Hop #20

Er, I notice I seem to have missed noding Hop #19. Whoops. I've certainly flown since August 19, 2012 - I think twice, but, um, whatever. HOP 20 THIS IS.

Yesterday I passed my FAA written exam. Today my instructor and I went up for dual instruction time, something we haven't done much of recently as i've been *cough*practicing (um, really just going up to laugh unbelievingly at the fact that they'll let me in an airplane by myself, but don't tell anyone). Today we started working on those things I listed yesterday that we have to get done before I take my check ride. Today we did the three-airport tour again, but this time, my CFI just pretended to be a 'dumb pax' (passenger) and watched me do everything, in order to make sure I can. Things were made easier by the absolutely glorious weather: not a cloud in the sky, winds in the region generally out of the north at between 4 and 7 knots, temperature 78 degrees F. A very slight chop in the air, due to uneven heating from the bright sun, but nothing too serious.

When I drove up to the airport, I noted with some trepidation that N12732 was sitting with her nose in the maintenance hangar. On going inside, the desk clerk waved hello cheerfully and reassured me that the airplane was almost ready. "What's up?" I asked.

"Nothing serious, she's been getting crankier about starting, so he's replacing the plugs."

"Ah, cool." It's true; 732 wasn't the most eager to get going unless the engine was very warm. Although I hadn't ever run the battery low trying to start her, I had on occasion needed two or even three cranks - with priming shots sometimes - to get her going. Using priming would generally result in a deep coughBANG but a reliable start, and then it just took a bit of coddling with the throttle to warm up and burn off the excess avgas. But they'd decided that enough was enough. I headed into the ready room to do some flight planning. My CFI showed up a few minutes later and gave me our route (7B2->0B5->KBAF->7B2, about 60 nautical miles of flying around the neighborhood) and nodded when I said I was going to get a WX brief. The brief was pretty quick because even the briefing service was forced to admit the weather was beautiful, not much to say except that a PIREP from Keene, NH (about 45 statue miles north as the airplane flies) had light but continuous turbulence at 3000. Checking for NOTAMs, though, he found one that mattered - the VORTAC at Barnes (my second landing) was going to be down all day for servicing (as the clerk commented when I told him, "somebody's sweeping the dead mice outta the VOR.") Good to know - I'd been planning to use DME to determine my call-in spot to Barnes, and it would have been a bit confusing being unable to find a signal. Especially since 12732's COM/NAV radios aren't the best - Radio 1 is pretty reliable, but 2 is iffy, and the mic/phones/speak switch panel can be obtuse. I might have lost 5 or more minutes trying to figure out why it wasn't working, which would have been a problem for my cockpit management.

Anyway, we headed out and I preflighted the airplane - all OK, 29 gallons onboard or 3.25 hours flying with 30 min reserve, way longer than we'd need. We were both, for the first time, packing iPads - my instructor finally bought one for himself, and I finally gave in and paid $75 for the subscription required to use the ForeFlight app, and wanted to see how it would do in the airplane. Since the wind was from the north, we backtaxied for Three Two and I took us up into the slightly bouncy air.

"Where're you going?"

"I'm gonna follow I-91 north to Greenfield and loop slightly north of downtown, then come around southeast to join a left downwind for Three Four at Turner's."

He gave me a thumbs-up, and picked up his iPad again. I noted he was tilting it left and right at random. Asked what he was doing.

"Aw, I'm addicted to this stupid game where you fly a frisbee around. But, like, fly it, like piloting." Sounded like in-flight entertainment to me.

A Piper Arrow called on the CTAF and announced he was three miles north of the field at 1,300, maneuvering. My CFI looked over inquiringly. "I'm gonna be overtop of him by at least a thousand feet when I get three miles north." He nodded and went back to his game, but just to be safe, I clicked my mic. "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is at one thousand five hundred and ascending, two miles north of the field, leaving the area to the north."

"Climbing. You're climbing. 'Ascending' might sound like 'descending.'"

"Ah right. Thanks."

Spent ten minutes or so just enjoying the view while scanning for traffic. During that time I dialed Turner's CTAF into the standby freq on COM1 and watched Greenfield grow closer. Looking north into Vermont and New Hampshire I could see Mt. Monadnock, a good fifty or so nautical miles out. Greenfield seemed like it was right under my nose, but I waited a few minutes before starting to descend. Realizing he'd want to know what I was doing, since the ground below us was higher and broken (and there was a slight ridge) I announced "Going to head down to 1400, pattern altitude for Turner's, and go a bit north into Greenfield before turning southeast to join the left downwind." I got a nod and a grunt and more furious iPad waggling from the right seat. Okay then.

