Learning to Fly – Day Thirteen (Thunder and lightening, very frightening)

We had planned to push off on an early cross-country after yesterday’s late night solos. I had done the preliminary flight planning the evening before; all I needed was to call “my friend” at the weather briefing office to get the winds aloft so I could calculate our headings and flight times.  Before I did this, I did two very scientific meteorological investigations: First, I pulled back the curtains and looked outside.  Whoa, that did not look good. Fog. I then called the airfield’s automatic weather reporter. It’s an automatic weather station linked up to a speech computer.  Winds were 4 knots, sky overcast with cloud layer starting at 100ft!  I was not too concerned though, as that sort of weather typically clears up quickly when the sun gets to it.  It was then on to my weather-briefer for a personal forecast. They ask for your aircraft ID, your routing and your planned altitudes and off they go.  More bad news:  Thunderstorms forecast for whole area, heavy rain, visibility down to 2 miles etc. He ended on the dreaded phrase: VFR not recommended.  It is a bit of a “funny” thing this.  You think that air traffic controllers, tower personnel, Flight Center people, Clearance Delivery people and aviation weather forecasters could tell someone: “You can’t fly”.  However, none of them can.  An air traffic controller controls a piece of airspace and can tell you if s/he will let you fly in that particular space. There is in the end one, and only one person deciding on whether to take off or not: The pilot in command.  So when a weather briefer tells you “VFR not recommended” it is a euphemism for “You are a bloody maniac if you fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules as opposed to instruments) in this weather”. Before leaving for the school, back in England I read an interesting book going through about 40 case studies on light aircraft crashes most of them fatal. The books title was: “They called it Pilot Error” and it referred to the conclusion on the investigation.  Almost all accidents are in the end down to pilot error. Even when the aircraft mechanically fails, the pre-flight checks if performed properly would typically have identified the issue.  Another typical “pilot error” is flying when a weather briefer states “VFR not recommended”.   So I spent the morning and lunchtime studying for my written and oral FAA exam and in the afternoon, I went over to the school where we could follow the weather on the internet. There were radar images and forecasts etc.  We could see at that point that the squall line (line of thunderstorms) had moved (and was moving) away from us and our route and we set sail. It was again a very educating experience. I think it is a public secret that my navigational abilities at the best of times leave a bit to be desired. Well, it does not get any easier at 3,000ft where there are no town signs, no road signs etc. On a 1½ flight between four airports I managed to get us really lost only once. I also learned not to fly straight over my visual reference points (you cannot se them – it is not a glass bottom aircraft!). One issue is, I am really having problems visualising headings of ground objects such as roads or runways.  Conceptually I understand what needs to be done but I just do not seem to be able to do it in practice. I sure hope that will come.  I felt tired, but not too bad when we returned home early evening. Tomorrow will be the second dual cross-country, this one into controlled airspace and on Friday it will be my first solo cross-country, which will also be into controlled airspace. Saturday is set up for my qualifying cross-country where I have to fly at least 150 miles, visit 2 airports I have not been to before and get signatures from an official at each airport to document that I was there. All without crashing, annoying the FAA or worst (and most likely) of all: Getting lost!

Summary after 13 days:

Flown: 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Total flying time: 37 hours and 3 minutes.

Solo: 5 hours.

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