Rough Landings – Second Solo

Yesterday’s ‘soft’ field landings were a bit miserable so CFI4 wanted me to do some pattern work today (2R, right base). It was a nice day for it because I was alone in the pattern and winds were calm.

Cessna 150 - let's go have some fun :)
Cessna 150 – let’s go have some fun 🙂

We did 3 normal landings and I dropped CFI4 off by the fuel pumps. I was feeling really confident because my landings were really stable, straight down the centerline, no ballooning. My turns to final needed work (was both early and late), but I was sure I could fix this by the end of the day.

I was rolling along on the ramp when ground asked me to ‘give way to a small cargo plane exiting at sierra’. Oh shoot, ‘where was runway turnoff sierra?’ I really need to study the PAFA airport diagram more. Fortunately, I knew where the cargo buildings were so I could hang out just short of them.

During my first solo, I noticed that I was a bit of a lighting rod for ‘out of the ordinary’ radio instructions. The streak continues. Even more ‘unusual-ness’ in a moment.

Today I definitely noticed how quickly the plane lifted off the runway without the instructor weight. It was also sadly quiet, no one to have a conversation with, aw. First 2 laps in the pattern were just like my supervised ones, I turned final too early but landed nice and smooth.

Pattern 3: on upwind, I noticed a new thin column of black smoke rising from somewhere across town. As I reached 500ftAGL, tower asked if I saw the smoke. Oh yes, the column had grown noticeably taller and wider. Tower asked if I would go and fly circles around the smoke and try to determine its exact location and cause.

North Pole cement plant fire []
It’s human nature to be curious and a bit nosy – I really wanted to say yes, but let’s face it, I still get lost sometimes when I drive around Fairbanks (poor spatial awareness, oops)…and I’m still having that trouble recognizing runways against terrain. It would be a terrible idea to send me anywhere away from the airport.

I just gave tower a “no, 4-romeo-echo”. I think that surprised the controller because he asked again, explaining that it was really close and that’d he be able to clear me to land quickly when I returned to the airport (uh, was there another option to keep me in the air all day? Fairbanks International isn’t exactly busy on a Monday morning). I replied that ‘I would rather not’. ATC was persistent and asked me a third time to check things out. This routine was really flustering – I finally told him I was a student pilot practicing solo landings. Was finally cleared for the option but I had been distracted to the point where I was 200ft above pattern altitude. Darn it. Touched down a bit nose flat, slightly sideways. Arrr. After this, tower started calling all my crosswind, downwind, and base turn in the pattern for the rest of my flight (ugg, patronizing! I do know those flying basics! Ironically, he said nothing about turns to final – and I never fixed those problems today). Deep breaths.

Tower had asked an inbound small plane to divert and take a look at the now billowing black smoke (again promising a quick landing when he got back to airport). Pilot reported the fire location near Badger Road (at North Pole, a town 30 minutes [by car] south of Fairbanks), that fire trucks were on the scene [], and that he was already heading back to the airport. I had just taken off again and tower told me that I was cleared for a left crosswind turn.

Um, say again, what? Runway 2R does all right turns….I had to confirm with him twice that he was asking me to fly left over the parallel runway and airport. Maybe I’m really glad that doesn’t currently archive tower recordings because I know my voice went up a couple of octaves during this ‘conversation.’ It’s times like these that I really wish my flight school had an extra radio for me to carry in the plane for solo pattern work. I would have enjoyed the expertise and firm hand of someone who knew what they were doing. Well, CFI4 and CFI2 were both listening to everything on the handheld unit, and I suppose if I were really in trouble, they could just use that to talk to me (small hand held units are the only plane radios for some of the bush pilots delivering cargo to Alaskan villages….if it’s good enough for them…. [they always sound ridiculously static-y and I’m surprised anyone can hear anything they say)].

Got to fly all the way over commercial terminal (and the parallel runway that huge jets use, eek!). I had no idea where to fly my downwind leg though. Over the runway seemed like a terrible idea, so I set up on a regular left base downwind on 2L. We were all waiting for the above mentioned “spotter plane” to land on 2R – he would get to land before me. The thought: ‘What the heck do I do once I get abeam  the end of 2R’ popped into my head….Silence on the airwaves so I started my normal descent, carburetor heat, throttle back (no flaps). I extended downwind a bit and was cleared to turn base. Oh thank goodness (silence makes me nervous).

I’d been working on nailing the turn to final all day, so I was really proud that I rolled out nicely lined up, PAPIs only slightly low. Then I noticed the ALSF  below me (High Intensity Approach Lighting System With Sequenced Flashing Lights). Crap. Oh no, oh no, oh no. I was lined up on the wrong runway (2L). I was cleared for 2R which had no fancy lights. Begin long diagonal path to 2R. Nothing from tower about my gaff and thankfully I realized my mistake high enough above the ground.

For the non-pilots in the crowd, an ALSF in action is seen at 0:11 in this youtube video:

    Picture of ALSF (to a pilot, the white ball of light will move towards the runway) []
Picture of ALSF (to a pilot, the white ball of light will move towards the runway) []
It was another non-straight landing, nose flat, but I told myself I had an excuse. Almost landing on the wrong runway really freaked me out. ‘Let me try it one more time’ I thought.

This one was way off to the left of center and I couldn’t keep the wings level. Got it stable just before flare, but it was nose flat, slightly crooked, and I definitely scared myself. Another deep breath and I impulsively pushed full throttle again. I just needed to relax and I’d be fine….right? No, one more flat, uncentered, crooked landing, and I was done for the day. Tired of tower calling all the turns that I know; tired of missing centerline when I had done it fine just an hour ago, tired of not touching down straight, tired of landing nose flat when I know better! I’m so disappointed in myself.

I’m not sure how many of my ugly landings CFI4 and CFI2 watched from the flight school, but I take comfort in the fact that CFI2 told me I handled tower’s ‘unusual’ requests just as I should have. Small comfort.

Fairbanks skies in winter afternoons are tricky. This is 2pm - I thought it was ~430pm.
Judging time in Fairbanks winter afternoons is tricky. This is 2pm – I thought it was ~430pm.

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