Lesson 65
26 May
2 Hours

Night cross country to Newport News--finally!  Snuck it in between the rain and the rain.

The visibility was supposed to be good--10 miles--but there was enough haze that there was no horizon, even while there was still a little light right after sunset.  And because there was no moon at all, it got quite dark in a hurry.   At 2500 feet, we could just barely make out the river as a slightly-less-dark blur.  So even though we were technically VFR, I got in a lot of instrument practice.  My checkpoints were visible--just barely--so we were able to keep more or less on course.  (Actually, I was surprised that anything was visible in those conditions.  So maybe the night isn't quite as dark as we expect it to be.)  I activated the flight plan and called Richmond approach to get flight following, all without playing the "student pilot" card.

Near Newport News I spotted the Felker airport beacon--two quick whites and one green because it's an army field.  (It tickled me that Adam had trouble seeing it.  But, then, it was he who knew we were approaching it, when I was still a few miles back, in my head.)  Finding Patrick Henry Field, on the other hand, was harder, but eventually we saw it and landed without any trouble, entering on left base for runway 2.  The tower gave us our choice of 2 and 7, which surprised me, but I guess it's common enough when there's not much wind or traffic.  We could have made almost a straight-in approach to 7, but Adam suggested that we might be better off on 2 because we'd have to taxi only a short distance on that runway, 7 being the long one and farther from the terminal and the FBOs

We stayed only long enough to close the flight plan.  Then we got back in, got the ATIS info (information X-ray at that time), and called ground control.  Taxied to runway 7, the big one, ran up, and then out onto the... out onto the... man, that is one big runway.  It seemed to take forever to find the centerline in just the landing light light.   To make it interesting, Adam had me do a soft-field takeoff, which was all the more interesting in the dark, with the runway edge lights so far off to the sides that I really couldn't see them at all.  Ten degrees of flaps, keep rolling on the runway, yoke back, lift the nose right away, get up some more speed, main gear off the runway, pitch forward to stay in ground effect (harder than I expected in that dark dark), start climbing at 67 knots, positive rate of climb established and raise the flaps

The air was a little clearer on the way back, although it was still DARK.

Back in the vicinity of Richmond, Adam gave me some hints about finding the airport (although I think I could have found it--eventually--on my own).  I had planned to use the Richmond VOR, which is at a right angle to our approach to Chesterfield.  He suggested using the Hopewell VOR instead, the 300 degree radial almost paralleling our course and intersecting it right on top of the runway.  That worked out nicely, and clicking the mike button seven times got the runway lights on bright.  The wind was calm, so we just hooked around and landed on 15, rather than trying a straight-in approach to 33.  Got down okay, despite Adam's insistence that I do a short-field landing.  Coming in at 54 knots, high to clear the invisible obstacle and then chopping the power and sinking fast in the dark dark is interesting.

And that was it:. a nice, quiet, 104-mile ride in the dark, half a dark mile up from the dark earth.

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