Solo Cross Country

My first solo cross country was from Rancho Murieta to Chico to Willows to Yolo County to Sac Executive and back to Rancho Murieta. The first time I'd gone anywhere other than Franklin alone! I was looking forward to this a lot.

It was not quite the same path I had taken on my dual cross country, but close enough. I took off and got on my heading toward Chico, contacted ATC, all that. No problems so far. After a bit I noticed I was not exactly on the same course I had been on before, but wasn't too far off, so I figured it was the wind and I'd be fine after a while.

The only real obstacle on the way to Chico is Beale Air Force Base. It's not an "obstacle", but it is something you have to deal with. You have to be over 4600 feet (I think it is) or have permission to fly through. ATC is supposed to deal with that for you, they'll guide you around or get you permission.

So as I'm approaching Beale's airspace, the controller tells me to let her know when I'm ready for my descent. I didn't know why I would want to descend, and said "Descent?" She said "You know, for the Beale airspace." Being a student pilot and not wanting to question an Air Traffic Controller God, I said "Ok." A minute or so later I figured it was as good a time as any, so I called and said I was ready. She said "Descent? No, you need to" do something else, climb or go around, I forget which, but it wasn't descend. So I figured I'd misunderstood her and just did what she told me.

Beale is where I realized I was definitely not on the same course I'd been on earlier, since it was on the other side of my plane. I knew ATC was going to turn me loose once I got past Beale, since there's nothing up there to control and pilots are capable of flying around there without them, so I figured I'd fix it then. I didn't want to push it with my ATC person, since I already had obviously done something wrong. It was about then she called and told me she needed me to move over a bit and guided me to where I actually needed to be. And it must have been her tone or what she was saying, but that's when I figured out SHE was a rookie, too! After I got back on course and she put me back on VFR flight (no ATC contact), she thanked me for putting up with her. I said "Oh, no problem, thanks for your help." I didn't mention that I was a student and had less of a clue what was going on that she did. Why bother her with details? :-)

Ok, so I figured I had my solo cross country flubs out of the way. I was back on course, could almost see Chico, and was feeling pretty good about having an ATC person thank ME for helping HER, so confidently flew on. I contacted the tower at Chico, and was told to get into a right-hand pattern for the runway. I said ok, and proceeded to get into a left-hand pattern... I called when I got halfway down the downwind leg, like I was supposed to, and the guy said "Uh... you're in a left pattern, I told you to use a right pattern." Oops. I offered to go around, but he said no, just land. I did, feeling like a dope, then transfered to ground control who told me to taxi down to transient parking and turn right. I taxied down and started turning left, at which time he said "Turn right". I turned more left, and he said "RIGHT!" That's when I remembered right was the other way, and turned and parked. I apologized and told him I hadn't known my right from my left when I was landing, either. He laughed, and told me to let them know when I was ready to leave.

When he laughed, I figured I probably wasn't going to lose my license right then. But I decided NOT to believe my flubs were over for the day. :-)

So after I'd gotten my map refolded, and my whatever else ready, I went on back out to take off again. Ground led me to where I needed to switch over to the tower and there I sat, because I wasn't sure of the procedure to go from there. I called ground again, who told me to call the tower, which I did. He told me to let him know when I was ready to go. Didn't I? I told him I was ready, and he cleared me to go. Before I could move, another guy had pulled up to the line right before the runway and called. I got in line behind him, and HE called the tower to get clearance to take off. The tower guy was a tad confused, because he expected ME to be in front (cuz I should have already been at the line when I called earlier). He clarified that I was second in line, and let the other guy go. Then I got to leave, and I got out of there quickly vowing never to return and show off my ignorance to these guys again! :-)

So on I went to Willows, which is just 10 or 15 minutes away. But it was starting to get hazy, and I was completely unfamiliar with this part of the state, and my navigation had been off a little on my first leg, so I was a tad nervous. I went right straight to Willows and made a good landing, no embarassingly obvious student moves. It's a non-towered airport, too, so that made it a little less public. Then I took off to go to Yolo County airport, which I had never been to.

I was aware of the navigation problem of the Rancho-Chico leg, and this was almost parallel to it, so I paid extra attention to where I was. A few minutes after takeoff, I saw that I was indeed on the right side of a lake I knew I should be left of, so I moved over and mostly followed the map and landmarks rather than my plotted course. I might have screwed up the windage on it, or maybe the wind changed enough that it was just different, but that's why you learn to navigate by landmarks. I went right straight to Yolo County airport like I'd meant to.

When I got there, I realized I didn't know for sure what to call it. You're supposed to call at untowered airports with their name, who you are, and what you're gonna do. I looked it up in my book, and it looked like it was called "Yolo County", so that's what I called it. Someone on the radio said "It's not county, it's" and was cut off by someone else. I'm not convinced he was talking to me, though. I went ahead and landed, and then sat on the taxiway for about 6 or 8 minutes (or $10-12 worth) and waited for another guy to land so I could have the runway back. He'd misjudged how far away he was, or I did, so two of us sat there waiting for him to show up. He did, and off to Sac Exec I was.

Sac Exec is towered, so I called them somewhere over Davis to let them know I was coming. There was a Mooney a few miles south of me also heading for Sac, so the tower guy told me to just follow him in. Right. I got more or less behind him and watched him fly off into the distance. I knew where I was going, that wasn't a problem, but I had a big case of plane evny. I couldn't have kept up with that guy if he'd been out of gas! Oh, well, I went in and landed, and then took off for my last leg, Sac back to Rancho, which is another 15 minute or so flight.

I knew the area pretty well, then, so when I looked at my plotted course, I knew a better way. If I flew my course, I thought I'd wind up north of where I wanted, so I just flew towards known landmarks. I knew what I was doing. Really. Five minutes later I realized I knew those landmarks because I flew over them coming back from Franklin, which is south of Sac, and I needed to go East toward Rancho. Oh, well, at least I knew where I was and could get back without admitting to anyone what a dork I was. :-)

Thus ended my first solo cross country. I learned a lot from it. Like if you know your course is off, fix it. Air Traffic Controllers are humans, too. Left is <-- that way, Right is --> that way. Airports really are right where the map says they are. Pay attention to the map AND your plotted course. Mooneys are faster than Cessna 172s. Trust what you've figured out, beware of "Oh, I know how to do that".

But then, that's the point of training. :-)

My second solo cross country was from Rancho Murieta to Tracy to Modesto and back to Rancho Murieta. The trip down to Tracy was uneventful, I went right to it. Over to Modesto wasn't bad, either. I did cut my approach a little close. The tower guy asked me if I was ok, or something, which prompted me to say I was a student, in order to get forgivenness for not being perfect. He said "Oh, ok, then do you mind a little advice?" Heck no, give me all you want! And he did. He spent about 5 minutes with me, as I was flying off, telling me ways to improve what I was doing. It was great, and I appreciated it, but I began to wonder if he was really bored, or what. He was a big help, but he must not have had anything else to do!

Then back to Rancho, in the bumpiest air I've ever been in. It was like driving over speed bumps for about 45 minutes. It didn't really bother me, I mean I wasn't getting airsick or anything, but it was a little annoying. On the other hand, I was flying, so it could have been worse! :-)

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