Second Solo Cross Country (and some surprises) - Saturday June 3 2006 10am

Turned up reasonably early to the Aero Club. The weather in Hamilton was fine, with a scattering of cirrus at 7000 feet. Got the weather briefing and NOTAM's printed out and sat down in the pilots lounge to go over them. Today I was to fly from Hamilton to Rotorua to Tauranga to Whitianga and back to Hamilton. There was a nasty looking low pressure system sitting in the Tasman Sea west of New Zealand, but a high pressure system sitting over the south island was holding its own and the usual west to east progress of the low was slowed dramatically. I dared to hope I could make it around my trip before the weather closed in. This trip was fairly run of the mill in some respects, it wasn't my first solo cross country, I had landed at all the airports (some at the controls but others as a passenger) with the exception of Rotorua but I have spent some time living in Rotorua so I knew where to find it. So there really wasn't too much to look forward to except one thing, I would be flying the clubs 180 hp 172 ZK-JGP and not my trusty steed WAM. With the trough to the northeast sending low shower cloud down the eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula it might be touch and go as to whether I could get into Whitianga, let alone cross the Kaimai's.

After getting my flightplan approved by Instructor Dave, I was late getting underway because I had to fill ZK-JGP's tanks and there was a queue to fill up. I was cleared a swamp departure to 2500 or below and aimed to intercept my track at Lake Karapiro. The visibility was excellent, at least 60 kilometres, so I found the bend in the lake and turned onto my first heading. I couldn't see Lake Rotorua in the distance because it's hidden somewhat in its own caldera. So I read from map to ground to verify my track and we were more or less bang on the money.

Crossing the Mamaku hills I picked up a bit of turbulence but nothing too bad. Got the Rotorua ATIS down and called up. The radio conversation went well before the controller realised he didn't know my aircraft type so I told him. He cleared me to enter the Rotorua control zone and to call approaching the lakeside. I put JGP into a cruise descent and we moved into calm conditions. I noted we were doing 125 knots indicated and made good time. I reported at the lakeside and was cleared left base for runway 36 number 2, with a request that I keep the speed up because they were expecting heavy traffic (well, if you can call an ATR heavy traffic) on a long final from the south. Sure enough, straight after I acknowledged ATC the pilot of the ATR radioed in his position. The guy in front of me landed and taxied clear, and I was cleared for a touch and go and a departure on track to Tauranga.

I was a touch apprehensive at this point because I had not flown JGP in some time (she had a new engine fitted) and I wondered how different it would be from WAM. I put her down on the numbers with a very satisfying squeak from the tyres and then after pushing the throttle home JGP literally leapt off the runway and streaked skywards. The new engine in JGP has just been run in and she is even more impressive to fly now than before.

OK look for the next heading, and continue to climb out to 2500 feet which was what I had chosen to cruise at because the next leg would only take about 15 minutes and would take us to the coast. I had just reported clear of Rotorua airspace and had set about getting the ATIS for Tauranga when I realised I had not amended my SARTIME and I had about 10 minutes left. So I had to quickly call Christchurch Information, amend my SARTIME, switch back to Tauranga ATIS, copy everything down that I needed and call Tauranga Tower up. That was a few minutes of hectic activity because the point I had marked on my map to call Tauranga, Te Puke (don't laugh its pronounced Pawk-ee) township was coming up fast. I called and was cleared for the arrival procedure I had anticipated. The only problem was, the sports ground I was supposed to orbit, I couldn't find so I picked a likely spot and orbited, and lo and behold there was the sports ground below me and slightly off to the west. I was cleared into the circuit number 4 and followed the crowd in. As I was on short finals I was recleared for the departure procedure I had requested with a warning that hang gliding operations was taking place off Mt Maunganui so I had to keep a look out for them. I saw them as I went past, and one of them was some height above my 1000 feet.

It was there that I saw the cloud. Lots of it, and rather low. I continued up the coast, called clear of Tauranga airspace and switched to the Coromandel Peninsula frequency. I headed off shore to get around the worst of the shower cloud and headed for Waihi beach, after contacting Christchurch Information and updating my SARTIME (phew!!). There happened to be quite a hive of activity happening off the air strip at Waihi beach so I flew further out to sea and headed up the coast for Whangamata.

