Solo cross country … bumpity bump

On my solo cross country I took the same route – Ottawa – Kingston – Brockville – Ottawa. It was another beautiful summer day, with clear blue skies above us. In the distance there were some puffy clouds, where, had I stayed where I was, would not have concerned me.

At the dispatch desk I picked up the airplane documents, a GPS locator, and a survival kit. I filed my flight plan online and made a note in the remarks section that I was a student pilot.

I turned on the 3-line GPS and clicked through the startup screens, although the year 1994 that flashed on the display didn’t increase my confidence in the data inside.

I took off and headed for my set heading point – Carleton Place. My instructor had advised me last time that my set heading point was a little too close to the airport.

Finding Carleton Place was one of the most stressful parts of the trip but as I got closer I saw the Mississipi River cutting through the built up area and I was pretty sure I had found it. I wrote the time down, aligned my directional gyroscope to the compass, and turned.

Heading toward Kingston things were uneventful. The second time around the air was smooth and the lakes were a little more familiar. There was also less pressure without the instructor there so I felt like I could take my time. Things were going well. Perth passed below me.  I was on track.

Still to keep my mind busy I looked around the airplane for fields in case my engine decided to quit. I looked ahead for the next checkpoint. The clouds I had seen earlier drew closer. They were a few hundred feet above me and I expected it to be bumpy underneath. As I flew underneath them it was indeed bumpy.

“Bumpity bump” I said to myself.
“Bumpity bump.”

Was I nervous? Just something to do? Liked the sound of my voice on the headset? Dunno.

A little before Westport I saw some roads and checked my position against the roads and found I was a few degrees off to the right. I came with with a new heading and put the airplane back on track. I called Kingston to tell them I was coming. The landing was uneventful. I shut the plane down. I had flown myself somewhere!

In the flying club a pleasant fellow was ready for me with a stamp for my logbook. I used the facilities and called the school to let them know things were OK.

Soon after I set out for Brockville. I turned left over the lake and admired  the view again. Heading into Brockville the clouds turned darker and got lower. Light drizzle hit my windshield and trailed off behind me. I flew off track a little bit and descended to avoid the clouds.

I tuned for Brockville and listened. A few planes were just leaving and when I got there everyone was gone. Unlike last time someone was there so I told her I was coming. On the ground I asked her where to park the plane and went inside, and she stamped my logbook.

Plane on the ground with building clouds in the sky.

The Brockville Municipal Airport is a low cylindrical cinderblock building. It was a little dim inside because the lights were off and the clouds were darkening the sky somewhat. No one else was there.I called the school and let them know I was safe. My instructor told me that some weather was approaching from the west and told me to wait it out. The worst case scenario was that he’d have to drive down and pick me up. I suspected none of us wanted this outcome – he wouldn’t want the drive, and I wouldn’t want to repeat the trip. He asked me over the phone how the sky looked and I told him the best I could, but honestly I didn’t know what to look for. I told him the at Brockville had a weather cam that he could consult. We agreed to wait it out.

I settled onto a desk inside and waited, refreshing weather radar on my phone. The airport woman cut the grass outside. Although signal was weak there was free wifi. It rained enough outside to just wet the asphalt but that was about it.

Weather. I was at CNL3 and had come from CYGK.

About 30 minutes later my instructor told me to leave as soon as I could because there was a pocket of clear weather I could zip through. If for some reason the pocket closed or things got out of hand I could always go back or divert to Smiths Falls, about halfway between and Ottawa.

On the way out I called flight service to tell them of the change to my flight plan. The flight service specialist kindly offered me a weather briefing … and although I already had one from my instructor I figured I’ve paid the Nav Canada fees enough times to justify a quick weather brief. The specialist told me the same thing my instructor did so I set off.

As it turned out the weather was fine and I think I had actually already flown through some of the rain we were worrying about. The terminal controller reminded me about the advisory airspace and this time I didn’t drive straight through it. Helpfully he told me as I passed next to the western tip of the space and told me I was clear.

I had Ottawa in sight. Things were going great. Then the tower called me and told me to do a left-hand circuit pattern over the runway, which involved overflying the threshold (The end of) another runway. I froze a little. Stupidly I had left my runway diagram in the back but I thought I knew which end was the correct end. (One strip of asphalt is two runways – one approach from each end.) Since runways are numbered according to the direction you’re facing when you’re lined up with it, you can figure out the numbering by looking which way you’re pointing.

“Are you familiar with the airport?” the controller called. I said I was.
Soon after the controller called again.

“Turn right 040” the controller said sternly.

I cursed under my breath and turned. Clearly I was flying over the wrong end and I had misread something. Everything. I felt silly. Bad enough that the controller had had to order me to turn to fly a specific direction. Still after all that I landed and because I don’t remember the landing it must have gone okay.

So bruised ego aside I learned a little about weather and planning diversions. I also learned about the importance of either knowing your runway layout or failing that, of having the diagram close to hand. And well – I had flown to two places on my own!


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