Tag Archives: landing

Crosswind Landings

Some ridiculous winds we’re having in Fairbanks this year!

Ick, look at how the wind is bending that tree at the entrance to the general aviation area of PAFA
Ick, look at how the wind is bending that tree at the entrance to the general aviation area of PAFA. Fairbanks is usually never windy – except this year.

The plan was to try and to finish my solo cross country flight hours today but at 6am, the clouds were too low, mountain obscuration AIRMET, yada (including an Alaskan volcano SIGMET – although it wouldn’t have been a factor for me). Yucky weather forecasted all day.

I had the plane booked anyways so it was supposedly a good time to practice solo landings. Light winds straight down the runway before 7am, cool.

As soon as I got to the airport at 8 though, the winds started to pick up and the crosswind kept increasing, peaking around 7knots I think. Darn. Do preflight anyways.

I went inside to get someone to help me loosen the dipstick for me to finish preflighting and CFI2 asked me what my aeronautical decision making steps were telling me.

I really didn’t want to deal with the winds alone and I did say so (not that CFI2 or CFI4 going to let me do so regardless). The Fairbanks DPE happened to be sitting in the office listening to my logic and that made it really easy to just decide not to go up alone. Honestly though, if he wasn’t sitting there, I don’t know if I would have been as fast in deciding not to go alone. That worries me a bit (although I don’t know whether or not it should because I know I wouldn’t have chosen to go alone. Does the speed of my decision matter?)

CFI2 and I did some touch-and-goes and I have the following reminders and notes for myself:

  • I raise the nose too high on takeoff- keep nose wheel only a few inches off runway til I build enough speed.
  • Even after the mains are airborne, I need to pitch down more (adjust my personal sight picture).
  • On downwind, reduce power setting so airspeed doesn’t really exceed 85 (in the 152)-oh, that’s why these rpms are so much lower than cruise, i finally get it.
  • As soon as one is on final, can go ahead and use rudder to keep straight, don’t need to wait if you’re on glidepath
  • The PAPIs were being fixed in between my landings so I had to wait for tower to call my base and the maintenance guy to clear the runway. Extending downwind wasn’t a problem (traffic pattern @PAFA- hold at 1200′ until base turn), but I usually got low on final and wasn’t proactive enough in getting back on glidepath. (Side note: amazing how they get anything done since they can only work ~3 minutes at a time)
  • Don’t forget about the final notch of flaps.
  • Pitch needs to be constant, control airspeed with power, stop getting so slow. Or fast.
  • 20′ off runway: don’t stop flying the plane til you’re at taxi speed. The variable speed crosswinds are getting annoying.
  • With a crosswind, want to carry in a bit of power til you’re on the runway.
  • Power completely off immediately 7after touching down, especially with a crosswind. Stop landing in such a flat configuration.
  • Do the correct crosswind taxi aileron and elevator positioning.

I was so nervous about this flight: 1 there was a light rain, 2. This flight was after I’d been allowed to do the solo cross country so I wanted very much to show I knew what I was doing, 3. It was CFI2.

I can and should be doing better, and it is sad I am not.


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.

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?

First Solo Cross Country Flight!

I did it. I managed to leave the Fairbanks airport, find destination airports, and make it back.

Screen shot 2014-05-29 at 8.43.58 PM
Solo Cross Country Flight Route: PAFA – PAML – PANN – PAFA [skyvector.com]. Normally takes 1.5 hours in a 152.
My flight block started at 8am – not my favorite time of the day – but I needed to avoid the winds and thermals of the Alaskan afternoon. I’d done true course and altitude planning and weight and balance calculations the day before (and I was flying the same route as my night cross country) so I wasn’t worried about needing a lot of time to do my final wind calculations (I was wrong). The winds aloft for the morning are updated at 6am but I’ve since learned that starting calculations at 7am is too late due to how slow I currently do the math.

Because I was slightly late, another student was allowed to use my plane for a short solo practice run while I got the xc endorsement from CFI7. When I filed my flight plan at 9am, I was speaking to the same briefer who’d given me the FSS tour yesterday, ha! You can tell he spends too much time on the radio & phone because he recognized me from just my undistinctive voice ;). Today I learned that flight plans not activated are automatically deleted from the system after 2 hours.

