A combination of poor weather and a hectic business travel schedule have saved me a great deal on personal flying costs this month. I was looking through my log book the other day and realized that I had only flown once in October.
Therefore, it was with great anticipation that I drove to the airport yesterday morning. I had planned a flight down to Flagler County (X47) since that would be counted as cross-country flight due to the 56 nm distance from my home airport, Craig Municipal (KCRG). The night before, I used the AOPA real-time flight planner to plan my route, get weather data, check notams and file the flight plan for both the outbound and return flights.
The plane was in fine shape for the trip and the pre-flight inspection showed no problems at all. I brought my Sony digital camera, tripod and my remote shutter control so I could take some airborn photos through the windshield. I mounted the tripod on the passenger seat using the seatbelt to strap it in. I set the aperature to f8.0 which is the tightest setting for this camera and I set the focal distance to infinity. With the tight aperature and infinite focus, I expected that both the distant and foreground would be in focus and by leaving the shutter speed on automatic, the exposure should be bright enough. I also set the flash to fire regardless of light conditions to ensure that the cockpit would show clearly.
Calling ground control, I asked for and received flight following at 5,500 feet. Unfortunately, I had to taxi all the way to runway 14 which is the farthest from the ramp. While taxiing, I checked the instruments, flight controls, annunciator lights, set the heading indicator, confirmed the altimeter setting and set the transponder to the discrete code that the controller issued for my flight following. This left just the run-up to complete once I reached the run-up area. All systems were go as I approached the hold short line, switched to the tower frequency and asked for takeoff clearance. I I immediately received clearance and I hit the lights, turned the transponder to "alt", pointed the nose down the centerline and eased the throttle to full power. As the plane began to roll down the runway, I spun the bezel on my watch to note the takeoff time of 12:28, two minutes earlier than my flight plan forecast. Good for me!
The weather was cooler than it has been for some time - just right for a North Florida fall. This cooler than usual air improved the takeoff performance of the plane and I quickly reached 500 feet AGL where we usually begin our turns. I had previously set the OBS on the VOR to 165 degrees and I turned south to intercept the radial. I also had entered my entire flight plan into my handheld GPS as a backup to the usual instruments. As I flew south, it quickly became apparent that I would not be able to climb directly to 5,500 feet and remain in VMC, so I leveled off at 3,500. This put me approximately 500 feet below the clouds which appeared to be gaining altitude. As I passed out of Craig's class D airspace, I switched the comm over to 122.2 and called up Gainesville Radio to open my flight plan. This was handled quickly and I immediately switched over to 124.9 for the Jacksonville Approach Control and checked in. I was asked to "ident" and to advise the controller of any altitude changes. A few minutes later, I spotted a gap in the clouds that was large enough to enable me to climb to 5,500 feet while remaining legal for a VFR flight. In less than 4 minutes, I was at 5,500 and showing a ground speed of 128 kts with an indicated of 105kts. Winds aloft were performing as expected for a change.
As I passed south of Saint Augustine (KSGJ), the controller handed me off to Daytona Approach who advised me to begin my descent into Flagler at pilot's discretion. I was practicing my VOR radial tracking and was quite successful never deviating more than one dot off the course. I confirmed my position with the HSI in my GPS and both matched. When I was about 15 miles away from Flagler, my GPS announced that I had reached the vertical navigation point, so it was time to begin my descent. I called Daytona Approach and advised that I was descending and the controller asked me to advise when the airport was in sight. Although the sky over Flagler was much clearer than Craig, haze obscured my view of the airport. At 10 miles, I started to see the outline, though, so I told approach that the destination was in sight. The controller terminated radar coverage and advised me of the current traffic around the airport.
I tuned the AWOS and found no wind. Tuning the CTAF, I learned that other aircraft were landing and departing from runway 29 and traffic was in a left pattern. This meant that I would either fly over the airport above pattern altitude, or use a midfield cross-wind entry to the pattern. Since there are many students who fly from Flagler and there were three or four planes in the vicinity, I thought it would be safer to overfly at 1,500 then make a descending course reversal and a 45 degree entry to the downwind.
As I crossed the runway, a slow pokey Cessna announced they were entering the left downwind on the 45, so I joined the pattern behind her. What a slow plane! I really had to pull the throttle back and extended flaps early to avoid overtaking her. As she turned her final, I was ready to turn my base. As I turned final, I could see her crossing the threshold and drifting to the left of the centerline. She really drifted and her right wheel was to the left of the centerline when she touched down - thank God for wide runways! Fortunately, she quickly exited the runway and was clear of the active as I crossed the threshold. I made a smooth touchdown and taxiied up behind her. I could see that there was a restaurant directly in front of the aircraft tie downs, and without any other instructions, I taxiied to the last spot in front of "Hijackers" restaurant.
As I shut down the engine and the electronics, I called 1-800-Wx-BRIEF to close my flight plan.
It was a great day to sit outside and eat a $100 hamburger...I just wish I had taken a passenger with me! After lunch, I flew home.
Tuning the AWOS, I learned that winds were between 8 and 10 knots from 80 to 90 degrees - that meant that there was a good tailwind, however, there were still planes in the pattern using runway 29 and I wasn't about to try going head-to-head with them, so I planned for carrying extra speed on the takeoff roll to compensate for the tailwind. I had to wait for two planes to land before taking off. I probably could have gotten off ahead of either one, but I had time and there was no need to rush things.
This time, I did not open my flight plan, although I had filed one. Since a layer of clouds had formed a bit lower than when I arrived, I opted to remain below 3000' MSL and flew up the coast taking some nice pictures along the way. As I approached the Saint Augustine class D airspace, I contacted the tower and requested a transition along the coast which he quickly agreed to. There was a little bit of traffic, but I spotted everything before it was announced.
I thought this would be a good time to practice my approach intercepts, so I tuned 111.7 on NAV1 to get the ILS to 32 at Craig and 114.5 on the NAV 2 and 319 degrees on the OBS to give me a secondary backup. I never even looked at the GPS on the return flight. I intercepted the ILS and made the appropriate radio calls to Craig ATIS followed by the tower and was told to enter a right base to RWY 5. That's the preferred runway for my ramp since it minimizes taxi time. Unfortunately, it meant that I would eventually have to abandon the course on the ILS, but not before I intercepted the glideslope and flew that down to pattern altitude - 1000 AGL.
The approach was good although I began my turn to final a bit late and had to correct. My photos of the approach came out real nice, too. Having a remote control and a tripod made this easy. One of the instructors at Sterling was suprised that I was able to take pictures of an approach until I showed her the remote control and explained how I could do it while keeping my hands on the flight controls.
As usual, a good day for flying and I racked up 1.5 hours of cross-country day flight.