Sunday, July 7, 2013

Short Approach and Confusing Clearances

Two days ago, on July 4th, I flew up to Santa Rosa's Charles M. Schultz Airport (STS) for lunch at the Sky Lounge, one of my favorite "$100 hamburger" spots. This time I had friends with me in two other planes. I flew an Arrow, my husband, Jeff, and a friend of his in a 180HP conversion 172 and my other friend, Craig, with his wife and daughter in another 172. We would meet another friend of mine from the 172 club forum who lived near STS as well.

We all left from our flight club at Reid-Hillview at the same time, so we had to decide what order we would leave in. Since I was in the fastest plane, I got to go first, then my husband and finally Craig. We all requested a Bay Tour for our route north since weather was good. I flew alone and have to admit I was happy that way. Since my long solo adventure in the beginning of June I've become accustomed to flying alone and it was nice to be up there with only my thoughts, ATC chatter and the hum of the engine to accompany me. It was fun to hear the other planes in my little group as each switched to the frequency I was on after me as I lead the way up the coast. After an extended heat wave there were few clouds near San Francisco but those few were quite pretty. Gossamer wisps of white floating over the city streets of San Francisco gleaming below.

The flight was uneventful until I got into Santa Rosa's airspace. That airspace was crowded and the tower was very busy directing both experienced and inexperienced pilots around the pattern for the two runways. I contacted the tower and was told to report midfield downwind for 14. As I came closer the tower pointed out potentially opposing traffic to me and managed at least 5 other planes at various points in the pattern and approaching the field. When I reported midfield I was cleared to land on 14 #2 behind a Euro Coupe and to make a short approach.

Make Short Approach

A short approach means the tower expects the pilot to shorten their downwind leg to come in and land using less space and time than would be used flying a normal pattern. I figured the short approach was approved in order to get me on the ground and out of the way before another aircraft on a straight in approach would land. This meant for me there would be less time and distance to get down from pattern altitude to the runway.

I accepted the clearance gladly. I'd never done a formal "short approach" before but I knew what it was. My CFI demonstrated it for me once in the same Arrow and, if I've learned nothing else from my frustrating flying the prior week, it was how to get down from being "high" quickly in an Arrow! I was quite confident in that skill having practiced it so consistently the week before.  I already had the gear down, had the pre-landing checklist done and my airspeed was comfortably under control. I was ready to go.

The first job was to identify where the Euro Coupe was. It wouldn't do to make a short approach right onto the plane I was to follow. Just as I passed the numbers I saw a plane land. I confirmed with the tower that that was the Euro Coupe. It was. I pulled power all the way back to idle and put in 10 degrees of flaps and let the airspeed bleed down to 90MPH quickly. I put in 25 degrees of flaps as I turned base much earlier than normal and kept monitoring the airspeed and power. I was coming down quickly but not too quick and my airspeed was good.  40 degrees of flaps went in as I turned final. I ran through the pre-landing checklist again quickly and verified I still had three green as I crossed over the airport fence. I was over the runway as the ground started to rush by I rounded out and pulled back more on the throttle, just in case there was any left, and landed smoothly. I had no problem exiting on the first taxiway, Bravo.

Confusing Clearance

After I was clear of the runway and past the hold line I stopped the plane and cleaned up, making sure to double check my after landing checklist. I waited then for instructions to go to ground. I hear from the tower, "55X turn left on Charlie and cross to the center ramp." I repeated back the clearance and looked at the taxiway in front of me. That taxiway was Yankee. A left turn would have taken me back to the run-up area for 14, the runway I just landed on. That didn't make sense.  I pulled out my airport diagram and saw Charlie was the next taxiway down the runway. Why did they want me to turn left there?

I contacted tower. "Tower, 55X, did you want me to taxi up Yankee to Charlie and turn left?" I asked. Another voice came on the frequency, "Negative 55X, hold for crossing traffic and go to ground point niner."  I held for the Alaska Airlines jet that was taxiing to the 14 run-up area and switched to ground. Ground had me cross Yankee and taxi to Sonoma Jet Center. As I taxied to the Jet Center I saw another low wing plane off the runway at Charlie. Ahhh, that was starting to make sense. The tower either mis-stated call signs or didn't see me land and saw the next plane after me land and thought it was me. It was a good thing that I clarified that strange clearance.

Santa Rosa Airport

I waited on the ramp as the 172s in my group came in and landed. Then we all went over to the Sky Lounge for a long lunch. My husband and the friend he brought were happily talking about the data storage industry and its ins and outs. I work in the same industry but I preferred to talk flying with the other end of the table. Everyone has their passions in life, it is a very lucky person who is has true passion for their work like my husband does. I know what my passion is now, I just have to figure out how to make it my day to day "work".

After a yummy lunch my local friend, Patrick, took us around the airport. He showed us his hangar where the local museum stored some of the warbirds they were restoring. Then we walked over to the museum. He gave us a private tour of the old planes parked in the museum yard. Craig's little girl was amazed by the landing gear bigger taller than her. Patrick told us the stories of some of the planes. There's really nothing better than touring old planes with someone that knows them well. Finally it was getting hot and it was time to go home.

Maybe I Can Fly

I lead the group back to RHV via Concord and Livermore. I climbed up to 5500 feet because the Arrow had a great climb rate with only me in the plane and I figured it would be smoother up there in the cooler air. It was cooler and smooth and I had a great tail wind. I realized I was liking moving through the air at faster than 172 speeds and really liking flying alone with only ATC for company. I started a long slow descent and flew even faster. It was fun until I got into the wind shadow of the hills and got a little turbulence. I slowed down a bit and called in to RHV Tower over Calaveras. I was told to make right traffic for 31R, the normal clearance.

This time I decided to see how I could use extending the gear to get some extra "go down and slow down" from the plane. I got below gear extend speed and extended the gear, the plane immediately slowed down significantly and I enjoyed a 700 fpm descent rate without increased airspeed. That was nice! I was starting to see how to use the gear as a tool as well as a thing that I have to get down before landing. I was cleared for landing, entered the pattern and nailed the approach, not too high or to low on final. Finally! A normal landing and I was off easily at Delta. That was more like it.

Maybe I can fly after all. In any case I'm looking forward to flying with my CFI next week. I want to be able to consistently put the plane where I want it, when I want it there.

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