There was full fuel when the other student started …and she was only in the air for half an hour (burning ~4 gallons, and leaving me way more than enough fuel for my trip)…but I still wanted to top off the tanks before leaving. Delay, delay, delay – part of me was still secretly hoping to find a way out of going because I was so apprehensive. I hadn’t been allowed to do solo work since November because all my flights had been when it was too windy. I really wanted to do a loop out to the practice area first to ensure I’d actually be able to find PAFA from the air…but the other part of me didn’t understand my own apprehension. This year, I’d been doing fine at recognizing airports from a distance. Plus, I had GPS, Fairbanks’ VOR, and once near Fairbanks, I could get radar vectors at any time.

I finally got going at 10am.

My first “passenger” as PIC. He’ll be guarding the legally required survival gear for this trip. He’s developed a pinhole leak since my first solo flight and I haven’t had to to re-inflate.

TRSA departure on 2R, easy enough to handle. But I was having the same sidetone and volume issues as on a previous flight so I missed when tower told me to contact departure. Ended up flying across the entire city of Fairbanks before I was able to ask to switch to departure and turn on course:

UAF. Hey look, I live in that building down there!
UAF. Hey look, I live in that building down there!

I saw Murphy Dome:

Murphy Dome
Murphy Dome

Hey…that means I’m about 7 miles north of my intended path, grr.

My first moment to myself in the air. It started getting bumpy so I couldn’t take time for the camera to do a light correction and let me see the outside background.
Getting back on track – Minto Lakes ahead
Minto Lakes – woah, these colors!
Minto Lakes
Tanana River (near old Minto?) – flying from Fairbanks to Manley
Tanana River from Fairbanks to Manley
Interior Alaska

It was somewhere around here that I realized that the GPS was indicating I was about 3 miles off track. No matter which direction I turned though, the distance off track still kept increasing (up to 9 nm off track at one point)….but it was really a lack of patience – of course one direction has to be the  correct one – I just didn’t wait long enough for the distance to start decreasing. I finally realized that on that specific GPS: “- – – -Δ” meant turn left and: “Δ- – – -” meant turn right. Number of dashes increases with distance off track. ‘On course’ was: Δ, it’s what I vividly remembered from the xc the other day. CFI4 was told of my gaff and he did call me that evening to answer any additional questions I may have had. That was sweet of him.

I had a SPOT GPS tracker with me and I later saw this track:

First solo cross country flight - SPOT GPS track updates position ~every 10 minutes.
First solo cross country flight – SPOT GPS track updates position ~every 10 minutes.

Manley (PAML) is point ’12’. Note I was on track until point ‘6’, and then I somehow ended up at point ‘7’. What happened was that I knew I’d have to go through a low point between two hills…and I chose the wrong set of hills. Between points 6 and 7, I remember I had caught a glimpse of houses at point 12 and I realized what had happened (lucky me that there are no other signs of civilization out this way). I went around the hill at 12 and saw the entirety of Manley. I was really high and I knew I needed to do a low approach anyways to pick my landing runway (no weather information has been available at Manley since the weather observer there passed away). I flew south of the Tanana and back north parallel to runway 36. Winds almost straight out of the north, hurray. 36 has left traffic (woo, one less decision I had to make)….but it did make things a bit too exciting for me since there is a large hill to the left of 36:

The entire community of Manley Hot Springs. Runway 36 and hill to the left.
The entire community of Manley. Runway 36 and hill to the left.

I ended up doing a go around on my first approach because I felt I was too high (no glide slope indicator at PAML to assist). The second attempt was fine though; it was one of the softer landings I had ever done although my flare angle wasn’t as high as it should have been for an extreme soft field landing (look at all that gravel in the next picture!). Someone else had put a huge ding in this very same propeller just the other day on this very runway – glad I did not.

Taxiing to the end of runway 36. Turnaround point in front and taxiway to the left.
Taxiing to the end of runway 36 at PAML. Turn-around point in front and taxiway to the left.

There are large turn-around points at both ends of the runway and I was originally going to just turn around and take off again, but I found that the mud was super soft at those turn-arounds. Running the power up higher overcame the sponginess but I was a little concerned for a moment that I was truly stuck. I discovered later that up until recently, PAML had a NOTAM to be cautious of using the turnarounds for that exact reason – they probably should have kept the NOTAM around in my opinion.

