With a couple of early mornings coming up and being on a schedule of falling asleep around 3-4am I needed to reboot my sleep period and the way I do that is to simply stay up through to the next day as long as possible. Since as I start getting more and more tired my brain isn't so good at handling working on the computer so I sacked out in bed and started watching season one of Flying Wild: Alaska on Netflix. Wow, what a great show. Of course, I'm annoyed that they have to edit a lot of things in a way to make stuff look a bit more dangerous and thrilling than it actually is but that's reality TV for you right there. Still, despite the "tension" editing the family and pilots of Era Alaska are all such great characters and get along so well with the camera it's very enjoyable to watch them do their jobs. I remember being young and wanting to live in Alaska and be a bush pilot. I've moved on from that dream but a small part of me still holds on to it and it's nice to be able to satisfy that small part in a small way.
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Anyways despite being tired, watching the pilots at work made me want to fly so I did a bit of pre-flight planning and hopped into the sim for a real flight the first time since I reformatted my computer at the beginning of May. I originally planned several stops at small private turf airfields to get as close to the "bush" as I could but realized I was really too tired for much and decided to just visit one of my favorite small airfields, 2NJ3. I like this field because it's small, provides a challenging approach from both ends over trees and power lines and is fenced in for most of its length meaning you don't have much room for error when landing.
Because of the short runway length I hopped into the Cessna 172S, which I had left sitting up at KFWN. Weather from up there in northern NJ down to 2NJ3 in central NJ was pretty clear, with a slight chance of precipitation on the way but high cloud cover and light winds. This was also my first complete flight using the brand new release version of the REX Essentials weather engine I helped to beta test these last few months. While I had a slight drop in visibility passing over Aeroflex-Andover there was no precipitation and winds were smooth, giving me a bit of a push in the tail to speed me on but no bumps. I was feeling pretty good about myself handling the plane so well while trying to not fall asleep at the controls until I made my mistake.
Approaching 2NJ3 I tuned to Trenton-Mercer, which is only 4nm away from the field, to get an updated weather report. Winds had shifted a bit, but it was in my favor as they were blowing almost straight down one of the runways, which is great because fighting a crosswind when you have fences to either side of you isn't fun (although it is a challenge). Knowing my runway, I decided to pass right of the airport so I could turn over the field into the left pattern to check landing conditions. As I hit the DME mark telling me I was over the field I looked out my left window but didn't see anything. In normal scenery with lots of Autogen trees and buildings it can be sometimes hard to spot a small airfield, but with my satellite scenery having no such objects, the ones I added around the airport should be sticking out like a beacon. I flew in circles for a few minutes trying to locate the field before thinking to start circling KTTN figuring I was in the wrong location altogether.
Well I was correct - I was nowhere near to the right side of the airport like I had expected to be because I screwed up my reading of the NAV2 CDI needle. I had placed it to the right of center thinking to pass the field on the right but I had it backwards in my head - the CDI needle to the right meant I was left of the radial that was leading me straight to the airport, which meant I arrived left of the field and was looking out the wrong window!! I don't know whether it was because I hadn't flown in a good while or I was sleepy - but probably a little bit of both led to the error. Once I located the airport though I was able to circle and land without any problems, turn around and take off again. Once in the air I headed northeast following visual aids and up the Raritan River to KLDJ where I left the plane tied down on the ramp.
Well, I was still awake so I decided to make the short trip over to NYC where I had left one of my Bell 206s at the KJRB heliport in downtown. I figured it was a nice enough day to cruise up the Hudson and pay a visit to a small public heliport up in Haverstraw, NY - H43. Well I hadn't even made it to the GWB before I started to literally pass out at the controls. One second I'd be flying along fine and then I'd realize I was climbing, or had eased off stick pressure and had slowed down, or had nosed over too far... but I was determined to make it so I buckled down and managed as best I could not to crash into the ground. Finally I was on approach to Haverstraw and was descending to hover over the small clearing when I nosed back too far and flew backwards into a tree.
So close.. and yet...
Oh well, maybe on my next trip I'll be more awake!