Daily Pilot's Journal

Read the complete day-by-day flight log of an actual student pilot, from the first takeoff to the signing of his private pilot's license. Written promptly at the end of every flight, each entry is completely unedited - detailing the successes, failures, and mistakes we all encounter along this long road.
Day 17 - First Solo to Bridgeport
Thursday, 7/13/06 5:30pm - 8kt winds, broken clouds. After getting rained out the last two mornings Jerroll convinced me to take his afternoon slot for my solo to Bridgeport. Stan gave me the go-ahead and so I arrived on the ramp all by myself for the very first time.

Untying the plane I did a complete pre-flight inside and out. The echo ramp was quiet and the silence weirded me out a little. Once inside I recorded ATIS, got ground clearance to taxi to runway 32, and did one last final look around to make sure I didn't forget anything. The run-up was smooth, takeoff was normal, the winds blew me off runway heading for a few seconds but I soon realized I needed to compensate with extra rudder for the plane being light on the co-pilot side.

Taxiing through the Echo Ramp at KFRG
Clouds were scattered and there were slight wind gusts. Arriving at Northport I could see rain to the east, not 10 miles out. Darker clouds were forming there, and for a moment I considered going back to Republic for some TnG's. Still, visibility around the clouds was good and I could see clear across to Bridgeport. It didn't look so bad over there so I decided to continue across the Sound.

Ten miles out I radioed and was told to report a one-mile final for runway 6. Vectored into that approach and came in smoothly. Clouds were thicker here and the wind picked up some, but everything went well. Solid landing and a quick takeoff, ran into that stupid downdraft that always hovers over the receiving end of runway 24... that shakes you up a bit because your altitude at that point is still pretty low. On my second pass I ran into some traffic I couldn't see, got vectored pretty far downwind and came in behind the other aircraft. On my third landing I got slotted in between a Cessna and another plane, but this time I was able to report to the tower that I had the traffic in sight. I requested a full stop, landed nicely, and taxied to gate 11.

The fuel truck was already out and I got fuel quickly. The plane was stifling hot and it felt nice to be out of it. A breeze washed over me as I realized I'd just flown to Connecticut... all by myself. Two months ago I really wouldn't have imagined I'd be this far along in my training. Pretty sick.

I decided to get back in the air again before the weather got worse. Got cleared for takeoff and remembered to ask for a right downwind departure. As I was about to throttle up the tower chimed in again: "Cherokee 8081G be advised there's a large storm cell just to your south". I looked up and there it was: a dark, swirling mass of nasty-looking clouds just south of the airport. It looked as if I could turn crosswind right into it. I acknowledged the tower and climbed quickly, this time cheating a little by turning early to avoid that downdraft. I turned downwind early also, hugging the airport in an effort to avoid the storm cell. Winds picked up as I gained altitude and brought myself next to it, noticing that it stretched all the way east to Northport. I could just see the stacks past the tip of the storm, but through the storm I could see nothing: it was too thick to see Port Jefferson or any of the north shore of Long Island.

This was one of the first times I was unnerved, at least while flying solo. Not exactly frightened, but definitely wigged out. There was no way I was flying anywhere near weather like that so I decided to parallel the storm and see which direction it would blow. If it blew away my view of Northport, or if it turned back upon me, I would bring the plane back to Bridgeport. There I could sit at gate 11 drinking Diet Pepsi until it cleared. But I got lucky. The storm was blowing westward, and with me heading southeast I would miss it. I flew alongside it and about 500 feet below it, turning away again when I could feel the winds buffeting my left wing. Skirting the edge of it probably cost me a few minutes flying time, but by the time I got to the Northport stacks the storm was way off to the west and was no longer a factor.

