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Flight Lesson #48 – Psycho 3-leg cross country



The flight that is supposed to be the most fun as a student pilot. It was an absolute nightmare. It started bad from the very first second. I call the weather briefer and get the worst briefing I have ever heard. I can summarize it in 5 seconds: perfect visibility and sky clear. “There is an airshow. Let me tell you about an airshow. There is an airshow @ 1600 zulu. There is an airshow. I have to tell you because it is within 12 hours of an airshow. I am not sure the airshow is going to effect you.” At this point, Keaton is shaking his head. I am thinking, “OMG SHUT UP!”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Keaton is shaking his head, “NO” with desperation.

Keaton checks the airplane, oil, fuel, and sends me off. I am cleared to depart runway 27 and instructed to fly the runway heading for a bit. Visibility is AWFUL. I cannot see anything. What happened to the perfect weather????? Fear is starting to set in. I can barely see the ground and the only thing guiding me is my GPS. Given that I am traveling east and the sun is just rising, I cannot see the horizon so I am checking my instruments way more often than normal to ensure I am at proper altitude and heading.

Tower keeps me on frequency for a bit while another plane comes in to RYY from the south east. I finally get cleared to switch to Atlanta Approach. I pick up VFR flight following and feel a bit safer. At least someone is looking out for me. I get the plane situated from the climb and eventually am told to switch to a specific frequency … but I am already on that frequency. Very weird. I call Atlanta back and tell him that 2-4-8-8-4 is already on this frequency. He doesn’t answer … whatever.

I cross over LZU and predictably get handed off to another controller. While I am 25 miles away Athens, he tells me to call back when I get Athens’ weather. OOOOKKKAAAYYY. I get the weather, switch back, and tell Atlanta I am back. He calls back and says to proceed VFR and advise him when I begin my descent. I get 15 miles outside of Athens and inform him I am descending and requesting to switch to Tower. He clears me. I call Athens Tower and am cleared to land with a straight in on niner. Cool deal. I am roughly five miles out and notice the plane being relatively unstable. I am fighting to hold my heading. The plane is rocking and swaying unpredictably. Yikes. I get the plane on the ground with an okay touch down. Nothing special. I turn off to the taxiway. Athens asks where I am going. I tell her I am departing immediately to “Victor-Papa-Charlie” (Cartersville).

“Roger. Would you like to take Alpha-2 and back-taxi niner?” Tower asks as I am trailing this Piper who is not ready to go.
“Yes that’ll be great. Am I clear to back-taxi niner? 2-4-8-8-4″
“Yes, clear to back-taxi”
“Clear to back taxi niner, 2-4-8-8-4″

So I jump on the runway and put the way down. Pivot 180 degrees to point for departure. It then occurs to me. Did she want me to stay on the runway or just pass the other plane? What if someone is landing?

“Tower, would you like me to stay on the runway or get off? 2-4-8-8-4″
“8-8-4, Just advise me when you are ready to depart.”
“Roger, I’ll do just a quick run-up and will be ready to depart in a minute.

I test the mags. Sure enough, one is fouled. Yikes. I lean out and rev the engine to clean it up. Everything checks out so I call back. “Athens Tower, Cessna November-2-4-8-8-4 is holding short on niner, ready to depart”

“8-8-4, would you like a left or right turn out?”

Boy Athens is super nice. They always let me choose the runway, cut in front of people, which direction to depart. Loovveee them!

“8-8-4 will take a left turn out” (to the north)
“2-4-8-8-4 you are clear to depart on runway niner, make left turn out”
“Clear to depart on niner, left turn out approved, 2-4-8-8-4″

Tower hands me back to Atlanta. AHHHHH! Soooooo nice. I am flying west and can ACTUALLY see. Nerves settle down a bit. I get established on the route recommended by GPS and keep my times in check. Everything goes fine. Captain Herb Emory mode kicks back in. “Ah yes. It seems like everything on I-85 is settling down. You won’t need to read your newspaper while you are driving since you are going speed limit all the way to Spaghetti Junction. We have some police activity up here on the I-985 switch though” HAHA! My self-entertaining ends might fast as I near VPC. Atlanta terminates my radar services when I am nearing I-75. I am now on my own. I wait a little while before switching to VPC’s CTAF.

