Solo to Fayetteville

Since the Stanly County tower was closed on my last solo cross country, I lacked a full-stop landing at an operating tower controlled airport to meet the requirements. I would be going back to Fayetteville, a Class C airport, since it was close. Raleigh/Durham is a little closer, but it stays busy with a lot of commercial jet activity and Gene said it would be less stressful to go to FAY. Even after only three trips to a towered airport (one with Gene), I feel fairly comfortable dealing with them, so I wasn’t nearly as nervous as before.

My flight was at noon and it was a hot and hazy day. Visibility was 6-7 miles; still VFR, but possibly the worst I’ve experienced. When Gene and I went to FAY, we just hopped in with the chart and Gene’s experience and flew in that direction. Since this time was solo, I figured a plan was in order. I planned it just like I did my cross countries, but with only a single checkpoint: the point where I would make my initial call to Fayetteville Approach. FAY has a VOR on the field, so that made it much easier to navigate in the hazy sky. Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base are good visual checkpoints as well.

I was in 89333 again. Preflight went fine and I was mostly on time. Winds were from the southwest, so I would takeoff on 21. As I reached the departure end, a small Allegro operated by Fantasy Air, located right next to the club, was coming in for a landing. As it touched down, it bounced a couple times and finally settled down; not a smooth landing at all.

Once they took off again, I was ready to go. After reaching 1200 feet I switched to the FAY ATIS frequency and gathered the current information. I would be landing on runway 19, probably straight in given my location. A few miles later, at my first checkpoint, I called FAY approach, including the magic “student pilot” phrase. I was asked for my airplane type, to which I responded a Cessna 152. Florence approach asked me that too, so I should probably start including it in my initial call. It sounded like they also fumbled my tail number as 323 instead of 333, but I wasn’t sure so I left it alone. There was a lot of radio chatter; most of it military activity. Just after approach assigned me a squawk code and I acknowledged, I looked below and saw a large military cargo jet turning for approach into one of the two bases, I wasn’t sure which.

A few minutes later, while drifting east in preparation for a straight in approach to 19, I was passed on to another approach frequency and I reported my altitude. They acknowledged and told me I would be straight in on 19. A few minutes later I spotted the airport (with the help of my VOR set up to track inbound along the runway heading) and was passed on to the tower.

The tower cleared me to land on 19 and I informed them I would be making a full stop, but just taxiing back for departure to Sanford. Then they asked me if I’d informed approach of my intentions. Uh oh, I thought. “Negative”, I answered. I didn’t really know the radio procedure for what I was doing. The tower said “Ok. Then your instructions will be fly runway heading, climb to 2000 feet.” That sounded familiar. Exactly what I was told to do last time, so I suspect that’s standard procedure for departing VFR aircraft. I read back the instructions and proceeded with my approach.

I’m still not real clear on how much information the controllers communicate with each other and who and at what point they would like to know what. I suppose it’s better to tell them a little bit they might need to know and them not need to know it than leave something out that would be helpful. This is the one area in which I feel proper training is lacking. There should be seminars with real controllers and pilots getting together to talk about specific procedures and example scenarios. Every seminar or class I’ve been to has tried to cover the subject in a very broad way and never gets to the specifics on phraseology and when to say what. I’ll have to do some more independent study on the subject as I hate to just “do” stuff without knowing the best way, or at least a way that I know won’t give the controllers a dinner time story.

My landing wasn’t too horrible, but it could’ve been better. As I rolled out, the tower told me to take the next exit to the right and taxi back. I acknowledged and complied. After a short wait for another departing plane, and after getting my numbers together for the return flight, I announced ready and was cleared for takeoff. Just after takeoff, the tower passed me on to approach. I changed frequencies and listened. There was a lot of chatting going on, so I’d have to wait. Before there were any breaks for me call, the controller asked “Is 89333 on frequency?” I acknowledged. He gave me instructions to turn left to a heading of 090 and removed the 2000 feet restriction. I turned and continued to climb. Shortly after, he told me to climb to my requested 3000 feet VFR altitude and continue on course to Sanford.

At this point I set my nav radio for the radial I had determined would take me straight to Sanford, but I was nervous about heading straight over the military airfields so I wanted to stay to the east. That nervousness is really unfounded, now that I think about it. If the controllers didn’t want me doing that, they would tell me so. That would’ve been fine, except I continued to try to use the VOR for navigation, which doesn’t work out. I ended up heading north/northeast longer than I should’ve. Shortly before I realized what was going on (only about 5 minutes has passed), I heard approach call “89333, confirm you’re on course to Sanford”. I paused for a second, obviously a second too long as the controllers made a couple other exchanges with other pilots. When it went silent again, I responded with a smile, “Cessna 333 is working on getting on course to Sanford.” The controller acknowledged with an “Ok”. Within a couple minutes I was back on my planned VOR radial at 3000 feet.

After being passed to another approach frequency, they asked me to confirm my tail number as 89323 or 89333. I said “89333… triple three”. I have a feeling that’s going to be a common problem in this plane.

As soon as I was out of class C airspace, the controller “let me go”, so I squawked 1200 and switched to Sanford’s AWOS frequency to get the current weather. Nothing had changed, and I was on track for a 45 entry into the pattern for runway 21. When I was abeam the numbers, I noticed an Allegro and a car parked in the grass off the right side of the runway, shortly after the threshold. That’s not good. I turned base, and they were still there; I could see a couple of people walking around it. As I turned final, I announced I would be landing long due to the aircraft off to the side. Another aircraft approaching the airport asked for more details, so I responded. I overflew the threshold by at least a couple hundred feet and landed half way down the runway.

As I taxied back, I heard the Allegro announce that they would be pulling a “disabled aircraft” back to the south ramp. About 15 minutes after I parked and went into the club, I saw the disabled aircraft being pulled by a pickup truck pull into the hanger with a blown tire and damaged nose gear, though it looked minimal. I’m almost certain it was the same plane I saw making a bad landing when I departed.

After 1.3 hours, I’m now at 69.3 total time and I’ve completed all of my requirements, with the possible exception of some additional test prep time with Gene. I’ll have at least one more lesson with him to go to Burlington where I’ll take the test so I can get at least a little familiar with the surroundings and practice all the maneuvers. I’m looking forward to it, but the test anxiety is starting to build.