One of the major milestones as a student pilot is the long cross country. It has to be at least 150 nautical miles with stops at three airports. I had mine planned for last Saturday. I choose one primary destination, Montpelier VT, where I have a friend, and some other airports along the way.
The forecast said clouds and possibly fog in the morning, but turning completely clear by the afternoon. In the morning it was definitely cloudy. A very solid bank of clouds fairly low to the ground. The weather was moving off to the east. Montpelier and Lebannon started reporting clear sun, but then the clouds slowed down. The weather forecast changed to 2pm for clear. And then 5pm, but with the clouds getting a little higher first.
I was thinking the flight was a bust. But then we had a bit of a discussion. It was great visibility under the clouds. There were not any tall objects on my flight path until beyond where it was already reported as clear. The first stop was to get gas at the airport two towns over. I barely get above pattern altitude for that hop, so I figured I would get gas and see what I thought. I also knew by the time I left that I was only going to get to see my friend briefly in order to get back before sunset.
Flying over to get gas went fine. The airport has a control tower, and they were using the oposite runway from the one I have always used. This time tower told me to just join up with a long final since I was already coming from that direction. I did, and it went ok. But I think I started slowing down to land too early. By the time I landed, there was a line of three airplanes behind me.
Given that visibilities and flying conditions were fine for the first hop, I decided to continue after getting gas. The next hop was up to Concord. This ment going through Manchester airspace. I had to make the air traffic controller repeat a couple things, but otherwise that went fine. They only made me make a small deviation from course.
Concord looked fairly deserted. I did not get out of the airplane because of time concerns, but I only saw one other plane moving around. Concord was still under the clouds, but the sun was starting to break through. Not five miles after taking off, I was in clear sky and bright sun. I was busy talking to ATC for radar following and missed my first check point. It took me a little while, maybe until my third checkpoint, before I was confident of my exact location. I took a picture of Mt Cardigan to prove it. It also proved that this winter was pathetic and there was no snow left. The flight from there to Montpelier was an uneventful straight line.
I landed in Montpelier, called up the FAA, my flight instructor, and Tyson to say I was on the ground. My friend, K, commented it was worse than checking out for caving. I chatted a tiny bit with K. It took a little bit of trapsing around the unocupied FBO to find an open door and the bathroom. We found a classroom with a fake skeleton on the way. Not sure why that was at the airport.
Then I was headed back out. The taxiways were a little confusing, so I did not take the best route. I waggled my wings at K and off I went. In my original plan, I was going to have stopped at one more airport on the way back. Because of the time, my flight instructor advised skipping it. Taking off from Montpelier, I had the same problem as I have had at other airports, I did not pick up on my course immediately, and was not quite sure which way to go. In this case, there were no big landmarks on my path. From talking with my instructor afterwards, I just need to trust my precalculated headings a little bit more.
In any event, I found myself a little bit lost. I knew off to my left was the Connecticut river. Far to the left, I could see the Whites. A ways south west were some of the higher Green mountain peaks. Eventually, I ended up enough off course that I spotted one of my checkpoints from the trip up. Post Mills near the Connecticut river. That put me very precisely on the map. I considered my options and decided I wanted the most direct and easiest route home given time constraints. One of my other cross countries was to Lebanon, so I already had the lines drawn on my map. Additionally there was a radio beacon I could follow all the way home. So I headed down the Connecticut until I caught the beacon signal, and then headed home.
From there, nothing more major happened. I concentrated a bit on making sure it all went smoothly and it did. All the low clouds were gone and the views were quite nice. I got back in to Brookline with ten minutes to spare. So a bit tighter than I should have been. But all's well as ends well. This time Tyson and my flight instructor were there so I did not have to call them, but I did send K a note saying I made it home safely.