Lesson 159
19 December 2001
1.8 hours
A Not Altogether Uneventful Nice Day

Chris and I got a late start to the airport so I phoned to let them know not to rent the airplane to someone else.  The guy said he'd move us back half an hour and that no one else wanted the airplane.  We got there about ten after two, and found that we weren't scheduled to have the airplane until three, instead of two.  Just as we were getting that straightened out, one of the instructors started to take that airplane to Richmond for a photo shoot.  After some discussion, we got the plane.

We were planning to fly south 59 nm to Roanoke Rapids, RZZ, and then stop at another airport on the way back.  The surface wind was 8 knots across the runway, gusting to 15--no big deal, I thought, especially as it was expected to drop off later in the afternoon.

But at 2000 feet our airspeed was 110 knots and our ground speed, 80.  I descended to 1000 feet, but that got us up only to 85 knots ground speed.  That' wasn't a whole faster than we'd have been going in a car on I-95, so we settled in for a slow trip.

L GastonVisibility was quite good--for Piedmont Virginia on a 55 degree F day.  But the sun was low and we had to fly through a good amount of smoke from trash fires, and the Plexiglas windshield was slightly cloudy, so the actual SEEING was somewhat less than we'd hoped for, especially looking into the sun.

We were using a handheld GPS, but I wanted to see if we could find RZZ by pilotage--using only the compass and the map.  Chris undertook the navigation duty and did quite a good job of it, checking our progress by looking out the window and finding landmarks on the sectional chart.

Finally we saw the Roanoke River ahead--the wide part above a dam, now called Lake Gaston, with Roanoke Rapids on the south bank.  I used the GPS to locate the airport, though, because at this time of year there's not much contrast between the fields and the field.

On final, we were looking into the low afternoon sun--it's almost the winter solstice.  Maybe you can pick out the runway in the photo below.


RZZ is a pretty little airport, with a good asphalt runway and a small, homey FBO run by the city of Roanoke Rapids.  The name, however, is Halifax County Airport.

We parked, declined a radioed offer for fuel, and went inside.  Six or seven people were in there.  They smiled and most said hello or welcome--a very friendly place


As I was heading toward the menís room, one of the guys said something to me that I couldn't understand.  I asked him to repeat--and did it twice more, because I just wasn't getting it at all.  The rural eastern North Carolina accent was part of it, but I just couldn't get the words.

Finally he said it really slowly:  "Welcome to Emporia, Virginia."  He ran the words together--emporiahvuhginnyuh

Huh?  To WHERE?  Then I finally got it.  Emporia, Virginia is the next town and airport over.  This ol' boy was having some fun.  No wonder I hadn't understood him--because I KNEW we were in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

It's an old gag--based on the fact that landing at the wrong airport isn't all the rare, even with the GPS to help navigate.  So we all had a good laugh, and that broke the ice.  Soon we were all gassing like old friends.

We took off--somewhat painfully because the sun was low and straight down runway 23, making it very hard to read the instruments, and headed northwest, intending to land at Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport, AVC.  But when we found the airport it seemed that landing there would be another exercise in looking into the low sun--a bit trickier landing than taking off--so we decided to head home.  It was getting late, anyway.

The wind was directly behind us from there on home.  At 2500 feet the indicated airspeed was 110 knots and the ground speed on the GPS was almost 140, so we were making good time.

Not good enough time to compensate for the slow trip south at 80 knots, though.  This is the counter-intuitive math problem you get in the fourth or fifth grade, where you think the train going 50 mph one way and 100 mph on the return trip will average 75 mph.  Nope.  We weren't doing so well, either.

When we were about 25 miles from Chesterfield, I tuned in the AWOS there.  Couldn't hear it.  Odd, I thought.  I  can usually get it here.

Then I noticed that I couldn't hear any other radio traffic, either, not with either comm 1 or comm 2.  Nothing.  The intercom worked and Chris and I could talk to each other just fine, but no radio.

I turned the radios off and on again.  Nothing.  The panel displays were lit up normally.  I checked all of the circuit breakers.  Still nothing.  I tried the avionics master switch, but that didn't bring back the radios, either.

Finally I noticed that the audio panel, a rectangular box just above the radios, seemed to be sticking out a bit.  I pushed on it with a finger and sure enough it was loose.  Pushed hard and it slid back into place in its mount, and the radios came back to life.  How interesting!

And just in time.  By then we were almost on top of FCI, with the dull red sun exactly on the horizon, and I had been rehearsing in my head the procedure for entering a busy traffic pattern with no radios.

But something was still wrong.  There was a kind of rushing-screeching sound coming from the radios.  It began quietly, but was becoming louder as we flew downwind, and by the time we turned final, it was loud enough to be very annoying.  The only way to make it stop was to turn off the radios, both at once.  Nothing affected the volume (although I realized later that the intercom volume might have helped with that.)

More noise was coming from the headphones than from the engine--Chris attested to that because he took off his headset.  I turned off the radios on short final and then back on just long enough to announce that we had cleared the runway.

Back in the FBO I said that we'd had some trouble with the radios and--well, SOMEONE, I'll let her be anonymous because I like her a lot and she's always been kind and helpful--SOMEONE said, "Oh, you don't know about eight five two"

Eight five two is, of course, the airplane we'd just rented from her.  I gave her THE LOOK, but she didn't seem to notice.

"EVERYone knows about 852," she said gaily.  (I've never written she said gaily before in my whole life, but there's no other way to describe it.)  "The engine vibration makes the audio panel come loose and you just have to push it back in every so often."

Thanks,  B--uh, Someone.

Well, we had a little discussion about what might be done to keep the damned thing in place--I suggested a screw, and let it go at that.

Then Chris and I adjourned to the Dairy Queen, where we talked about what a nice day it had been--even the radio problem was part of the nice day.

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