Saturday, August 28, 2004

Crystal River through the haze - Part 1

One of the reasons I learned to fly was to enable me to visit my family more often. My mom lives in Tampa, dad's in Homosassa, and Maureen's family is in Palm Beach County. There's no easy way to get to any of these places. All of them take from 3 to 6 hours depending on the number of tourists clogging the roads with their gas guzzling SUVs.

Getting to Tampa takes 1 hour 10 minutes in a Warrior and Crystal River (near Homosassa) takes only 55 minutes--assuming no wind. As an added bonus, there are no SUVs in the air!

Next week is my dad's birthday, so I planned a trip to Homosassa to spend some time celebrating. Since the afternoon and evening weather in Florida this time of year generally calls for thunderstorms, I planned to spend the night and fly home Sunday morning arriving in time for my instrument lesson at noon.

Friday night, I went to the Jaguar's game, but left early so I could get some sleep before my flight. I stayed up a little later than planned as I was fiddling with my flight plan and my GPS. I'm pretty meticulous in my flight preparation, and sometimes this takes me longer as a result.

Nevertheless, I got up fairly early and headed out to the airport. The sky was full of clouds that were formed by the early morning mist burning off. Winds aloft were forecast from a northerly direction, and I expected that to give me a slightly shorter flight.

My preflight showed that the tanks were nowhere near full, so I had to wait for refueling. I also discovered that the left position light was burned out, so no return at night was going to be possible--good thing I planned to spend the night! At least the strobes were working--they had not been working the last three times I flew N6033H.

I strapped in, got organized and went through the checklist. The engine caught after just a few blades and all instruments were in the green.

Whenever I go cross-country, I always get flight following. I usually file a flight plan, but I generally don't activate it. More on the reasons for that in another post. I made my call up to ground control at Craig Municipal and was greeted by a voice that I didn't recognize. It took a bit longer than usual for the ground controller to respond, so I figured he was getting a sip of coffee, or perhaps he was handling both tower and ground responsibilities. I advised him of my intent to fly to CGC at 6,500 feet and requested flight following. He took quite a while to respond and finally gave me a squawk code, but never cleared me to taxi. As I waited, a couple of other pilots requested taxi clearance, but no flight following and they were cleared to taxi to runway 32. After inputting the squawk code, I called the ground controller again and asked him what runway would he like me to taxi to. I was greeted by a more familiar voice that cleared me to 32 after a company Cessna was clear of Bravo-4.

As soon as the Cessna passed, I taxied to 32 and completed most of the pre-flight checks on the roll. This involves verifying that the flight controls work, engine gauges and flight instruments are working properly, a check of the annunciator lights, and setting the heading indicator. This meant that my runup would take less time as it would only involve checking the magnetos, alternator, vacuum, carb heat and one more check of the auxilliary fuel pump.

I approached the hold short line at 32 and announced to the tower that I was ready to go at 32 and I was immediately cleared for takeoff and left turn for my southwest departure. It was lights, camera, action, showtime at 9:50am.

With just me in the plane, she climbed at better than 700 fpm, which was nice. Using the GPS and the VOR, I maneuvered on course after reaching 500 feet. The tower then handed me off to Jacksonville Approach. Approach responded quickly and that's always nice when flying VFR. On busy days, they often ignore VFR flights and it is always better to have a controller watching out for traffic in addition to watching for yourself.

Climbout was uneventful although I had to adjust my course to avoid some clouds between 3000 and 4000 feet. I reached my climbout point precisely as I had calculated and I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Of course, if I had followed the charts in the POH, I would have missed the calculation by about 2 miles and 60 seconds. A little experience with the plane goes a long way.

---more to follow---

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