I decided after that situation, I wanted a break. Turned onto the taxiway and then noticed it was sloped downwards. Another minor moment of panic as I wondered if the plane would be able to make it back up to the runway. Fortunately though, I saw 2 planes parked at the tie downs – whew, if they could make it up to the runway, so could I.

Taxiway back up to the runway at PAML
Taxiway back up to the runway at PAML. Looking at the angle going up isn’t so bad. Being higher up and looking down was concerning.
The 152 and me at the Manley Airport tiedown. I somehow managed to spin and push the plane off the taxiway (yay, muscles) and I’m going for a walk. Wish I had time for the hot springs here.
Old PAML runway (thru ~October 2013). 2850x20. That's nuts.
Old, closed PAML runway (active thru ~October 2013). 2850’x20′. That’s nuts. 20′?!? Houses all along the left side of this picture (beyond the trees).

The 14 gallons of fuel in the tanks was plenty to finish my trip (only 6 needed), but that meant my PAFA-PAML leg had taken 5.5 more gallons than I’d calculated. Darn it. “I will not get lost again!” Back in the air to Nenana (PANN). Interestingly, the sidetone issue had disappeared and I could hear myself talk now. I’ve really got to figure this out. CFI4 showed me how to do it last time but I forgot.

Tanana River – great reference I can follow on the way to Nenana

This was when the battery to the GoPro I was using cut out…so I unfortunately don’t have any good pictures of PANN. 2 batteries only lasted 2 hours, darn (was even turned off for my walk at PAML). However…the entire PAFA-PAML-PANN-PAFA loop was only supposed to take 90 minutes. What was I doing, mmmm.

Hey, signs of civilization. The Nenana bridge is really distinctive; surprise for me: I *do* see the airport from a distance 🙂 . But I was way too high to reach pattern altitude without shallow turns, and I was a little further to the south than I intended to be. Click to picture to zoom in.

My experience at PANN was not my favorite landing experience. PANN has an ASOS which allowed me to decide on runway 4L early on…but I let myself get flustered because I hadn’t started descending early enough. I knew I was going for a low approach straight over 4L and then would enter the pattern – but I forgot 4L has right traffic. I realized my mistake as I was going to turn left and start flying towards the town on crosswind. I remembered in the A/FD that pilots are not allowed to fly over the town for noise control. I just went way wide, then it was easy to enter a right downwind for 4L. I was about 50′ off the runway when a sudden burst of wind made the right wing drop suddenly. I chickened out and did a go around. Coming around again, my downwind was slightly angled towards the runway due to wind, and I may have turned base slightly too late. Somehow, I managed to correct for everything and got an okay touch-and-go at PANN.

The trek back to Fairbanks was uneventful, thank goodness.


I got a straight in final to runway 2R which made me nervous but I knew I needed to practice my straight in finals. Height slightly high and my speed was much faster than I was happy with (not white arc) – this was a problem for all of my landings today actually. Got things sorted out, and then, above the runway, the winds picked up a little. I messed up and did the downward sloped wavey up and down all down the runway before I touched down. The mains only came up slightly one time.  Had a pilot friend in the pattern who noted he saw my nose go up and down a few times after the mains touched, but the moment the nosewheel actually touched down, it stayed down. That’s good I think. To be ever critical, I didn’t use gentle rudder pressure to control my taxi direction and I’ll admit I didn’t stay on the centerline the entire time.

Flight time was about 20 minutes longer than I had filed for – but I was still under the 30 minutes “we’ll come search for you” mark. I’d realized I was 10minutes over when talking to Fairbanks Approach, but I was too hesitant to ask for a temporary frequency change to close the plan….and I know they always say not to close until you are safely back on the ground….I wish I could definitively figure out the radios so I could listen on 2 frequencies and talk on 1. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it, but I was too shy to try.

It was an interesting flight and I definitely learned a lot for future flights. It also marks my passing of the 40 hour flight time mark. Bittersweet.


The long cross country is scheduled for tomorrow – and I haven’t been this tired in years – flying alone was stressful. I hope I’m up for it.

Another Windy Day

Fairbanks Aviation Day 2014 was yesterday. I found this funny looking aircraft but didn’t have time to go see what it was. Can anyone enlighten me?

