My long cross-country was from Lawrence, MA, to Portland, ME, then Laconia, NH, and back to Lawrence. Portland is class C, with approach control. We had flown dual into Portland for the night cross-country, but my CFI had handled the radio work. Portland was hard to see at night because it is surrounded by a sea of lights. Laconia is an uncontrolled strip just west of lake Winnipesaukee, and I had never been there.
I diligently planned out all three legs with checkpoints. I was concerned about the Portland to Laconia leg because I didn’t see too many identifiable landmarks on the chart. So I included a mid-route VOR checkpoint (intersection of two VOR radials). From the DUATS wind directions, I planned my approach to Laconia. My CFI warned me about some hills that I should watch out for on that approach. I also filed flight plans for the three legs through DUATS.
Preflight and departure went as planned. After leaving Lawrence’s class D, I called up flight service and opened my flight plan. I also requested flight following from Manchester approach. My calculated heading and groundspeed were working. Checkpoints to Portland were ticking off as planned. Manchester handed me off to Portland approach, and then to Portland tower. They told me to make a close in right downwind for 18 and cross over 11 at higher than normal pattern altitude. (They gave me the minimum crossing altitude.)
Just before I crossed 11, a twin-engine Saab landed right under me. I then descended and nailed the landing. Portland tower handed me off to Portland ground, and I asked for help taxing to parking. They were very helpful. I went into the FBO (very nice) to close my flight plan, and get a snack.
When I came back out, I discovered my first mistake. I neglected to write down the ground frequency. I didn’t have it on my planning sheet, and had to bother the tower (sorry) to get the frequency again. Ground pretty much set me up for my departure, including transponder code. I also asked them to confirm the correct direction to the assigned runway. The rest of the departure went pretty much as expected. Portland approach followed my route most of the way to Laconia. It turned out that landmarks I had thought were too far away were easily identifiable, and kept me on track. With Portland tracking me, I didn’t want to miss a call by switching to flight services, so I didn’t open that segment of my flight plan. My CFI later told me I could ask for a temporary frequency switch to do that.
Before long I saw Winnipesaukee. Eventually I crossed over Wolfeboro just before reaching the lake. As I was descending towards Laconia, I saw that the best approach would be from the other side of the airport. Ground winds had dropped to nil, and I heard another airplane call departure in the opposite direction from what I had originally planned. It looked good to me, so I called my approach to the downwind. About a minute later, I heard another airplane say he was crossing Governor’s Island, and was entering downwind for the same runway. I couldn’t spot him, so I immediately called that I was approaching the same downwind and would do a 360 to give him room. He asked where I was – over the lake. He said he was already over land by the water tower. I then saw him about 2 miles ahead. I just dropped in behind him and followed him in.
I didn’t have to close my flight plan this time, but took a short break. Fuel looked OK for the leg back to Lawrence. Leaning during cruise really does cut the fuel consumption. I called my taxi out to the runway, and did my runup. Before calling my departure, I noticed I had mis-dialed the CTAF. Whoops – called my taxi on the wrong frequency. I correctly called departure, and took off over the lake. Beautiful! I turned south toward Lawrence. I couldn’t contact flight services until I gained some altitude, but then I opened the flightplan for the final leg. Then I contacted Manchester approach for flight following again. I dialed in the transponder code, and hit ID. Manchester came back that they weren’t receiving my code. Another whoops! I had remembered to switch to STBY before changing the code, but neglected to switch back to ON. Corrected.
By now it was early afternoon on a pretty warm day. I was having a LOT of trouble holding my planned altitude. With constant power, one minute I would be going up 300 FPM, two minutes later down 500 FPM. It was tough to hold it in a 200 foot peak to peak band.
Again checkpoints worked. Manchester asked if I had Lawrence in sight – not yet. A couple of minutes later I spotted the airport, and Manchester turned me over to Lawrence Tower. Home!
Reflecting back, I realize I made some mistakes. I learned a lot. And I came away with a lot more confidence in myself. I hope everyone else enjoys their cross-country training as much as I did on this one.