Took my medical cert to the airport so they could copy and file it. Knew I wasn't going to get to solo, because despite it being in the high 80s and clear skies with high puffy clouds, the winds were around 15 knots gusting to 20-23, partially across the active. Yeah, not the best conditions for first solo flight. So my CFI said "Okay, let's do another airport tour, but this time let's go to ORE instead of BAF."
Collected my wits, took some notes on comm frequencies and runways and field heights for 0B5 and ORE, and then called for a weather brief. This time, I spoke too fast for my briefer, which caused us both some hilarity. "I know yer a little nervous, you said you were a student pilot, but you just had coffee, dintcha?"
Yeah, I had.
So I calmed down and he got me briefed. High pressure front moving past us to the east, so clear and hot, but relatively strong winds in the region. Some were reporting changeable. Also a general advisory for moderate turbulence below 8000 MSL (and since we wouldn't be getting above 3000, that meant us). Thanked the briefer and rang off, then went and rebriefed my CFI, including some NOTAMs on military ROAs in use (east of our eastmost point) and a couple VOR/VORTACs that were offline (including Barnes) - the briefer said "Yeah, everybody's using GPS, the land-based navaids are starting to slide..." Also a NOTAM on a bunch of lights inop at 0B5, which wouldn't matter except it included the PAPI. Oh well. These are VFR landings for a reason.
So went and preflighted the airplane. The doors had been left open (thank you, unnamed benefactor) so the cabin wasn't a complete oven despite it being 89 degrees and bright sun. There were 15 gallons in each wing, and 6 quarts of oil, so we adjudged ourselves good to go. The winds (I knew from the briefing *and* the windsock) were out of 310 at around 15 knots - and since the runway at 7B2 is 14/32, 32 was perfect. Taxiied out to do the runup and had a hilarious conversation with my CFI about how whenever you get on YouTube to look at 'pilot stuff' it starts out with you watching jetliner cockpit ops, then you start watching 'CRAZY CROSSWIND LANDINGS' and then, inevitably, you start watching accident footage, especially in-flight footage. He laughed and said "I know, I know! You *always* end up watching that stuff!"
We talked about a clip of a Cessna L-19 going into the trees somewhere out west that we'd both seen - apparently the flight was for the forestry service, so they were flying low on purpose, and the valley floor was rising slowly and they got above 10000 MSL while still being only a few hundred feet off the trees. The airplane gets noticeably mushy, and the pilot tries to turn around - but he turns right, which is uphill (he's flying across a slope) and as he comes all the way around he stalls due to the bank. He tries to recover, but three times he stalls and then yanks back on the stick right after recovery - understandable as he's only a hundred feet or so over the treetops! ...and inevitably, he loses it and spins in. The footage is out-the-window video footage that was being taken as part of the forestry survey. Grim. At the last minute the pilot yells to his passenger to hang on to something before the video cuts out.
The footage was found three years later.
Anyway. Did the runup, back-taxied for 32 and departed for 0B5. This was the third time I'd made the trip there, so it was almost automatic - depart, turn right to the north, around 015- "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is departing the pattern to the north Northampton" - and settle the nose near the horizon, maintaining a climb speed of 80 MPH (yes, MPH. This airplane, from 1972, is in MPH which is deeply irritating to those of us taught to fly in knots). It was pretty bumpy - bright sun and hot air means a lot of updrafts, especially over dark fields and parking lots - but the wind wasn't too strong and it wasn't nearly bumpy enough to take the fun out of flying! Looking at the world through a thin Plexiglass windscreen at 3000 feet is just an incredibly liberating experience, especially when you know you can go over there by doing this, or head that way by doing that...freedom. Expensive, bought at a high cost in money and time and responsibility, but heady while you have it. It's sort of like that first time you drive and realize that you aren't stuck at home anymore, and that technically you could go anywhere - at least on your major landmass - if you just kept going.
Announced our approach - "Turner's traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is 5 miles southwest of the field, will be joining a left downwind for 34 Turner's" - Got to Greenfield, MA just west of 0B5. This time, I started my descent to pattern altitude while coming up past the airport, west of it - by the time I made my turn around 135 degrees to the right to join the downwind at a 45 degree angle, I was already at 1400 feet, with my speed down around 100 MPH. I turned right, declared my downwind, and voila - I was in the right place. Almost immediately, as the runway numbers disappeared under the left wing strut, I pulled my power back to 1500 RPM and added carb heat - and remembered to bring the mixture full rich, as we'd leaned it slightly at 3000. Caught my instructor nodding. Made my turn to base, and then turned final - and there was the runway, just where it should be. I was a little fast, but not too bad, and I'd remembered the displaced threshold - and holding 75-80 MPH on final (5-10 MPH reserve in case of wind gusts) we touched down, smoothly and pretty slowly. I let it roll to the end, then turned off onto the taxiway and declared we were clear of the active.