This was a big plane – I was able to limbo under the wing. 5 blade propeller and a tailwheel, interesting.


Did more crosswind practice today – and my favorite: flying 5 feet above the runway for 1-2 miles.

CFI3 let me to practice on 20R and my first run over there was awesome! CFI3 never even had to tell me when to add/reduce power – I did the entire runway length myself without ballooning or touching the runway. Picture perfect except for ~2000ft at the end of the runway because the wind was stronger there and I forgot how to compensate (aileron to pull one back to center)/I was ineffective when I tried it. But hey, no one is going to rain on my parade – my height was perfect.

I finally got to do right closed traffic off of 20R  so I was flying over a section of Fairbanks I had never gotten to do before. Yay 🙂 Almost accidentally flew over Chena Marina airstrip because I didn’t know where it was (~parallel to 20R, probably about ~6? miles west of the main Fairbanks airport).

The crosswind strengths were all over the place and my flight was really bumpy. Always scary when multiple unexpected wing drops occur ~60ft off the ground – ah! None of my other ‘landings’ were as good as the one described above (acceptably okay for my skill level, but I’m saddened I still can’t properly use aileron to stay above centerline…)….but the last landing was downright awful. I was as crooked as I’d ever been when the wheels touched down. Landed crooked and a bit hard, darn it. Oops. I was already stressed because during that final final leg; it was quite hard to keep the wings level. I was so ready to land and pulled the power to idle without thinking about the wind/rudders.


Every local university student knows the bridge over the Chena River in town (between campus and the nearest grocery store 😉 ). Today was the first time I was able to pick it out from the air – totally cool.


Lately, all post flight debriefs have ended with the instructor asking when I’m going to schedule my solo cross country (xc) flight. Unfortunately, when I did my dual cross country flights last year, I ended up having to use different instructors for the day and night flights. To do the solo xc flight, the ‘day xc’ CFI of record has to be the one that does the logbook endorsement.

CFI4 did my daytime xc. He was waiting til I did my night xc with him before giving me my xc endorsement; we were all set to go but his car unexpectedly broke down so I did the night xc with CFI3. CFI4 is currently not in the state and can’t sign my logbook, darn it. CFI2 assures me that an emailed/faxed endorsement from CFI4 will suffice, but I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for me just to do another day xc flight. CFI2 and CFI3 both seemed surprised that I’d want to do that (because of cost) – but to be honest, it has been a long time since the xc flights last year and I’d be more comfortable with a refresher xc before I went anywhere by myself. They decided that Bradley – Nenana – Clear would be the most economical route with many opportunities for me to practice landings. Once I finish all my stuff for work, I can schedule this flight for a nice calm morning, I’m excited! 😀


Things to remember:

  • Blustery winds: land with 20 degrees of flaps instead of 30 so airspeed is higher.
  • After a ‘dragging the strip’exercise, full power and do not let the nose come up!, then carburetor heat off. Don’t take out any notches of flaps until high enough (say ~200ft AGL?), final notch of flaps when v_y is established.
  • When taxiing, remember where the wind is coming from, adjust ailerons accordingly (especially when turns are made).
  • Focus on smoother rudder inputs to stay straight.
  • Summer afternoons in Fairbanks are always windy. Pick very early morning morning or evening flights to get calm conditions.


Pattern work with CFI2 tonight. Got to fly the school’s newest 152 🙂 – an older plane but still pretty nice.

Flying without the fancy procedures checklists in the other planes (runup, prelanding, etc) was strange [this plane just arrived in Fairbanks from Seattle and the school hasn’t had time to print their fancy checklists yet], but I surprised myself at how much I remembered without prompting. Its tiedown spot was farther from the fuel station than I’m used to and CFI2 decided it would take too long for me to go get the ladder to dip the tanks. For once, I was actually able to swing up onto those stepping spots – surprising even though I still feel too short at 5’1″ and I woke up this morning feeling too sore to move (15 mile hike this weekend with ~2900′ elevation gain, ow – but I know this is going to be a beautiful place to fly around one day).

Our campsite next to a tor on the Granite Tors trail. More tors in the distance. Alaska range visible in the very far distance (white snow covered, a bit hidden in the haze).

