Today was a good day! I flew my 3rd cross country (XC) with my CFI (certified flight instructor) and he had warned me that at some point there would be a practice diversion, aka he would simulate an aircraft malfunction, airport closure, or pop up thunderstorm that would necessitate landing at an airport other than my planned destination.
In my prior two XCs I had become comfortable with flying a heading and altitude for each leg of the flight, keeping track of my time for each leg, orientating my aeronautical chart and knowing where I am at all times. Basically putting into practice what I had learned in ground school along with actually flying the plane; at times it’s a lot to handle. Listening and communicating on both radios, operating the timer, following your flight plan/log, staying at altitude, on heading, and in straight-and-level-coordinated-flight…. And keeping up with a bunch of other variables.
I’m happy to report that as discussed in my prior post I was able to enter the gps coordinates for both my non aeronautical checkpoints into the aircrafts GPS unit as I learned to do using the iPad simulator app for the unit.
This XC was planned for Carroll County Regional Airpot – the Lake Marburg bridge – the Lake Redman Dam – Smoketown S71 Airport – Chester County Airport just west of PHL. I carefully practiced my thorough flight planning making notes to show my work to my CFI and cementing the process in my mind.
I was warned I’d have to divert at some point so as one should always do I looked over my route and listed 8 airports along my route that would be likely acceptable points to land. I listed them in order based on runway length and width. On your check ride with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) you also have to do a surprise diversion.
I wanted to mount my camera and get some pics and video but decided to leave it at home and concentrate on the learning process. Though now I wish I had gotten at least a couple shots over the Susquehanna River. The scenery was breathtaking! It never gets old and I find myself lacking words to describe the scene unfolding before my eyes as I speed along at 115 knots 3500 feet above the ground covering the ground at 125 mph.
I navigated the above route and all my checkpoints appeared before me just as I had hoped after following my headings for the calculated amount of time and confirming my locations by the landmarks I had selected on the Sectional Aeronautical Chart and Google Earth.
Just after passing the last checkpoint prior to my intended destination disaster struck!!!!!!!!
My CFI informed me that my scheduled airport’s runway was closed !!!!! Enjoying the beauty before me and lavishing in the success of finding all my points along the way I had forgotten about the dreaded diversion.
“Take me to New Garden” says my CFI.
I SPRING into action….. Well actually for a second I think to myself “hummm sounds failure but I’m not sure….. OH NO.. I remember now, it’s one of my possible alternates resting comfortably near the bottom of the list due to its relatively narrow width, short length, distance off my planned course, and proximity to Philadelphia Airport PHL. SURELY he will tell me to circle once I get there and go back to my planned destination with its long wide runway.” This all flashes through my mind in a second prior to me pulling myself together and doing what I have to do to complete my training and be a safe, competent, skilled pilot. I want to do well So badly.
So I spring into action. Grabbing my chart I balance it across my lap and glance down to confirm my fear. Yes New Garden is what and where I thought it was. I attempt to engage the autopilot but it was malfunctioning and is useless (for real not a CFI trick) so I must fly the plane while planning my course. Every second that goes by takes me further from my known point and makes finding my diversion airport that much more difficult. Next I grab my shiny new diversion protractor/rule combination. Laying it on the chart eyeballing it straight with its center hole over my known point I slide the rule to New Garden and read 135 degrees on the compass and 24 miles on the rule. Without this combination protractor/rule I would have to balance the map, a protractor, and ruler plus possibly a piece of paper on my lap and get them lined up while also flying the plane. Akin to driving a car down a twisty hilly country road while texting on two phones simultaneously researching your next vacation on a laptop.
So within seconds I turn the plane to 135 degrees and restart my timer. Next I look on the speed/knots/time spreadsheet I made and determine that at 100 knots it will take me approximately 14 minutes to get to New Garden. 100\60 = 1.67, 24\1.67 = 14.37, 60 x .37= 22 So 24 miles in 14:22 or thereabouts. So I should start expecting to see it at about 10 minutes to make sure I don’t overshoot. Like I said the longer it takes to figure out your new heading and turn the plane the further off course you will be and the harder it is to pick out your intended airport. Especially a small one like New Garden.
After 10 minutes I start scanning the horizon for New Garden while looking for landmarks that I can find on my chart to help guide me in. I spot a huge pile of dirt approx 4 miles ahead with what looks like an old Pennsylvania country road leading up to it. It’s running perpendicular to my flight path and partially obscured by trees. Initially I think that’s it because it’s dead ahead at about the 14 minute mark and exactly where I would expect it to be if all has gone perfectly. But I dismiss it thinking “surely I can’t be that on target and surely the runway is wider and more in the clear”. I continue to scan but the closer I get the surer I become that in fact that is New Garden Airport. I remember reading somewhere that when going into an unfamiliar small non towered airport it is a good idea to fly over to positively identify the runway, it’s condition, and to ensure nothing is blocking it. New Garden doesn’t have an ATIS frequency with recorded airport information that I can listen to for wind information and any hazards in the area. I’ve already tuned a radio to a nearby airport with such a frequency and determine that runway 24 at New Garden is most favorable based on the winds at the nearby airport. My flyby has confirmed the runway is in “moderate” condition and clear. I identify an obstruction just off the approach end of the runway; a farmer’s silo.
I fly about 1.5 miles past the airport and at pattern altitude execute a 180 degree turn to intercept the runway at a 45 degree angle turning parallel to it and flying its length 1000 feet above the ground and 1000 feet to its right. A standard Left Hand Pattern. One last look to make sure the runway is safe. I’ve announced my location and intentions on the airports common frequency and no one has responded; no one is in sight. Due to the silo my final approach will have to be straight and glide path normal steepness; duo to the runway length I execute my unpracticed short field technique slowing to 61 knots and aiming for the very end of the pavement. If I go long or float at all I will have to abort the landing and go-around. Thank god the winds were light and I touched down smoothly with no floating and come to a stop in less than 2000 feet.
After taxiing off the runway I prepare the plane for takeoff and taxi to the end. Just before taking the runway my CFI instructs me to treat it as a short field takeoff. So I taxi onto the runway making sure I use every available inch, set flaps to 10 degrees, hold the brakes, power to full throttle, check engine gauges, release the brakes and off we go!
Reversing course I fly over my original intended destination and then use my flight plan to navigate back to Carroll County Regional. All in all a successful XC. My process and execution showed dramatic improvement while layering on new tasks without the help of my CFI stepping in when I fall behind the airplane. Pilot speak for not keeping up with what needs to be done when it needs doing.
Next up: in 2 days I go for two hours of night flying, landings. Then next Saturday weather permitting I fly solo the route I had originally planned to Chester County Regional.
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