Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dual Night Cross-Country

Rich and I flew a cross-country trip last night. It's a requirement of pilot training to do a night flight with an instructor to another airport that is more than 100 miles, so I planned a flight from Gaithersburg, Maryland, 122 miles north to Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

My regular flying club has been having maintenance issues with its planes, so I almost wasn't able to go. BUT I did recently join another club that does not have any such problems, and there was a plane available, so we took that one.

Due to the trouble we had finding an airplane, Rich and I got a late start by about two hours, and we lifted off after 8:00. Neither Rich nor I had ever flown that particular plane, so we took extra time to familiarize ourselves with it and do a thorough preflight inspection. During the inspection, I discovered that the last person to fly it had left the gas tanks less than 1/4 full. The fuel service at the airport was closed, but there was fuel available in Allentown. I had done detailed fuel consumption calculations, and we had enough to fly to Allentown with required reserves, but I did not like cutting it that close at night.

Since we had enough fuel, we went. It was VERY cold, about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and we very quickly discovered that the airplane had no heat. My feet felt like blocks of ice, and Rich wrapped maps around his legs for extra warmth. The windshield apparently had leaks around the edges, and cold air was blowing on my face for the whole trip. Fortunately, it didn't take too long to get to Allentown, about an hour and a half. The flight was beautiful, slightly hazy but with a nearly full moon -- we flew over a reservoir, the Susquehanna River, and several airports. It was neat to see the airports down below us, and we turned on the runway lights of a couple with our radios. We were cleared by the Allentown tower to land on Runway 31, and I performed a beautiful cross-wind landing.

Rich and I got a cup of coffee and warmed up while the linemen refueled the airplane. Then it was time to go back.

It had been a very long day, and my GPS shows that I flew a decidedly curvy course back to Gaithersburg. We landed at Gaithersburg sometime around 12:30 a.m., and Rich ran to his truck to warm up while I secured the plane.


It was a fun flight, and I'm glad to have that requirement in my training complete. However, next time I'd like to be warmer and less tired, and I think the experience will be an overall more enjoyable one. That may be after I have my license, though.

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