More solo solo

What a beautiful day! My solo flight was scheduled for 12 to 2pm and the sky couldn’t have been more clear and the winds more calm (well, maybe they could’ve been a little more calm, but I’m not complaining).

I finally got in a nice motorcycle ride; the first in a couple weeks. I was starting to have withdrawals. That’s the longest I’ve gone without riding since I started over a year ago. The temperature was a little on the cool side, but nothing a light jacket couldn’t handle.

When I got to the airport, the gate that blocks the road to the clubhouse was closed. It hadn’t been closed for months since it was apparently broken, but the airport folks decided to close it and try to get someone to fix it. Because it didn’t work, I had to go around to another gate and drive/ride on the taxiway to the clubhouse. Not a problem on the way in since I had the code, but my motorcycle doesn’t trigger that gate on the way out. I had to get off, climb over the fence and type in the code to get it to open. A club instructor that rides his motorcycle told me that’s what he has to do. The gate to the clubhouse has a motion sensor, so my motorcycle triggers it well before I get to it. I hope they fix it soon. That was no fun.

Preflight of 40B went fine. The fuel wasn’t all the way to the top, but it was pretty close. Gene and I have flown with less before. Instead of risking another ridiculous wait for fuel, I decided it was full enough for my 1-ish hour flight. I would guess it was short just a couple gallons.

I spent a few minutes checking over the sectional again to determine actual distances to landmarks. Gene had told me the distance to the 3M plant was 6 miles, so I just believed him. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to actually measure it on the chart and see for myself. I noticed it was a lot more to the north than I had pictured in my mind, but it was about 5-6 miles from the airport. Since the Sanford runway is oriented 30°/220°, I have to remember that perpendicular is northwest/southeast, not west/east. When I’m looking at the runway from the sky, I’ve had a tendency to think of it as exactly north/south, which then makes me err in what I think my direction from the airport is.

Taxi and takeoff were uneventful. I headed out to Siler City again, but stopped half way to practice a couple steep turns. They went okay, but I lost a bit more altitude than I should’ve. I need to work on those more and get a better sense of the correct horizon view and rely less on the instruments than I have been. Visual flying really does work out best when you make it visual. I also threw in a couple stalls. One was pretty uncoordinated, which caused a steep bank to the right, but recovery was smooth as in the past. Those uncoordinated stalls still make my stomach just a little uneasy.

Visibility was as good as it gets. I could see well past Greensboro to some mountains, though I don’t know which ones. I can think of only one other lesson where the visibility was this good. What an amazing site.

As I approached Siler City, I called UNICOM and got runway 4 and nobody else in the pattern. I entered the pattern via a midfield crosswind. That is, at pattern altitude, I just crossed perpendicular over the runway (closer to the departure end) and turned left to enter downwind. I did three touch and goes and decided to do a stop and go as well (where I stopped on the runway after touchdown, vs. just slowing down before taking off again). I had similar problems as last time with the gusty wind, but it didn’t seem to bother me as much. I found that extending my downwind a little more than usual helped my altitude problem on final. At least two of the four approaches were right on target and very stable as I crossed the threshold. I’ve read (and discovered) that the key to a great landing is a stable approach.

On my last downwind leg, I hit a major pocket of unstable air and the plane dropped quickly enough for me to go weightless for a second. I think my heart skipped a beat too, but it was over so quickly that I just kept going as usual.

On my last landing, I called that I was heading out to the east after this touch and go and I got a “nice to have you; come back” from UNICOM. I thanked them and headed back to Sanford. It was such a nice day that I decided to just fly over Siler City and along Hwy 64 to enjoy the scenery. And enjoy I did. It wasn’t like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, or anything like that, but seeing the open country spattered with fields, roads, little cities and everyday life from 3,000 feet is a sight I won’t forget.

As I approached Pittsboro, another plane called that he was over the 3M plant heading northwest at my altitude. I switched from really enjoying the flight to a bit nervous because I couldn’t see him and I knew he was headed to where I was headed. I called my position and heading: 3 miles west of Pittsboro, eastbound. He called back and asked for it again. I guess because he knew it was near, but not exactly how near. I informed him that I was inbound for landing at Sanford and asked if I wanted to fly south of the 3M plant to avoid his path and be right in line for the airport. I really wanted to fly over Pittsboro and Hwy 64 up to Jordan Lake for a nicer view, but I figured I’d better save that for another time and just get out of the way since I couldn’t see where he was. I told him I’d head south and stay south of the 3M plant, so I did. I never did see him, but those little planes can be hard to see amongst all the ground clutter when they’re miles away.

I didn’t have time for any landing practice at Sanford (except for the final one, that is). My one landing was nice; short enough that I could just back taxi to taxiway E, which saves me a few minutes (and potentially a few dollars) getting back to the ramp.

1.1 hours more puts me at 38.2 total. This was my favorite flight to date. The sky was as clear as it could be, the air was mostly smooth, and I was comfortable enough with what I was doing that I was able to relax and enjoy. I look forward to sharing flights like this with friends and family in the hopefully near future. There’s a lot more to do, though.