My First Cross Country Flight – Nenana & Minto, Alaska

Fairbanks sunrise
Fairbanks sunrise

Flight block at 8:30am – so early!!! It’s not a big secret I enjoy waking up ~2pm. But with daylight savings today, Fairbanks sunrise is at 8:40am & sunset at 4:20pm this week; daylight still getting shorter. I need to get used to morning flights because there won’t be time to fly in my afternoons.

I was extra tired because I procrastinated on my ground school homework. Woke up slightly cranky but who could stay grumpy when one gets to fly a plane?


Last lesson (Friday), CFI2 told CFI4 that I was to do my first cross country flight today (Sunday) – sounded awesome to me before I realized that meant I had to read 3 huge sections in the Jeppesen online ground school (‘aircraft performance’, ‘navigation’, and ‘flying cross country’). I thought I’d have plenty of time. Out of the blue, I got a text message from the school at 5pm on Saturday (they track student progress online and had noticed I hadn’t done anything, oops). I had run into delays all day in changing the all-season tires on my car to snow tires. I have two sets of rims, one for winter, one for summer – so it is a fairly straight-forward process: jack up the car, loosen some lugnuts, swap tires. However, you remember from my last post that Fairbanks now has snow all over the ground… I spent all morning waiting for the people who store my tires to wake up and unlock the storage closet (no tires are allowed in the dormitory where I live) – then I had to wait for my friend with a garage (snow free floors, yay) to wake up. Tire change took me 2 hours because I’m an automobile inexperienced girly-girl sometimes (but I managed it without any help!). Ugg, it was 6pm, where did my day go?

I was considering canceling my flight, but being a huge asian stereotype, I stubbornly refused to let a mountain of homework hold me back. 10 hours of work later, I had scratched the surface of: reading all types of performance charts in POHs, mechanical flight computers, computing plane weight and balance, VOR navigation, pilotage & dead reckoning, GPS, navigation, ADF navigation. My head was swimming, and I really wished I had completed a ground school before actually starting to fly. There’s no way I learned everything in the lessons, will need to go through it all again.


Skyvector graphic: PAFA-PAN-51Z-PAFA graphic: PAFA-PANN-51Z-PAFA

CFI4 picked our cross country route: Fairbanks (PAFA), Nenana (PANN), Minto (51Z), Fairbanks. First we worked through the steps  of filling out a VFR navigation log. The calculations using a mechanical flight computer seem so foreign right now, but I have to admit, it was really cool to be able to do all the heading corrections and speed, enroute time, and fuel burn calculations with just a metal sliding circle. [BTW fellow pilots, do I really need to buy my own?]

In filing my first flight plan with the local Flight Service Station (FSS), we discovered that my Georgia area code cell phone won’t connect to any FSS via the normal 1-800 number because I’m on Alaskan cell towers. At least the local number is fine.

Preflight: when lowering the final 10° of flaps on the 150, the gear mechanism made the plane shudder. CFI4 said it was just because the plane was cold (this will probably continue to happen all winter). I didn’t notice anything when using flaps in the air.

PAFA taxiway lines had been partially scraped clean of snow, but it was really impressive to see the entire run-up area completely dry and snow-free. De-icing liquid is really something.

After getting set up on course and opening my flight plan, CFI4 pulled out the foggles:

Foggles - lets you see your flight instruments but not out the windows
Foggles – lets you see your flight instruments but not out the windows

Aw, my first real flight out of PAFA and I wouldn’t be able to see anything.

I discovered that my equilibrium is way off. I forgot to watch the attitude indicator at first and I thought ‘level’ flight was a 25° bank to the left. Corrections were made and actual level flight was maintained, but I felt like I was in a 30° turn on the entire trip to Nenana (~24 minutes). This makes me nervous for when I do my instrument rating.

Comparing foggle use with experiences under the hood: I don’t know if I have a favorite. The ‘leans’ were more pronounced when using foggles but that could be a physiological effect independent of the type of view-limiter used.

In additional to foggles, my PAFA-PANN leg also coincided with my first use of the plane’s VOR receiver. It’s a simple enough premise to keep the line vertical, but I’m not sure I’ll like it for actual long distance navigation on my own.

CFI4 surprised me by letting me take pictures throughout my flight, awesome! I’m a little envious at how stable the plane felt when he had the flight controls (light turbulence today).

Here is Nenana. The town is on the right of the picture, just beyond the ridge. The runway is all the way on the left. In driving through Nenana, I always thought the airstrip was way closer to all the buildings.

Nenana, Alaska. The ice in the river (bottom right) is really cool looking.
Nenana Airport, straight ahead. I didn’t realize there were 3 runways before today. Only 1 on the sectional chart…

This was my first landing at an uncontrolled airport and I definitely forgot to self announce my base and final legs. I believe ASOS reported a 14 knot crosswind, gusting to 20? This touch-and-go was somewhat terrifying. I forgot that you turn the ailerons all the way into the wind as the main wheels touch. Thank goodness for the competent instructor in the plane (whew, we didn’t flip).

Next stop: Minto. Minto Flats was so pretty with the hundreds of iced lakes/ponds. As we headed to the runway, I had to use the flight computer to calculate our speed, compare to the GPS values. It’s so weird to be able to take your eyes off the outside of the plane for a relatively ‘extended’ period (unlike driving a car :D).

The entire town of Minto, Alaska
The entire town of Minto, Alaska, ~11am. Picture taken as we left; CFI4 was suddenly reminded that I wanted pictures of my flights and took the controls to do some really wild steep turns. Fun.

Minto runway was 2 inches of packed snow on top of gravel. It was built up from ground level with a lot of gravel….but it just made the runway look like it rose up out of the ground for no reason (cool). Runway lights were pilot controlled. I tried to key it for the highest intensity, but apparently I can’t count to 7. I kept doing 9 because I lost count (so we got no lights, bleh).

The winds were initially straight down the runway, but I got a strong crosswind as I flared. Again, I forgot full ailerons as we touched down. My soft field landing attitude was way too level so CFI4 made me do it again. Same mistakes, ahh! (but slightly less severe). Both were straight, but not down the center. I again forgot to self announce base and final.

Minto, Alaska
All the buildings in Minto, Alaska

On the way back, I picked an altitude of 5500ft (the highest I’ve ever piloted so far).  It was high so we could clear Murphy Dome:

Murphy Dome
Murphy Dome; the weather instruments can kind of be seen in the picture.

I still can’t find Fairbanks from the air. How can I miss it? It’s right on the Tanana River, sigh. I can’t wait ’til I’m good at recognizing things from the air. 😀

Fairbanks from the northwest – city is beyond the deep brown hills in the middle of the picture.


Things to work on:

  • Correct trim. I’ve noticed that the 150 is touchier to correctly trim when compared to the 152. My altitude was constantly +/- 100ft of what I wanted.
  • Landings: I had too much power in as I flared all 4 times; used up too much runway. My last landing was so pretty until I forgot to pull the power to idle (still ballooning too).
  • Remember to self announce all pattern legs at uncontrolled airports

6 thoughts on “My First Cross Country Flight – Nenana & Minto, Alaska

  1. Hi Christina, I saw you signed up to follow my blog, so here I am checking out yours. Very cool! BTW, a good buddy who was once my own flight student heads up the UAF Arctic Research Center, so if by chance you run into Larry Hinzman please say hey for me. Keep kickin’ on your flying, and I look forward to following your continuing adventures!


    1. Hi Greg, love the student pilot pep talk section in your blog 🙂
      It seems like it is really easy to run into fellow pilots in Fairbanks – maybe I’ll see Larry around 😀


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