The Night Cross Country Flight

After 3 weeks without flying, the night xc flight finally arrives!

Flight route: PAFA-PAML-PACL-PAFA [skyvector.com graphic]
Planned night cross country flight route: PAFA-PAML-PACL-PAFA [skyvector.com graphic]. Ended up doing PAFA-PAML-PANN-PAFA (PANN is in the compass circle near image center) so CFI3 was very sure we’d avoid the restricted area west of PACL.
Ground winds 0kts all day at both destinations. Skies clear. I tried really hard not to get my hopes up because I kept remembering how fast Alaskan weather could change.

Went to the flight school early to do everything as perfectly as possible. As soon as the night winds aloft were posted, I did my wind correction angle calculations; finished the compass heading, groundspeed, time, and fuel calculations. I had prepared weight&balance numbers for the 150 but it’s still down for its 100hr inspection/diagnostic of a hard starting problem. Had to redo my stuff for the 152 last minute because I’d forgotten which plane I was flying.

CFI4’s car broke down as he was driving to the flight school. I was getting ready to go home and continue my long string of waiting, but CFI3 came back from another student’s night flight and agreed to go with me. Cool!

Pre-snow on the ground, the CFIs took care of all fueling – aw isn’t that nice. But now that it’s cold, I’ve noticed them making students fuel more. I have only fueled the plane ~twice so I’m still not completely confident in my ability to correctly complete all steps. In fact…I was filling the left wing in the 152 but didn’t know to look into the tank to know when to stop (I’ve always only been told to hold the handle down for ‘X# of seconds’ because we’ve never needed a full tank). Wasted about half a gallon of 100LL on the tarmac, gah!

Our 152 doesn’t have a GPS, but does have ipad foreflight. It was having problems turning on in the cold – definitely something I should have taken care of before starting the plane and rolling out to the run-up area. I’m now convinced to have an extra charged warm ipad available when flying the 152 – I mean, what is one to do if the first ipad dies? There’s no other in-plane GPS available. Charts are okay in daylight but pilotage is impossible at night… Tonight, CFI3 had his own charged unit as a backup.

CFI3 had me open my flight plan in the run-up area instead of waiting til I was in the air (as I had done for the day xc). I like this better because it was less workload later.

Flying to Manley (PAML) was uneventful except for the fact that I kept drifting off heading. I also let myself be distracted by CFI3 teaching me to use foreflight. He kept asking for information I knew was on my written flight plan – but was more easily/quickly available on foreflight (if one knows where to look! Which I didn’t….). Foggles on, although they didn’t really make a difference in my vision – route had absolutely no lights anywhere. Moon wasn’t up yet and there was no aurora. Lovely darkness. I was surprised that I never felt any disorientation in the air tonight (even though I couldn’t see anything but the instruments and that darn sloped dashboard).

It took me longer than I liked to set up a good stabilized approach for landing at PAML. Runway was in true darkness – unlike at PAFA. No PAPI (this was a first). Much harder than my previous night landings. CFI3 had to help with the moderate crosswinds down to pattern altitude. Landing itself was fine but I freaked CFI3 out when I went to do the ‘go’ part of what I thought was a touch-and-go. There are mountains at the end of my runway – I had misunderstood his earlier instruction to taxi to the end and turn around. Trying to quickly correct my mistake, I forgot that you do not use the wheel brakes on an icy runway. Supposed to do aerodynamic braking by pulling back on the yoke. Minor sliding, exasperated CFI3 who was disappointed I didn’t already have all the basic winter flying tips in mind. Sorry!

