Dual from FCI to RZZ--Roanoke Rapids, NC. (We found out after landing there that the airport goes by the name of "Halifax County Airport," even though it's at Roanoke Rapids and is so named on the chart--which explained why my radio calls didn't get any responses from the ground or local traffic.)
This looked like a straightforward flight almost due south from Chesterfield. The problem was, the course was over flat woodland most of the way, and there were no really good landmarks to use as checkpoints. From half a mile straight up, all trees look pretty much alike. There were a few roads and railroads, but most ran perpendicular to our course, so we could tell more or less how far we'd gone, but not whether we were on course--and a lot of the time we weren't! Or, rather, I wasn't. If I'd been alone and hadn't had a VOR (and hadn't snuck along my GPS) I would have wandered around northern North Carolina for quite a while before figuring out whether I was east or west of the airport. The only easily-spotted road, rail, and power lines that weren't perpendicular to our course ran at about 45 degrees to it, so even with them I couldn't tell where we were over them. Adam managed pretty well, though, and pointed out how bends that looked subtle and slight on the chart were actually fairly noticeable on the ground. But if I hadn't had a VOR due south of the destination to straighten me out, I probably would have crossed the North Carolina state line nearly ten miles too far west--probably too far to spot the airport easily.
Halifax County Airport is very different from Newport News. It's the least commercial-looking field I've flown to so far. There's one fairly short paved runway and a grass one. The FBO is in an office that looks vaguely like a 1950-era motel office. Everyone was pleasant, but didn't seem exactly eager to greet us--no doubt they could see that I was a dumb student who couldn't get the name of the airport right. Also, we had left late and Adam was going to be late for his next lesson, so we didn't hang around to chat. We just went into the office long enough for me to phone a briefer to close the flight plan and file a new one for the trip back.
We never did get the flight plan activated in the air, though, so it's
a good thing we didn't have any trouble getting home.
The return trip seemed a lot easier. We didn't use flight following, so I didn't have to worry about that. And I was better able to figure out where we were most of the time. (So was Adam.) Part of the reason it was easier was that the farther north we flew, the more features there were to identify and the more familiar the territory was, so I was able to fly directly to the airport without having to wonder whether we were right or left of course.
We're going to try another one, to Hampton Roads this time. I think Adam is planning to make me divert to a different airport, either on the way there or, more likely, on the way back. That'll be good practice--though somewhat daunting because in this game you really want to try to have a clear plan to follow. Changes are hard to think through when you're trying to fly the plane, figure out where in the world you are, talk on various different frequencies on the radio, and keep from wetting your pants--all at the same time.
So it's clear what I have to do to prepare for this flight: Scope out Hampton Roads Airport AND the three or four other airports he's likely to have me divert to.
So that's probably a good lesson, learned (I hope!) in advance.
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