By the time I had got to Whangamata the weather had brightened a bit so I climbed to 2500 feet and cruised north on a direct line to Whitianga which I could see in the distance. One thing I did note the more north I got was that the wind had picked up considerably. When I arrived overhead Whitianga I was correcting for a lot of drift so I knew there was a considerable amount of wind. I spied the windsock and it indicated that 04 was the into wind runway so I decended on the non traffic side and joined right hand downwind for 04. I hadn't really taken into account how strong the wind was because it became apparent on finals that I needed to apply power and fly us to the airfield as I did not have a lot of groundspeed. I decided to land and reassess my options. I landed and taxied over to the Mercury Bay Aero Clubrooms where the pumps were. After ringing the National Briefing Office and amending my SARTIME I rang the Aero Club and advised them that I was on the ground in Whitianga and that a direct return from Whitianga was probably not within my personal minimums and that I would be diverting through the Waihi Gap. Then I rang Susan and told her I was OK and that I expected to be back in Hamilton just before 2pm.

A drink of water and a chocolate bar later I was back in the air. Takeoff was rather exhilarating to say the least. A 20 knot headwind + 180hp equals one hell of a climb rate (I think it was about 1100 feet a minute at 80 knots indicated). I turned towards the mountains for "a bit of a look". The closer I got to the hills the worse the turbulence got so I decided to stick to my original plan. Calling up Christchurch Information I told them I was diverting through the Waihi gap and amended my ETA to Hamilton.

The flight back to Hamilton was rather uneventful, although once I got clearance to enter the control zone I overflew Susan's sisters house. I didn't get the chance to circle because I was trying to get in before some heavy traffic (is it always like this?). Flying downwind at 125 knots indicated gave me a fairly decent groundspeed and I was establishing in an early downwind in next to no time. Cleared number 1 on grass 36 I did another sweet landing and taxied clear. After shutdown I rang up the Briefing Office and terminated my VFR flight plan, rang Susan and let her know I was down and safe, and went inside to hand in all the gear and checklists. My longest solo flight was over, 2.7 hours in the logbook (which now totals 83.7 hours) and so was my formal flight training.

I handed over the checklist and Instructor Greg looked at me and said, well thats it for you, it's revision time. I rather naively asked what was next, and he said flying, lots of flying. He conferred with Instructor Paul and they had a student slightly more advanced along the path than myself who was readying himself for the checkride. They had pencilled in a tentative date for his and thought that why not, I should be able to do mine on the same day to maximise the use of the examiner. So there it is, June 19 is my provisional checkride date!!

But the story does not end there. I was chatting to the instuctors when I heard a cough and splutter and then the unmistakeable sound of a radial engine starting up. When I asked what it was they said that an F4U Corsair was next door getting some minor maintenance done and that he was going to head south to Omaka for home. Of course the obligatory low level pass down the runway would have to be performed (this was cleared with ATC of course). The Aero Club emptied and we all lined up at a safe distance while he took off. I think the sound of a radial at full throttle is one of the best sounds in the world, and the Corsair didn't disappoint. He took off, did a military circuit and flew down the runway at a decent height (I was told that the Corsair was one of two airworthy examples in NZ and it was the cheaper one of the two at only US$5 million). He then climbed away and thundered off to the south. Instructor John who was there then offered to show us his 3/4 scale P51D replica he is making. That was a treat too. I asked him what powerplant he intends to use in it and he said they will use an aviation modified Renesis rotary engine from a Mazda RX8. With 200 hp, an aluminium skin and no armour plating, this P51 should be a quick beast indeed. I noted it will be fitted with dual controls. I harbour a secret hope of being able to go flying in it one day.

I have an awful lot of flying to get through before I do the checkride. And if I know Instructor Paul, if I can get through one of his checkrides the real one will be a breeze. I will have to be on my game thats for sure. I'll post after each so expect more activity here for the next couple of weeks.