Leaving the nest

Tonight, for the first time, I left the familiar surroundings of the Sanford/Lee County airport and practice area to the west.

The weather was very nice: high clouds, calm winds, and cool, but comfortable.

We chatted for a bit before leaving and discussed what to do. It was getting dark, but we decided to go to the Harnett County airport (about 20 miles to the southeast) and practice a few landings at a “foreign” airport.

As we took off, and headed southeast, I got to see a whole new world of lakes, rivers, towers, and a beautiful sunset behind us. It only took a few minutes to get there. We flew over Cambell University just before I was able to spot the airport and the direction of the runway (5/23). The runway is not as big (about 1000′ shorter and 25′ less wide) and not as smooth. There are no instrument landing markings and no Old US 1 to tell me when to turn downwind.

In spite of all the differences, my first landing was great. Real smooth and on the center line. Touch and go for another one, which was not quite as good, but still ok. We stopped and taxied back (in the dark by that time) to get some practice taxiing at an unfamiliar airport in the dark. I got a little practice with the radio and slipped at the end of one call… “back to runway 5, San…(err, not Sanford, I whispered), Harnett.” It’s a common mistake when you’re used to saying the same airport over and over again. We talked about a few other airports (including Siler City) on our taxi back to runway 5. Just before takeoff, Gene made the call: “Siler City, 40B departing runway 5.” “Uh… Gene, we’re at Harnett.” Oops. He corrected himself… “40B at Harnett County.” It helps to hear the “pros” make mistakes; helps me worry less about communications.

Takeoff, around the pattern for a third landing, which was about the same as the second; maybe slightly worse. The dark was throwing me off… like I really needed its help. One more time around and we met with some incoming traffic. We extended downwind just a bit and turned base abeam the landing airplane. I suspect his landing was much nicer than mine. No damage, but I think it’s time to call it a night.

The flight back was very relaxing. It was as dark as it was going to get and the city lights and other airplanes were easy to see… along with the 2000′ tower’s stobe lights as we passed to the right at 2,800 feet.

We listened to Raleigh’s (RDU) approach frequency and heard a mention of “VFR traffic at 2,800” to a departing plane. Directly to our right was a plane climbing out of RDU at about our altitude, though plenty of miles away. The “traffic” was us.

I spotted the civilian land airport beacon (flashing green and white) at Sanford about 12 miles out. We flew directly over the airport and turned left downwind about midfield. We followed a normal pattern and played with the runway lights. On final, we set them to full to see just how blinding they are… too much for comfort. Back down to medium and I made my very nice final approach. I couldn’t see much until we crossed the threshold lights, at which point I pretty much fumbled the whole thing. For whatever reason, the nose was not where I wanted it to be and I had little success in getting it there. Gene assisted and it wasn’t all bad. It’s hard to land in the dark. As I later learned, there’s a different technique needed since you don’t have the same peripheral vision you do during the day. I’ll get a lot more night practice in as the winter rolls around.

After 1.3 hours and 5 landings (3 at night), I’m at 16.8 hours total.

To top off the night, on my motorcycle ride home, I had a bright, low horizon (and thus large) 3/4 moon in front of me as I rode up Old US 1. What a beautiful sight. I could get used to this. 🙂