Today was a such a stunning day to fly in the Alaskan Interior!
I somehow managed to schedule my short and long cross-country flights for this week amidst tons of other student bookings, but as I discussed in a previous post, because I did my 2 previous cross-country flights with 2 different instructors, I needed a few more tenths of an hour with either CFI3 or CFI4 before I got the solo cross county endorsement (3 hours minimum needed with one instructor). Even if I had the endorsement though, it has been so long since I’ve had to do cross country stuff (VOR, GPS, E6B, etc), I wanted to do a short dual before I had to do a solo (even though I know it’s not cost effective CFI2).
Alaska has super gusty winds during spring and summer days so windless(ish) flights must be early morning or evening. I got an evening dual cross country with CFI4. We did PAFA-95Z-PACL-PANN-PAFA (Fairbanks – North Pole (Bradley) – Clear – Nenana – Fairbanks). It’s just long enough to qualify as a cross country flight and also gave me lots of practice landing at other airports. I was excited because I didn’t realize there was an airport in North Pole and I had never been close to the Clear (PACL) radome before.
It had been dark, smokey, and windy all day so I was worried about my flight being canceled, but as soon as I got the the airport, the winds got pretty calm and the sun came out. Yay!
In my original flight plan, I’d scheduled 95Z-PANN-PACL but it was obviously shorter to do 95Z-PACL-PANN. It took about an hour to redo the flight plan and then we were off!
95Z is a narrow little 60ft wide dirt strip southwest of North Pole. Funnily enough, the town of North Pole has a latitude slightly south of Fairbanks. It’s where kids’ Christmas letters to Santa go in December 🙂 It was a ridiculously short ~7min, 12nm flight from PAFA – way cooler than the normal 30min car ride. Our TRSA departure had us further south of our route than planned so that gave me more air time to set up (open flight plan, etc). I unfortunately forgot to write the available runways/CTAF frequency on my flight plan worksheet (arrah), so I’m lucky CFI4 knew them by heart. I had just enough time to find it on my sectional & A/FD, but that would have been extremely flustering with so little time to start with.
Even knowing the runway orientations, 95Z was extremely hard for me to pick out amongst the town’s roads. Makes me thankful to fly in Alaska where a lot of runways are in isolated areas. ‘That’s a runway?!?’ Ah, always look for the parked planes.
Gusty crosswinds at 95Z prompted CFI4 to ‘strongly assist’ in my touch-and-go on runway 15: thank goodness – it was scary. And I was constantly being told to think ‘extreme soft field’ on this gravel runway – ahhh stressful. The plane scared a flock of geese east of the runway – I’m glad CFI4 had the controls and flew us to the right of them as they started flying directly over and along the runway. I didn’t even notice they were there at first!
For the first time, I was able to positively identify the Clear Creek Butte – a boundary point of my normal practice area. I’m definitely getting better at finding landmarks from the air – happiness. We did more hood work on the leg to Clear and I didn’t get the ‘leans’ as before – fantastic! Moderate turbulence meant I didn’t have to have a laser focus on the altimeter, just work to keep us level and on heading. Also had to throttle back to keep the plane under the placarded maneuvering speed (104kts for this specific 152) to avoid undue stresses. Played around with triangulation via both the Fairbanks and Nenana VORs, and then it was time to descend.
PACL was relatively easy to pick out because the radome (golf ball looking white dome) was very visible amongst the lush verdant landscape. It was so gorgeous today – I really wish I had asked to get a picture. Winds were calmer than at 95Z, but still had gusty crosswinds. I couldn’t find the windsock, but a nearby septic pond confirmed that I could use Nenana ASOS winds and do L traffic for 19. PACL is tricky because of a restricted area immediately west of the airport – therefore, the runway inspection was mostly straight over the runway instead of a healthy distance off to the (R)side.
The antenna east of the runway seemed too close for comfort on downwind – but I’m still bad at judging distances. I think I maybe should have gotten closer to it because my base leg was too short for me to do a sharp rectangular pattern. I still made it, but it definitely would have been a go-around if I was by myself. Onward to the next runway.