Standing on the highest tor I climbed, more tors in the distance. These massive granite structures just rise out of nowhere on this grassy tundra.

Two radios onboard; couldn’t figure out how to set the squelch knobs so I could hear myself talking. I could hear everyone else and they could hear me…so technically, there was no problem – I mean, I certainly know what I’m saying…because I’m the one speaking…., but not being able to hear myself was  definitely an unexpected stressor (similar level of freakiness to being in an anechoic chamber I guess). It seems so stupid to have let something so trivial bother me. CFI2 noted that I visibly relaxed so much when we finally switched over to the other fully working radio.

On final, we worked on having me look at the far aiming points instead of directly in front of the touchdown points. When I remembered to do it, those last few feet before landing were lined up pretty nice down to the flare. Then I’d flare too late if I wasn’t prompted. Ahhhhhh…okay, something to work on. That and not making my pattern turns so late.

No landing was unsafe but all were clumsy looking. And I kept forgetting to read back the runway number I was cleared for; having the n-number placard in front of me was a true help since it was a strange new number.

My homework for next time: plan a cross country flight to Manley, AK. Oh boy. It feels a bit like being thrown in to deep end of a pool to learn to swim (I’m so unconfident, I know).


UAF campus just after tonight’s flight (white sculpture near Wickersham Hall, 10:30pm LT in early May). Not sunny but bright enough that the street lights are still off. I like evening summer flying. Ridiculously hazy again today – forest fire smoke, arrg, noooooo…..


View from University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute

My 5 month flying hiatus may have been good for me because flying had started feeling like a chore last year. I was only flying because I’d already invested so much money in the initial hours to solo – but it wasn’t exciting. It’s different now. I’m now still doing pattern work, but I found I enjoyed today’s challenge.

About 7 knots of crosswind this evening and it was fairly constant the entire length of the runway. Rolling ailerons into the wind still feels strange but at least I can usually remember to do it. I do consistently use too much opposite rudder. Wobbling all over the runway until I realize what I did. Arah.

There was one instance where the crosswind was strong only at the last bit of the runway – I must remember to stay vigilant – the sideways push didn’t matter to my takeoff climb, but suddenly being way over the grass was just embarrassing.

Emergency landings if your engine cuts out: remember to pitch for best glide speed first, then turn towards the runway, then do the inverted L checklist.

My fav CFI4 let me land on the long (commercial side) runway today (20R) – first time being over there as a pilot! We were practicing staying on center line – flying 5 feet or so off the surface. The extra length is challenging but great for practicing on. One feels that you actually got some work in before needing to get back up in the air again. Sadly landing traffic inbound for 2L limited my practice to only one lap. I don’t know why landing on that side makes me so giddy 🙂

I think a huge part of today’s good flying mood is relief. I was super excited to be getting in the pilot’s seat again and realized too late that I  didn’t have to time to complete the final checkride before I leave for my summer fellowship in the lower 48 – basically I’d need to be done May 31 (CFI2 keeps telling me it is possible but I can’t commit to flying every day…nor are there enough planes or instructor hours to share – this is where things will get better when I do instrument in the 172 or arrow). I’ve been so stressed all last week about having restarted the reacclimation-to-flight and potentially ‘wasting‘ the money on this month’s flight hours. But hey, I realized can get re-soloed and finish my cross country hours now before the summer rush, I can do a few lessons with someone when I’m in Maryland to stay fresh, and I can do final checkride prep when I come back in September.

I may even treat myself to glider lessons over the blue ridge mountains this summer 🙂

Even though it snowed a bit yesterday, the trees still budded today.

I am committed to getting the written exam done before the end of this month. Especially since my ground school video lessons all expire before I return to Fairbanks in September. On a whim, I took a practice test yesterday and got a 75. My student brain freaks out at such a low score but part of me feels good that it was passing – and without any studying – especially considering that I finished the ground school work 6 months ago and haven’t looked at anything since….

Crosswind?, Short Field, Soft Field

Fairbanks weather has been gorgeous, 70F and sunny…until today. Today, it snowed. During my flight, light rainy mist.

Fair bit of crosswind at PAFA too – rare for us. Theoretically perfect to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings.

