First X-Country

Yesterday, Saturday 18, 2006 and Sunday the 19 were my first cross country flights. Saturday was the dual and Sunday was the solo. Both flights were from KAPV (Apple Valley) airport to KWJF (Fox field) airport in Lancaster in California.

As usual the cross country started a week earlier with the cross country planning. I have heard many tips about planning and have to say that honestly it is one of the easier things to do in flying. So I had the checkpoints and times and fuel burns calculated and was ready to go. Met my instructor at the field. As usual, we needed to go get fuel. Getting fuel as a student pilot is only fun possibly the first two times you do it then it just becomes a pain. So we suffered through that and taxied to the hold short line of runway 18.

We sent the call over CTAF and off we went. Now anyone who knows what flying a Cessna 150/152 is like knows that two people and full fuel is a very interesting combination to say the least. Fortunately we had a slight headwind right down the runway so we had luck keeping about 500 foot per minute climb rate. As soon as we got about 600 feet above the ground we turned westerly and headed to Fox. We had decided on 6500 feet for the altitude and kept climbing; However, not to far from Apple Valley is So. Cal (Southern California) Logistics airport (Victorville airport to many.) I had never dealt with ATC before (it is one of the easier things to do VFR) so my instructor did all the talking so I could hear and learn.

We got cleared to transition through the class D airspace from West to East and we flew right on through. As soon as we got clear it took only a couple of minutes to get to altitude. Finally, the joys of leveling off in a C-150. The plane took its sweet time accelerating to approximately 95 Knots (110 MPH) and set course to Fox field.

Fortunately for me Fox just meets the cross country requirements and is a very easy fly. The minimum mileage requirement for being considered cross country is 50 NM. Fox field is just a mere 52 NM away! Very nice, you don’t have to burn up precious time and money. Fox is also a good first cross country because there are checkpoints about every ten miles, nice visible checkpoints no searching for something you can barley see.

As soon as we leave the Victorville airspace we can see the first checkpoint, El Mirage dry lake. This is a great checkpoint because the lake is elongated and you simply follow along the elongated part and off the other end and you continue on your way for another 30 NM. The next checkpoint was about ten miles away, a very tiny mountain (or in this case hill) peak. On the way out to Fox I actually missed it at first, however the next checkpoint was only a few quick miles away. On the way back I caught it fine, it even has a water tank on top to make it that much easier to spot.

The next checkpoint was the town of Lancaster itself. Once you see the city you know that you are almost there. All you have to do is stay between the edge of the city and the dry lakes on your right and you are sure to keep clear of the the PMD (Palmdale) class D airspace. We keep our distance and move around to the East side of Lancaster where Fox is located. My instructor spots the field long before I do -most likely from countless trips out to it- but then again who doesn’t have a hard time once and a while picking out a small strip of asphalt in the middle of the land.

About 15 NM out we tune into the ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service) and get the weather, identifier letter (S, Sierra that day) and notices. The identifier letter lets the tower know that you have listened to the broadcast and know all paramount information.

“Fox tower, Cessna 7-1-4 Romeo Romeo.” we initiate contact; “November 7-1-4 Romeo Romeo, Fox tower.” “7-1-4 Romeo Romeo, have information Sierra, would like to land.” “7-1-4 Romeo Romeo, make straight in runway 24, report a two mile final over the freeway.” “Straight in runway 24, report at two miles, 4 Romeo Romeo.” A whole lot more communication than the CTAF at Apple Valley, my first time dealing with a control tower. Fortunately for me all the local airfields with control towers (CT’s) are rarely very busy with traffic so most communication is pretty straight forward. Fox field is no exception.

We make the fast straight in to the runway- there were Moonies in the local pattern, and all know that 150’s and fast Moonies don’t mix well- and loose some altitude. As soon as we get mostly over the freeway we call in, “Fox tower 4 Romeo Romeo, reporting two mile final.” The reply “7-1-4 Romeo Romeo, cleared to land runway 24.” “Cleared to land runway 24, 4 Romeo Romeo.” The most basic concept to remember when dealing with a CT is to reply all pertinent information- runways, taxiways, clearances, etc.- all the while without crowding the frequency. It does take a few tries to know what is most important and what just uses up valuable radio time.

We head down to the runway and land, with no wind so a very beautiful landing. We slow down and exit the runway, roll slowly over the hold short line and call the tower. “Fox tower, 4 Romeo Romeo, clear the active, would like to taxi back and head out.” “7-1-4 Romeo Romeo, taxi back approved, stay on this freq. [frequency].” We start the taxi back slowly and take time to observe all the old decommissioned aircraft around the departure end of runway 24. Fox has quite the arsenal of old aircraft and I hope that someday I can fly over and tour them. Fortunately the one way time to Fox and back even in out slower aircraft isn’t that long so we head back out to Apple Valley. The flight lasted just over two hours in total time, however any amount of time sitting in a cramped plane for that long really gets to you.

The next day was my turn. My big cross-country solo. Once again to the fuel pumps and then to the active and departed out. Dealing with ATC was no problem and I even got to request flight following on my own, we didn’t do that the day before. I was granted Flight Following and got the usual traffic advisories. The most interesting was when Joshua appr. came on and said “4 Romeo Romeo, are you flying formation?” Uh-oh, this can’t be good. “Negative!” I reply. “Were showing someone right on top of you.” The only words that will truly panic a pilot, no one wants a midaiir. As any pilot would, I start frantically looking around me and finally see the idot in a mooney who dicided to overtake me within 50 feet. No incidents to report though thankfully. Fox was a little busier that day, I was straight in number two. Then, for PPL (Private Pilot License) requirements, I did three full stop landings. By the time I left there were many aircraft in the pattern. Then, once again on the way back to APV. Overall uneventful and a very calm flight.

The solo cross-country is one of the biggest milestones for a student pilot. Mine was no exception and was a very cool learning experience.
Paul Kendall