My long solo cross country flight is complete. Wow, what a day it was! I met my instructor at the airport around noon and immediately had a decision to make. The weather wasn’t looking so great – summer thunderstorms popping up an dissipating in the area. We obtained updated weather information, looked at forecast information for all airports along my route and decided that it would be safe to fly, just a lower altitude than I had planned. We went into the hangar, he checked out my flight planning and then I preflighted the plane for departure. He stuck around until I took off, reminding me to let him know when I was on the ground at each of my destination airports. And with that I taxied to 17 for departure.
I departed to the north and immediately dialed in the Rome VOR. As much as I was confused about VOR navigation during my initial ground study, it’s practical use makes more sense. I obtained flight following and was on my way. The VOR navigation guided me fairly effortlessly to Rome. There were a few smaller airports and other identifiable landmarks along the way to help verify my course. On the other side of Rome, I tuned in the Chattanooga VOR (GQO) and continued north. About 30 miles outside of Chattanooga, I was handed off to Chattanooga approach, who proceeded to put me on course for the runway 20 downwind leg. I was briefly vectored for traffic, but then given a heading to put me back on course. I was guided to the downwind leg before I even saw the airport. I notified the controller that I was a student pilot and this was my first flight in the area and they pointed out the airport. I was then handed off to the tower and cleared to land on runway 20.
Before leaving Carrollton, I knew I wanted to check out Wilson Air, the new FBO in Chattanooga, but decided to go with the one that looked most convenient for taxiing. As luck would have it, Wilson was just to my right after landing and easy to taxi to. Most of the other traffic was headed to TacAir, making Wilson less congested too. So I taxied over and prepared to have my logbook signed inside and stretch my legs for a bit.
Wilson Air Center is by far one of the nicest FBOs that I have flown to thus far during my training. Upon my arrival, I was greeted on the ramp by two young guys that immediately started inquiring about the Tri-Pacer. One of them even said “you win the award for most unique aircraft on the ramp today.” The Tri-Pacer has been a conversation starter everywhere I’ve been. They brought a red carpet (literally) mat out and placed outside the airplane. The FBO has only been open since August of 2011, so it is still very new. It has a large open lobby and a sitting area that is wrapped with glass. Two large flat screen TVs flank two interior walls, if you tire of watching departures and arrivals. The lobby also includes a small refreshment bar where coffee, cookies, etc. are available to visitors. Just off of the lobby is the pilot’s lounge. This is another impressive room with several very comfortable looking chairs to relax in, another flat screen television and small mini fridge full of complimentary pilot beverages. Down the hallway off of the lounge are a few snooze rooms on the left and a very nice bathroom and shower area on the right. At the end of this hallway is the flight planning room. Wilson provides two live weather rada stations and a computer with high speed internet access for flight planning. They also have a connected printer as well as preprinted flight planning forms. In addition, they have open wifi that I was able to connect my iPad to for updated weather in Foreflight, etc.
The facilites at Wilson were matched by the customer service. I feel like the experience that I had was likely the same as the pilots and passengers of the Cessna 560XL parked out front (owned by Suntrust). In some ways I think the staff at Wilson was more impressed by the Tri-Pacer. I would highly recommend Wilson Air Center if you need to stop into Chattanooga Metro. In the future I would like to check out TacAir, just for comparison. As for first impressions though, Wilson seems hard to beat.
After cooling down with a drink, resting up for bit and double checking my next flight plan, I headed back to the Tri-Pacer. After getting everything in order (or so I thought) I prepared to taxi to the runway. After obtaining ATIS, I made my first call to ground control with my departure intentions. I received updated altimeter info, runway in use, etc. and ground verified the departure heading I was requesting, etc. Just as I was about to taxi, I realized that I hadn’t been cleared to do so. What I failed to realize was that, trying to be prepared, I had already switched over the next frequency. I made a second call that I was ready to taxi and was politely informed to contact ground. Feeling like an idiot I went back and obtained my taxi clearance and headed towards the runway. Then while attempting to contact tower to be cleared for takeoff, I inadvertently dialed in the departure frequency. I apologized, and laughed at myself when the controller said “I’ll get to talk to you eventually.” Better to laugh at myself than to get frustrated. Still, next time I want to correct all of these little misqueues.