I announce I am 10 miles out and begin descending. I get about 5 miles out. Things turn for the worst. The plane begins to destabilize again … much worse than before. I turn base and the plane begin swaying pretty hard. Turn final and announce I am full stop for runway 1. Fear now sets in. The plane is violently swinging unpredictably. I go flaps-30 as I am short-final. Wind gusts are slamming the plane in random directions. I feel a crosswind develop and try to whip the plane into a side-slip (wing low) to block the wind. Just before touchdown, a wind gusts balloons the plane. CRAP! I have no airspeed. I get out of the slip and straighten up. I start bringing the plane down. Another gust smacks into the plane and swings me 90 degrees perpendicular to the runway. I start panicking. I decide that I need to abort the landing. I go full throttle and swiftly kick the rudder and aileron over to straighten up. My wheels are literally 5 feet off the ground. A touchdown would result in me cartwheeling the plane over. The wind dies and I decide to resume the landing. I yank the throttle out and get off the runway.

I am shaking as I taxi back to runway 1. Whoa. I almost killed myself there. A mere split second later on the abort and I would have crashed. I gather myself, cool my nerves, settle down, and text Keaton to let him know I am on my way home. I announce my departure, get situated on the runway, and depart. The mere second I get off the ground, a wind gust smacks the plane and I am back 90 degrees perpendicular to the runway with no airspeed or momentum. Panic ramps right back up. I slam the rudder in and nose over to get more speed. I have a mere 50 feet of altitude. I straighten up and continue to climb. Gusts continue to smack the plane up and kill my airspeed. I keep nosing over. The trees in front of me start looking mighty scary. I just hold my best climb possible and begin praying I am going to clear them. Freaking out. About 100 feet before the trees, I pull up hard to get over them.

Spooked and scared out of my mind, I go without Atlanta to RYY. I maintain low altitude because I don’t want to descend into RYY since it is only 15 minutes away. The plane is violently bouncing through the air as I pass through turbulence and gusts. DAMN THAT WEATHER BRIEFER!!!! SHE SUCKS! I get the weather at RYY. ATIS states that it is winds from 110 @ 8 knots. Perfect. A smooth headwind to land on niner. Tower clears me to land on niner. As I am about 2 miles away from the runway, Tower announces, “Attention all pilots, weather echo is now in effect. Winds are 115 @ 10 gusting 15″

Oh …… my ….. god. GUSTING! Students are forbidden from flying in gusting weather for a good reason. We are not skilled enough to handle this type of weather. Freaked and with no other options, I proceed to land. When I near short final, I get settled in at 60 knots and flaps-30. It then hits me. SCREW THIS! I recall the gust factor and flaps settings. I retract the flaps back to flaps-20, slam the throttle in and going blazing into the approach like a bat out of hell. The planes starts swaying and ballooning again. “Just get on the ground, just get on the ground, just get on the ground” in my mind over and over again. I fight off the winds and land with a little rough touchdown. “2-4-8-8-4 get off the runway when possible, take Alpha back to the north ramp, remain on this frequency.”

“Left on Alpha-3, left on Alpha, back to the north ramp, stay with you on this frequency, 2-4-8-8-4″

Thank god! I am out of the air. I am trembling all the way back to ramp. Keaton is waiting by the Cirrus with another instructor and signals me to go behind the ramp. I shut the plane down and just sit there breathing. I tie her down. Keaton comes over and asks, “How did go? Did you have fun?”

I look at him with the look of death. “NO! That was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life! Gusts picked up. The plane was all over the place. I almost lost it in VPC three times.”

“Oh. Is the plane in one piece?”

“Yeah …”

“Good flight then”

OMG! No sympathy. After debrief, I went back outside to get the keys out of the plane. I saw Dave prepping a 172 so I went to tell him about my experience. “You handled it okay. You are still alive. The plane is one piece. Good flight!”

OMG! Aviation is relentless. It is as they say: A landing you walk away from is a successful landing.



The BEST holidays

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