Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lesson 24: That flight following is a handy thing

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-I22-40I
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 8 knots

Today I made my second dual cross-country, flying from Stewart up to Winchester, IN (Randolph County, I22) and back. I planned the flight last night, called Flight Service for a weather briefing this afternoon, and Dave checked it out and said everything looked good when I got to the airport. Preflight complete and tanks topped off, we departed to the Northwest at 4,500 feet. Winds aloft were about 18 knots on our tail and we clipped along and made it there (it's 54 nautical miles away) in about 35 minutes.

I called Dayton Flight Service over the radio for the first time and activated my VFR flight plan. They're incredibly nice and, as Dave likes to tell me, it's just a regular person on the other end so it's nothing to get nervous about. I have found that I'm slightly apprehensive the first time I try something completely new on the radio. After I have done it one time, however, there hasn't been any real nervousness and I've felt comfortable talking. Dave told me he thinks I'll do great on my checkride as I'm doing awesome with the radios for having no experience and in general with multitasking in the air.

En route, I hit all the checkpoints just about right on time and was following along noting references off the sectional chart to pinpoint our location. Dave loves taking students to Randolph Co. because it can be extremely hard to find - in daylight, at least. There's a drive-in theater right next door that helps out a little bit at night. Anyway, as we got close neither of us saw it until all of a sudden it was right in front of us about 3 miles out. I entered the pattern and brought us down softly on the very narrow (to me) runway. There's no taxiway so I made a radio call to announce my intentions and then proceeded to back-taxi down the runway. On takeoff, Dave had my camera and managed to snap a few photos of the place.

Taking off from Runway 7 at Randolph County

Silos to the East of the airport (good future visual reference!)

Now on the return leg, I called Dayton Approach control for Flight Following for the first time. The idea with flight following is that as a VFR aircraft, air traffic control assigns you a unique code on your transponder so their radar can see you and know exactly who you are. Then they are able to provide you vectors along with advisories about other traffic in the air. More on that in a second.

I deviated slightly to the West about halfway home but figured out where I was and managed to get us back on course. Crossing to the West of downtown Dayton we continued towards the river and Wright Brothers airport. We were cruising at 3,500 feet as Eastbound flights are supposed to fly odd thousands plus five hundred feet (3,500/5,500/7,500/etc.) and Westbound pilots the even ones plus five hundred - hence the reason we flew to I22 at 4,500 feet. A couple miles away from Wright Brothers, we got a call from ATC that is sure to make any pilot move quickly...
Dayton Approach: "Cessna 60338, Traffic Alert, Traffic Alert! Traffic is 12 o'clock, three miles, 3,500 feet, climb immediately to 4,000!"

(Shove throttle all the way in, pull back, up we go!)

Me: "Climbing 4,000, negative contact, 60338."
We looked and looked and I kept flying and climbing. The sun was behind us and close to setting so it's not like we were blinded by light in our eyes. Finally, Dave spotted the plane behind us and not too far below and we let ATC know the traffic was in sight. Since we were nearly home, they canceled flight following at that point and I thanked the controller for the help. But it wasn't totally over, as that other plane started turning towards our way and descending right alongside us. Neither Dave nor I had a clue what the other pilot was doing but he kept tabs on the traffic while I flew. Finally, the other guy turned away and we entered the pattern and landed behind a Cub.

The traffic, flying parallel to us (in the center of the photo)

The other plane, now turning away from us

So as the title of this post states and my experience clearly illustrates, flight following is a great service... USE IT! The odd/even thousands rule doesn't apply until you are more than 3,000 feet above the ground, so the other pilot was flying legally at 3,500 feet (2,500 feet above the ground). Nonetheless, this shows why it's a very good reason to obey the hemispherical rules whenever possible as it helps reduce traffic conflicts. And let me just say one more time that flight following is a very good thing.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File (It didn't record correctly, as you will see)
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Solo/PIC Time: 7.8 hours
Total Time: 38.3 hours


  1. Yikes! You gotta wonder what that other pilot was doing. Was he on the radio at all?

    I've had FF warn me of nearby traffic on a couple of occasions. It's handy, and I agree all VFR pilots should take advantage of it if it's available.

  2. ATC wasn't talking to him and he didn't seem to be on the
    CTAF either. We really had no idea what he was doing, especially when he started flying parallel to us. Anyway, yea it's a darn good thing that controller saw the conflict on the scope cause he was invisible to us.

  3. Sounds like you had a great second dual XC Steve! Reminds me of my first XC and the excitement I felt.

    And just a side note I suppose on that traffic. About a year ago when I first started my flight training, we were doing steep turns around a point on the ground about 6 miles from a local airport and were buzzed by another aircraft. As I was in a left turn, the aircraft came in from the right and got so close I could clearly hear that it indeed was a plane. My instructor grabbed the yoke and really pushed it down and to the left even more to get out of the way. We looked in the direction that the plane would have been going, and saw nothing; it was quite odd.

    But as I'm sure you know, you don't NEED a radio in uncontrolled airspace, so WATCH OUT!

    But on a brighter note, I love your blog and can't wait to read new articles you post; it's neat following another pilot along in his flight training. Keep up the good work!

  4. Kyle,

    You're right on about uncontrolled airspace. It's still amazing how hard (or impossible) if can be to spot traffic sometimes. Our eyes were outside and we never saw the guy until he was behind us.

    XC flying is indeed fun and I'm looking forward to my first solo XC that's scheduled for next week! Glad you like the blog so much... I'm enjoying following your progress too.

  5. thats crazy they didnt have your flight plan..i think i would have freaked out (which i know is bad). good job on your flight plan and your solo flights!!!! its one thing to hear you talk about them but its another to see pics of you flying. AND it will be a whole 'nother thing to fly with you :-)