My Long Cross-Country by Charlie Johnston

I took my long 300-mile x-country Sunday – it was an experience indeed!

I got up at 7 am to wrap up the checkpoint planning. Weather report: 4000 scattered, 6500 broken, forecast rapidly clearing. Over to the field at 9 and after CFI checked all my #’s and I filed and preflighted it was almost 11 when I took off. Cessna 152, N48195, VFR direct from TDF (Person County NC) to EWN (New Bern). Climb to 3500′, call Raleigh approach for flight following. Pretty bumpy, but nothing unexpected. Yet.

After about 30 minutes, Raleigh passed me off to Seymour-Johnson AFB, and about then the clouds started to thicken and drop. I descend to 3000, then 2500, then 2000. No big deal, catching all my checkpoints, In due time the Air Force hands me to the Marines at Cherry Point. I cruise into New Bern, do a little negotiating with the FSS there for info (“…this isn’t UNICOM, we just tell you the wind and *you* decide the runway…”), self-announce and land. I parked, closed the plan, filed the next leg, grabbed a snack, and was back in the plane.

Depart for Wilmington (ILM, New Hanover Int’l). Winds were picking up and pushing toward the restricted MOAs, but I compensated with more crab angle. I passed right over Camp Lejeune airfield. Getting quite a bit more turbulent – after two head-ceiling interactions I tighten my belt/harness, dial in the Wilmington VOR, ditch the map, and concentrate on flying the plane. It would have been pleasant viewing the coastline if it wasn’t so rough. Wilmington approach, then tower – report right base, cleared to land. Got established on base, over the city, 10 degree flaps, 70 kts, when – WHAM – big gust of tailwind. Skewed me to the side, and my airspeed went from 70 to 55 in a heartbeat. Nose down, more power, reestablish path, turn to final, land. Ground for taxi to Air Wilmington for fuel, free popcorn, and coffee. Got an updated weather briefing, still calling for clearing (clouds did lift eventually) – one PIREP of moderate turbulence at 5000′.

After a half hour rest I climbed back in, got clearance-delivery, then ground, tower, departure, and flight-following. Headed to Kinston (ISO). Again, really rough – and those “road-powerline” checkpoints are not so easy to pick out in the middle of the vast Weyerhauser pine forests. Again I dial the Kinston VOR and fly the plane. Picked up enough ground references to know my enroute progress, along with ETE calculations. Real difficulty in maintaining altitude control, zooming up in the convective thermals over the clear-cuts. Back with Seymour-Johnson radar now, advised of traffic at several points (most of which I did spot), maneuver-to-avoid corporate turboprop lifting out of Ellis (OAJ). Call Kinston UNICOM for winds/traffic/active. Hmm, 10 knot direct crosswind on the only open runway. 5 kts was about the most I’d done prior, but no field within 20 miles has a significantly different orientation, and I’m pretty ready to get down at this point. Cleared to land, left out final 10 degree of flaps on final, a bit more airspeed, ailerons into the wind, rudder to align. Nice touchdown, but then when the nose wheel came down I must have relaxed cause the wind caught me and I weathervaned hard. “Is this a ground loop” popped into my mind. I got on the brakes hard, and got it straight quickly, but it pumped some adrenalin for me. Taxi away from the wind then have to stop and ask tower to let me go to ground. Then – BOOM – wind catches elevator and shoves the yoke back into my chest. Alright, at this point I want a nice flight lounge recliner for a while. Tied up, control lock and gust lock, and into the FBO.

Call Raleigh FSS to close my plan, oops, forgot to open it in Wilmington, oh well. Got on the landline to home base, and the wind there is gusting to 17 kts, and is – yep – direct crosswind. At Kinston its still cross, now up to 13 kts. So I sit. And sit. Then I got the courtesy car and went looking for a late lunch. Brother, there ain’t nuthin in Kinston for fine dining. A Whopper with cheese… Later I’m back at the FBO. Still windy. Finally I waited *four* hours then in the late afternoon it dropped to 8kt quartering.

I’m outa there, quick circle to stop-and-go, climb out, turn for home, at about 7:00pm, ETE 66 minutes into 15kt headwind at 3000′. Air much smoother now, but the sun is getting a wee bit low. Well, I got till 1 hour after sunset, right? – no prob. I level off at cruise altitude, go to throttle back, and notice I don’t have the rpm’s that I should. Look down, and yep, didn’t get the magnetos back to “both” during runup. Click over, restored correct RPM, no prob.

I cruise for about 20 minutes, *finally* calm enough air to sight-see and relax, and then the fun starts. Low Voltage light. Hmmm, no other probs, ammeter centered, engine fine, maybe its a bad light. When Seymour-Johnson terminates my radar following, I call up Raleigh Approach. No reply. Wait then call again. “Aircraft calling Raleigh, your transmitter is malfunctioning, stay clear of Class C airspace.”


I contemplate this for a minute or two, then I notice the ammeter is now distinctly on the discharge side and it’s tick-tocking to the beat of my beacon. Called Raleigh Approach again, this time they hear me, give me a squack code and “radar contact 25 miles SE”. Getting seriously dusk at this point, still 40 minutes from home. I called back “Raleigh Approach, Cessna 48195. Are you having trouble reading me?” “Cessna 195, Raleigh. Yessir, your radio is not operating properly.” And the ammeter is even *more* to the left.

At this point I made a decision to divert. I could see on the map that there were two big airfields to my right, with no other good choices in the next 15 miles. Back to the radio “Raleigh, 48195 is a student pilot, and I’ve got a low voltage light here and would like to divert to Rocky Mount.” Immediately, “48195, turn right to 080. Contact Washington Center on 135.5, let them know if you wish to declare an emergency.”

Ooookaaayyyy. I’m glad I used Extra-Strength Arrid this morning.

Turn to 080, call Wash Center, tell them “I do NOT, repeat NOT, need to declare an emergency at this time. The plane is running fine but I think it best to land as quickly as possible” “48195, Rocky Mount is at 2 o’clock, nine miles – and Wilson Industrial at 1 o’clock, two miles.” I had already spotted the beacon at the latter and in due time was safely on the ground. Called Raleigh to let them know this, and a mechanic just leaving looked the plane over and declared a short somewhere was throwing out the breaker in the split-switch master. I called my home FBO, got my CFI, and spent two cold hours waiting till he and another pilot flew over in a Warrior to get me. My CFI flew the Cessna back, I right-seated in the Piper. He had the same problem but never lost lights or radio – guess he (or I) would have eventually. Got home at 1 am to a relieved wife and hungry baby.


Yeah, it was a long trip and a long post, I know…

And a few lessons…

1. Meteorology is not an exact science. Nuff said.

2. If you are a student, say so on the radio, you’ll get more attention.

3. “Two types of pilots – the cautious and the dead.” That’s what kept me on the ground in Kinston and got me on the ground in Wilson.

4. Bring a coat. If remote/late I’ll be carrying winter sleeping bag.

5. It’d be too ironic to make an emergency landing then die of exposure.

6. Don’t get in a hurry. I failed to file a flight plan at Kinston, and then muffed part of my runup because I was in a rush to get gone.

7. Textbook procedure landings can be modified. 70 kt/10 degree abeam, 65kt/20 degree base, and 60 kt/30 degree final is not *always* the best procedure especially in strong cross or head winds.

8.Carry a modest amount of cash, a bank card, a credit card, and a telephone calling card. Never know when weather is gonna strand you.

I gotta start hitting the books for the written exam. Thanks for tuning in!

Charlie Johnston