Cross Country Dual - Wednesday 15 March 2006 1pm

The best day yet this week dawned for my first cross country flight. I planned from Hamilton, to Taumaranui, to Taupo for a landing, then onto to Tokoroa and back to Hamilton. It was great to hear the forecast speak of sky clear conditions and 70km visibility (no thats actual, we do get great visibility in NZ). I had learnt my lessons of the map reading and double checked my calculations and made sure that I had everything in order on the ground (including 2 pencils!!) before we took off. Instructor Dave asked me where my VFG was? In my bag, doh, stop the plane and get it out of the cargo hatch. Did I have my nav calculator? That was in my bag too. Oh well, we were airborne by then and crawling through the plane for someone my size would have been an exercise indeed.

Called up Christchurch Information, gave them our position and ETA for next waypoint (Taumaranui) and got to work sorting out the plane. WAM at full rich runs quite rich indeed and Dave commented that the 35 litres per hour we plan for is fairly conservative but if we did not lean the engine out WAM can drink 40 litres an hour. Thats definitely something to keep in mind when you are on a long trip. I leaned the mix back till the exhaust gas temperature gauge read somewhere in the middle and continued to keep an eye on it.

By this time we were cruising at 2500 feet and I was navigating using easily identifiable features like roads, bridges and railway tracks. Dave then asked for a climb to 4500 feet and when we got there I learnt another lesson about VFR navigation from altitude, its a lot harder to pick out even things like major power lines and roads. The country we were flying over is some of the more rugged in the North Island and for the most part is fairly devoid of significant features other than the odd town so I ended up navigating by selecting mountains on the map and marrying that to what was outside. We actually were bang on track (Dave complimented me on my navigation on the first two legs) and after reaching the halfway point recalculated our ETA and updated Christchurch Information with a new SARTIME (Search And Rescue TIME). We arrived pretty much spot on our ETA and I made the turn towards Taupo and recalculated our new ETA and SARTIME and Dave got me to do the radio call, which I did OK, except the reception at that location was fairly poor so we climbed another 500 feet and it was much better.

I started our descent into Taupo, got the weather information and runway in use off the AWIB and made our first call since Taupo has a MBZ (Mandatory Broadcast Zone - you have to make regular radio calls on their frequency). Parachuting was in progress and we were advised not to join overhead so I chose to make a wide right base for runway 17. The day was so clear we could see the individual parachutes opening above us as we descended. I made a fairly steep approach and we landed. I got out and at Dave's request dipped the tanks and calculated our actual fuel burn, which was approximately 30 litres an hour. Not bad and really gives you an idea about how economical planes can be when properly trimmed and set up. I wandered over the terminal and got some water from the vending machine. We had a quick debrief and set about leaving for home. We lined up and was about to go when we saw more parachutists descending. Dave said to take off and extend out the centreline which we did, then he decided we would make a non standard lefthand circuit and leave on the downwind leg. I continued to climb out and we saw a couple of aircraft pass below us.

Dave said that the trip back was to be my responsibility and thats where I started to get a little snowed under. I forgot to call a position check and had to be reminded. I didn't lean out the mixture. I did however, note the time we were on the downwind leg so I could more accurately calculate our ETA to Tokoroa. By the time I had gotten everything organised I knew we were quite some distance off track so I looked for features, got a fix and started to intercept track. Dave said nothing so I guessed I was doing fine. We got to Tokoroa and I made the turn towards Hamilton. Then we couldn't reach Christchurch Information to update our flightplan despite changing frequencies. Fortunately we were approaching Hamilton airspace well within our SARTIME so we decided not to bother and would request termination of the flight plan when we touched down.

The last mistake I made was daring to relax once we reached the Hamilton Control Zone. Now, just because you have spent the better part of your flight experience inside that airspace its a dangerous attitude to have. Dave stated in no uncertain terms that most accidents occur when a pilot takes that attitude. Point taken and noted for future reference. I made a fairly average landing and we taxied back and tied down. Poor Dave had to jump into another plane and go up with another student - ahh the life of the young C Category Instructor.

He did mention before he left that he believes I can do the solo cross country reverse trip, but I just need to tidy up a few things and prep slightly better but they are all learnable skills that require practice and repetition.

I will make the big flight in a few hours from posting this blog. I'll let you know things went when I get back.

Blue skies and fair winds all!