First cross country with passengers 30 Sept 2006

One of the cool things you get to do with your PPL is take people to other places a lot faster than you would by driving. Most of my passenger flights have been simple sightseeing jaunts around the Waikato countryside. This one was different.

To dare to talk about my life away from flying briefly I am one of the 6 million World of Warcraft subscribers and am active in a Raiding Guild. When I announced to them that I had gained a PPL some of the players from my home town and I hatched a plan to fly to Rotorua to visit other guildmembers. Unlike my American friends who do the $100 hamburger flights, this one would require a trip away from the airport because the food at airport lounges is not all that great and tends to be on the expensive side. One of the Rotorua locals selected a restaurant and would meet us at the airport.

So some 4-5 weeks ago I booked JGP (I still have not completed my Archer rating but wanted an aircraft I felt comfortable in to do this cross country) for 5 hours from 10am to 3pm. The plan was simple. I'd get out to the Waikato Aero Club at around 9am, get the weather, preflight the aircraft, do a weight and balance calculation and file a VFR flightplan. My passengers Aaron and Dwayne would arrive at about 10.15am with a plan to be airborne by 10.30am. As they say, the best laid plans always go to waste.

Hamilton was surrounded by fog and low lying cloud, once it lifted we managed to get airborne but it was still touch and go as to whether or not we could get to Rotorua as we needed the cloud to lift. When the tower cleared us for Special VFR (basically it means we are flying in weather below 'normal' VFR conditions but we are within a control zone so the minimums are eased slightly) I thought we were never going to get there, but the further away from Hamilton we got, the better the weather became.

I was a bit worried about my passengers but both assured me that they have had plenty of experience in light aircraft and after we got airborne it was apparent that my worrying was unnecessary. One of the tips I have received from the internet is to involve your passengers in the flight by getting them to do small things like look for aircraft. I told them I would follow State Highway 5 to Rotorua so they had to keep an eye on it for me. Of course, I was in fact map reading and following my magnetic heading on the DI but knowing where the road was at any given moment was a help.

I took down the ATIS at roughly the same spot I had when I flew into Rotorua solo and got cleared into the zone for a repeat of my last landing on seal 36. The weather was clear, with very little wind and as we descended over Lake Rotorua the air was very smooth. I performed one of those rare 'greasers' and got complimented for it by my passengers. Not being familiar with Rotorua and being unable to find the tie down area on the plate I had to ask for directions from Rotorua tower who gave them cheerfully. We taxied over and shutdown and I dutifully got out and terminated my VFR flight plan over the phone.

We saw Ryan waiting in his car behind the fence and wandered around trying to find a way out. Recent security scares in aviation have made International airports notoriously difficult for General Aviation pilots to get into and out of, and we ended up walking in through the arrivals gate in the passenger terminal.

After the short drive into Rotorua we were treated to a fabulous lunch. We were just finishing our food when the heavens opened and a torrential downpour ensued. I scanned the skies and fortunately it was just a passing cumulo-nimbus (rain) cloud.

We arrived back at the airport just in time to see the end of the rain shower and set about finding a way back onto the apron. I ended up asking someone in the passenger lounge and she directed me to the Fire Rescue building who let us in.

When I was preflighting I discovered I had done something rather naughty (and I'm still feeling guilty about it), I had left the fuel dipstick in Hamilton. That mean I had to estimate how much gas I had left rather than know for certain. When I was gassing up JGP in Hamilton I decided to go with less than full tanks due to the weight and decided to only put another 20 litres per side into the tanks. That would roughly equate to 1 hours flight time. I verified this when I put the nozzle back into the pump that I had indeed drawn 40 litres. I think it was about this time that I casually placed the dipstick on top of the pumps and forgot about it! I also knew how much fuel was in the aircraft when I left so I did some mental math to get a rough idea and realised we had enough for another 2 hours of flight, more than enough to get back to Hamilton. I also discovered that the windscreen in JGP leaks, or more accurately, Aaron who was sitting in the front on the way back found out when he got dripped on. I did yet another first, I rung up flight planning and filed a VFR flight plan over the phone for the return trip, and it was surprisingly easy. The folks down at Flight Planning are the greatest. Incredibly patient and friendly.

I also got a slightly confused after receiving taxi instructions that I couldn't find my way to the holding point. Fortunately for me a local pilot was walking around the apron and he clarified it for me.

We made our way to the holding point and was cleared for take off almost immediately so I lined up and off we went. The take off was a little dodgy because we had a slight crosswind and some of the mechanical turbulence gave us all a bit of a scare when JGP suddenly banked without me telling it to but I recovered and we climbed above it and away over the lake and into smooth air. I climbed to 2500 and then eased back into a cruise climb to 3000. The weather had cleared beautifully and although there was some haze around visibility was good enough that I could afford to relax a bit.

Once we were clear I called up Christchurch Info and gave a position report and ETA to Hamilton and settled into the trip. Aaron and Dwayne kept pointing out some of the rather extravagant houses that people living in the racehorse breeding areas just outside Cambridge own, I just left them to it and thought about when I would need to get the ATIS down and contact Hamilton tower.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful except that I managed to get high on finals so I cut the power and glided us in. The landing was a little bumpy because I had carried more airspeed than normal due to the numbers and we actually got airborne again before touching down because I raised the nose quite high. Actually I didn't want to apply the brakes too hard and I also wanted to keep the taxi time down by getting to the taxiway closest to the Aero Club so I let us blast down the runway with the nose wheel in the air before slowing and pulling off to the side.

We taxied back to the Aero Club, shutdown, terminated my flight plan and I went and found the dipstick (one of the instructors had found it so I know I am in for a stern word when I next appear out there) and put it back in JGP.

The guys looked a bit weary after their ordeal (hehehe) and admittedly so did I but they generally seemed to enjoy the trip. I got 1.5 hours PIC cross country time in my logbook and I learnt quite a lot out of the flight too so I thanked them for it. They said they would go on another flight with me in the future so I might plan a trip to Whitianga or Pauanui.


Aaron Martin said…
Sounds like a good short first passenger x-country. Im surprised you were happy to takeoff into SVFR conditions for one of your first PPL flights, must have been a bit nerve racking.
Did you realise that if you are planning on continuing a flight in the same day, you can just ammend your SARTIME on a flight plan till much later in the day for the return flight? Saves the $6.50 to file a new one.
Also give me a yell next time you are doing a x-country, i might grab a plane and come along for a flight as well!
Euan Kilgour said…
Heh, yeah I guess it would be cheaper but I have a ritual that I do to ensure that I terminate my flightplan. I am highly likely to forget if I deviate from the ritual so $6.50 is a small price to pay for piece of mind.

As for the SVFR, I've actually flown in worse and the 8000m vis at that time was good enough for me to feel comfortable with so I made the decision to continue. I admit I was apprehensive but I made it clear to my passengers that we may need to turn back but once we got east of Cambridge things improved dramatically.