Second dual cross country - Sunday 21 May 2006 1pm

This one took me by complete surprise. I went into the Aero Club on Saturday to book the next cross country flight when they said that a slot was available tomorrow due to a cancellation! I eagerly grabbed it.

The weather was patchy, with visibility ranging from excellent to fairly poor in squally showers sweeping in from the northeast. My problems started from the fact that I was rushing to get everything done, from the moment I got up until we got airborne. I said to Instructor Loreen that had I been going solo I would have asked to postpone the flight because I knew I had done the bare minimum on the flight plan. I didn't however, cut any corners on the pre-flight. We had 108 useable litres of fuel in WAM so that would give us about 3 hours endurance. The flight was not expected to be much longer than 2 hours so we had more than the minimum requirements so we left because ECT (evening civil twilight - the time at which you have to have a night rating to be airborne) was 1737 local so according to the club regs we had to be back on the ground by 1652. Loreen wanted to be in the plane and taxiing as close to 1pm as possible. I had flight planned on winds of 20knots at 020 degrees. This meant that the first two legs would be more or less into wind so our ground speed would be appreciably lower. I planned 4 legs, from Hamilton to Thames, Thames to Great Barrier Island (to which I have never been to before so I was quite excited), Great Barrier to Ardmore and finally Ardmore to Hamilton.

We took off and was designated a Scott departure so we left track, went around the appropriate airspace boundaries and decided to rejoin track at Thames since the ground between Hamilton and Thames is fairly flat and we could see where we were going. Another student had left just before us with instructor Jonathan in a 152 so I was wary along the whole first leg of where they were because I knew we were faster and would overtake them. As it happened they were far enough ahead that they were downwind for the Thames runway before we arrived overhead. They took the shorter crosswind runway to us but I had a good look at the windsocks and they were pointing between them so it would be a crosswind no matter what runway we chose so I picked the longer one that faced in the direction we were vacating to make our stay in Thames as short as possible. I did a fairly decent landing considering I had not flown for a couple of months (good to see the skills are coming back as second nature to me after some time away) and we climbed away. Jonathan and student had climbed out and had decided to circle overhead and let us pass which was nice of them.

I got us to around 2000 feet when we saw the first of the squalls forecast sweeping in from the Pacific. I picked a gap in the shower cloud and we flew through it OK with minimal turbulence. In between the showers the air was stable and smooth and I started to enjoy the flight. Loreen had brought her camera and took some pictures of the scenery while I tried to keep as steady as possible. We had to duck through another gap in shower cloud before we reached the tip of the Coromandel Penninsula and broke into clean air over the sea. Looking at Great Barrier Island I could see that the southern end was shrouded in a rather large squall. We had to make a decision, risk the overland route which may or may not be clear and which I had never flown over before, or take a low route under the shower cloud around the eastern coast. I selected the coastal route for two reasons, firstly, I could see through the squall and there appeared to be clear air on that side, and secondly if there was more bad visibility behind the shower cloud we would have a lot more altitude to play with if we needed to get low. Also the airport is on the coast and finding it wouldn't be a problem. I was warned that first time landing attempts at Great Barrier are more often than not high. Mine was no exception and we ended up going around for another go. The wind was fairly strong above the airfield and I had made matters worst by getting too close to the airfield on the downwind leg. My second attempt went much better although we were high again but we made it down. The rather strong crosswind on approach disappeared on short finals and I made a fairly decent landing although we ran slightly off the runway because I had been expecting more crosswind and had fed in too much left rudder before we touched down.

We taxied clear and parked and got out for a stretch. I dipped the tanks quickly and we were down to approximately 68 useable litres (that was a conservative estimate). Loreen said that we would fly to Ardmore and refuel there before heading back to Hamilton, which sounded like a good idea. We had just shutdown when instructor Jonathan and student in the 152 landed. We walked the 100 metres or so down the road to where the Waikato Aero Club has its holiday lodge and had a look. I was suitably impressed. The "Barrier" is a very tranquil place, and lacks most of the modern infrastructure the rest of the country enjoys. It is not connected to the national power grid, has no waste water or drinking water services, has no traffic or street lights, no mobile phone coverage, and yet it was a very peaceful place. I noticed it as soon as I stepped out of the plane. The hustle and bustle of the outside world seems to melt away and things just shift down a cog.

Due to the fact that we had to refuel on the way back we needed to be airborne again by 4pm to make it back to Hamilton in time, and we were lined up and rolling by 10 minutes to 4. I did take the time while I was preflighting to watch the Britten-Norman Trislander take off. What a glorious sound the 3 engines make. We made a beeline for Ardmore, and managed to dodge a bit of cloud on the way. I can't tell you how enjoyable the flight was because the lack of turbulence made so much of a difference. We entered a narrow corridor of airspace to join at Ardmore and I was quite surprised at the sheer volume of traffic around the airport. The radio was filled with various aircraft chatter but the circuit itself wasn't very busy when we joined downwind. I made another passable landing and we taxied over to the Auckland Aero Club where the gas pumps were.

I had just filled the right tank was was walking around to the left when I saw Jonathan and student in the 152 do an excellent touch and go and then head off back to Hamilton. I knew we would not beat them back but the problem was the race, it was the race against time. We got airborne and headed south east away from the field along the published departure route and headed for home. The rain had cleared away the haze nicely and the countryside looked spectacular. We tracked east of the main highways around Mercer airfield and then headed back towards Taupiri and Hamilton. I had just got the ATIS down when I realised we were not going to make it back before the cut off time. I just hoped we wouldn't get into too much trouble as we did in fact get on the ground only 2 minutes late and well within any legal requirements. I taxied back to the tie down spot, shut down and rung up the National Briefing Office to terminate the flight plan before putting WAMs cover on and tying her down for the night. Loreen and I had a great debriefing session where she went over the points that concerned her. We were both fairly tired but we got through it well and she said that she is happy for me to do the next flight solo. I told her I will be getting in some time in the circuit to practise my landings before I go out and do the solo cross country and she agreed that was a wise idea.

Another fantastic flight, lessons learnt, and a great afternoon.