I have 37 hours and I’ll add to that by 2 more hours today. The weather is perfect. Light winds and just a few clouds. It’s also not super hot and stormy like it’s been for the past week.
Grant and I had flown this route a week ago. It’s a long flight but to some fairly remote airports. With any luck they’d be free of any traffic jams. The wind was pretty calm and coming from the south west.
The night before I looked over the sectionals, looked for obstacles and easily identifiable landmarks. I built the flight plan in ForeFlight but wanted to have it on paper as well. I wrote down the frequencies I’d be on and finally hit the sack. I thought I’d plugged in my iPad but when I woke up… oops, 8% power. Damn.
I plugged in the iPad, grabbed a quick shower and took off to the airport. When I arrived I noticed a lot of traffic and the iPad had only charged to around 15%. Oh well, I’ll be stuck with all my hand written notes and the extremely expensive Garmin guiding my way – but what’s with all the traffic in the pattern.
I talked the flight plan over with Grant and did a pre-flight on the Guimbal. I would be flying Mike-Hotel which has a spot for your iPad and it should have a charger but as I’d find out later in the flight, it didn’t work.
We fired up the helicopter and since I’m not able to do confines yet we went over to the Ideal Aviation ramp. There we were greeted by two gentleman. The where interested in the Guimbal and walked over to chat. We talked about the helicopter a bit then they let us know a group of pilots were at the airport giving kids rides around the pattern. Most of the guys were from an uncontrolled airport out in western MO. Knowing how busy the airspace is just on a regular day I was thinking about my friends in the tower. They will have their hands full.
Grant and I spoke for a little bit longer then I hopped in, spun up the helicopter, listened to my ATIS and got into a hover. I listened to all the traffic calling the tower. Whoa. It’s busy. Lots of people talking and someone just reported fuel coming out of their wing? hmmmm. Today is going to be a day. Grant was probably curious why I was sitting in a hover for so long but I was waiting my turn to talk to the tower. Finally there was a break, I called and got a pretty large amount of commands from the tower. I got the approval to head out which I did with a quickness but not before a student came on the radio that was on a 3 mile final. He wanted to know if I’d be out in time. Very valid question. I had cleared the outside of the helicopter – meaning: tower had cleared me and I had checked for traffic. I just finished clearing the inside of the helicopter – meaning: lights were out and gauges were in the green, good fuel when he asked his question. Tower responded while I was getting on the move so it all seemed to work out but as I was departing the airport and over some trees they were still talking… did I just cut someone off? He cleared me. I looked for traffic did I miss him? He was 3 miles out. Where is he now?
I was maybe 400 AGL and moving out of the space and worried I had done something wrong. A few minute later I was a few miles from the airport and heard him talking to the tower / ground so we did have a good distance between us but man… The thought that I made a mistake lingered for a while.
I thought back to ADM and thought about the situation. I was not impulsive nor being macho – I was following the commands the tower gave me and very aware of who and what was around me. Well, if I had stepped on anyone’s toes I’d hear about it when I got back but right now I need to concentrate on the ship and my flight. I settled down and punched in my route down to KFAM on the GPS. I also opened ForeFlight and looked at the flight plan there. Oh awesome, the iPad is at 12% still, the charger doesn’t work. Guess I’ll use the GPS and my notes.
ForeFlight is really easy and what I wanted to use. When you’re a mile out it gives you nice HUGE view of the airport so you know patterns and frequencies. No biggie. I have everything memorized and written down and in the GPS.
I passed near KFES where I flew my first cross country and making my calls, everything is good no problems… wait, what is that line of clouds and why are they so low? Shoot.
I drop down a bit to get a better gauge of their altitude and what looked like a wall of clouds is only some scattered and broken clouds. They are really small and burning off pretty quick so I don’t think I have to do anything or bail on the flight. I keep my distance and start thinking about my approach to KFAM.
I switch my frequency over and am welcomed by 3 or 4 people in the pattern. Well… guess I’ll start talking to them sooner rather than later. I make my call on my 10 mile. I get 3 responses of people letting me know they are with me on the pattern. Make another call at 5, 4 and 3 miles. Each call is answered with other pilots in the area telling me what they are doing. I make sure to let everyone know I’m a student pilot and they can likely tell I’m nervous. I call again at 2 miles then at 1 and slip in behind someone. To be honest I probably wasn’t being as brief on the radio as I should have been but it seems crowded and I’d -maybe- already been close to someone on my take off.
The guy that is in front of me calls and lets everyone know he’s off the runway. I setup and come in much faster than I should. I should be making my approach at 50 knots but I’m a little faster. I buzz the runway and then make my left crosswind. I let everyone know I’m departing north and get out of there.
I make my calls departing the airspace and punch in KFES. Cool. I know this runway well and it’s pretty uncrowded. Wait, why are those clouds back. Ugh. I see another line of broken clouds but determine I can stay away pretty easily. No problem.
As I’m making my way to KFES I hear a lot of chatter on the radio, then the most annoying feedback loop I’ve heard. Loud enough and long enough that I have to turn down the radio a but. After 5 minutes of that noise if finally goes away and I’m approaching KFES. I make my calls and don’t get anything back in return. Awesome. The sky diving company must not be working today. One less thing to worry about!
As I’m on my final I notice something on the runway. What is that? Oh, it’s a mower. Well, I’ll fly around him. I make my approach and then depart north.
I tune in my ATIS to listen to KCPS weather and then punch in the radio. Oh good it’s busy there too. I make my calls and the tower tells me to call back at 2 miles which I do. I’m cleared for the runway I want. I’ve made this approach a bunch of times, wait did that dude just turn into my flight path? That’s a little odd. He’s a couple hundred feet above me and a mile away but I’m not entirely sure he was cleared to do that. I went back and listened to the audio of the tower and its unclear if he was given permission but we have more than enough separation so no harm no foul, just not what I was expecting.
I drop a bit of altitude just to stay clear of him. I’m still set up perfectly for a shallow landing. Tower tells me to hold on the numbers which I do. I get permission to go land and that’s it. My longest flight solo is in the books.
So, did I cut that guy off? I go and find the instructors that were up in the air with me and ask Grant if he heard anything. I’m happy to say that I did not cut anyone off.
Again, not the most perfect of flights but nothing to complain about.
Takeaways? For this flight there are a ton.
Make sure you hear and understand the commands given to you by the tower.
Make sure you hear and understand the talk on the radio. KFAM was really busy and it was nerve racking but I relied on training and even with my sub par radio skills I got through it. (Announcing myself over and over probably helped)
The clouds gave me a little concern but I followed the rules of the airspace.
Make sure you charge your iPad, make sure you have an alternative flight plan with everything you need if your iPad doesn’t charge or work.