Stranded In The Southland

Monday, February 18, 2008

Down to Ramona

Today was miserably hazy -- I wouldn't have flown by myself in just 4 miles of visibility, although that's over the legal limit -- but it worked out okay for the 60-odd mile trip down to Ramona. In fact, this lesson went better than usual.

We got started about 20 minutes late, due to my paranoia about fuel. With aircraft, you can't trust the fuel gauges, and have to visually check the amount in the tanks. There are little horizontal tabs set in the tank (on Piper I fly, at 17 gallons), and if the fuel is above the tab, well, that tells you something.

The fuel was above the tab on one tank and below it on the other. If we had 34 gallons, when we use less than 10 per hour, and we were flying 68 miles one-way and then back, at around 100 mph, then it was kind of a no-brainer. I couldn't really tell how much below the tabs we were, or what kind of diversions we might take on the way, so I was anxious to top the plane off. I waited around for the truck to come by; I was a little embarrassed that we only took on 8 more gallons of fuel, in the end. I guess I can be a little less paranoid next time, which is a good lesson.

So after a good 20 minutes wasted (by my over-caution), we headed out for Ramona, using flight following for the first time. This is where you stay in radio communication with a controller the whole time, with on-going radar tracking. The idea is that you can get warnings about traffic ("Watch out for a Cessna four miles out at your 2-o'clock") and pretty immediate help if you have any problems.

It requires a lot more attention on the radio, though, and this was probably the most challenging part of the whole exercise. Well, aside from the fact that I tended to drift off of the correct heading with disturbing frequency. In any case, I managed to navigate (mostly by myself) down to Ramona, get into the pattern, and land, without a whole lot of input, which felt pretty good.

I was surprised that the haziness didn't make it harder to navigate -- with the VOR radio bearings it wasn't too bad, and I had more problem recognizing landmarks than I did spotting them. Eh, hopefully I'll spend more time with Google Maps checking out the satellite pictures.

Anyway, later in the week I'm off to do some solo work in the pattern, and then some night flight and some instrument training. Hmmm.