Today I got to do the same route I flew yesterday, only solo. Woohoo! Got to the airport to find that indeed nobody had flown 12732 since I had parked it yesterday. Got a weather brief - and when I gave him my route, the briefer said "Didn't you fly this yesterday?" Heh. Reassured him that yep, I had, but today I got to go solo. "Oh, nice! Okay, well, not much different to report..." but because WXBRIEF is thorough, he went through everything anyway. The only piece of information that really affected my flight planning was that the VORTAC at Barnes was still INOP for the entire day.
Preflighted, found I had 21 gallons of fuel (hm, yesterday I had 29 at preflight, so that means I burned 8 gallons making this trip...nope, don't need to gas the plane) and that 12732 was pretty much just as I'd left her. Untied her and started her up, got a radio check (still slightly static hashed on the pilot's mic switch, but working) and taxied out to One Four. There was a helicopter on short final as I pulled up to do my run-up (State Police training, looked like, flying a runway approach). Flight controls free and correct, throttle to 1700, oil pressure and temp green, vacuum green, fuel gauges correct; check left/right magnetos, check carb heat, OK, throttle back down. Radios on and set, transponder to VFR (1200) and 'ALT', set heading indicator, set artificial horizon, set altimeter to 30.07 as indicated by WXBRIEF - yep, field altitude. The helo was gone by this point, wandering off to the southwest along the river as only helos can and the next traffic was on a downwind, so I departed, turned crosswind and then departed to the north, climbing to 3000.
Noticed that the engine was kicking a little. Nothing bad, but every once in a while (every 6-10 secs) there would be a slight hesitation that was reflected in the RPMs dropping maybe 50-80 before returning. I tried various power settings, and it was consistent across all except full climb power. Decided to keep an eye on it and if it got worse, go to ground at Turner's and call home. By the time I got to Turner's Falls, it was steadying out a bit, although still noticeable; but as I turned crosswind for One Six I stopped thinking about it. By the time I was on downwind and had the power back down, it wasn't really detectable as 12732 tends to run rough at idle and bounce around a bit. Landed at Turner's, this time prepared for the crosswind that seemed to exist only at the airfield surface; taxied back, departed back towards Northampton.
Crossed 7B2 midfield at around 3000 feet, and this time made my call to Westfield tower in good time - had used COM1 to get ATIS (information X-Ray) and the freq was pretty quiet. I was immediately routed back to Three Three again and told to report on right base, so I angled east over the ridge, keeping a careful eye on the antennas sticking up at the top. Just to be sure, I checked my sectional, and decided that 1800 feet would clear them by 1000 feet as appropriate, and made it so. Westfield had me following a Seneca to Three Three; didn't find him until he was turning final, but Westfield tower assured me he was much faster and I'd be fine, so I trusted them. Coming onto right base I had to recross the ridge, which meant I finally realized why I had been high and hot coming into Three Three - that damn ridge sits under the approach, so you have to hold your altitude a bit longer than normal and turn final still high. I think folks used to Barnes extend their downwind out to compensate; I'll remember that next time. Landed on Three Three (solid landing, no bounce, firm but not too hard) and again had a back-and-forth about my ground intentions. The controller offered advice that the phrase I wanted was 'full stop and taxi back' as opposed to requesting a 'full stop' - that way, he said, they knew I wanted to exit the runway but be routed back to the departure end. Thanked the tower and was cleared to depart Three Three and turn to zero four five, altitude my discretion.
On the climbout, the tower was talking to somebody I couldn't hear, keeping them apprised of my position and heading. Finally, he asked them to make a 'midfield break' and advised me "Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, traffic on approach is an F-15, he will pass you two thousand feet above southbound before descending into the patterm." Really? Nice! Craned my neck looking, and...yep, there he was.
"Westfield tower, have F-15 traffic in sight, thank you, Seven Three Two." Hot damn. Watched the sharklike thing slide lazily over my airplane, headed for home.
As I entered a left crosswind for One Four at 7B2, a V-tail Bonanza took the runway and asked me to tell him when I passed centerline. Acknowledged, and reported crossing the runway line; he confirmed he had me in sight, and departed. I flew around the pattern and brought it in to One Four...and bounced. Damn it. Not sure what's going on; maybe I need to do more pattern work. Thought about it and realized I'd been relying really heavily on timing and landmarks during my pattern work the past couple of days, rather than looking at the runway when I turned base, and resolved to remember to check my angle onto the active when turning base next time.
So that was that. Parked and done. Three airports, 60 miles, short short hop but...hey, I went places!