Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vegas Baby!

I had to go to Las Vegas this week for a company-sponsored convention, Better Management Live. Since I knew I'd be arriving in town around 1pm, I made arrangements with West Air Aviation at the North Las Vegas Airport for a check ride and a rental of a 2002 Cessna 172SP.

The earliest that I could get the check out was at 4pm and they told me I would need to do a 2 hour checkout. Nevertheless, I planned to fly to the West Grand Canyon airport (1G4).

Don Ford was assigned as my instructor. He's a young guy from upstate New York. He took a quick look at my logbook and I told him about the planes that I've been flying. Since I fly nearly every weekend, he wasn't too concerned about my skills and he didn't ask me any questions about the FARs and such.

I had invited my colleague, Matt Flynn, to come along. Matt's dad flies gliders in Michigan and Matt was looking forward to the flight.

We preflighted and discussed the radio calls that we would need to make. North Vegas (KVGT) is a class D airport that is situated under the Las Vegas Class B airspace. There are special VFR transition routes that are documented on the TAC and the airspace is very busy.

Don warned me about flooding the plane as apparently this plane has a tendency to do just that. The plane was still warm from the prior flight although it had been refueled. It took a few tries for the starter to engage the flywheel, but once it grabbed, the engine started ok.

At North Vegas, the ATIS said clearance was delivered by ground control. The local controllers do not want a courtesy call and I was warned that they would be annoyed if I gave them one. Just the facts - who you are, where you are and what do you want. I called the ground controller and said, "North Vegas Ground, Skyhawk niner-seven-five-tango-alpha, at West Air with tango, taxi for northwest VFR." The controller immediately gave me a squawk and cleared me to taxi to and hold short of runway 7. Don then explained that North Vegas with its crossing runways had one of the highest incidents of runway incursions in the US last year...not good.

The runup area was to the left of the Golf taxiway, so we pulled over and went through the runup. Finding no problems, I taxiied to Golf, then advised the tower that we were holding short of 7. The tower then advised me to taxi across 7 and hold short of runway 12. He said we were number 3 for departure. I read back the instructions as we began to roll. There was a light twin waiting to depart ahead of us and another plane that had been told to position and hold. Don then explained that at North Vegas, we do not need to call the tower to say we are ready to go.

Once the twin departed, we were cleared for takeoff and told to make a right downwind departure. Departing from a density altitude of around 3400' is something I've never done in Florida. I had expected some decreased performance, but with three people in the plane, I got much more than I expected. The plane began the take off roll and as the airspeed indicator showed 55 knots, I pulled back on the yoke slightly. The nose came up, but the plane kept rolling on the runway. At about 60 knots, the plane lifted off and we began our climbout at about 600 fpm. At home in Florida, when you pull the nose up, the plane jumps into the air. This was a very different experience.

Don told me I could begin my crosswind turn at 2500' - which was only 300' AGL - a bit low by my standards, but that's the local procedure, so I didn't argue. I concentrated on making a nice smooth climbing right turn at standard rate. He instructed me to level off at 4000'. ATC called traffic for us which we both had spotted off to our left. Once we cleared the airspace, Don switched frequencies to a local practice area frequency and we spotted two other planes coming at us at our altitude. I asked him if he would like to monitor 121.5 on the COM2, but he said no. He had me make a few turns, and a climb. He seemed convinced that I could fly the plane, so he asked me to descend and fly back to the airport by following the localizer that he had just tuned for us. We were heading around 090 and the localizer was for the 12 left approach, so I waited for about 2 to 3 dots of deviation before beginning my turn to 120 - lined it up nicely.

Prior to entering the class D, we listened to the ATIS - same as when we departed. I then called the ATCT for North Vegas and requested touch-and-go. The tower advised me that they could not comply and that I was to remain outside of the class D as well - That's a first for me. I've never had a class D tower tell me not to enter his airspace...technically, two way radio com is all that is required. We made a turn back to the right and circled in the area. We were finally permitted to enter the airspace, but could not get the option. I would have once chance to show the instructor that I could land the plane.

As we approached, ATCT told me to make some S turns to maintain separation or slow it up - I was already going pretty slowly - about 80 knots. I could see another Cessna in front of me on final, but he had wandered way off to the left of the runway. His landing was very abrupt - from my vantage point, it looked like he had just dropped onto the runway and had stopped very short. I even asked Don if he thought they were ok. It looked like an impossibly short landing and I thought they had landed short - but I was apparently wrong.

I maintained 65 knots on the approach with about a 500 fpm descent rate. Before crossing the threshold, I pulled the power and let the speed bleed off. My roundout and flare were just above the numbers, but I could tell that I made Don nervous because he started to reach for the yoke. Nevertheless, the touchdown was smooth and we were never in any danger of a prop strike or anything like that. It was a good landing.

We taxied back to the hanger and chocked the wheels. Don signed me off with only 0.7 hours of flying time. His record was 0.6 which we might have beaten if we had received clearance sooner.

While we flew, we had a good view of the mountains nearby and of the desert below. Looks like a bunch of sand and cactus to me.

After filling out a little paperwork, Matt and I went back to the plane for our flight to the Grand Canyon...more on that in the next post.

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