A Lit Bit o’Fun
My first real cross country! I had the day off work anyway, we switched my flying time to the morning, and extended the reservation to 3 hours. My instructor said he wanted us to do one fun cross-country, before I got bogged down in the minutiae of flight planning and checkpoints and winds aloft calculations.He would do any planning and preparation, all I had to do was choose a destination 50-100 miles away. He threw out a few suggestions, but once he said Block Island, I knew that it was perfect. I mean, who wants to go to Poughkeepsie? 😉 The night before I did a bit of review/planning, just to be able to anticipate what exactly we were undertaking. Block Island is an island (SURPRISE!) about 20 miles east of the eastern tip of Long Island. There is one uncontrolled field, meaning it has no control tower, with no gas available, but there is a restaurant on the airfield. Who needs gas when you can have BRUNCH?
I hadn’t put in any aileron correction for the crosswind, and I wasn’t on top of the rudders, and things just got away from me.
The Airport/Facility Directory didn’t mention anything about brunch-related gas (*RIMSHOT*)… We ended up not having time to eat, but we had a great time anyway.
I arrived and we pulled up ForeFlight and quickly went over the plan, which was pretty simple: take off and depart to the southeast, check in with NY Approach to pick up flight following (just like we do at the practice areas), but then pass the south practice area (see ya, suckers!) and keep going down the southern coast of Long Island. We would fly the length of the island, following the southern shore at 7,500 feet. That course would point us directly at Block Island once we passed Montauk at the end of Long Island.
Everything went smoothly as we got up to altitude. This was probably twice as high as I had ever flown before, and my instructor showed me how to adjust the fuel-air mixture in the engine to account for the thinner air. He had mentioned how some people find cross-country flights a little boring after their normal jam-packed lessons. I suppose I can understand that, but I was GOING somewhere for the first time, and I just couldn’t contain my excitement over that. I finally had time to enjoy the view!
It was Friday, and all of NYC and Long Island was headed out to the beach in their cars. We cruised smoothly over the snaking lines of steel-clad frustration, too high to hear the honks and curses. A smile crept across my lips as I realized our privileged position: our rarefied air was defined both through its thinness and its exclusivity.
We had Block Island in sight long before we crossed the end of Long Island and out over the water. For safety’s sake we wanted as much altitude as possible during the water crossing, so we started our descent into Block Island later than we would for another airport. We’ve done forward slips before (I think you recall my enthusiasm for them), but never from this high. It was necessary for our abrupt descent, so I kicked in full right rudder, dipped the left wing, and suddenly had a brand new view. The nose moved out of the way, and I watched Block Island grow larger in the side window instead of the front. Normally the seat below you and and the engine in front mitigates the feeling of supernatural suspension in the air, but the perspective during a forward slip allows a much better view of what is beneath you (nothing), and offers a very effective reminder that you aren’t simply in a very tall car. A forward slip is much louder, too. The wind slapped the side of the airplane and our sleek eagle became an ungainly chicken. The noise signals a useful trade-off, though; our new lack of grace kept the airspeed low while the altimeter spun downward.
The only thing to make you feel better about dangling in the air is to know that dozens of people are doing it with you. Block Island on the Friday before a holiday weekend did not disappoint. We tuned our radios to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, and boy was it crazy, with all sort of transmissions cutting each other off. All of the voices, static, and electronic squealing sounded like the final transmissions from a doomed spaceship in the latest summer blockbuster. While trying to figure out our place in the traffic flow, we realized we were still too high, so I had to break off from my approach to Runway 10 and loop around a bit, allowing us some extra time to lose some extra altitude. After we somehow sorted out what was happening on the radio, and our place in the larger scheme of things, I got ready for my first REAL short field landing, on a 2,500 foot runway.
I got set up pretty early for landing, with 30 degrees of flaps, which is ALL OF THE DEGREES on my Cessna 152. The flaps slowed us down, and I had us coming down almost perfectly on glide slope. There was a fairly stiff crosswind 30 degrees from the left, so I kicked in the requisite amount of rudder and had a pretty solid side slip going. I touched down right where I wanted to on the weird, upsloping runway, but then things got away from me.
I was concentrating so hard on the short field aspect of the landing, I forgot about the crosswind and its effects on the airplane once on the ground. Once we touch down the tail essentially functions as a huge sail on the end of a long lever, catching any existing crosswind and making a pilot’s day very interesting. I touched down, and immediately relaxed (BIG NO NO). We go right, I correct left, we go left, correct right, I started feeling the tires sliding, and the next thing I feel is the rudder pedals moving under my feet. My CFI was helping me out. He is normally extremely hands-off and knows exactly when to step in; well, this was the first time he had to step (literally) in. I really, really appreciated it. I hadn’t put in any aileron correction for the crosswind, and I wasn’t on top of the rudders, and things just got away from me. It feels really good, though, to know that you have an instructor that will let you make mistakes and will only help out when absolutely necessary. I think it’s definitely the best way to learn.
It doesn’t look as extreme in the video as it felt in real life. Also, you can see the problem when you see me trying to steer the plane with the ailerons. It is so hard to kick that deeply-ingrained driving instinct.
We Made It!
We parked 7AD on the grass (does this count as a soft field landing?) with the help of a marshal using a handheld radio, and walked into the terminal building. We were hoping for brunch in the restaurant, but it was an absolute madhouse in there. We were running a bit behind anyway, so we decided to just stretch our legs and get back in the airplane to head home.
And Back Again…
We talked to a guy on final and a guy on downwind to negotiate our departure, and I realized how much teamwork it takes to operate at uncontrolled fields: everyone watches out for themselves and for each other. We lifted off and looped around the north side of the island, where I had a little bit of time to take in the incredible views.
The sapphire-blue waters of the Atlantic were crashing and foaming at the island-edge cliffs; they wanted to be on Block Island as badly as I did. The place looked like a bit of Ireland had snuck across the Atlantic, with verdant fields divided haphazardly with low stone walls. Reluctantly, I turned the nose of the airplane towards Montauk, and we crawled upwards to 6,500 feet to make the water crossing and head back to FRG.