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Guest christianholmes

My Real life flight training cont... My First Solo X-Country!

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I must first say that, before you start taking lessons in real life- you have skewed goals. When I first took lessons back in '99, I remember telling my ground school instructor that I just wanted to finish my PPL and get on with instruments. I thought VFR would be boring, and IFR is where all the fun is at. He didn't necessarily scoff at me, but he did recommend I spend some time enjoying myself as a new pilot before I do that. I thought it would be, for lack of a better phrase, "wham bam thank you maam'" and on to the IFR rating. It seemed each lesson would simply be something I would cross off on a private pilot checklist and be done with it. I still hear people talking about 'flying by the numbers' which is what I wanted to do- not more, no less. Get my instrument rating and fly IFR. It took me some 10-15 lessons until I realized flying is as much an art as a science. Numbers are suggested, and sometimes they are a hard limit- but mostly they are a goal. I'd love to see somebody that consistantly climbs out at exactly 79 knots. Or is at a perfect 63 on final, plus half the gust. I doesn't happen.But I digress...My whole point is that once I progressed, I got a real taste of what is waiting for me after I pass that checkride, and my goals changed. Naturally, your first solo is one heck of a day. It will be what you aim towards, and then you will do it, and have to find a new goal. To me, the next BIG goal during all this is the first solo cross country. It is the first time you will be set free- out of sight, and mostly out of mind- in your small aluminum chariot. This day has been tugging at me since I first soloed. Soloing around the pattern is good- but leaving the comfort of your home airport behind you into the great big unknown is simply a "whole different ball of wax".So here is my story...I got to the airport about 15 minutes late. As any pilot/diehard simmer and husband/longtime boyfriend knows- sometimes you have to do things to appease the better half. For me it was dropping of the kids at daycare. I actually do this fairly often as I like to sneak a Dunkin Donuts run and we all have a munchkin together before I leave. The problem was I signed up to meet the instructor there at 8:30, and didn't even leave the house until 8.So I get there and he asks if I'm all set. I tell him, with a lump in my throat, I "just have to finish the weather planning". He just looks a little ticked and says "get crackin". The weather IS the flight planning. Other than that it's filling out some trivial info and listing your waypoints. Needless to say, I didn't get into the plane until 10:30. That is when I started to get really nervous. Ok- first I need to contact FSS and open my flight plan on freq. XXX.XX blah blah... I decided just to get on with it, and 15 minutes later I was departing runway 20 for a right turnout to the Northwest. I asked Tower for a frequency change and they obliged. Now, Bridgeport FSS is tricky- you tune your comm. radio to 122.1, to transmit, but since they are an RCO (remote communications outlet) you actually recieve on one of several different frequencies. I needed to recieve over the New Haven VOR, so I tuned 109.80 and turned the VOR switch to voice, and then flipped the switch on the comm panel that would send the audio from the VOR over my headset. I called "Bridgeport Radio, Warrior 2129M". Nothing. Then I heard other people talking. Ok, try again... Nothing. I double checked the switches. I flipped the VOR switch from Voice to Ident. Now I could hear the morse code. I tried for about 10 minutes, and then heard "Aircraft calling, say again". I finally was able to communicate with them, and opened my flight plan about 15 minutes after takeoff. This was almost halfway through the flight! I had passively watched a few of my checkpoints pass below me, and was on course- but I didn't time/record any of them- just flew over. So now I was required to get flight following. I tuned NY approach and 'lurked' for about 2 minutes. I finally contacted them, and quickly realized that I managed to get myself a controller who virtually lived up to his NY attitude. I heard him yell at a VFR aircraft who asked him to repeat a sqauwk code- "ONE TWO ZERO ZERO- TWELVE HUNDRED- WHAT PART OF THAT DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?". So he assigns me a code of 4243 and tells me to ident. I oblige. He comes back about two minutes later and yells "TWO NINE MIKE- I CAN'T HELP YOU UNLESS YOU