In a way, I explained to someone, it’s not like just driving a different car (going from a Citation X to a Cessna 182), it’s like additionally driving in a foreign country. The car will operate basically the same, and most of the principals of traffic laws may be obvious, but there are signs in a different language. It would be just enough to put you on high alert for your entire trip.
|Houston's Class B|
So logistically this was a headache. The 182 was up at Victoria Airport and I’m at Port Lavaca. I could have driven there, but then my car would be stuck there (and frankly, my car is starting to really make some loud noises. I’m praying it makes it back to Cleveland next week and my friend can fix it up for my trips to WI and MN coming up). We decided the best thing would be for me to fly up in the 172 and swap. This was great in that I was paying more attention to the differences in the two airplanes, which makes my knowledge of both better.
At this point I still didn’t know when the flight to Houston was going to have to leave. Already that morning I had used AOPA’s flight planner to figure out direction, distance and time needed (ok, maybe VFR pilots don’t have to work as hard as they used to do, either). I tore the VFR sectional apart looking for gotchas (tall towers, other restricted airspace, dimensions of the Class B, etc). I double checked my VFR weather minimums (required cloud clearance and visibility) but the day was devoid of any clouds. I looked at the Federal Aviation Regulations again about Class B, but one thing I was painfully aware of is that to enter Class B airspace, the controller must actually say your call sign and the words, “Cleared into Class B airspace.” NO exceptions. [Only now, editing this blog post, do I find a webpage specifically for pilots on Houston's Class B.]
By the time David returned for his flight back to Victoria, we were running late. I was going to have to leave Victoria and go straight to Houston, no time for any more planning. But Steve had briefed me on what to expect – and it happened pretty much as he said. BTW, I have to stop with the self deprecating humor about how much I scare myself. I think Steve is starting to doubt my ability/knowledge/confidence. At one point he asked, “what did you do all those years flying around for the airlines?” Again, we didn’t fly the same way (sometimes for the airlines we did have to cancel IFR and land VFR, but not often, and always at the same place – I had learned what to do at these airports as a First Officer so I did the same as a Captain – not a lot of variation) and I had also been an FO with the fractionals so long (since 2002) that I had become quite, uh, lazy. This is one of my reasons for becoming a flight instructor. Back to the basics!
I contacted Houston: “Houston Center, Skylane 397ME, request.” This way, I know, you don’t clog up the radio right off. Let the controller call you back when he has the time to talk to you, and then be ready to answer when he says, “Skylane 7ME, Houston Center, go ahead.” “Skylane 7ME, 10 miles east of KVCT, 2500 feet, VFR enroute to Houston Hobby, request flight following.” Then Houston calls me back with a transponder code so they can identify me on their radar screen so that they can advise me of any traffic which might result in paint swapping. Interestingly enough, I again tried to look up flight following, which is actually called “traffic advisories,” but again, though it is defined in the Aeronautical Information Manual, no help on how to request. This is tough! Trying not to further embarrass myself, I was hesitant to ask/announce/? a change in altitude despite 2500 feet bouncing me around a bit. If I asked, the controller might say, “altitude your discretion” again with a twinge of duh (I’ve heard THAT before). So, I stuck it out.
My flight path took me farther north when expected because I took off from KVCT instead of KPKV, so I flew right over Wharton Airport, which is uncontrolled. In the interest of safety, I make a call on their Unicom to let anyone know I was transitioning over the airport at 2500 feet. Turns out that did no good whatsoever, especially to the pilot in the airplane I saw right below me. They didn’t say anything on the Unicom, but I heard them on center announcing that they were now ABOVE me. Somehow in their climb we managed not to meet. Whew. And so much for "traffic advisories" from center.
Tower asked me if I saw the beechjet on final for 12R, which I did, so my clearance became, “Skylane 7ME, maintain visual separation with the beechjet, cleared to land 12L.” I made a big 270 degree loop (no more 90' left turns) and was thankful when I identified 12L written on the asphalt. Strike 3 was not landing on the wrong runway.
Well, I should have landed long, because I had to roll all the way out to the other end of the runway (past Signature even), where I then taxied to the wrong FBO. After a bit of confusion, I started the engine (ha-ha, I typed engines first! Force of habit.) and then taxied over to the maintenance hangar where Dianna was dropping off the Husky to get it ready for the AirRace Classic.
One of the things I learned in my training (but only because I asked), is what heading to maintain after takeoff when VFR. For IFR pilots, you maintain runway heading even if the wind blows you off course - the controller expects you to be on a heading. VFR pilots, because they can see the runway, are expected to pick a heading that will maintain alignment with the runway – fly all the way down right over it. Momentary relapse, I was sloppy. Let the wind push me to the right and then turned to the assigned heading (only ten degrees to the right) too early. Sloppy. Tsk. Tsk.
|GMaps doesn't yet show strip diagonally between 2 Roads|
I dropped off my passenger, who supplied this video of my departure:
What was Strike 3? I realized right after takeoff that I forgot to open the cowl flaps, which provides increased airflow over the engine at low airspeeds. [Steve said I could say it was because I didn’t want to suck debris in from the ground. That’s my story.] PKV was just a short flight, and I was high on my successes of the day already. In fact, when I called in range on the Unicom, Steve said, “I heard you nailed it over at the ranch.” News apparently travels faster than a C182.
P.S. the photo in the background of my blog now is me taxiing back to the departure end of the grass strip.