Today I took my longest flight yet - almost three hours in the air. I wanted to go to Martha's Vinyard (KMVY) because it is a destination I've flown to many times before in past iterations of Flight Simulator, but I didn't want to take just a simple direct flight there. I have VFR scenery now that extends up into Massachusetts and Rhode Island so I figured I'd check out as much of it as I could. I also hadn't been all the way out along Long Island. So I decided to fly along LI, head north to RI then northeast to the tip of Cape Cod, and then follow that back down south then southwest to Martha's Vinyard.
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So next came the course plotting, of course using SkyVector - that site is so full of awesome and win. My first step was to figure out how I was going to get around NYC airspace without having to bother anyone for transit clearance. Thankfully, the Class B floor northeast of Teterboro was 1500 feet, so skirting the airspace was a simple matter of staying below 1500. After that it was simply a matter of tracing out a route I wanted and making sure there were no serious obstructions in the way (not just buildings and towers but restricted airspace) and then taking note of any further airspace I would be transiting - mainly Class C and D. I then used SkyVectors route plotter to draw the route and see how long it would be to make sure I had the range - no problem at 273nm when the range of the Cessna 172S is rated up around 700nm (there's more to that, but I'll talk about it later). Even better than the range, the route lines told me the heading I needed to travel on. Awesome!
So I climbed into my Cessna at KTEB and ran through pre-flight. I wanted to depart before dawn but the sky was already starting to light up by the time I contacted KTEB ground and requested taxi clearance, just beating out a Beechcraft. I pulled up to Runway 6 first and after holding short contacted KTEB tower and got my clearance to depart VFR to the north. No problems climbing out and leveling off at 1000 feet to stay well below the 1500 foot floor of La Guardia's Class B airspace - which actually drops to 1300 feet when you hit the Hudson River! Being so low, and not too familiar with the area from above (not helping that it was still rather dark out) I fumbled around a bit before being sure I was actually where I wanted to be.
Once I made it over Long Island, KLGA's floor rose to 3000 feet, so I climbed as well, not just to get a better view but to leapfrog over the 2600 foot Class D ceiling that surrounded Republic (KFRG). After passing over KFRG's airspace I cut the throttle and dropped to 1000 feet to scoot under Long Island Mac Arthur's (KISP) 1500 foot Class C airspace floor. If you really want to know why I went through all this trouble to avoid minor air spaces well - it made things more interesting okay?? Anyways, I ended up having to contact KISP for Class C clearance anyhow because I wanted to buzz the condo complex where some friends of mine lived and it was within the airspace of KISP that extended down to the floor. I had no problem getting clearance from KISP ATC of course, so I circled the condos and then headed out, informing KISP that I was clear of their airspace.
I had one more hop to get over the 2600 foot ceiling of Gabreski (KFOK) Class D, then kept her at around 2500 feet the rest of the way out to the tip of Long Island, where I had to drop down to 2000 feet to stay below some clouds that had moved in. I considered climbing above them but they weren't scattered enough for me to slip through and I was really more interested in seeing the ground anyways.
The rest of the trip out over Rhode Island and Cape Cod was largely uneventful. Got buffeted around a bit by winds as I transitioned from land to water, there were some areas where it was choppy for a few minutes, but that was about it. I was able to recognize all the points at which I would turn to the next leg of my trip, pointing down the heading indicated by SkyVector, and it worked perfectly. Several times en route I would tune into ATIS for airports as I passed by just to get a weather update. Over Cape Cod a low cloud layer snuck up on me and I literally had to cut throttle and dive to 1500 feet from 2000 to make sure I stayed out of the clouds.
I contacted KMVY tower at 11nm out after listening to the latest ATIS and they instructed me to enter the pattern downwind, so I dropped to pattern altitude (1000 feet) and lined up parallel to the runway for the downwind leg. Although I turned base at the proper time (45 degrees off the end of the runway and as I got landing clearance from ATC) I was too close laterally, so that when I rolled out onto base I was already abeam the runway. D'oh! Out of practice already. So I S-curved it into final and crabbed slightly into a light cross breeze to set her down nice and gently slightly off the center line. After clearing the runway and stopping past the hold short, I contacted ground and they directed me to my parking.
Now, the fuel issue I mentioned earlier. I said the range of my craft was around 700nm - yet I landed at KMVY with half a tank of gas left after traveling a little over 1/4 of that distance. Two main reasons for this: I did a lot of climbing to hop over air spaces and I didn't fly at 12,000 feet. The Cessna tops out at around 13,000 feet, so 12,000 feet is its usual cruise altitude. Up there, the air is thinner and thus offers less resistance, which means less fuel burned. If I want to go farther, I have to go higher. Now, I did not calculate the fuel burn or anything - I just saw that the distance I was traveling was less than half the maximum range of the craft, so I guessed (and felt sure about it) I would make it no problems. Obviously this isn't a good practice but I really didn't think of how far I would be flying on this trip before I plotted it, so I didn't have time to sit down and figure out how to properly calculate fuel burn and thus trip range (I wanted that damn sunrise!). That will be my next ground school assignment.
So! Here I am at Martha's Vinyard. I think I might fly up to Boston next...