SQUAWK FOUR TWO FOUR THREE AND IDENT". I reply that I am, and I did. He then comes back and says "TWO NINE MIKE- YOU ARE NOT DOING WHAT I NEED YOU TO DO, RADAR SERVICE TERMINATED, SQAUWK ONE TWO .... Oh wait, there you are. Maintain four two four three as your squawk code." Wow, Ok- something is off. I'm now about 16 miles from the destination and I figure I should get ATIS. I ask for a temp. frequency change, and he comes back with "TWO NINE MIKE, CONTACT NEW YORK APPROACH ON ONE THREE TWO SEVEN FIVE. MAYBE THEY CAN HELP YOU." "Hmmmm" I thought to myself. "I think I just found the most unhappy person in America". I was pleasantly suprised when I switched frequencies that the controller was rather friendly. He approved my temporary frequency change request right away. By the time I got done with ATIS I was roughly 12 miles out, so I reported back on frequency and in the same communication told him I'd like to terminate radar service as I had the airport in sight (which I didn't but I thought I did).Now, Poughkeepsie (Dutchess country airport actually) has a radar, unlike New Haven. So if you have a transponder they actually know where you are. The tower controller told me to make straight in, and report a 3 mile final for runway 24. I acknowledged and then begain looking for the airport. I saw, what I thought was the airport and told the tower I was better setup for a left base for 24. He told me that if I just continued straight I would just make a slight left turn and be right on final. When I shifted my eyes right and found the airport. I made an uneventful (if not historic in my mind) landing with only two notches of flaps since I there were some good gusts on final. He asked me where I was going and I just said I needed to go the FBO to contact flight service. There was no particular concern as to which FBO- they actually have a few on field, so he pointed me to "BP at the end of Alpha". So I taxiied over and found a BP gas station with a small building that read "pilots lounge". That will do! It took me about 30 seconds of sitting there staring at the FBO thinking "now what?" as I've never parked anywhere but New Haven. The UNICOM didn't answer. Finally, I just decided it wouldn't cause any mass turmoil if I just pulled up to the pumps for a few minutes. So I grabbed the keys and walked over to the pilots lounge. There was a helicopter pilot inside eating a sandwich and watching TV. I asked if he knew where the phone was and said he had no idea. My cellphone did have reception, so I dialed 1-800-WX-BRIEF and talked to a briefer in Burlington, VT. He asked about my plan and told me he would relay the information for me. As soon as I hung up, it really hit me- Here I am, 50 miles from home, staring at the plane that carried me here. It was a very, very cool feeling. My camera made the trip, and I snapped a few pictures to commemorate the trip. Like any man on a mission, my only agenda was to hit the bathroom before I left. Is that instinctive?So after a quick run-up and taxi, I departed Dutchess County Airport, which would forever be my "right of passage". Not more that 3 miles from the airport I asked for a frequency change to get ahead of the tasks I needed to do still. He approved, but then quickly came on the radio and said "TWO NINE MIKE, WHAT IS YOUR POSITION?" I stated I was about three miles south-east. He then asks "IS YOUR TRANSPONDER ON?". I said yes, and that it was responding to interrogation. He said the signal was weak, and was blinking out. Aha! That is why NY approach couldn't see me. I jiggled the knob and he said it was a little better. I thanked him, and tuned NY approach. They were VERY busy. I called them up a few times, and was told to standby. They answered a few other VFR flights, but never to me. Oh well, I'm a noob and they don't have time for that. So I just listened for awhile as I flew home at 5500. On the return trip, I didn't file a flight plan, and just used the New Haven VOR to find my way back. It was only 50 miles, and over fairly populated areas, so I didn't worry too much. I mentioned in another thread that when New Haven Tower told me to report a 3 mile right base for runway 20, I actually thought about hitting the pause button to look up the runways :) Weird. There was a nice little crosswind, but nothing too bad, and I had a good landing.My instructor was there when I got back, and we chatted for a few minutes before I headed out. It was a little bittersweet since I had built up this day so much, but it was good to get it over with.I have a few more cross countrys, and a little hood work left, and then just prep for theckride.Now I just need a new goal...

