My First Cross-Country Flight

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Planning

This was to be my first “official” cross-country flight!

We had gone over cross-country planning in ground school the previous week, where we planned a cross-country to Groton/New London, Connecticut (GON). It involves a bit more than planning your weekend drive to the beach. We have to:

  • Plan a route between the airports, picking along the way prominent visual landmarks every 15-20 miles or so.
  • Measure, on an aviation chart, the distance and true heading between each of the checkpoints.
  • Calculate, based on the airplane’s operating handbook, the takeoff distance, climb rate/time/distance to cruising altitude, cruise performance, fuel burn rate, range and endurance based on how much gas we have, and landing distance.

My homework for the weekend was to plan the return flight (GON-FRG) for practice. Then, on the day of our actual flight, I would plan everything again, this time with the current winds and weather accounted for.

When the day came, it took a bit longer than I had planned to plan (a lack of plan planning!), so I ended up finishing some of the calculations on the train out to the airport. I must’ve looked silly, frantically punching numbers into my E6B flight calculator. It felt exactly the same as finishing homework on the school bus at 7 AM, which is an experience I haven’t had in 15 years. Sloppy handwriting and all, thanks to the lurching train car.

The Flight

I finished it on time, we reviewed my numbers quickly in the office, and headed out for pre-flight. The person who flew before us didn’t top off the tanks after their flight (RUDE!), but thanks to my handy-dandy calculations we knew we had enough fuel to get us to GON. Off we went and roared up to 5,500 feet. Well, with as much roar as a 152 can make. Maybe more like a buzz. Regardless, when we started nailing headings and checkpoints and time estimates, I found I was spot on with my planning! It was a real surprise that all of these esoteric numbers and formulae worked as advertised in the real world. I felt pretty darn proud my myself.


What am I talking about here? Well, I was a little surprised to find how difficult it was to navigate an airplane. You would think you could look at a map, draw a line from place to place, use a plotter to determine the heading, and off you go, right? Ex) BDR is northeast of FRG, so I fly a 45 degree heading, and BOOM, I’m there.

WRONG. First of all, winds aloft have an enormous impact on which way you need to point the nose of the airplane to fly a certain heading. Secondly, true north and magnetic north have a fourteen degree difference in the NY/CT area. Our directional instrument is set in reference to the compass in the airplane, so it is always 14 degrees off from what the map says. And each individual airplane has various electrical components that cause the compass to be off by a degree or three.


So with all of these interacting elements, plus the fact that the winds aloft forecast was just that, a forecast, I thought there was no way my calculations would be anything more than roughly correct. But, to my surprise, I put the compass needle on the number I had calculated, and right there off my nose is the next checkpoint. And the next one, and the next one. I don’t think I’ve smiled so much in an airplane since my first lesson.

Geography

So we were on our way! To…Connecticut! Which felt about like…this:

The funny thing about flying in the region around NYC is that I have no knowledge of it at all. Because we live in the city, with no car, we have fairly limited experience with the region outside of the metro area. We are headed to Bridgeport? Great! What’s there? Uh, an airport?

I’m getting to know taxiways and FBOs better than the actual towns I am flying to, for now at least. I always thought I would do my flight training in Louisiana, since that’s where I lived for 29 of my 33 years. I know Louisiana. And nowadays, I can get you around Manhattan and Brooklyn on the subway with an uncanny level of efficiency. But Connecticut? Been once. Rhode Island? That’s the small one, over there, right?

Cross-Country Destinations

My criteria for choosing a destination are definitely very…specific right now. Definitely nothing a local tourism board would put in their pamphlets:

  • Is it over 50 nautical miles away? Good, it qualifies as a cross-country.
  • Does it have aviation gas available? Good, we like to have the airplane’s tanks topped off while we empty ours.
  • Is it to the north or east? Good, we don’t have to deal with the ENORMOUS NYC CLASS B AIRSPACE.

Because of the HUGE honkin’ Class B area that encompasses JFK, Laguardia, and Newark, it is much easier to head north or east. Anything west or south means either heading over a LOT of water towards central/south New Jersey, or looping north around the Class B to get to northern NJ. We could (and might) do Class B training at some point, but not yet, so we tend to stay away from it just to make things easier. This map below (of a temporary flight restriction area that happened to coincide with the Class B, coupled with my INCREDIBLE PHOTOSHOP SKILLZ), gives you an idea of what a big obstacle it is:

Class-B-Example-wText

At GON

Hence the the decision to go to GON. Plus, it’s almost impossible to get lost on the way. Just follow the north shore of Long Island, and it guides you right to the airport. We headed there, diligently following my checkpoints and calculations, landed, and headed to one of the fixed-base operators (FBO) for some gas.

LandingGON-1

A guy from the FBO heard us on the radio and came running out to marshal us in. My first marshalling! The poor kid looked bored to tears, but I guess at least I gave him something to do for a few minutes. It was worse, though, when we were leaving, and he had to stand out there, waiting in front of our airplane, while we got the engine started and completed all of the checklists. Once we finished, I flashed the landing light at him, he signaled us to turn left onto the taxiway and that was it! Poor guy stood out there for 10 minutes just to do that!

Marshaller-1T

Marshalling

Confession time here: I had to look up marshalling to see how it was spelled. Two L’s or one?!?! But while on the Wikipedia page, I was treated to the official symbology of marshalling signals:

The ones for fixed-wing aircraft (normal airplanes) look normal enough:

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But apparently, if you fly helicopters, your marshaller will be A MEMBER OF RUN DMC:

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THIS GUY IS AMAZING

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PUMP UP THE ROTORS, PUMP THEM UP, KEEP THE PARTY JUMPIN’ ON THE DANCE FLOOR

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I need to start flying helicopters…