A big day, my first solo cross-country flight. Reading back to some of the early entries in this journal, I’m amazed how much I’ve learned, how far I’ve come. Many of the later entries have almost become routine, I flew here, I did that and so on. They fail to capture the wonder and excitement of flying. Now, a little over two months since I started, I’m to be set loose with a plane all on my own to take it somewhere I never been before, fly through unfamiliar airspace hopefully proving that I’ve learned something in those last two months. It should feel like a big deal, but truthfully I feel more than ready for it, no nervousness, no jitters, just keen anticipation to be in the air. I talked with Grainne last night, she told me the destination for my first big excursion is to be Davis, “Yolo County/Winters/ Woodland/Davis Airport” to be exact (stupid name for an airport, you can just imagine the various bodies arguing over the name and eventually deciding to call it that just to keep everyone happy), its code is 2Q3 and I’ll call it that to save on hard disk space. I got all the preflight planning done last night and I arrived early to get the DUATS briefing and make the final calculation for the forecast winds. Grainne checked through everything and then endorsed my log book and license for solo cross-country with another endorsement for this specific flight. The route I will follow is up I-680, past the east side of Mt Diablo, over the top of Travis Air Force Base, over the top of Nut Tree Airport and then down into 2Q3 for a trip of 74 nautical miles. I’ll come back via the Scaggs Island VOR and Buchanan Airport following pretty much the same route as the night cross-country home which is 92 nautical miles.
Had a nice normal preflight etc. and tookoff on a right 45 departure to head over the top of Mission Peak, climbing to 4500’. I called Oakland Flight Service Station and opened the flight plan I had filled on the ground. Then called Bay Approach and got flight following. Got passed off to another controller shortly afterwards. I flew almost due north over Livermore and reached Mt Diablo just 2 minutes later than I’d calculated. I got passed off to Travis Approach and stayed with them as I flew right over the top of the base. There are two huge runways (similar to the one I landed on in Castle) and I could see dozens of C130 Transports lined up on the Apron. I got passed off to another Travis controller as I turned over the base to head for Nut Tree. This is a small airport right next to I-80 and a big restaurant – I’ve heard the restaurant is closed now, but the airport is still open. Nut Tree was my planned start of descent and I turned onto what I thought was the right heading and started down. I couldn’t see 2Q3 and my trusty GPS attached to the yoke with rubber bands was telling me it was well left of the direction I was flying. I finally decided to believe the GPS and turned more to the left and hey presto there was 2Q3 (I worked out later I turned onto the true heading, not the magnetic heading, which meant I was off by 15 degrees). I called Travis Approach and terminated flight following, he warned me that there was parachute jumping taking place on the east side of the airport. This was fine, I planned to come in from the west. Got tuned into the CTAF frequency for 2Q3, there was one plane in the pattern doing touch and go’s and another plane with the parachute jumpers. I got down to pattern altitude well west of the field and made a wide right turn to come in on the left 45 for runway 34. Its a big wide runway and I got down without any trouble. I taxied off the runway and just parked in an empty spot (there was a lot of empty spots), shut off the plane, got out, closed my flight plan over the phone and smoked a cigarette. It was a long was to come just to have a smoke, but there was f**k all else there. The time I recorded when I got to the parking spot was 13:53 which was 59minutes after I took off from RHV and 10minutes longer than I’d originally calculated it would take, the headwind was just a bit stronger than forecast.
Got setup for takeoff again with a quick run-up just short of the runway. Did a left crosswind departure and contacted Rancho Radio to open the return flight plan, then got setup for flight following again with Travis Approach. I made a bit of a mess getting onto the radial I wanted for Scaggs island, but eventually worked out that my Heading Indicator had wandered off and it worked just fine when I reset it to the compass. I climbed up to 4500’ and flew over the top of Napa County Airport. Just passed there I turned south to intercept the outbound radial from the VOR and descended to 3500’. The view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge was spectacular. About this time I got passed off to Oakland Approach who shortly passed me back to Travis Approach as I passed over the Carcinas Bridge. I turned south again over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started following I-680 south. I got passed off to Bay Approach on the way down who finally gave me the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following just over Sunol. RHV Tower had me enter the right downwind for 31R and I had a nice uneventful landing. Time on the ground was 15:10, just 56 minutes after taking off from 2Q3 and just 3 minutes longer than my original calculation.
So that was my first solo cross-country. 166 nautical miles and almost 2 hours flying time. It was blissfully uneventful, no problems, no major mistakes and nice and safe the whole way. A good start to what I hope turns into a long cross-country flying career.