I DID IT! First solo cross-country flight! Total distance was 175 miles. Contrary to what the flight plan says, the total time was 2.7 hours. That little detail came back to bite me in the ass.
The flight was really uneventful. I filed my flight plan, prepped the plane, and got out of Hooks airport around 11:00. I tried using my GoPro to get some video, but it didn’t turn out like I planned. The video quit less than half an hour into the flight. I’ve learned that reformatting the SD card should fix that problem.
The flight out took me over Lake Livingston. By the time I got there, some high-level cirrus clouds made the lake look like a Holstein cow. On the right side of the photo is some smoke. It looked like someone was burning off the brush from clearing their land. There was another plume of smoke further north. That one looked like a controlled burn in a forest. I wish I had a picture of it.
There was a little excitement when I arrived at Lufkin. As I transitioned into their airspace, I switched from flight following out of Houston to the local comms. There isn’t a tower, so it’s good practice to call out your actions before you do them. I started calling my approach, then my position as I entered the pattern. To my surprise, there was a small plane, perhaps an RV or a Thorp T-18, sitting on the runway as I made my downwind. Whoever was flying wasn’t communicating.
I gave him plenty of room so he could get into the air before I landed. There was a Bonanza coming in from the east and I wanted to get down before he arrived. Instead of a simple touch-and-go, I stopped and taxied back. I got into the air again and turned to toward Hunstville. By the time I got out of Lufkin, there were three other aircraft sharing the skies with me.
The winds in Huntsville were “variable” so I had options, either runway 18 (landing to the south) or 36 (landing to the north). Other traffic was landing on 18, so I went with the flow. The wind sock was flat, but the grass showed a slight breeze from the north. I wanted to take off into the breeze, but more incoming traffic forced my hand and I had to take off to the south. If I hadn’t, it would have been like driving onto the wrong side of the freeway. I would have been face to face with incoming traffic.
Remember when I mentioned a little detail that would bite me in the ass? Here’s where it comes into play. I wasn’t aware that the app I used to file my flight plan didn’t take into account wind and stops, so it was about this time that my flight plan expired and I hadn’t called to report in. A call came in from an 800 number and I assumed it was a robocall so I didn’t answer it. A few minutes later, I received a text from my flight instructor. Flight Service was getting ready to send out search and rescue.
Who is Flight Service? Well, the idea is that you file a flight plan with them and if you don’t call to let them know you landed safely within the allotted time in your flight plan, they will send out search and rescue.
Since I was using flight following and was in touch with Houston Control, I radioed them and asked them to cancel the flight plan. They asked me if I was planning to stay in Huntsville. No, of course. So they thought it was best to keep the plan active until I landed at my final destination. I though that all was well since Houston knew where I was.
I was wrong.
I learned later that Flight Services doesn’t talk to anyone except the person who filed the plan, the airport where the pilot is supposed to land, or your base of operations, in this case, the flight school. After I landed at Hooks, the tower asked me to call Flight Services as soon as I parked the plane. My instructor met me at the plane and told me to call Flight Services immediately.
I called Flight Services.
One would expect that if they were so worried about saving pilot’s lives, Flight Services would answer the phone immediately. Nope. I was on hold for at least five minutes. That was probably because there were lots of pilots calling in, right? Nope! Even the hold message said there were no calls ahead of me.
While I was on hold, I was preparing myself for an ass-chewing. Someone finally answered the phone and I gave them my information. Did I get an ass-chewing? No. They thanked me for closing my flight plan. That was it.
I expect to hear something from the lead flight instructor tomorrow. He’s an ex-FAA guy and is a stickler for the rules. He’s already left a message for my flight instructor. I’ll know more tomorrow.
The plan for tomorrow is a review flight with a senior instructor. I’ve never flown with this guy before, so it should be interesting. I’m pretty wiped out from the long flight today, so I’ll be keeping tomorrow’s flight short.
Until tomorrow, Oppo!