PANN’s runway south of the town was also relatively easy for me to pick out. I also had the benefit of the Parks highway and small hill (where the ENN VOR is). There are 3 parallel runways at PANN, and I can never remember which one is the paved one – but it is fairly easy to pick out from the air. The REIL strobe-y lights help of course. Winds calm? Much more than I could hope for – and strange for PANN (unless PAFA winds are out of the southwest – then geography makes most places in the interior windy except PANN – funny how that works). Immediately after I made my CTAF call for the downwind (L traffic for runway 22), a cub announced that they would be overflying PANN. They were 18nm northwest of Nenana, but it still made me nervous to essentially be flying straight at them on downwind (CFI4 never nervous since he knew it would taken them a few minutes to get close). Having someone else on the CTAF frequency made me sit up straighter to do good self-announcements – wasn’t expecting anyone else to be listening to me!
My landing wasn’t very soft or centered, but was straight. Winds were calm so CFI4 had me do another touch-and-go. As I turned downwind again, I spotted the incoming traffic, 2 cubs! They had been making consistent self-announcements of their overfly of PANN but I wasn’t listening to tail numbers and missed that there were 2 planes in formation – cool thing to see. Went a little wide to the right to avoid them as CFI4 announced that we had them in sight and would stay to their east. Second landing was same as the first.
Back to Fairbanks. Fairbanks Approach spoke a little fast for me to catch that they gave me a right base for 20L. Me: “Hey wait, 20L is supposed to have left traffic… [A/FD, my experiences up to today, etc]” – now I see that tower can give you any direction they want though… CFI4 showed me that you can just confirm the R base with tower. The windsocks were too hard for me to identify, but CFI4 showed me how to use the float pond to see that I’d have a tailwind on base. Finally! I see what the instructors were looking for on water surfaces (Water is lower than the banks. One bank acts as a wind block [on the side where the wind is coming from] so water on that side is flat. Ripples on the other side.). With knowledge of the tailwind, I managed to start the turn to final early and set up nicely. Same type of landing I made at Nenana – I really want softer landings! Happily straight at least. And I’m getting better at correcting for variable speed crosswinds on final.
I’m always too easy on the brakes but CFI4 showed me that I can use quite a bit of force (simultaneously pull back on yoke to ease pressures on the shimmy damper) – then I can get off the runway quicker.
Things I can think of to lighten my workload/things to remember:
- When doing the weight&balance, be careful when reading the moment from the POH. Be sure I’m reading the correct markings (ex. each axis marking is 2 vs 5 [units], I’m forever mixing my markings up).
- Turn the sectional so that it is orientated in the direction of flight.
- One can never have enough pencils. I need to tie one to my clipboard so I can’t lose it in flight like I did with my 3 today. Or I can borrow a real kneeboard from the flight school which has a pencil holder.
- Think ahead to where/what time to start my descent. This ‘new’ 152’s GPS has the easy to find display that shows my ‘time remaining’ – I just need to remember to use it.
- I have a bad habit of not paying attention to the winds when getting my weather information – although I can tell you every other variable stated. Without the winds, it’s impossible to plan ahead to which runway to use/traffic direction. Also remember to use the correct aileron orientation for the given winds.
- For landing at Fairbanks, remember the ATIS tells you which runways are in use! Use that to visualize the approach to the airport and anticipate the instructions from tower.
- Before descending, don’t forget to enrich the mixture.
- Turn to base: I almost always pull up to make a level turn which makes me very high on final. Grr. Pitch down Christina! And when high, take quicker action: 1. reduce power and add in the last notch of flaps or 2. execute the go-around.
- Do smoother rudder inputs/controls [when landing]!
- On CTAF, don’t forget to add whether the landing is a touch-and-go or something else.
- Taxi slower, especially near other planes. CFI4 recommends 800rpm before applying brakes to avoid undue wear.