircraft. I described my plan to her, lots of landings in a C172, and asked if she'd like to ride along. She was happy to join me on the flight.

The basic plan was to fly to Gustine (3O1), Los Banos (KLSN) and Firebaugh (F34) airports. Firebaugh because it was far enough away to qualify the flight as a cross country. Los Banos because the last time I landed there among the worst landings and training flights of my primary training. Gustine because it was nearby and for some reason I wanted three airports. I had to add to the route South County (E16) to pick up and drop off my friend. That made four airports. And finally, I had to take off and land at my home airport (KRHV). And then there were five.

The route of the flight. - I landed at the airports marked with blue stars.

South County (E16)
 I took off from RHV and requested a downwind departure. Then a quick flight to South County. Entered on a right 45 for runway 32 and landed just fine there. South County is one of the airports I've trained at before so this one didn't bother me.

I picked up my friend by Magnum Aviation at the north end of the field. We got her new headset plugged in and taxied back to the runway. Immediately she commented about how professional I sounded on the radios. It is very nice to get compliments from other pilots.

I announced we were taking the runway for a downwind departure and off we went! She volunteered to help with navigation so I showed her how to set waypoints on the GPS. She also held the chart and helped look up information and find big picture landmarks to identify our targets. I had printed out pictures of each airport and the weather and CTAF frequencies for each which I kept on my knee board.

Our next waypoint was Frasier Lake. This is a grass airstrip with a water "strip" next to it where people can land sea planes. We used that as a visual checkpoint before turning East over the low mountains and heading into the central valley and Gustine.

Gustine (3O1)
Gustine was hard to find at first. It was very hazy in the valley. We used the GPS to help us get a general idea of where it should be and I had my calculated flight plan as backup, but we mostly used pilotage to find it. We saw the town of Gustine in the haze and looked for the runway, we both thought the runway was in one location but she spotted the actual runway in another location. As you can see in the picture to the right, it doesn't LOOK paved, but it is.

By the time we spotted the airport we were too close to enter the pattern normally, so I turned away and flew away a little bit, then turned back to the airport and tried to enter a normal pattern. I failed. I was still to close to the airport and I couldn't get set up correctly. When I turned base I knew this was a losing proposition so I announced a go around and flew out and away from the airport again. This time I did the approach right and flew a better pattern and landed. My friend was impressed with the landing and started asking questions about how I land the plane... I explained about landing on the mains first, then the nose wheel.. but I also explained I wasn't exactly sure how it worked but what I did was try not to land, and the landing went well.

Los Banos Muni (KLSN)
We taxied back to the take off end of the runway and announced another downwind departure. I planned the route we flew in order to have relatively simple pattern entry and downwind departures between airports assuming the winds would be from the northwest, which they were.

Los Banos was easier for me to find. I'd landed there before and I've used that particular airport as a checkpoint for cross countries as well. My last landing at Los Banos with me at the controls was rough. I didn't pay attention to the crosswinds and my CFI had to take the controls. I think that was the last time he had to do that. So this time I was determined to be on top of any crosswinds. As we approached the winds were relatively light and right down the runway. I flew a proper pattern entry and pattern, looked before I turned base and made a very nice landing. As we taxied off the runway I said, "Now that's the way it should be done." I felt like I redeemed myself for that rough day so long ago.

Firebaugh (F34)
On to Firebaugh. This airport was a bit further away so we had more time to chat as we flew. It was great to have another pilot to fly with who was just as enthusiastic about flying as I am. She said she was happy to just be in the air, no matter what we were doing. She said when she was learning how to fly she did garage sales and bake sales just to raise enough money to pay for flight lessons. That's dedication! She asked what it was like to fly through Class Bravo airspace (she saw my Bay Tour video). I told her the same thing my CFI told and showed me, it really is easy. We discussed the radio work required and how to "get in" and then we were nearing Firebaugh.

We used the canals and roads to help us find that airport in the haze (with the GPS as a backup). We found it south east of the town like it should be. I did the radio calls as we approached, the winds were right down the runway again. I flew another good pattern and landing. Hmmm... this new airport stuff isn't so bad.  A quick taxi back and we were off again. I had been flying for a bit more than two hours now and was ready to be done.

Back to South County we went. We flew back to Los Banos and then turned towards Frasier Lake, using the GPS and landmarks to guide us. Once we were over the hills between the central and coastal valleys I started my descent. We got bounced a bit but my friend liked that. She said those bounces were signs to the glider pilot that thermals were available.  As we came back in to South County airspace I did another 45 entry to the pattern for 32. We could have done a straight in, but after seeing a near miss near South County recently I wanted to come in at pattern altitude and join the flow. I asked my friend to keep an extra sharp eye out for planes coming directly over the hills and diving for the airport. I've seen that happen many times too.

Another good pattern and landing. I was happy. I dropped off my friend and waved good bye.  Only one more take off and landing to do and I'd be done. I got back to Reid-Hillview in what seemed like minutes with no problems. I taxied to parking and shut down the engine. 3.1 hours on the hobbs. That trip took much longer than I thought it would. I had plenty of fuel (5 hours on board) but it gave me more appreciation for the amount of time it takes to fly a pattern, land, roll out, taxi back, take off and depart at airport after airport. Eventually I'm sure I'll start doing touch and gos but for me right now the rollout and directional control on rollout is an important part of my practice.

In the end I had a ton of fun flying and chatting with my friend, much more than I expected to. I know most people would wonder what could be fun about flying to five airports. I sure would have had a question about the sanity of someone who claimed that was fun before I started flying :). I also have much more respect for what my CFI and his brother did when they landed at 35 airports in one day. It must have been an exhausting day... I was tired after five airports!

The best thing was I was successful in my mission. The trip built my confidence quite a bit. All I have to do is what I was trained to do. Be willing to go around if it isn't right, and it works out well.  I was even happier about how the first attempted pattern at Gustine didn't bother me a bit. In my flight training I struggled mightily with the way I would get upset at the smallest mistake and it would color my whole day. Not any more.  Happy Birthday to me :) 

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