Farmingdale ATIS told me the winds had picked up to 13kts. Pretty shifty. Runway 32 was still in use and I was instructed to report right downwind of it. Visibility was good and as I crossed over the Island the sun came back out. The scattered clouds had dropped though, making it impossible for me to fly at 2000ft. I dropped down to 1500 and got below them, but then an approaching cloudbank forced me to dip to 1200. Even that was just skirting the bottom of the formation. I had the airport in sight early and came in over the graveyard. Turned downwind abeam the runway and before I could even radio the tower I received landing clearance.

So I'm flying along nicely distanced from runway 32, 80kts, just put up a notch of flaps, good visibility and everything is looking pretty great... and that's when the trouble starts. Looking out over my right wing I notice I'm abeam the numbers, only something's wrong: I'm not abeam the numbers. I'm abeam the number: runway 1. I'm flying downwind along the wrong runway! Quickly I glance down and notice runway 32 is immediately below me... if I don't bank hard left I'm going to cross right over it. Holy fucking shit.

Not very happily I immediately bank left. I'm now flying parallel to runway 32 but I'm almost on top of it. Unless I do something quickly I'm going to have NO base leg. Acting fast I begin vectoring further left in an attempt to teardrop to a final approach. I increase throttle (bad move) for reasons I don't really understand and begin sailing away from the airport in hopes of being able to make some kind of decent approach from the huge mistake I'd (almost) just made.

"Cherokee 8081G please turn base now". Those words were exactly what I didn't want to hear. Down below, a whole line of planes are waiting patiently for me to land. "Cherokee 8081G turning base" I responded, banking right and dropping the throttle. I realize right away that the increasing the throttle hadn't helped me distance myself from the airport. The only thing it did was bring up my altitude. Now I'm turning base on a VERY short final and I'm not lined up with the runway and on top of all that... I'm way, way too high.

Full flaps. Nose down. Turning harder and harder I'm now very far left of the runway on final (like I said, no base leg). To compensate I begin cutting the angle, only to come out on the right side of the runway. This is it. This is going to be my very first go-around. Just as I'm about to push the button I make the firm decision to stick out the approach. I'm coming across the runway now so I'm turning left to level the wings, but now I'm too far right of the runway. Holy shit this sucks. Diving for the runway has my speed at well over 80kts and it's getting very hard to judge rolling out of turns. Finally I get semi-lined up on the right side of the runway. I'll take it. I've already crossed over the numbers and still have some altitude to bleed off. Luckily my decent rate is high. I cruise in over the runway only to notice my nose is pointing way right - I've been crabbing hard for the crosswind without even realizing it. I'm crabbing way too much to land like this; I've got to do a sideslip.

The only good thing about my landing was the sideslip. Left rudder brought the nose of the plane quickly back into line. I totally floated the landing and felt the crosswind pick me up again. More rudder, this time not enough, and my wheels touched down as the nose was still fairly crooked. Adding more right rudder I struggled with the control wheel until I felt the nose drop, then used my feet to get back on the center line. Whew! Thank God.

Three other planes had not only witnessed my hellacious landing but actually had to sit there on the taxiway and wait for me that whole time. Wow that's embarrassing. I half waited for the tower to say something but all they did was hand me over to ground. Had to wait another minute and a half before I was cleared to taxi to the echo ramp, and when I killed the engine I felt a great sense of relief wash over me.

On one hand I had done a great job flying to Bridgeport: I'd completed all procedures, landed and refueled, avoided some very bad weather and returned safely to Farmingdale. On the other hand I'd just made a major rookie mistake over the runways of a very busy airport. Still, on the third hand (I'm making up hands here...) I'd been able to recover from that mistake to the point of making a short approach landing. Basically, that's exactly what I'd done. I had corrected a horrible approach and dropped a lot of extra altitude but was still able to land the plane into a pretty strong crosswind. And even though I shouldn't have made the mistake to begin with, that was still something to be proud of.

As I tied off the plane there was one thing I was very, very sure of: I would never make that kind of mistake again. ALWAYS look at the runway numbers. Always.

Flying hours today: 1.4       Total: 21.5

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