No Long Cross Country Flight – but Lots of Turns About a Point

I had planned a nice long cross country flight above the arctic circle (finally! I’ve always wanted to go!) to Fort Yukon and Birch Creek today but it wasn’t meant to be.

PAFA - PFYU - Z91 - PAFA
Proposed cross country route: Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Birch Creek, Fairbanks. PAFA – PFYU – Z91 – PAFA [skyvector.com]. About 3 hours round trip.
Flight block at 8am again…and I was late, again. You’d think I would have learned after yesterday that I should have started my wind calculations earlier – especially since they are published at 6am. I did start around 6:50am – but based on a comment from CFI7 yesterday (and the fact I got a little lost on that trip), I put in a lot of checkpoints (about one every 10 flight minutes) in my plan it it took forever to do all the calculations. (Note from the office: I may want to reconsider the 8500′ altitude above the White Mountains. It’ll take forever in the 152 and probably burn more fuel than I’d want. But my other option is 6500′ which to me, just skims the 5500′ peaks. I want the altitude….hm, I’ll do some more thinking. I’m okay with doing a route around the peaks, but won’t that take longer? And good old Bernoulli…what about increased winds through the lower lying areas?)

CFI2 made a comment about a great tailwind going to PFYU which didn’t match my calculations. I realized I’d done the wind correction angle calculations wrong and had to do everything again, wind correction angle, ground speed, fuel, time, uggggggg. I know most modern E6B’s have abbreviated instructions printed on them but I’m using my dad’s from the 1970s…I need to look into printing a laminated reference card for myself.

The plane needed fuel and I also had to fill up three 2.5 gallon fuel canisters to take with me (no fuel at my destinations). I didn’t want to risk exploding so I had to wait for CFI1 to find me some grounding straps. Fueling plastic containers on pavement prevents static build-up just fine, but I’m still curious if one can really ground plastic containers by connecting a copper alligator clip to it and sticking a metal stake in the ground (for filling a plane via the plastic containers).

The rudder was flat, but the angle it hung at was crooked. My school had also rigged up a contraption with foam, PVC, and bungee cords to keep the rudder from banging in the wind – which I had never seen before. I wouldn’t have questioned the contraption except for the rudder angle…Had to wait to someone to help me look at the plane. Crooked rudder has happened to me before so you’d think I’d remember how to check if there was a problem, but I didn’t. Resolution: The plane was parked with the nosewheel slightly crooked (one rudder peddle pushed in). If the rudder angle straightens out when the peddles are pushed even, then you’re fine (or if you’re strong enough, you can manually straighten out the nosewheel).

Then I had to deal with contact lenses (I didn’t put them in early morning because I currently live on an annoying dormitory style floor with communal bathroom), forgetting to grab a headset from the school, forgetting to grab my borrowed kneeboard from the school, carrying out the 25lbs of survival gear, setting up a GoPro, setting up my charts. It was about 10:30am before I was ready to leave. Oops. CFI2 seemed a little annoyed that I was taking so long.

I was finally all set when something crazy happened: the plane wouldn’t start.

Had to go inside and explain it really wasn’t my fault that time. I really wanted to go fly. Had someone else check that the plane indeed really wouldn’t start (I’d been mistaken twice before in the past – forgetting the fuel valve and forgetting to turn on the master)… but nope, it really wouldn’t start.

The mechanic wasn’t in yet that morning so I had to wait for him to get to work; then wait for him to do the inspection. Turns out it was a bad solenoid, but the part was instantly available. It was about noon before the plane was ready to go.

CFI2 said I wasn’t allowed to go on my long cross county because another student needed the plane at 3pm. All the office people had a debate about the FARs and discovered a long cross country is no longer needed. My flight yesterday met the regs I think. We considered having me just redo my route from yesterday to get the required 5 hours of solo cross country time, but there was slowly eastward moving MVFR just west of PAML that made me nervous. I decided not to risk it. CFI2 gave me the task of going out and doing turns about a point and S-turns in the practice area. There was a strong east wind which would be ‘fun’. Meh.

The school’s mechanic had taken the other 152 out about 5 minutes before I went, and we were both in the practice area. I never saw him but he did see me when he exited the area. I knew he was in the south practice area so I tried to stay north, near the Clear Creek Butte. But then I was afraid of getting too close to the butte during maneuvers. CFI2 told me to be 1000′ AGL but it took me a while to get comfortable being that ‘low’. By then though, the other 152 went back and I had free reign of the area.

I had spent all the time up to this point looking for the road and random cement truck I’d previously used in training – but I couldn’t find them. Apparently they are north of Clear Creek Butte. I didn’t think that was part of the practice area, darn. There aren’t any roads to speak of south of Clear Creek (straight or otherwise) – and the water is all squiggly, but there were plenty of tree clumps, small ponds, and strange colored land splotches for turns about a point.

Clear Creek Butte ahead
Clear Creek Butte ahead

CFI3 later mentioned that when practicing maneuvers, he didn’t want me practicing more than sets of 3 at a time. Do 3 practices (ex s-turns) and then move on – even if the practices were complete crap – it prevents one from practicing bad habits. I can agree with that – my first 3 or so turns about a point were okayish (±100 feet but I really want ±50 before the checkride) – but they definitely deteriorated as I kept going (my wind correction skills got consistently worse).

Came back to land and got my dreaded straight in for runway 2R. As usual, I was high and fast and able to fix it all in time, but I know I work way more during my landings than my instructors would like me to have to. Sigh. My crosswind corrections are still atrocious. I was great until about 20′ off the runway and then I landed nowhere near centerline. What did the instructors call it, “got-it-made” syndrome? Guilty.

It was a nice sightseeing trip for me – not really worth the training money since I didn’t do any hardcore practicing of anything – but fun I suppose.

CFI1 and CFI3 both mentioned that it was probably good that I didn’t do either cross country trips. 1. winds north of Fairbanks had picked up through the day – more than originally forecasted – and 2. it was raining to the west. Also, I was lucky the plane refused to start in Fairbanks rather than after I landed at Fort Yukon or Birch Creek (no facilities nor mechanics there to help). Everything happens for a reason I guess?

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