Taxiing back to the middle (the taxiway to the departure end of 34 was closed for work - my CFI says it's been closed for 'a while') we opened the windows. It gets pretty hot in a Cessna cabin when there's bright sun and temps in the high 80s, but with the prop turning, you can get a great breeze through. Backtaxied down the half of the runway the taxiway normally served - there was no traffic in the area - and departed. As we climbed out, with me fighting some mid-range bumps from not only the heat but also the fact that 0B5 is in the middle of some small hills, so any lateral wind creates areas of updrafts, we chatted about where we'd put the airplane if the engine quit. I was pretty adamant I wouldn't be able to make the runway, and that trying to turn, as I'd been taught (including by him!) was death - so the only option was in the lake we were passing over. He agreed, reluctantly. Maybe he doesn't like swimming. A few seconds later, when we were another couple of hundred feet higher, he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed right at what looked like a postage stamp of bright green and said "There's a runway!" I grinned back and shrugged.
One of the other bad Youtube videos (no link, if you really care, you'll find it) is of a Mooney taking off somewhere and losing his engine on climbout. The footage is taken from a full-speed security camera on a building nearby, which has the whole of that area in view. The Mooney pilot tries to turn around and make the runway he just took off from - and this video shows you exactly why this is a bad idea. You're already slow, because you're climbing. The airplane has very little energy. Banking the airplane means you have to pull back on the stick to compensate for lost lift due to bank angle - which means the airplane stalls faster. He gets the plane perhaps ninety degrees around, and you can see the airplane stall and shudder, then flick left to point nose straight down in the start of a spin. He's only a couple of hundred feet up, and he pretty much flies directly into the ground, straight down, right in the center of the camera field of view. The airplane crumples, in the distance, and there's a fireball.
But you know - somehow, it felt right to talk about it, because what happened to him could certainly happen to me, right? Losing an engine can and does happen for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with pilots - even when pilots do everything right. My CFI and I agreed - better to put the plane in the lake (which wouldn't be fun, in a fixed-gear airplane) and take our chances getting out because if we tried to turn around, we'd end up in the lake anyway, but nose first.
We headed just south of east towards ORE. I pointed over to the right - "That's not the Quabbin Reservoir, that's a pond, right? What is that?"
"Oh yeah - that's a power station. See how the pond is on top of the hill? Yeah, weird, right? They pump water uphill overnight, at slack time, and then run it down through hydroelectrics to handle peak demand during the day. Yeah, the reservoir...you see it now?"
I did, out past the pond. That meant... "So that's the airport right ahead of us?"
He laughed. "Sure is. Which runway are you gonna use?"
Thought about it. "Well, they have 01/19...that's the longer one..."
"Where's the wind?"
"Right, it was right near 34 back at 0B5, so I should use 32/14...er, 32. So..." I looked at the gyrocompass "...we're heading in at around 130 now, so I should angle out to the right and join on a left downwind. But I'm..." I looked around; "I'm kinda high, and we're pretty close."
"Yeah. Maybe just turn out to the right, fly a circle around right away from the airport, lose some height. Remember, though, we're in hills here."
Banked right, got on the mic: "Orange traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is southwest of the field, turning to join a left downwind for 32 Orange."
Almost immediately, got back "Orange traffic, Piper 6137 Charlie is on a left downwind for Runway 01 Orange, have the traffic for 32 in sight, will pass below, all clear Orange."
Twisted around looking for him. "I don't see him, do you?" We craned our necks for a bit, then:
"Yep, there he is, he's just passing ahead of us-" (we were almost finished with our loop) "-left to right on that downwind, see him?"
"Got him, got him. *click* Orange traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is starting a long downwind for 32 Orange, have traffic for 01 in sight."
"Orange traffic, Piper 37 Charlie is turning left base for 01, will hold short of 32 to allow inbound traffic to clear, Orange."
01/19 and 32/14 intersect near their northwestern ends, and the taxiway to the terminal/ramp area and to the departure end of 32 is a shared one off the end of 01. I thanked the Piper and continued on, still craning my neck to the right to keep him in view over to my right and below me on base. Turned my head back to the left to check my track with respect to my runway and- "Oh Christ, parachutes!" I was surprised; two skydivers, chutes open, had just drifted down into my field of vision. I startled enough to joggle the yoke, and then had to steady the airplane. I banked away from them instinctively, turning out from my downwind - they were maybe a half mile away, which wasn't in dangerous proximity since they were descending straight down, but they looked closer than anything I'd ever dealt with in terms of non-airplane traffic and it made me nervous.
My instructor waited a few seconds, then said in a plaintive voice "So hey, how do you think your passengers are gonna feel about you shouting 'Oh Christ!' and stopping flying the airplane?"
Hung my head. "Yeah. Yeah. And we were just talking about Pilot Face. Oh man."
"Yep. Don't do that. Please. Heh."
He was right. Stupid stupid stupid. Need to work on Pilot Face(tm). Gave myself a smidgeon of slack for never having shared airspace with parachutes before, and certainly never having dealt with air traffic *and* parachutes and multiple runways before - then realized that nope, I don't get slack, the complexity made Pilot Face(tm) even more necessary, and I'd flunked. Ah well. Learn while you've got an instructor, and don't stop when you don't.