I'd announced myself on the Turner's CTAF around ten miles out. As I turned right, now at pattern altitude, traffic announced its departure from Turner's and intent to remain in the pattern. I could see him lifting off the runway as I banked right to join the downwind, and announced. Floated around the pattern and came in...hm, a bit left? Left? A BIT LEFT…booted it back over the centerline, ah there we go, and touched down. The other Cessna in the pattern was announcing he was turning final, so I let it roll to the end - Turner's doesn't have a working taxiway back to the threshold of Three Four, so the only way to get back would be to back-taxi, not something I was going to do with traffic coming in behind me. As we doodled back along the taxiway, the other Cessna floated in. My CFI commented "You know, I honestly think this is the first time - ever - that I've ever seen other traffic at this airport." We laughed and I continued to the hold-short line midfield, checked the pattern, and announced my back-taxi. "Hey, so how were you correcting for that crosswind there, ailerons or rudder?"

"Rudder-oh, sorry, no, ailerons and banking to get back over centerline, rudder to align to the runway at the touchdown."

"Cool."

As I swung around at the end and checked my instruments and did the pre-takeoff checklist he'd drilled into me (fuel selector valve on both, elevator trim to 'Takeoff', flaps *up*, mixture rich, carb heat off, both magnetos) he remarked that I probably could have done that while back-taxiing so as to avoid sitting on the runway before takeoff. Nodded, made mental note, and departed.

Turned left at 1100 feet MSL (700 feet AGL) and announced my intention to depart the area to the southeast. It was bumpier as we left Turner's - a combination of the lake below varying the convective currents and the hilly terrain throwing the wind upwards, but nothing bad. As we hit 3000 feet, I switched freqs and announced that I was re-entering Northampton's traffic area, wincing as my signal buzzed with static in my headset. "This mic switch is getting hosed."

"Yep, I'll put a note in on it."

As we passed Northampton: "Getting a little close, right?"

"Oh yeah." I had been fiddling, trying to get NAV2 to give me ATIS from Barnes, but wasn't having much luck.

"Use COM1. This is getting stupid." My CFI scribbled on the airplane clipboard, noting the comm wackness. I did as he suggested, and shortly: "This is Westfield Tower information Zulu. Runways Zero Two and Three Three in use, VFR operations on Three Three. Zero four zero at seven knots, visibility ten miles. Temperature eighteen, dewpoint eleven. Altimeter three zero zero one. Contact tower on one one eight point niner, advise you have information Zulu..." scribbled some notes and flipped frequencies.

"Westfield tower, Cessna One Two Seven Three Two." Damn, more static in my headset. Also:

"Last call, repeat please, your transmission is hashed."

"Westfield Tower, Cessna One Two Seven Three Two with you nine miles north of the field, inbound for a full stop landing at two thousand five hundred with information Zulu."

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, traffic one mile at your two o'clock is number one for Three Three, right hand traffic; advise when traffic in sight and follow, you're number two for the runway, report turning right base for Three Three."

Craned my neck a bit, didn't see anything, didn't...whoop, there he is, maybe five hundred feet below us and indeed at two o'clock, a light twin-engine. "Westfield tower, following traffic at my two o'clock, understand number two for Three Three, will report right base, I have traffic in sight, Cessna Seven Three Two." My CFI nodded over in my peripheral vision as I pulled power - one mile slant range wasn't enough separation - and added carb heat.

I angled a bit left, heading over the ridge to the east, as the traffic in front of me was clearly angling east. Decided I was still too close, pulled power out nearly to idle and got another silent nod; as I started to sink, added a bit of power and held the nose up. Westfield tower was talking with some other aircraft in the pattern and I was determined not to be a problem for him (look, I've screwed up with controllers before, and 'uh, student pilot' may be a valid please-don't-harm-me but sure isn't a shield against embarassment). Ahead of me, the twin turned right a bit (we were both approaching at an angle, it wasn't a full 90 degree turn) and I heard him report right base for Three Three. I continued downwind for a bit, even angling out left to give him some time. As I saw him approach the runway, I turned right. "Westfield tower, Cessna One Two Seven Three Two is right base for Three Three."

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, you're cleared to land Three Three."

"Cleared to land, Seven Three Two." I looked again and realized - I hadn't started descending early enough. Just then, my CFI chimed in from the right seat.

"Bit high?"

"Yeah." I added in more flaps, then looked, then added in the rest of them. I had all white on the VASI, but I was sinking at a good rate, and the runways at Barnes are huuuuuuuge so it wasn't like I wasn't going to make it, but there were two airplanes waiting at the hold-short for Three Three and no pilot likes to come wandering over the threshold still a couple hundred feet up, obviously floating long, so I threw in a bit of forward slip. Got another nod. Took it out a few hundred yards short of the tarmac, and came over the threshold a dainty fifty feet up and felt my wheels squeak right on the numbers. Sweet.

