Lesson 44
31 March
2.1 hours

Dual cross-country to Charlottesville.

The day was clear, but hot and quite windy (March going out like that damn lion--egged on by el niño.)  Upper 80's.  Wind 210-240 at 11 gusting 18 on the runway and 240 at 21 aloft at 3000 ft.  Too much for a student pilot to solo, but Adam was undaunted, so we lit out in N68608.  The nosewheel still didn't turn with the rudder pedals, just like yesterday, but I didn't have any real trouble steering, using the brakes at low speed and the rudder at higher speed.  (In between was somewhat more tricky.)

I had already filled in most of my navigation logs.  Got a standard weather briefing, and then calculated the courses and times.  Already had checkpoints picked out, left over from a ground session with Adam, a couple of weeks ago.  Thought I had all the radio frequencies, but he found one I'd forgotten.  We departed FCI at 1815 Zulu time on runway 15, turned right and found the first checkpoint (more or less) and got on course.  The true course was 315, but because of the wind, the true heading was 297 during climbout and 302 at cruise altitude.  The magnetic headings (corrected for the local 9 degree west compass variation) were 306 and 311, respectively.  (Had there been no wind, the corrected magnetic headings would both have been 324.  We didn't figure in any compass deviation because the compass deviation in that plane is minimal.)

At least, that's what the headings computed to.  The wind was somewhat stronger, however, so we had to crab a bit more to the south--about 315--to keep on course.  This was the first time I'd had to correct for the wind over a long distance, greater than I could see.  Without the wind correction crabbing, we never would have missed Charlottesville by a good ten miles today.

One of the checkpoints was the bend in the James near Goochland, with the prison just to the south.  From half a mile up and a couple of miles north, it looked downright sylvan.

I had thought that a 40-some minute flight might seem a bit long--but of course it wasn't.  Nothing seems to go slowly in the air.  Just as I found one checkpoint and entered the time in my nav log, it was time to look for the next one, or to get somebody on the radio.  Open the flight plan with Leesburg Radio.  Cross check the VORs at Flat rock and Richmond to see where we really were.  Before I expected it, we were approaching the mountain ridge five miles east of Charlottesville airport (east north east of the city) and it was time to tune in ATIS on 118.425 for the altimeter and wind info.  I missed the "information golf" part and Adam had to remind me to tell the Charlottesville approach operator that I had information golf so he wouldn't have to repeat it.. Change to approach frequency, 132.85 and report "Charlottesville approach, Cessna 60608, five miles east, inbound."  (I think that's the wording.)  I missed about half of what approach said, and Adam had to repeat it for me.  Basically, it was enter on downwind for runway 21.  The guy's voice was about as southern-laconic as I've ever heard.  We're over the mountain and in the valley, and Adam says, "Do you see the runway?"  Well, naturally I didn't.  But--with a little help--soon spotted it.  Entered the pattern on the 45 for downwind.  Switch to the tower frequency, 124.5, and report.  Didn't catch much of what the tower said--the same or a similar laconic voice.  Turned base, crabbing very hard against the wind, which was about 24 knots by then.  Got lined up on final and got down, moving barely 30 mph over the ground by the time we touched down.  Changed to the ground control frequency, 121.9 for taxi instructions--none of which I caught, being still distracted by the need to land the airplane.  Taxied to Piedmont Aviation, found a parking spot, and shut down.  The ramp slopes uphill there, so I had to hold the brakes hard, while Adam climbed out and chocked the nosewheel.


Inside, got the wind update and did a quick re-calculation of the headings.  Then phoned 1-800-WX BRIEF to cancel the flight plan and open the new one for the return trip.

Coming back was more or less the reverse of everything--except that we never could raise Leesburg radio to open the flight plan.  We got blown even farther north this time, despite the heavy crab angle, and by the time we neared the city we were about eight or ten miles north of where we'd planned to be--far enough so that even Adam wasn't quite sure of our exact location for a while.  Finally got squared away, found the airport, and entered the pattern.  Adam was in a big hurry by then because he was a quarter-hour late for his next lesson.  Also, the wind was something like 240 at 15 gusting 25 by then, so I was relieved when he helped out on the landing.  We got down smoothly, but even he had some trouble with the cross wind.

He canceled his next lesson because of the wind, and we sat down and sorted out what had happened on the flight.  Everything had gone so fast--for me--that I need some time to mull it all over now.

On Thursday, if the weather is okay, we'll fly to Newport News, using flight following, and traveling through a lot of busy airspace.  My task now is to plan the flight and see how close I can get to a plan that will really work.  Finding the airport isn't the hard part (I think), but getting the communications right--well, that's going to be more tricky.

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