Wednesday 9th March 2011

I need to get my major cross country solo flight in today, as the forecast for Thursday is not good (Thunderstorms). The timescale is pretty tight now to get finished in time, so I am very dependent on the weather remaining good, to get the rest of the course in before I return to the UK on Monday. Whilst I can fly over the weekend if necessary, it is more difficult to get an examination done, as the Senior Instructors tend not to work Saturdays and Sundays. But before I even think of that, I have to complete today’s exercise.

Things started well, when I arrived at 7 Am to preflight the aircraft. The weather was kinder than yesterday (there was no mist of fog), but it was a bit more breezy than the day before. I completed the checks, went over my flight plan with Jacob the Instructor, and set off on my three legged round trip.

Part of the qualification to gain a PPL is that the Student must have proof of landing at two remote airfields, and covered at least 150 miles in the trip. The trip that I had planned took me to Gainesville first, then on to St. Augustine, before returning to Ormond. I am getting used to the first part of this trip now, as I have done it both with Mike and on my own, so I recognize some of the landmarks that I navigate by. I found my way to Gainesville in the expected time, but this time when I landed, I had to find the University Air School offices, as they would sign the form to say I had landed there. Once directed off the taxiway by Ground Control, I was met by a marshaller who guided me to the parking slot on the ramp (just like the ones you sometimes see at Major Airports in the UK). I felt quite important! 

As I was joining the circuit to land, I heard the Tower having a hard time with another Student who was trying to join, his English wasn’t so good. I really admire the foreign Students who come here to train, I find it hard enough coping in my mother tongue, but they have to learn everything in a foreign language. Anyway, they eventually got him down, and he parked his aircraft next to mine (it turned out he was Japanese). The marshaller who had guided me in offered me a lift to the booking in office, which I gratefully accepted. The young lady in the office signed my form, and I walked back to my aircraft, started her up, and headed off to St. Augustine.

This leg was a little different, as although I had been to St. Augustine before, I had approached from Ormond, not from Gainesville. Another complication was that I could not take the direct route, as it infringed on a military restricted area, and the thought of being shot down didn’t appeal to me. When I had planned my trip last night, I had decided the best way to avoid this area was to route back via the way I knew to Palatka, and then change the heading there to get me to St. Augustine. This flight was conducted at heights ranging from 3,500 feet to 4,500 feet, which was a big help in recognizing the airports from a high acute angle, rather than a low, obtuse one. Once over Palatka, my new heading took me directly over some power station stacks (which provided some interesting bumps and jolts over the rising air), then across a large lake, before arriving at St. Augustine. As I joined the circuit, I was instructed to turn sharp base, before final in my approach. As I turned base, and then final, another aircraft was in front of me on the glide path. I called the Tower to ask if he was landing or going around. “Didn’t you turn the sharp base like I told you” was the message I got. “Obviously, not sharp enough” was the reply I gave. Tower instructed me to go-around, so I increased power, overflew the runway (to the right), and climbed back into the circuit. Maybe I should have told the Tower I am a Student pilot! The next circuit was uneventful, and I landed and taxied back to the ramp. At this Airport, I was met by a golf cart with a “Follow Me” sign on the back, and I was led to the parking slot by this. Time to feel important again. Once more, the marshaller gave me a lift to the Galaxy offices, where I had my documents signed, and was quickly back on my way to my aircraft. I didn’t want to hang around, as the winds were starting to get stronger, and if a new hourly forecast came out with the winds a couple of knots stronger, I would not be able to take-off.  I am still restricted to a 16 knot headwind, and 8 knot crosswind; I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day twiddling my thumbs at St. Augustine Airport, waiting for the winds to revert back below my threshold.

Back in the air, I enjoyed the scenery of the Florida coastline, as I flew back to Ormond. As I had feared, the winds had increased by the time I got back to Ormond; the strength was now 17 knots, gusting to 24. This was past my take-off limit, but as it is impossible to wait in the air, the only thing you can do is land. Coming in to land was very bumpy, and the aircraft was skipping about all over the place. The runway in use (26) brings you over a forest of trees, and these cause even more disturbance to the air than usual. However, as I passed the edge of the woods, the winds subsided enough for me to make, if not a text-book landing, certainly an adequate one, given the conditions.

Mike was out on the ramp to greet and congratulate me on completing this part of the course. It was back to the office to complete the paperwork, then off to the house to get in some serious revision for the two exams I must take tomorrow.

Back at the house, we all watched the return landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery, as it was covered live on the TV. Maybe its because we saw the launch, or the fact that we are only 30 miles up the road from the Space Center in Florida, but I have certainly followed this Shuttle Mission more than any others, and felt more of an affinity with it. This was the final voyage of this amazing Spacecraft, it is now destined to its place in history, at the Smithsonian Institute.

I was also pleased to find an e-mail from Tracey (who had been at the house in the first week of my course), when I checked my messages. She had seen the video of my first solo, and wrote to congratulate Jens, Andreas and me on the solo flights. She also had good news about finishing the few hours she needs to complete her PPL revalidation. She had missed out on this during her visit, as the weather had been poor, and had not improved enough in the time she had available. As Cabin Crew for Aer Lingus, she has managed to get herself on the Orlando Flight in a few weeks time, so she should be able to complete her hours before the end of March (again weather permitting). She has had some terrible luck with the weather in her whole training program, so I hope her fortunes change this time, and she gets in the hours she needs.