Lesson 54
3 hours

This was my long cross-country, southeast to Elizabeth City NC (ECG), a controlled field; then northwest to Franklin VA (FKN); and finally back to Chesterfield County Airport--about 190 nautical miles total.

It seems as though lately I've been learning mostly by making big dumb mistakes.  In that regard, I didn't learn much today--and am glad of it!

Well, I did enroll briefly in the School of Hard Knocks today, but dropped out of that school right away.  While preflighting N68608, I noticed that the landing light lens looked dark, as if it might be burnt out.  I was squatting down at the time, and in leaning forward to get a close look at the filament--BAM--conked my forehead on the point of the spinner.  Damn! Blood, even.  It was another inauspicious beginning; but the rest of the trip went smoothly.

I remembered to open my flight plan.  I called Richmond Approach and asked for flight following.  I confessed that I'm a student pilot, and the controller, a woman, came back as though she were addressing a small child or an obviously slow adult, so I managed to get the squawk code right the first time.  After a few minutes she handed me off to another Richmond controller, who also seemed to understand that I was a bit slow.  Later on, he handed me off to Norfolk, where I had to act grown up, but I was pretty much feeling that way by then.  In the meantime, I had managed to get on course, locate my checkpoints as I approached them, and do enough arithmetic to be sure that I was making the progress I'd predicted.

Lake Drummond was a startling sight--almost perfectly round and right smack in the middle of wooded swampland, looking as if a falling asteroid had punched a huge hole there.

About 48 minutes after taking off I saw the Elizabeth City airport on the south shore of the broad Pasquatank River that opens into the Albemarle Sound.  There's a blimp hangar a couple of miles beyond the apirport, and I could even see the "UNMARKED BALOON ON CABLE TO 3000 MSL" that appears on the chart.  It's also in a question on the FAA written test, so I felt as if I knew it well.  The baloon was only to about 2000 feet today, though.

I was so fascinated by the view that I almost forgot to report to Norfolk that I had Elizabeth City in sight.  When they said to, I switched to the tower frequency.  Well, at least I thought I did.  I dialed in the ground frequency by mistake, and the ground controller had to tell me to try it again.

Got the tower and fessed up to my studenthood.  He came back, very patient, with info I understood and repeated back correctly, including  "Report left base runway one."

Okay, runway 1.  I looked at the runway diagram I'd drawn on my nav log and found runway 1.  Looked back at the airport.  Whoops!  There seemed to be an extra runway down there.  There were only supposed to be two of 'em.  Which one was 1?  Looked at the diagram.  Looked at the airport.  Finally I figured out that the "extra" one was a taxiway--wider and longer than the runway at Chesterfield!  But I was evidently a bit farther east than I'd expected to be, and was approaching more from the north than the northwest, and that  had fooled my eye.  I was on a wide downwind for runway 1, with runway 10 on my left and pretty soon I could see the 10 painted there.  Okay.  The Airport and Facility Directory said that runways 1 and 10 had right-hand traffic, and I was prepared for that, but the tower was bringing me in the other way 'round.  Turned left base for 1, reported, and was cleared to land.  Got down well enough.  Just as the directory also said, your vision is obstructed--by trees--and in any case, I didn't know where the FBO was.  All I could see were big Coast Guard planes and helicopters and buildings.  Asked for prograessive taxi instructions, and finally was led to the civillian corner of the field and found the FBO.

Got gas.  Closed my flight plan and opened one to Franklin.  Went to the john.  Ate a granola bar.  Chatted with the FBO guy, who invited me to borrow the courtesy car for up to an hour, to go have a look at the blimp operation, but declined because I had the plane only until three.  "Next time, then," he said.

Flew to Franklin without flight following.  My thinking was that it isn't all that far, 44 nm, and is a long way from any heavy traffic.  In retrospect, though, I think it's a good idea to ask for flight following, even for short flights.  It's helpful.   There were a lot of puffy little clouds at about 3500 feet on this leg of the trip.  Even though I was down at 2500, every time I flew under one, I got a bump.

I tried several times to call Raleigh radio, to activate my flight plan, but never got an answer.  I heard three other pilots complaining about Raleigh's signal being weak and breaking up, and finally I just gave up.

The Franklin airport has three runways--but there's nothing happening there.  I got the ASOS info, but heard no traffic on the radio and couldn't decide which runway might be in use.  One of them was said to be in poor condition.  I tried calling UNICOM a couple of times but got no answer.  There was a big cement plant (I think it is) beside the airport, with lots of smoke and dust blowing parallel to runway 32, so I decided to give that one a try.  Came in fine, past the displaced threshhold--and then discovered that there was no taxiway farther down the runway, so I did a 180 and taxied back to a turnoff, and headed toward a hangar.  Finally noticed a small hexagonal building with a flag flying on a pole in front and decided that it might be the FBO.  It was, and the operator was cheerful about topping off my tanks.  "Every tenth of a gallon helps'" he said.  When I asked about coming in, he said he'd heard me on the radio, but didn't offer to say why he hadn't replied.

There was an SNJ-5, complete with tailhook, parked nearby, and a similar-looking plane with fixed gear and WW II Japanese markings out in back.  On the other side there was a B-25(?) Mitchell bomber, with one engine off and a new one on a pallet, under a tarp.  I met a guy looking the Mitchell over, who turned out to be the pilot and owner of the SNJ.  He said he'd flown one in the Navy.  He grumbled about the waste of letting the Mitchell just sit there in the open, with no work being done on it.  He said the Japanese plane was a dive bomber (I've forgotten its name) and had appeared in the movie Tora Tora Tora.  Said he lives in Norfolk and flies up to Franklin to eat at a nearby motel.  Said he used to go to Chesterfield to eat, but that the gas there is too expensive.

Took off after the SNJ and flew back to Chesterfield.  Had no trouble activating my flight plan with Leesburg Radio.

Along the way, I crossed diagonally over a big power line and watched a small, high-wing monoplane beneath me, brilliant white against the green trees, flying slowly along the line, not more than 200 feet above it, evidently inspecting the wires and towers.

I discovered that downtown Petersburg was a poor choice as a checkpoint, and that the expressway interchange southeast of it would be easy to pick out the next time I fly that direction.  Got into the pattern and landed with no problems.

And that was my long cross-country.  I felt pretty good about it generally--hadn't made many mistakes and had enjoyed the trip.  Remembered to close my flight plan.

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