Thursday, May 10, 2007

So Back to That X-Country...

I had been pretty freaked out about my first cross-country. Navigating has not ever been one of my strong points... except maybe when on foot in Europe (for some reason, my navigation capabilities seem to kick in when on foreign soil). In any case, I had to really work to get the pilotage thing down. But it finally seemed to be clicking. M & I did one last cross-country together to make sure that I was ready (and we went to the airport where I would be going for my solo cross-country to make it even easier). Even though I knew I had finally gotten the checkpoints and timers and everything, it still was a bit of a surprise when he and Husband suggested I do my solo cross-country the next day. After I got used to the idea, I was pretty excited (especially after he reminded me that I could use the nice, shiny G1000 and just follow the pink line if I was worried about getting lost).

Weather delayed me for a few days-- but as luck would have it, we had a picture-perfect solo day a few days later-- and I just happened to already have a lesson scheduled in the plane. (Luckily, I also have a very understanding boss who was a flight instructor.) So off I went... or so I thought!

Man, there's a lot of stuff to do before you leave! After preflighting, filing over the phone-- and then in-person when the system wouldn't cooperate (pesky ADIZ!), reviewing my route and the weather with M, and having a last minute oral quiz (while I'm thinking: now is NOT the time to confuse me with new stuff!), I was finally ready to go start my run-up. Here's where I encountered the first "uh-oh, am I ready for this" moment! I couldn't get my mike to work. Assuming it was the jack (we've had problems with it before), I fiddled with that awhile. Then I tried adjusting the squelch. When all else failed (and after about 7-8 minutes), I finally shut down, went inside, and got M. Turns out, I had the squelch button set to be the volume knob! So, after he reset the manual squelch, all was good.

After take-off, I checked in with Potomac Departure... who promptly handed me off to Potomac Approach. Hmmm... haven't had this happen before! What to do? So, I just forged ahead, hoping that this wouldn't turn into one of those "I learned about flying from that" articles. After another strange handoff (usually, we don't encounter any handoffs at that point), I finally discovered the problem. I called and requested flight following to CHO, my destination. A confused response from Potomac... uh... aren't you going to JYO? Inside, I started shaking (no one wants to screw up with ADIZ procedures!), but responded with my best big-pilot voice that my destination was to CHO-- and that they must be looking at my return flight plan. A moment of silence. Then-- we'll look into it and get back to you. Okaaaaay. Now what. Luckily, after about 5 minutes (felt like 30!) and several dozen calls to other aircraft, the controller returned to me and told me to expect a handoff to the CHO tower-- and landing runway 21.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful (though my first right-pattern was *interesting*... I strayed a little too close to the runway-- enough for Tower to ask me to clarify which runway I was landing on!). I landed at CHO and decided to park the plane and walk around for a few minutes. It felt so strange to be on the ramp of another airport by myself (But awesome, too!).

The journey back to JYO was MUCH more comfortable. Why is it so much easier to return home than to leave it? I even treated myself to a little XM radio-- and still managed to get my checkpoints. I love flight following on the way back home-- it makes it so easy to transition the ADIZ and the Bravo airspace (though thank goodness for the G1000-- I almost didn't lose enough altitude for the second shelf)! The only hiccup was the actual arrival at JYO. I still am not used to coming back in from the south. I couldn't see the airport-- I knew it was there. My heading, my chart, my gut, and my G1000 were all telling me it was right there. I finally found it when it was right off my wingtip! Since I had never flown in from that direction to runway 17, I wasn't quite sure how to approach. I know you typically would cut across and join downwind-- but there's the pesky airspace right next to you if you do that. Add to that my late sighting of the airport... and I decided to take the long way around and do it the normal way. This gave me time to do my before landing check-- a very good thing since apparently I forgot to switch fuel to both when I started back up at CHO! Fortunately, no harm done, and I switched back. Husband says that I would have gotten a very noticable warning had the fuel gotten close to empty... but still makes me nervous! Everything smoothed out from there and I made a nice soft-field landing (another instructor even complimented me on it later!).

It was nice to be back safely. It was nice to put it behind me... and thinking back-- I think it went pretty well. I made a few mistakes-- but it is a relief to know that I dealt with them successfully and was still able to refocus and not let things spiral out of control. I think that's been one of my biggest fears.

I can't wait to explore some more new airports! :)

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