Nothing beats the feeling of completing a well planned cross country. I had read about it on blogs earlier, but experiencing the feeling yourself is a whole different pleasure !
So this morning I flew a long cross country with my instructor. 105 nm from caldwell, located along the coast of Connecticut, Groton (GON) provides for a really scenic flight. So the journey really began yesterday night with the cross country planning. Winds were forecast to be 12 gusting to 18. There was a strong tailwind expected enroute to Groton and a strong headwind on the way back. Other than that the weather looked pretty nice. After 2 hours of going over maps, weather data, fiddling with E6B I had a flight plan (to and from) finally charted out.
Since I had an 8-12 morning slot booked with my instructor, today was one of those days when I actually got to see the sunrise (well not actually, cause apparently the sun likes to get up much earlier this time of the year). The first thing I did was to check up on the weather and see that things did actually look as forecasted. Called up the weather briefers and got a rapid fire rundown on the weather. Things looked good and winds aloft were as forecasted. So far so good.
Once at the airport and preflight done, I went over the flight plan with my instructor quickly. I was worried that I had chosen check points too far apart, but I guess not really. As per the flight plan we were planning to try and get clearance to transition through the NY class Bravo airspace. The flight to Groton was expected to take 50 minutes. Everything set up, I started taxiing. The sense of adventure was high as I had never gone east of the airport esp. close to the class Bravo inner circles.
Since there was no traffic, we got an immediate takeoff clearance and a downwind departure. The weather was awesome, light winds, 10+ SM visibility and clear skies. Once downwind I started looking out for my first checkpoint while climbing to my first altitude.
After leaving the caldwell airspace, we dialled in NY Approach and tried to contact them for transition. Apparently they were too busy so we couldn't get through to them. Ok, time to deviate from the plan. We turned left to keep out of Bravo and avoid other airspaces around. My instructor guided me on how to keep clear of airspaces so that we wouldn't get yelled at by anyone and would still be able to get to our route. We passed the hudson between the Tapenzee and the GWB bridges. What an awesome sight. The city does look awesome from up there. From over hudson we headed for the coast line close to HPN. From there we intersected the planned route back and the rest of flight was uneventful but scenic. Flying over the coastline has a lot of advantages. The coastline provides a nice profile using which you can easil y locate your position. The awesome scenery is definitely an added bonus. Further off towards the horizon we could see the tip of long island.
I had planned for a cruising altitude of 5500 but since we had done most of the flight at 2500 to avoid airspaces we decided to climb up only to 3500. I guess I did a pretty good job of locating my checkpoints (well we didn't get lost at any point, if that helps :) ). On the way my instructor asked me to do quite some E6B work. "What's our ground speed", "How much time to destination", "How much fuel will be burn" were some typical questions. I guess I am also getting more used to using the E6B since the calculations are becoming more clockwork.
The ATIS at Groton was out as per the NOTAMs I had got in the morning. So we called up tower with negative ATIS and requested touch and go with west departure. As there was no traffic we got a right downwind entry for 23. Groton, what an airport? Wide runway with land on one end and water close to the other. The touch and go was pretty uneventful and thankfully to the winds (or absence thereof), it was pretty smooth too. Good thing I had read up on the airport information again in the morning as I remembered that the departure procedure for Rwy 23 calls for a turn to 210 till reaching 1000 feet. So I followed that and got clearance from tower to turn right. Back on route we were expected to have slower groundspeed and thus the journey back was expected to take 77 minutes. But luckily the winds weren't as strong so we had a higher groundspeed.
Since I had decided to use the same checkpoints on the way back, the return journey was much easier. Again the same exercise of carefully avoiding the airspace as we flew under the Bravo. Coming over yonkers we hit some turbulence, but nothing that I can't manage by now. Coming closer to caldwell, my instructor asked me to use the NDB for paterson and I did a fair job at tuning it in. Oh yea, note to Cessna, please angle the ADF channel display as 13 looks like 3 :). I had dialled 1347 instead of 347 without realizing that I couldn't see the 1.
We got a straight in for rwy 27 and there was hardly any traffic. My approach and landing were pretty ok, not the best but then I have done much worse !!
All in all, the cross country pretty much went as planned, around 2.4 hours flight time, almost as planned. Since I am going on vacation for a month, won't be flying for the next month. But after coming back I definitely do look forward to doing some more cross countries with my Instructor and hopefully I'll be able to pick some more interesting and scenic locations to go to.
Till then, Blue skies.