There wasn’t a lot of preparation needed for this flight. Really, all I was doing was tagging on an extra 14 minute leg to the flight I took a number of weeks earlier. I felt a lot more relaxed heading into this; my second solo navigation flight. Whilst there were definitely still nerves, they were nowhere near as much as my first solo.
It was a stinker of a day and I really wasn’t looking forward to the pre-flight and taxi. If you’ve flown a 172 in the middle of summer, you’ll know why. Being the super organised person that I am, I was at the flying school some two hours early for my flight. I had the flight plan complete and lodged and was waiting for my chariot to return from her other lesson.
Gil (the school owner) advised that I would need to fuel her up and because of heavy rain the night before, the grass was a no-go zone for the fuel truck. When the 172 didn’t return on time, I started to consider if I would need to rethink my designated SARtime. Just as my brain started to hurt from converting to UTC, the red and white beast came hurtling round the corner and onto the line.
I grabbed my gear and headed out to intercept the previous pilot and steal the keys. At the same time, Robert was heading out for a lesson in VH-JOO (the C150 that I started in). As I walked toward the line of aircraft, I looked at the 150 and reminisced about the great times we had together. Then I realised I was being weird and stopped.
As I asked the previous pilot questions about fuel, oil and maintenance, I realised the 150 was parked right where I wanted to position the 172 for fuel. I would have to start her up, taxi around the line and park on the grass near the helicopters of the school next door. Using the handheld mike in the plane, I ordered some fuel. The always-happy refueller on the other end advised of a 20 minute delay due to some bigger planes. Bugger, back to the SAR math-induced headache. I decided to keep it as is and worst case scenario could update it on the way back.
Shortly after parking the 172, Robert and his student taxied away in the 150. I should have waited 5 minutes and just pulled in behind them. Oh well, no harm caused! The fuel truck pulled up just as I was completing my pre-flight checks. Once the tanks were full, I checked the drains and hopped aboard to get going.
No radio! You’ve got to be kidding me! After ten minutes of stuffing around and sweating like nobody’s business, I realised a somewhat important oversight. It generally helps to plug the headset into the plane. Gulp! *let’s keep this one between us*
I was off! As usual, I had this flight planned to the nth degree and had practised it on the flight sim. The take off and flight to Dayboro was completely and predictably without problem. For those who haven’t flown this leg before, Dayboro is just beyond Lake Samsonvale and at the foot of the D’Aguilar Range. From there you get a bit of view of the rest of the flight. On this particular day, dark clouds were looming and from Archerfield, I decided I’d fly to Dayboro and make a decision to continue over the ranges or turn back. Arriving over Dayboro at 1500 feet, whilst there was quite a bit of cloud it all looked fairly high and I was confident I could get to at least 3500 feet with sufficient clearance from the cloud.
On this first leg, I was pretty confident as I had done it all before. I knew what to look for and most of the surroundings felt familiar. Even though I am a visual pilot, I tried to trust my headings and follow the processes as if I had never flown this route before. It would be too easy to look ahead and say, I know I need to be between Kilcoy Township and the airfield and just fly from landmark to landmark though this would be cheating myself as I need to become proficient with navigating long distances without knowing the land I’m flying over.
The wind was incredibly kind to me on this flight and the headings I had calculated based on the forecasts were surprisingly accurate. I only needed one correction on the first leg and I was only off track by about 2nm. Before long I found myself making the inbound call to Wondai traffic – as usual, I had the airspace to myself. Keeping a good look out, I joined the circuit.
One down side about Wondai is that the grass can get really long which it happened to be on this day. My initial plan was to touch and go to save time but, because I couldn’t see the runway surface, I tried to put it down as softly as possible which resulted in a nice big flare and keeping the front wheel skyward as long as possible. After softly touching down the front wheel, I wasn’t confident I had the energy or remaining runway required to take off again safely so I kept the throttle closed and back tracked to the parking area. I’m not a big risk taker when flying. If my gut says no, I don’t do it. I would much rather a go around then a bad landing and a parked plane then an overshoot.
After taking off from Wondai, I pointed the 172 toward Kingaroy. This was only a small leg to the south. There was a little traffic at Kingaroy and it was nice to finally talk another person rather than just singing to myself. At Kingaroy, I checked my estimated times to ensure I wasn’t going to go over my nominated SAR time, got my plan in order and lifted off for home. The weather was being kind to me and whilst I flew through a small amount of mist, the cloud never became an issue. I tracked accurately back to Dayboro and then on to Archerfield.
On the final leg into Archerfield, I checked the ATIS – 20 knot wind from 010. It didn’t take much use of the wiz wheel to work out that was pretty much all cross wind. Eek. I actually started to wonder what I would do. A full 20 knot cross wind is certainly more than I’m allowed to land in and the grass runways were out of action. I thought I’ll just see what happens to the wind as I get closer and then chat to ATC about my options. As I passed abeam the TV towers, I spoke to ATC who very nonchalantly advised me that it was now a solid 15 knot cross wind. Thank god! It’s now within (see on the very outskirts) of mine and aircrafts limit.
I followed the ATC’s instructions and joined on final for runway 10L. I was happy to have use of the big runway in case I drifted a little with the crosswind. As I approached 10L, the wind became very apparent due to the crab angle needed to maintain runway centreline. Robert has always taught me that the process for cross wind landings is the same regardless if it’s 10 knots or 20. My plan was to crab in, kick the rudder straight and land on the in to wind wheel first. I did exactly that. I gave myself a little pep talk while crossing over the threshold. Reminding myself to remain calm and in control. I did that too. To my amazement, I touched down on the into wind wheel and with a little screech, the other main gear wheel shortly after.
Another pearl of wisdom that Robert taught me is that the landing isn’t over until you are off the runway, so I made sure I also had ailerons into the wind as well. In this case, even full deflection wasn’t enough and the wind still tried it’s darndest to flip me over. Luckily for me, it didn’t. Once off the runway, I breathed a sigh of relief and headed back to base to tell Robert all about it.
Well, that’s it. That’s my 2 mandatory solos done. Now it down to a pre-test flight (or 2) before the real deal.
I’ll keep you posted!