In our short time on the ground, we were visible on the airport weather cams (we were monitored from the flight school), neat 🙂

Takeoff good, focus went immediately to the attitude indicator when airborne, as it should  have been. Foggles on. CFI3 turned off my ipad and told me to divert to Nenana (PANN) instead of flying to Clear (PACL). I had the correct VOR frequency ready to go from my flight plan notes, but then I messed the steps up. First, I put the VOR frequency in the COM radio instead of NAV. Then I forgot how to tell if you were receiving the station (hear morse code/TWEB broadcast) and how to tell which radial you are on (just center the needle!). Ugg at myself! I knew this stuff. I’ve done it before. I wasn’t expecting to need VOR knowledge tonight (PAML and PACL don’t have VORs), but that is no excuse.

Light turbulence was minorly distracting.

Position report/update flight plan with FSS: I’d written an RCO frequency on my flight plan but it was wrong. Darn it. Then my mind blanked on how to find an usable frequency on the sectional. It’s in a large box Christina, sheesh….

Overshot my intended altitude by 1200ft because distracted by VOR stuff. Problems maintaining correct heading continued, kept ending up 400ft high (slightly ‘off’ trim settings on my part). I’d forgotten to look up this leg’s cruise tachometer vs altitude settings from the 152’s POH, which was just embarrassing.

PANN landing: pretty nice. Used wheel brakes again (ah, what is wrong with me?). Takeoff fine but I didn’t focus on the attitude indicator as immediately after takeoff as I should have.

Mumbled a little when contacting Fairbanks Approach. Ooops.

PAFA landing: straight in final. Started too low, then went way too high, then was way too fast (80kts, oops), then too low, ah! But actual touchdown surprisingly good, straight & centered.

My GPS groundtrack is pretty lousy – not straight lines between destinations. Man…

SPOT personal GPS track of my night xc flight
SPOT personal GPS track of my night xc flight

We returned 45 minutes later than my initial calculations. We used 6 more gallons of fuel than I’d calculated (not insignificant!). Fortunately, we still had an extra hour of fuel left (even though we were late). CFI3 pointed out that my flight plan had not included any taxiing/stopping time for any of the airports. D’oh. My planned trip with CFI4 had no extended stops, no stop and goes – unlike what I did tonight with CFI3. I should have built in taxi time anyways and I take full responsibility for that mistake (but I choose to be in a pretty bad mood because of it. I hate being wrong).

Overall, I’m not too impressed with my performance tonight. CFI3 has got to just think I’m an idiot.

—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—

Things to work on:

  • Study the terrain more before xc flights. I knew the general features, but CFI3 asked for specific peak terrain heights – which I had to search for. I should have known these.
  • Leaning the mixture: I still don’t see the minor rise in RPMs I’m looking for…
  • Landing: take the initiative in using flaps instead of waiting for CFI prompting.
  • Visualizing the correct runway shape when landing without a glide slope indicator: my night hours are now done so I will only get to practice this in daytime.
  • Bring a headlamp to all flights. Dual night hours could still happen if I schedule flights ‘late’ in the day. In the 150, we’ve only used the red dome light. Tonight, both CFI3 and I had red headlamps on.  It was nice to get light wherever I looked.
  • Taxiing: I think I’m centered but I’m really too far to the left.
  • Taxiing: slooow down [when there’s ice].
  • I’ve finally figured out how to use a radio system with more than one radio. The 150 only has 1 so I’ve never had to deal with selecting transmit 1/2, phone 1/2. The 152’s speaker option is disconnected – simplifies my options even more. Since only fly the 152 if absolutely necessary, it will be a challenge to retain this new knowledge.

—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—

 On the leg to PAML, CFI3 asked if I realized how close I probably came to dying on Saturday’s flight. Dark question. I  said maybe and asked him to explain: Firstly, icing could have been a lot worse. ‘It was a stupid decision to fly through a cloud in winter in a plane without de-icing capabilities (moisture + freezing temperatures = bad)’. Mistake: not constantly asking for updated weather throughout the flight (ex. the freezing rain at Galena shouldn’t have been a surprise we discovered at PAUN FBO). Flying through the clouds on the way back to PAFA: risked icing again with no good (close) diversion airports on the remote west coast; should have overnighted in Unalakleet.

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