Second Solo Cross Country!

My second (and last) solo cross country is done, and was almost a complete success. The plan was to go from Sanford (TTA) to Florence, SC (FLO) to Stanly County (VUJ) and back to Sanford. It was a hot and hazy day, but not really uncomfortable. The haze certainly bothered me more than the heat. Visibility was “greater than 10 miles”, but probably not too much greater; maybe 15 or so.

After a briefing and preflight (no problems this time), I wasted no time in getting into the air. It would be a 222 nautical mile round trip taking over 2 hours and 15 minutes of flight time.

I would be following the Sandhills VOR from Sanford to Florence, a 94nm leg that I estimated would take just over an hour. Following the VOR takes me around the restricted areas and MOAs near Pope AFB and Fort Bragg, not to mention making it easier to navigate than a straight line course. It only adds about 5 miles to the leg. After takeoff on runway 21, I headed southwest toward the Sandhills VOR at 3000 feet. Winds aloft were almost nothing out of the south, so there wasn’t much of a heading correction to worry about. I listened in on the Fayetteville approach frequency to hear what was going on in the area. It was pretty quiet, with the exception of one plane crossing well ahead and above me just before I reached the VOR.

As I approached the VOR, I was looking all over to try to see the thing on the ground. It’s not really necessary; the instruments tell me when I’ve reached it, but I really wanted to see what the thing looked like. I did see it, but I wasn’t able to get a picture of it. From the air, it looked like a big white Mexican sombrero. I changed course and headed south toward Florence.

The checkpoints were easy to see and staying on course was no problem. Approaching the Rockingham area, I came across a speedway and drag strip. I didn’t know until I got back that it was NASCAR’s North Carolina Speedway.

NASCAR North Carolina Speedway
NASCAR’s North Carolina Speedway near Rockingham

Shortly after, it was time to get the ATIS from Florence Approach. Florence is one of those Class D airports that also has approach control, which is normally only found at Class C and B airports. It was a good opportunity to get some approach control experience in a less busy environment. After getting the current ATIS, I knew I would be landing on runway 19, probably straight in from the north. I contacted Florence approach, proclaiming my student pilotness… “Florence Approach, Cessna 89333, student pilot.” They responded and I gave them my location and intentions. I got a squawk code (something like 5232, I believe) and they informed me that they had me on radar.

I proceeded toward the airport, except it started getting more difficult to figure out exactly where I was. The Florence VOR is 5 miles to the northeast of the airport, so I stopped tracking toward it an headed more to the west so I could come in directly north of the field. After several minutes of “maybe that’s it over there… wait, what’s that? Where’s that bend in the river on the chart… no, it goes that way”, I finally spotted the airport. What a relief. I was expecting approach to tell me to contact the tower, since they knew where I was better than I did. I heard another plane announce she had the airport in sight, so I figured I’d do the same. I did and approach told me to contact the tower.

I contacted the tower, again proclaiming my student pilotness, and they cleared me to land straight in on runway 19, as I expected. They asked if it would be a full stop landing and I acknowledged that it would. My approach started a little on the high side, but I was able to get down to the VASI slope quickly and stabilize. The landing was as good as any other. Tower immediately told me to exit to my right and they gave me progressive taxi instructions to Powers Aviation where I would park.

Florence Tower
Tower and Terminal at Florence Airport

The folks at Powers Aviation were very nice. It was a slow day due to the holiday, but they filled up my tanks, we chatted a bit, I hit the restroom and checked my paperwork for the next leg.

N89333 at Powers Aviation
333 at Powers Aviation in Florence

Powers Aviation Hanger
Powers Aviation Hanger in Florence

After a preflight and a few photos, I was ready for the second leg. I contacted the tower and they had me taxi to runway 19. After a short runup, I was cleared to takeoff and turn right to head northwest.

The trip to Stanly County would be 76nm and about 45 minutes in the air. There were no radio navaids to use, but there were loads of good landmarks. The Great Pee Dee River runs east of Florence and all the way up to the Stanly County airport. How convenient. There are also a series of railroads and power lines that made navigating easy, even with the haze. For checkpoints, there are four other airports near the course line; it couldn’t be any easier.

Shortly after takeoff, I was passed on to Florence approach control and while I didn’t legally have to, I stayed on their frequency until they told me I was leaving their radar range (about 30 miles out). They would’ve given me traffic advisories if necessary, but there weren’t any.

Great Pee Dee River
Great Pee Dee River

I made my way up the river enjoying the view as much as possible. I bet it looks even better without the haze. When I came to Lake Tillery, about 12 miles from the airport, I switched to the tower frequency and heard another plane approaching from the east call the tower, but I didn’t hear a response. I waited another minute and made a call myself… once again proclaiming my student pilotness.

After a longer than usual delay, I got a response…

“Student pilot calling the tower… they’re closed today.”

Doh! That’s not what I wanted to hear. I responded with a thank you and proceeded to make self-announcements of my intentions. When a control tower is closed, the airspace goes from whatever class it normally is (Class D in this case) to either Class E or G, so radio communications is done over the tower frequency as though it’s a non-towered airport.

The reason I wasn’t happy to hear that was because I needed one more solo landing at a tower controlled airport to meet the requirements. That means I’ll be making short trip some other day into a towered field… probably Fayetteville.

Taking advantage of the almost zero traffic and no tower, I got a photo of me on downwind.

Downwind 22L at Stanly County
Downwind 22L at Stanly County

My landing on 22L was again as good as any. If you’ll recall, I landed on 22L at Stanly County before. It was with Gene on our night cross country when the control tower was open, but I couldn’t see anything, so this was still new to me.

On the ground, I taxied to a mostly vacant FBO, except for the two guys in the plane that had just landed… the two that informed me of the closed tower.

Stanly County Tower
Stanly County Tower

N89333 at Stanly County
333 at Stanly County

Stanly County FBO
Stanly County FBO

I parked the plane and went into the building to get my stuff together for the next leg. I spent some time chatting with the other pilots about the weather aloft and other small talk. I was running a little behind schedule, so I made my stay as short as possible. After another preflight, I made my way to 22L and headed out.

Climbout 22L at Stanly County
Climbout 22L at Stanly County

Departing Stanly County
Departing Stanly County

Badin Lake & Factory
Badin Lake & Factory

I enjoyed the lake and surrounding terrain as I made my way east. The trip back to Sanford was 52nm and about 25 minutes. The problem with this leg, however, is that there is a bunch of nothing. It’s all countryside, making it difficult to choose and find checkpoints. At night, going the other way, and with much better visibility, Gene and I could figure out the city lights and other airports, but during the day, with the haze and the little towns and airports blending in to the trees, it was a dead reckoning trip all the way. I tried to find my checkpoints, but other than Hwy 220, it was a bust. I was able to use the Liberty VOR and Sandhills VOR to pinpoint an approximate position, so even though I was nervous about not seeing identifiable landmarks, I could tell I was on course.

After 15 minutes of middle of nowhere, I finally spotted the Shearon Harris cooling tower, then the Siler City airport, then the 3M plant. I was home, almost. The approach to Sanford was uneventful. I crossed the runway to land on 21, taxied back, shutdown and breathed a big sigh of relief and satisfaction… and exhaustion.

I had a total of 3.1 hours flight (engine running) time, putting me at 66.1 hours total.