Because Alaska has mostly thawed, all local unpaved airstrips are ‘soft’ – hence it’s a good time to work on soft field takeoff/landings. (I’m recalling a certain incident a few weeks ago where a certain someone landed on mud at local Metro field. I believe he said it was like landing on velcro…and someone had to go pick him up in a car. Runway was closed and plane had to be left there until the mud dried)

CFI1 also decided to have me practice short field procedures.

Almost every time I turned to final, the crosswind over the runway would disappear…yet crosswind was noticeable on all other legs. Hm. Guess I’ll get my crosswind practice in another day.

My short field takeoffs/landings tend to be too fast of speed – I need to work on maintaining that 54kts for the 152. My landings weren’t terrible but CFI1 stressed that they would improve faster if I would learn to make my landing steps more consistent.

Giant birds all over the airport today! Scary! Especially that pair of large white seagull-looking birds that flew across my path during takeoff. I hope the flocks migrate over to Creamers Field soon.

We were working on runway 2R today and CFI1 felt my work was good enough to land on an actual ‘soft’ runway, ski2. It was strange to turn base in the middle of 2R. I’d be too scared to land by myself on an actual (gravel) soft field for many, many more piloting hours (for fear or damaging the propeller), but it was a good exercise.



Pattern Work

View from the space physics floor of the Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK
View from the space physics floor of the Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK. Fairbanks has a bit of snow left on the ground, but it’s melting fast. A beautiful day to go flying.

I can’t wait to solo again, but I definitely need to work on my landings first. We did all pattern work today, and it was actually fun. Did 9 takeoffs and landings. 2 landings were simulated emergency landings and 2 were practicing slips.


My normal landings were mostly straight; all good except for one. I was lined up dead straight, but forgot to reduce power to settle onto the runway. We flew in ground effect all the way down the runway, and I was very confused and miffed when told to do a go-around. I completely messed that up by first raising the flaps. Oops. Dropped onto the runway and was lucky we had enough pavement to get back up into the air. Sigh. Correct steps: throttle, carb heat, then take my time with the flaps.


I find that I really enjoy CFI6’s style where he gives you plenty of warning before asking you to perform a procedure. I know that in real life, you never get a warning before you need to perform a slip to lose altitude or an emergency landing….but hey, I’m a student pilot. I’d really like to practice those procedures at an unhurried pace at least once – I don’t feel I’d gotten that before today.


My simulated emergency landings were fine; I am now at the point where I don’t need to be told when to put flaps in (come on Christina, you know what the sight picture looks like when you are lined up on the runway). Trimming for 70kts sure does take a lot of turns of the trim wheel.


I’d practiced side slips in the pattern and forward slips at 2000′, but today was the first time I did forward slips in the pattern. We were on runway 20L with a left base so my first slip was the ‘easy side’ with the nose to the right. I managed to hold the configuration all the way down to the runway which surprised CFI6. Chalk it up to a lack of fear. It felt really fun.

On the next pattern lap, I was to forward slip to the left with a reminder to keep my airspeed up (I’d gotten really slow on the last run, and as we all know, if you stall in a slip when coming in for a landing, you spin…and bad things happen). So, the forward slip to the left wasn’t as good as the right because I was so worried about being too slow. But I walked away from it all with my desire to try it again intact – so I’ll call it a good day.


Notes to myself:

  • Don’t stop setting the plane up for landing when tower starts talking to me. Aviate, navigate, communicate.
  • Visually confirm that I’m in the white arc of airspeed before putting in the first 10 degrees of flaps. I always ‘feel’ that I’m slow enough but I really should visually confirm that I am. Keep the nose up when I reduce power to ensure that the airspeed will actually decrease! (plane is trimmed for cruise airspeed at pattern altitude. If one reduces power, the nose will naturally dip to keep the airspeed up at the speed the plane was trimmed for).
  • Ask CFI6 if I can handle the radio work in the pattern next time.

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 [http://www.newsminer.com]
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 [http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/fire-destroys-building-at-north-pole-cement-plant/article_736d621e-4597-11e3-bcbc-0019bb30f31a.html], 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 liveatc.net 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) [http://www.flyplatinum.com/blog/?p=492]
Picture of ALSF (to a pilot, the white ball of light will move towards the runway) [http://www.flyplatinum.com/blog/?p=492]
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.

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
Skyvector.com 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