The day looked as good as the previous three days. Got up, went to the local stationary store and picked up some clearfile sheets and a plastic cover for my plates. Got out to the Aero Club at around 9.45am. Got the weather forecast, sky clear, wind at 5000 was variable at 5 knots. Tough trying to plan your legs ETA's when you don't know what direction the 5 knots are coming from.
Instructor Paul gave me some good pointers in how to file a VFR flightplan over the internet, which I did after checking the fuel tanks and realising I didn't have enough. Deciding that I really didn't want to worry about fuel as I'd have enough things to think about I topped them up. The 172R even with my bulk crammed inside has enough spare weight allowance for full tanks which gives over 4 hours endurance. Since my flight was planned to be 1.5 hours I had plenty left in case things didn't go to plan.
The first leg was a trip southeast to Tokoroa (a reverse of yesterdays flight), followed by a landing at Taupo and then west to Taumuranui before the return north to Hamilton. I had planned to fly the first two legs at 3500, the third at 4500 and the return at 5500.
I think this flight I have been the most prepared I have ever been. I had multiple pencils, the E6B in the cockpit with me instead of in my flightbag, a life jacket (the trip west from Taupo is a 15 minute climbout over the lake), all the approach plates I would need, my VFG for the ones I didn't need but may require in case of an emergency, a photocopy of the FISCOM map for the North Island (I was so glad I had it in easy reach because I ended up referring to it often), some bottled water and a cushion because I like to sit fairly upright in the seat and the seats reclining angle doesn't adjust and that really killed my back during yesterdays flight.
The best laid plans often go to waste they say, and I'll admit that I didn't get things my own way. After start up I requested a Swamp Sector departure and was instructed to take a Scott Sector departure instead. This would put me a little off track but I had predicted this and planned to reintercept track at Arapuni Dam where I would have to swap charts anyway so it wasn't that much of a problem.
I eventually got to 3500 feet and contacted Christchurch Information and amended my ETA and SARTIME and got to work looking for Tokoroa airstrip which is next to the town. No one was home when I arrived so I did a standard join. I made a mess of the approach so I decided to overshoot and continue onto Taupo. The strip is pretty much that, a strip. Quite narrow which gave me a bit of an optical illusion, or thats what I consoled myself with on the climbout.
I must have had a bit of a tailwind because I had reached Tokoroa 1 min early. I calculated a 16 minute EET to Taupo and updated Christchurch Information with the details. I want at this point to tip my hat to the tireless controllers who sit there and are so cheerful and patient with us student pilots who fluff radio calls and can't perform simple math when it comes to calculating new SARTIMEs.
I was maybe slightly apprehensive going into Taupo solo but I had made a few plans in advance and they paid off in my opinion. In hindsight they are simple common sense but they made my flight in and out almost trivial in comparison with yesterday. I had marked on my chart a position well outside the MBZ to get the AWIB info and another position that would be easy to find to announce my arrival into the zone. It was a good thing I did because shortly afterwards I saw a plane heading towards me about 300 feet above me so I eased WAM downwards and passed below him without too much fuss. My other plan to fly with all my lights (except landing and taxi lights) on was another piece of mind thing that meant I was about as easy to see as I could be. I made two more radio calls and planned to come out over the lake and join right base for runway 17 after I had confirmed that 17 was in use. There was a lot of traffic inside the MBZ, mostly tourist operators taking people on scenics and skydiving flights but I threaded my way around and over them and followed my intentions as I had broadcast, coming in right base and touching down 4 minutes earlier than planned. Hmmm.
Taxied clear of the active, found a spot near the other GA planes to park and shut down. Rung up Christchurch Information and amended my SARTIME and then dipped the tanks to see what my real fuel consumption was. Not too bad, approximately 35 litres. Then it was time for a stretch, some water and food (nothing like the awesome airport cafe's I read about on US student blogs, just a ham sandwich for me), before a quick stroll over to the passenger terminal to check the commercial arrivals (good, nothing for a couple of hours).
On the walk back I stopped to chat to a local student (flying people are so nice, must be a universal trait) and we discussed the fair weather cumulus building out west that I was about to fly towards. I started WAM up, taxied out and lined up, and broadcast on Unicom that I was going to depart on the right hand upwind leg. I had opened the throttle when I saw that there was skydivers overhead the runway, and I did something without thinking, I raised the flaps. WAM accelerated to 55 knots before I got her off the ground and by that time the skydivers were well past me. I still don't know why I did that, maybe it was a flash of inspiration but I'll just attribute it to my fantastic instructors filling my head full of useful bits of information.
I continued out on centreline to 500 feet AGL and then turned right continued to climb out west. With all that water underneath me I kept a close eye on the gauges and leaned out the mixture to the optimum I had been shown. Despite that I kept eyeing up the lifejacket I had stowed in the passenger pocket where I could easily reach it. I levelled off at 3500, and tried to get Christchurch Information on the Taupo frequency... nothing... so I changed to the western frequency... nothing... hmm... The good news was that I still had plenty of time before my SARTIME was reached so I decided to climb 500 feet and try again. Ahhh much better. That slight period of consternation had let my attention wander and I realised I didn't know exactly where I was on the map. I had heard from fellow club students that Taumaranui is quite difficult to find from the east because its obscured by the hills of the valley it is located in. I remembered a comment about how to read map contours from my geography class in high school and worked out based on what I could see out front my rough location. Then I saw the township of Taumaranui and I realised I was on track and in fact ahead of where I thought I was. I was down to 3500 to get under the cumulus and then I saw the airfield below me, and 4 minutes ahead of EET. Uh oh. Here I am at 3500 and I need to get down to circuit height at 1700. I had been monitoring the frequency and no one seemed to be operating so I set up a spiraling descending turn to 2200 and then joined the circuit. I have never been to Taumaranui airfield and I must say, its a really nice country strip. A touch and go and then a downwind departure northwards to Hamilton and home.
This was the longest leg and my initial lack of altitude and the hilly terrain meant I wasn't able to contact Christchurch control until I had gotten to 3500 feet and being roughly 500 feet under the cloud cover it was quite bumpy. I amended my SARTIME (after several attempts) and set about intercepting my track. At this point haze was reducing visibility to about 30km. I could just make out Mt Kakepuku in the distance so I pointed the nose slightly right of it and started reading from map to ground to try and get a fix. Eventually 3 things happened at once. Te Kuiti township turned up at 10 o'clock where it should have been, I found I was slightly left of track, and I realised I had better start a descent to get in under the class D airspace starting at 2500. Fortunately I had about 12 miles to run before I hit the airspace boundary so I set a gradual descent and picked my spot on my track that I wanted to be at 2500 by and made certain that I was going to be at that point at or below 2500 feet. Then all too soon it was time to grab the ATIS and request clearance into the control zone to land. I made a Swamp Sector arrival as instructed and was cleared right base number 2 for grass 36. I made a sweet landing and then taxied clear. I requested my VFR flightplan be terminated and ATS obliged me so I wouldn't have to do it over the internet with I got back to the Clubrooms. I taxied back to Waikato Aero Club and parked WAM on her tie down spot.
In total 2.0 hours solo cross country time in the logbook and a great experience to tell you all about.
14 hours ago