Thursday, April 7, 2011

Requesting Flight Following

Beep beep, beep beep, beep beep.  Fuel pump - ON, switch tanks, reset and start timer, Fuel pump - Off
Every 30 minutes I'd go through the same routine.  In-between I'd be checking my course through landmarks on the ground and navigational beacons, timing the distance between them, calculating my ground speed, and talking to air traffic control.  Sitting here now, it seems like a blur, but my 667 mile cross country is behind me.  Having cancelled twice already, due to weather, I was happy to take off from a cloudless, 71 degree Vero Beach and head off to my longest flight, yet, and log more flight time in a single day than I ever had before.

Wheels-up came just after 11:30 in the morning, and I lifted off into some of the most beautiful weather I've experienced yet, here in Florida.  Winds were relatively light, thanks to the high pressure following the front that cleared the day before.  I settled in at 6,500 feet, opened my VFR flight plan and contacted Orlando Approach for flight following (they monitor your flight).  The eastern corridor was quite busy north of Melbourne, FL.  I was getting several traffic calls, including a Mooney which passed me 500' below and to the right (same direction) and a Beechcraft 400 jet going in the opposite direction.  The flight also carried me just west near Cape Canaveral, and I was able to see the entire space center from the air.  The open-structure launch pads rose up along the coast, pointed like fingers towards the heavens.  In the middle of it all, the immense Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) sat like the nucleus of the atom which made up KSC, and just east, the legendary pads 39A and 39B sat.  The former waiting to launch the final two missions, carried out by shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis respectively.  It was awe inspiring.

Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39B, the VAB, and Pad 39A (Left to Right)
I landed at St Augustine Florida (KSGJ) right on schedule, and decided to take lunch.  Its fortunate I did, for the FBO (Fixed Base Operator - the private aircraft terminal) was receiving a delivery of AVGas and couldn't fuel my plane until they'd finished.  The restaurant at SGJ was quite good, and I fully recommend the Western Burger.  While I sat back in the FBO, in my uniform and duly playing Angry Birds on my iPad, an Air Force pilot waiting to depart came up to chat about the iPad, and its usefulness to a pilot (including playing angry birds).  It was nice to be treated as an equal by the Major, a fellow professional pilot out accomplishing a mission, bound by a common passion.

As I departed St Augustine, I fired up the bluetooth GPS module my instructor let me borrow. The DUAL XGPS 150 is a bluetooth enabled, WAAS capable, portable GPS receiver that, when coupled with my iPad, would present my real-time position on a sectional/en-route chart, including GPS altitude, groundspeed, and heading, using the App ForeFlight.  To any pilots reading my blog, the iPad, XGPS 150, ForeFlight combo is probably one of the single greatest investments you can make.  Considering you can get a portable, WAAS capable, moving-map GPS, and will geo-reference your position on CURRENT aviation charts, for less than $600 (plus a $75/year basic subscription to ForeFlight) - its absolutely amazing the situational awareness you are able to obtain, especially in older, less well-equipped aircraft. Not only did I get my en-route briefing through ForeFlight, via the iPads built-in WiFi, but I was also able to correctly file my flight plan with the FAA from it, and track my progress along the way!  I should get a commission from those three companies for the plug I just gave them...

Okay, back to the flight.  So St Augustine was nice, but I had to keep trucking along.  Its certain that the designers of the seats in the poor Cadet did not have long-range flights in mind, because after about an hour, my butt started to go numb.  At least it kept my attention, unlike the boring, flat landscape, and the quiet control frequency.  I arrived at Albany, GA (KABY) without issue, and made a silky smooth landing on Runway 16.

Over the boring state of Georgia
The controller at KABY was extremely nice, she warned me of smoke in the vicinity due to controlled burns by the local paper companies, and gave me constant wind updates, since it was varying between many directions.  As I departed on my final leg, I was more concerned about my butt than the fact it was the longest leg of my trip at 314 miles, but through the smoke I climbed up to 7,500 feet.  The Gulf of Mexico appeared to my west, and the sun began to dip towards its blue waters.  

iPad on the left, flight plan on the right at 7,500 feet
Looking over at the Gulf of Mexico

Flying along, while listening to Tallahassee approach, I heard a pretty cool traffic advisory to another aircraft:
"Saratoga 9-2-Mike, traffic at your 2 o'clock, 2 miles.  You'll follow them in for final.  Flight of two F-22s.  Caution wake turbulence." 
 Damn I want THAT traffic call!

As I entered Orlando's airspace, I received a vector south to avoid the international airport.  On my iPad, I noticed my track was going to take me directly over Disney World.  Might sound cool, at first, but the FAA has a "permanent" Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) and I had no intentions of busting any airspace on my flight.  With my knowledge in-hand I queried Orlando about it, and was told I was cleared through it, so long as I was under their control.  Perfect!  Dusk was settling into night as I crossed over Disney World and was told to proceed direct to Vero Beach.  I made it back to KVRB at 9pm on the nose, 7.3 hours of flight later, and one step closer to my single-engine commercial license.

Today, I took my last flight (for a while) in the Cadet, and my last one with my current instructor, Chris.  The three of us have come a long way since I started here, but in that short time, I've gone from a recreational pilot, more concerned with my next tailwheel landing than checklists, to a pilot flying at a professional level, knowing every aspect of each flight I'm about to take.  Up next is the more-advanced and powerful Piper Arrow... Stay tuned!