Saturday, October 10, 2015

Long Trip Alone

"It's a short piece of time but just enough to find
A little peace of mind under the sun somewhere"

Life has been busy.  Work has been busy.  Blogging is back-burner these days, so apologies ahead of time for the delays between posts.  

Monday, 9/21/2015  The plan:  Depart at 1200Z from HNB for SIV.  Upon landing at SIV, shut down & take a break for a few minutes, get my things organized, then depart SIV for MVN.  Same plan at MVN, though originally I'd planned to eat at the restaurant on-field.  Since I knew a pilot needs to know 'all available information' regarding a flight, I checked their hours of operation.  Closed on Mondays.  So I planned to grab something from the FBO's vending, take a break, then again get organized and ready for the trip back to HNB (the longest leg of the flight).

I arrived at the airport around 7:30 am (11:30Z).  I'd gotten the full weather briefing on before leaving home.  I knew what was up.  VFR along my entire flight path, but HNB was socked in with fog, <1nm visibility.  CFI Randy arrived a few minutes later.  I had just started loading up my gear in 34Q when he came out to the hangar.  We talked it over, agreed we'd just wait until the fog burned off.   He had to head into work soon, but might be back in time for my arrival home.  I'd taken a full day off work, and the weather forecast was as awesome as it could be.  No way I'm not going to sit this fog out.

Only one possible catch was brought up.  34Q was just over 4 hours away from being due for her 100-hr inspection.  Enough for me to complete my trip, but not much wiggle room.  He and the mechanics discussed, and agreed, there was no reason to call a no-go just for the engine time.

About 40 minutes later he came upstairs to the lounge to let me know it looked like the field was clear regardless of what AWOS was saying, and the rest of the fields, or stations near them in SIV's case, were reporting solid VFR.  He wished me luck, shook my hand, and I headed out to where the line guys had pulled 34Q for me.  I did my preflight, got my things ready in the cockpit, then started her up.  I took a quick selfie (my first such in the cockpit) before I took off.

After a quick check of the ATIS, off I went taxiing to 27, noting the visible fog still at the west end of the runway.  

The flight to SIV was straightforward, just as it was on my solo cross-country there.  After I landed, I taxied up to the FBO and shut down.  I stopped and talked to the airport manager for much longer than I'd planned, taking him up on the offer for a cup of coffee after he signed my logbook.  It was great, very relaxing just sitting down and conversing with a fellow pilot.  Honestly, I was just enjoying the trip.  I wasn't in any hurry, and I was on my own time.  

After talking planes, and cars, and harrowing experiences in both, he wished me luck, then I shook his hand and got on my way, taxiing to 18.  Climbout was smooth, no wind, no bumps, just a nice relaxing departure up to 4,500 feet.  I started my timer and began checking off my waypoints & writing down my times one by one.  Hulman Approach handed me off to Kansas City Center, who followed me until I had MVN in sight.  Once I got down below 3,000, things were a little dicey.  I had my choice of runways coming in, but based on the wind I elected to take the big one, Runway 5.  It's a wider runway, and I wanted to push myself after my experience landing at KEVV, challenging myself to better judge the approach.  After floating for what seemed an eternity, I touched down a bit more firmly than I'd have liked to, taxied off, and headed for the FBO.  After being marshalled into a spot, I stopped, shut down, finished my checklist and recorded my time, then called Randy to let him know I was safely down.  

Per our discussion before my departure, I elected to have them go ahead and fill the tanks.  Better to have too much fuel than not enough (even though I'd calculated that I had at least an hour reserve, better to be prepared in case EVV approach had to route me around for some reason on the way back).
After grabbing a snack and a Mt. Dew, I paid for the fuel, thanked them for their great service, wished them a great day & headed out to the plane.  

Preflight went as usual, I visually verified full tanks, climbed in the white satin lady as I now call her and started home.  

I selected Runway 5 again for takeoff based on traffic arriving and departing all using it.  I did my runup then advanced to the hold short line. After waiting on landing traffic, I made my call, took the runway and eased the throttle to full.  

About 50 feet down the runway, I knew what the tone of the flight was going to be.  A substantial gust hit the plane from the right, pushing me about 10 feet left of center.  Thankful for the wider runway, I corrected, then continued my takeoff roll and climbed out, acknowledging departing heli traffic from the ramp as I was rolling, who also acknowleged me.  

I'd planned for 3,500 as my cruising altitude due to my near due East course.  I could tell right away however this wasn't the best choice.  From TOC on, I was getting bounced around like a pinball.  I called Kansas City Center for flight following, repeated and entered my squawk code, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.....all the while extremely glad I hadn't just filled my stomach with some huge meal.  And I have to admit, for a couple minutes, I let it rattle my cage.  I reigned in those thoughts and focused on flying the plane.   

After about 5 minutes of listening to the busy center controller handle other planes, I called him back up, asking him to 1)verify squawk code was correct and 2)verify he was receiving my squawk.  He replied that the code was correct, but he wasn't receving me, asked where I was.  I answered that I was about 15 to the east of MNV.  He said this far out from center, coverage was spotty below 4,500.  So I offered to go up to 5,500 to help us both out, mentioning that I had moderate turbulence at 3,500.  He agreed the higher the better, so up I went.   

As I climbed through 4,500, just as he had predicted, he acknowledged radar contact.  On up through 4,500 to 5,000, the air smoothed out and I settled in at 5,500 for the remaining 40 minutes home.  

As I crossed into Indiana, KC Center handed me off to Evansville Approach.  About 30 miles out of HNB, Approach advised me of a Skylane about 5 miles, 11 o'clock, just off HNB, climbing through 3,500.  I replied negative contact, and about 5 minutes later they advised traffic was no factor.  

About 15 miles out from HNB I let approach know I had the field.  Frequency and squawk change approved, we bid each other a good day and I switched to CTAF 122.8, then put 118.25 in standby then switched over to get the AWOS before my radio call to HNB.  It was about a 7 kt right-front quartering cross wind for runway niner.  I called when I was about 15 out, straight in for niner.  

When I started descending toward HNB, I knew the air would be choppy, no different than what was behind me.  I was more prepared for it now mentally, so it really didn't bother me.  Once I was on about a 3-mile final, I honestly don't remember the chop much at all.  

I brought her down gently on niner after a decent but slightly long landing.  I taxied back to the DCFS hangar, stopped at the pump as directed by the lineman, then shut down & started gathering my gear.  

Randy made it back just in time to greet me.  We talked briefly about the flight, finished up my paperwork & discussed where 34Q was as far as engine time.  After checking the tach, she had 1.1 hour left before being taken out of service.  There was actually someone standing there wanting to rent her to do some air work, so I quickly went to work wiping down the plane to remove the bugs I'd collected.  

When I was done, I wished the mechanics & line men and the other pilot a good afternoon & headed home.  

I spent the rest of the day pretty much just absorbing the reality of what I had just done, where I had gone, and the fact that I did it.  It was a high that I'm still sailing on weeks later, in addition to the flight I've had since.  

With 34Q offline, the next lesson would be spent on oral test prep, with Randy assigning me to study & know the available weather charts & what they depict, as well as VFR weather & cloud clearances inside & outside classes of airspace.  I'll skip that session in my next post and talk about the flight I had last week to OWB, and how very, very close I am to completing all of the pre-checkride requirements. 

Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven.  

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