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Hi Christian,I just wanted to thank you for posting your stories. They are very interesting and extremely well written. I have never taken any flying lessons, but your post make me feel like I am right there in the plane.John

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I too want to thank you for taking the time to write these wonderful chapters. Every one I read brings back fond memories of my training and all the intense feelings that went with it. You should seriously think of submitting this work to Flying magazine and/or one of the other private pilot mags. Excellent writing!Paul

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Ditto. I have enjoyed reading of your adventures too. - Skydrift

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Very good to hear you progression through the PPL. How have your diversions been? That was one of my biggest stumbling blocks took me two or three lessons to be within 1 mile and 1 minute.

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I want to thank all of you for your responses- I'm glad you have enjoyed them. I know very few people outside of here that would even bother to listen- so it means alot- and that is the reason I post these here and nowhere else. Maybe I will submit them to AOPA training magazine after I am finished.My diversion training is going so-so... CT is fairly small, and recognizable from the air, so regardless of my inability to use my whiz-wheel I always seem to get myself where I need to go! I admit I need to practice more with it. My flying is fine, and I seem to have an inate ability to point myself in the right direction... which I actually credit to MSFS- it's really invaluable for learing the navigation stuff. Because of it, navigation seems easy- if you can find your way with a VOR, or even pilotage in FS, you can do it in real life. I've been using VORs and ADFs since Flight Sim 2 (Sublogic back then) so it was second nature. I find it difficult to use the sectional to find checkpoints on course to the new destination- reading sectionals is still a little foreign to me. But now that I'm thinking about it- The hardest part of diversions/flight planning is figuring out where to obtain the correct weather information. For pre-flight planning, the winds aloft forecast works well, but once in the air it's usually not even close to the current weather. I need more practice with all the available sources to really understand when and how to use them all.

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Just keep at it with all your available resources and once you get more experience with using them all at the same time it will seem to be second nature.

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> The hardest part of>diversions/flight planning is figuring out where to obtain the>correct weather information. For pre-flight planning, the>winds aloft forecast works well, but once in the air it's>usually not even close to the current weather. I need more>practice with all the available sources to really understand>when and how to use them all.Someday, perhaps you'll be using a GPS system with up linked satellite weather such as XM Satellite weather. It's new technology that's only been around a couple of years; yet I don't know one pilot who's had it, that would give it up. The weather is overlayed on the moving map, and you can see weather systems for hundreds of miles, as well as the destination. The updates are about every five minutes. It's the best method by far, to make real time weather decisions while in the air.Available with many hand-helds as well as panel systems. But not exactly "cheap".L.Adamson

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Welcome back Mr L.AdamsonLee

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>Someday, perhaps you'll be using a GPS system with up linked>satellite weather such as XM Satellite weather. It's new>technology that's only been around a couple of years; yet I>don't know one pilot who's had it, that would give it up. The>weather is overlayed on the moving map, and you can see>weather systems for hundreds of miles, as well as the>destination. The updates are about every five minutes. It's>the best method by far, to make real time weather decisions>while in the air.>>Available with many hand-helds as well as panel systems. But>not exactly "cheap".>>L.Adamson>I am a young, old school pilot and I hate the limitations still in the GPS systems. Random outages, skipping waypoints and losing RAIM 10 minutes prior to arrival.

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I certainly plan on buying a handheld GPS- as a back up. I enjoy the challenges of pilotage and VOR navigation- I think it's fun. But if I were at risk of really getting myself lost in deteriorating weather, I will definately want a GPS unit there. My brother just bought one of the lowend Garmin handhelds- It's black and white, and doesn't have the weather, but it can still help a great deal. And it was only a few hundred dollars.I always found the glass-cockpit planes in flight simulator to be boring- In real life I bet I would love them, but for now I enjoy flying with the old steam gauges that I spent the last 20 years flying the virtual skies with.

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