Had to turn base to final pretty quickly - the wind was pushing us away from the runway - and when I got around onto final I thought for a moment I was way too high. Then I remembered that 32 at ORE has a displaced threshold nearly 1300 feet down the runway, and I'd pulled power and put in flaps on the downwind opposite the correct touchdown point - and when I stopped looking at the runway end and started looking at the threshold line and the numbers, yep, I was right on. Flew the airplane down, felt it settle out smoothly, fought two or three gusts near the ground, but...*errk* and we were rolling, slowing. I looked at my CFI as we approached the intersection, and we both looked to our left, but there was no sign of traffic, so we made the right onto 19 and then onto the taxiway and..."Orange traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is clear of 19 *and* clear of 32...now."
As we taxied back, I opened the window again as the temperature started rising. Made it out to the departure end, checked traffic, reset the gyro and checked the altimeter setting, then made the call and departed on 32. On climbout, at around 1200 MSL, I got on the mic again: "Orange traffic, Skyhawk 12732 turning left on climbout and departing the pattern to the southwest Orange." Climbed to three thousand feet again - which didn't look as high, since we were over hills - and checked for traffic. Nothing. The air was a bit bumpy, but not too bad.
"Where are you going?"
Ha, that I could answer. "7B2 is at 225 from ORE, and there's wind from the northeast, so I'm going to angle maybe 240 to compensate and see where that gets me."
Nod. "That works."
Did some sightseeing as we flew back; got my CFI to take a pic of me flying the plane with my iPhone, was relieved when he didn't seem to think this was unusual. Also: "Hey, look at him." I pointed, careful to be nonchalant, at the huge shape out to the south. "How far away is he? That's a C5, right?"
"Yeah, he's low, too, he's doing pattern work at Westover. Probably 15 miles away, I'd say. Maybe 20."
Huge. Those things are huge. It could have been another Cessna maybe 500 feet from me. It was like watching a cruise ship lumber through the sky out there to the south, content in its land of dedicated military operations area and airspace separation.
As we approached the towers at UMass Amherst, I started to descend, but he stopped me, saying it was a bit early. So I continued on and made my call. "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is 5 miles northeast of the field, inbound to join a left crosswind for 32 Northampton."
Almost immediately: "Northampton traffic, Cessna 419 Lima Golf is also around 4 miles east of the field, same intentions."
We started searching again. I couldn't see anything. At that point, someone else called up to announce they intended to overfly the middle of the field at 2500 feet, which we ignored since we intended to be at pattern altitude by the time we got to that area. Another aircraft announced it was departing 32. I still couldn't see anybody, so: "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is now two miles northeast, heading for the Route 9 bridge for a left crosswind 32, still do not have other traffic in sight Northampton."
"Skyhawk 12732, I'm on a crosswind now, turning downwind for 32, pattern altitude, I see you."
Cued by this, I hunted around the cross/down corner, and...ah. "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 has niner Lima Golf in sight, we are entering left crosswind for an extended downwind." As I spoke, I banked out to the right a bit so as to increase the downwind leg we'd need to fly, giving us time to come in behind the Cessna ahead of us. I turned left to come over the fairgrounds onto the downwind - checked my speed and altitude, yep - and listened as the Cessna (now touching down) started talking to Northampton UNICOM about parking spaces. Turned left to base, then realized I was really close to the runway and continued the turn to final, but..."Da-er, hmmm, I'm high." Pulled out more power and added flaps, looked. "No, I'm too high."
"Okay. What do we do?"
Thought about forward slipping, but then shook my head and pushed the throttle in. "I'm going around. *click* Northampton traffic, Skyhwk 12732 is going around for 32 Northampton." Took out carb heat and selected flaps up, and rode the airplane back up the climbout. Turned left, checking landmarks carefully, and brought it back around - and this time, as I turned base, there was the runway over on the left, looking just like it should. "Okay, I was high and fast on final. But I was at the right altitude and speed on downwind so...oh. I was too close in."
"You were. If you'd realized it earlier, you could have pulled out another couple hundred RPM on base or added another ten of flaps on base, and you probably could have made the runway, but once you got onto final, yep, you were too high."
While we were talking, I was gentling the airplane down, and thinking to myself that somehow it really felt different. Watched the runway float closer.
"Yeaaaaahhhh, that's it. No flaring high, just fly it down..."
Oh yeah. It's working. I'm doing it right. Feels...different. But I can feel it in my hands now, somehow - the airplane isn't fighting, it's almost eagerly reaching for the runway, but not *sinking* - it's just, floating down, really. I can feel the wind currents in my fingers on the yoke. I can see the runway rising slowly, and I realize I'm not looking at the near tarmac but at the far end, and somehow that means I've flared maybe 5 feet up. The plane starts to balloon slightly but I hold it down to 5 or 10 feet, and I can feel the airspeed bleeding off the wings; I can feel the whole airplane sigh slightly and then...
...we're down, and it's actually hard to tell a difference until the gear hits a slight hump in the runway and we bump up.
"See? There you go. Fly it all the way down. Nice."
Big stupid grin. But sit on it, sit on it. Pilot Face(tm).