Solo away from the nest

Today was my first solo flight out of the pattern. I took my time getting to the airport (ie, I was late), and took my time getting ready for the flight. I was a little more nervous than I thought I’d be, but the nervousness was more about getting into a situation that I didn’t already know how to handle than it was about anything like getting lost or worse. With less than a standard work week of flying time, there are a load of situations I haven’t experienced. At least I was in my favorite bird, 40B.

I took care of the preflight, but the fuel was low, so I had to call for a top off. Club rules require full tanks before student pilot solos, even if there is way more than enough to be safe. Gene and I have flown plenty of dual flights with less than full tanks, but still plenty of fuel, so I had some idea of how much visual fuel in the tanks was safe. It appeared lower than we normally let it be before a flight, but it still had about 18 of the 24.5 usable gallons. I called for fuel, but after 15 minutes, I got nothing. I waited a couple more minutes and decided to call again. I was told they were “filling up the truck” but should be done shortly. At least 30 minutes after my first call, they finally showed up. Well, not only did the guy fill up a plane that nobody was using first, then a plane that had just come in, but he nearly passed right by me. I waved him down and he stopped. Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy with their service, and my flight time was running out. Nobody had the plane after me, so I marked another half hour on the schedule so I could have more time.

Before starting up, and while waiting for fuel, I tooks some time to review the sectional chart for the practice area. There are next to no visual landmarks; there’s a “brick kiln” and a “plant”. The plant is the 3M plant; I don’t know who the brick kiln is.

I started up with no problems and taxied out to runway 3. Pre-takeoff checklist normal; takeoff to the west. Shortly after departing the pattern, another club instructor, called that she was over Pittsboro maneuvering. I wanted to respond with my location, but it hit me that I didn’t really know how to tell her. As I mentioned before, there weren’t many landmarks and I wasn’t real sure how far away I was from Pittsboro, or the 3M plant, or anything else. After she called again a couple minutes later, I responded that I was south of the 3M plant at 2,800 heading west. The 3M plant, by the way, is a few miles south of Pittsboro and is a common reference point for radio calls in the practice area.

My goal was to get to Siler City and do some touch and goes, but I’d never gone there alone, and everything sort of looked the same: trees, fields and roads. I knew the general direction and I did recognize enough to know I was headed in the right direction. I tried to use the Liberty VOR to make my way there, but it wasn’t quite making sense since I wasn’t marking my path on the sectional. I finally came across Siler City and knew the airport to be southwest, so I immediately recognized it. I changed frequencies and listened for traffic. Nothing, so I made a call to UNICOM: “Siler City UNICOM, Cessna 4640B, 6 to the west…I mean…to the east, at 2,500. Request airport advisory.” A minor goof, but I’ve heard much worse. They responded that the winds favored runway 22, which surprised me a bit, because I thought they were mostly calm and runway 4 is the calm wind runway. Oh well. 22 it is. I responded that I would enter the pattern on the 45 for runway 22. All I had to do was head south a few miles, turn west and there I was.

I made the suggested radio calls for downwind, base and final, and made a pretty sloppy landing. There are two things that are quite different at Siler City that throw me off every time: 1) the higher terrain around the airport makes it look like I’m closer to the ground than I should be on the base leg, and 2) I think the hilly terrain causes some bizarre wind behavior. The wind was reported to be calm, but I was getting shoved around here and there just before touchdown.

Two more sloppy landings later, and I headed back east. Visibility was very high, so I could see the cooling tower just north of Sanford easily. No need for any VOR navigation. On the way back I took a few minutes to practice a power on stall and a power off stall. I was more nervous than usual because I no longer had Gene to get me out of trouble if I got into it on the stalls, but they both went well; as good as any others. I wanted to work on a few other things, but I didn’t have enough time for it today. Maybe next time. Landings were more important to me at the time, and while they were sloppy, at least I got the practice. They were still on the center line, though, so I’ll give myself some credit.

Back to Sanford. Entering the pattern for runway 3 is easy from the practice area. Just fly west of the 3M plant until the end of the runway is about 45 degrees to the right. A right turn and I’m on the 45. I got in a touch and go before my final stop. The touch and go was so-so, but the final landing was much more “flat” than usual. I basically touched down on all three wheels at the same time. Oh well…

Certainly not my best performance, but given the added stress of being out in the wilderness on my own, I think it went well.

After 1.2 hours, I’m at 37.1 total.