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, turn left onto Zero Two and make an immediate right onto taxiway A, proceed direct to the ramp."

"Westfield tower, apologies; requesting routing back to the active for a departure to the northeast, Seven Three Two."

"Cessna Seven Three Two, turn left onto Zero Two and left onto taxiway A, hold short of Three Three."

"Westfield tower, turning left onto Zero Two and taxiway A, holding short of Three Three, thank you, Seven Three Two." Did what I said I was doing, and as I made the second left, heard the tower clear someone to depart on Three Three. I concentrated on bumping back along the taxiway and pulled in behind the remaining airplane waiting there. As I came to a stop, I went through the departure checklist - got a nod - set my flight instruments, checked the engine, and waited. We listened.

Westfield tower was asking someone if they had the airport in sight; after a few moments, a sheepish response came back: "Westfield tower, I have an airport in sight..." Whoops.

"Warrior Eight Five Whisky, you're headed directly away from the field. I need you to turn right two seven zero and advise when you have my airport in sight, Westfield tower." Likely he was looking at Westover, then...

We both laughed. "Man, that's been me..."

"Yeah, it's been all of us. But not today!" The airplane in front of us departed, but two were on final and late base, so I waited until the second one was on the ground, my nose now just short of the hold-short line. "Hm, tell him you're ready to depart Three Three."

"Westfield tower, Cessna One Two Seven Three Two is ready to depart Three Three."

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, hold short of Three Three."

"Westfield tower, holding short of Three Three, Seven Three Two."

The tower gave clearance to someone else coming in on Three Three, then: "Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, hold short of Three Three for inbound traffic."

Huh? "Westfield tower-" Staticky damn switch. "-holding short of Three Three, Seven Three Two."

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, I need you to read back for me please. Hold short of Three Three."

My CFI waved at me and hit his mic. "Westfield tower, this is Seven Three Two, right seat - he did read back both times, apologies, we'll get this transmitter looked at."

"One Two Seven Three Two, understood."

"Damn it."

My CFI shrugged. "Not your fault." The inbound traffic floated past our nose.

"Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, you're cleared to depart Three Three. Make your turn to the northeast at eight hundred."

"Cleared to depart Three Three, turning at eight hundred, thank you, seven three two." As I spoke, I put throttle in and swung onto the centerline before smoothly adding in full power. We slid upwards and headed for home.

When I got near 7B2, I angled out to the left (north) a bit, so that I could make a wide right turn and join the left downwind for Three Four. I had descended to pattern altitude (one thousand one hundred) before making my turn somewhere over Smith College. "Hey, the ground's kinda close, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I'm at pattern altitude, but..." I looked out the window- "-the ground's higher out west here, right, right." Added a bit of power and we moved up from around eight hundred AGL back to the full and legal one thousand (actually, I think I could get away with calling Northampton 'not congested' so I was probably OK, but still.) Joined the left downwind, slotting in between someone doing pattern work and another inbound airplane. As I turned left base I added in my second bolus of flap and then said "Hm, bit low...no, okay." Came around onto final, and..."yeah, I'm a bit low." I added some power.

"Careful, because when you get over those corn fields right before Three Two they're just going to suck you in, I don't know why, but you'll sink like crazy there now the corn's higher."

"Right." Added more power. Thought about it, now that I was over the cornfield, and then added in a bunch more power to keep us a bit high as I was indeed lower than I wanted to be. Pulled the power out as we made the grass on approach, but realized "Whoops, I'm slow." Gentled, but we still sank. I didn't add power, because we'd made the runway, but my sink rate was a bit high and we bounced (damn it) and lifted fifteen or twenty feet back up. I blipped just a touch of power and brought the nose back down to ease the sink angle and eased it back onto the runway just as the stall horn went - the second touchdown being nearly perfect. Derp.

"Nice save."

So we taxied back in and put the airplane to bed - one point six hours on the Hobbes, that's...ouch, nearly $190 heehee. "Okay. Give me your logbook, you're clear to do those airports solo so long as the weather's nice."

"Great!"

"Your cockpit management is pretty good. I'm not going to dock you anything because the radios are so whacked out in seven three two, but you should have had the ATIS a bit earlier and been talking to the tower maybe a mile earlier. No foul, though, or he would have spanked you. Okay, you're taking the airplane tomorrow?"

"Yeah, tomorrow morning."

"Can you reach the mic switch on my side if you need to, if it acts up again?"

"Sure, if you're not in the plane."

"Good." And he signed my logbook. Sweet. Now...now, I get to do it all again, but this time with no fallbacks.

Here's hoping I don't embarrass myself with ATC. But if I do, you damn betcha I'll learn.

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