I departed runway 20 and headed to the southwest towards Scottsoboro, AL. The scenery in northern Alabama was beautiful, despite the not so great visibility. I can only imagine how awesome it would be a few thousand feet higher and with unlimited vis. The flight to Scottsboro was only 45nm, with plenty of good landmarks for pilotage. It was fairly easy to follow the Tennessee River as it flows southeast and through the south side of Scottsboro. A few large power plants along the river helped confirm my precise location and served as great checkpoints. Using the GPS as a backup for navigation is nice. However, what I really like it for is mileages, which helps me make CTAF calls at uncontrolled fields. I reported my location and intentions at 10, 6 and 3 miles out. Winds were calm at Scottsboro, so I chose to land on runway 4. The airport was pretty quiet. I didn’t hear any other traffic on the radio, and there wasn’t much activity on the ground either. After chocking Big Red, I grabbed my logbook and walked into the modest FBO. I was greeted by Carl, the airport manager, who introduced himself and asked if I needed anything. I told him I was on my first long solo cross country flight, and he was happy to make an entry in my logbook. He immediately recognized Big Red as a Tri-Pacer and told me of the adventure he had on his first solo cross country, which included a fogged in destination and an a off-field landing. Pilots always have a great story to tell.
The Scottsboro Municipal Airport FBO is easy to locate. It’s pretty much the only building on site. I say this, because it can be difficult to locate the FBO at some of these smaller municipal and regional airports. There are a few rows of planes and available tiedowns between the runway and the FBO. I imagine this FBO is similar to many at airports this size in our area. Carl, the airport manager greeted me and was very polite. After chatting with me for a few moments, and making sure I was taken care of, he went about his duties. There is a small lobby with restrooms off to one side. There is also a small kitchen and snack area. All snacks were $0.50 and on the honor system. Classic small town airport. Although the internet access wasn’t very fast, free wifi was available, and I was able to check the weather and update my flight planning in Foreflight while in the lobby. This FBO was quite the contrast from Wilson Air as far as facilities. However, the conversation with the airport manager is what I’ll remember most. I knew nothing about Scottsboro it until I found it on my sectional chart. I did some research on it, thought it might be a fun place to land and I gave it a go. And it was. This is what I’m looking forward to more of as I continue to pick locations in which to land.
I sent a text message to my instructor to let him know I was once again one the ground. He informed me of some weather between Scottsboro and Carrollton that would affect the final leg of my cross country. I spent the next 15-20 minutes looking at weather radars, checking forecasts and trying to devise a plan. Should I wait for the weather to dissipate? Should I try and fly around it? Should I make plans to stay in Scottsboro? The cells didn’t seem to be moving at all, so I finally decided to make a call to the Flight Service Center to get an updated weather briefing. I received a ton of weather information about the area I was proposing to fly in and around. We decided that while the weather was not suitable to fly on my route, it was very stationary and therefore easily avoidable. I amended my flight plan for this leg to depart to the northeast (back towards Chattanooga) and then fly east towards LaFayette (9A5). At that point I would follow the Rome VOR and then on to CTJ, heading around the weather. It was this leg of the flight that I really appreciated the XM NEXRAD radar on the 496 display. As I continued south of Rome, I kept an eye on the weather to the west, out my right window. I cross referenced this visual inspection with the radar on the Garmin to verify I was remaining clear of the weather. The visibility was much better to the east, so I maintained a more easterly heading when necessary. Once I spotted the Paulding County Airport, I started feeling better. I knew I was close and I was back in more familiar territory. I maintained my course and soon found myself flying over the pipeline tanks in Bremen, with my home airport in sight. It was about this time that Atlanta Center terminated my radar services, noting there was no traffic between my location and my destination.
After a fairly long day of flying (for me at this point anyway) I was glad to have CTJ in sight. I checked the winds and determined runway 17 would be the best choice for landing. I was coming from the north and could’ve landed straight in, but I always remember that my instructor says it’s nice to be a “good neighbor” and enter the pattern most of the time. So I teardropped into a left downwind for 17. I was setup for a nice soft landing and was determined to make this my best of the day, when all of a sudden I landed flat. It wasn’t a particularly hard landing, just flat – mains and nose gear all at once. Had I not just flown a long cross country, I might have done a touch and go for a smoother touchdown. As it was, I was getting tired, hungry and was glad to be on the ground.
During the day I had over analyzed my radio communications, landings and anything else that I could nitpick for improvement. What I hadn’t done is stop to think about what an amazing accomplishment I had achieved. I flew to two airports I have never even seen, except for during my preflight planning. One of these is a class C airport – another first for me. I made it to both airports without getting lost. I also made it home around some questionable weather without incurring additional risk. I analyzed the situation, gathered as much information as I could and made a safe decision that I was able to execute and return home. This solo cross country has gone a long way towards making me feel like a pilot. I still need a few more solo flights to towered airports, so I am excited about the opportunity to have this experience all over again.
- Dead reckoning
- GPS Navigation
- ATC Communications
- Long Solo XC - initial stop 84nm away.
- XM NEXRAD Radar
- Weather Avoidance
Solo/XC/PIC Hours: 2.8
Total Hours: 23.6