That was the brief. I upped the ante on myself and presented this to my instructor on the morning:

Objectives
Practice take offs and landings at a series of airports
Practice Cockpit Resource Management
Practice Pilotage/Navigation using VOR Radials

Execution
Fly Providence, North Central, New Bedford, Quonset, Providence – all airports which the student has flown to before. All runways meet the 3000ft x 75ft solo endorsement. If time is pressing or any airfield requires go arounds that will put the plan behind schedule – the plan can be shortened at any point by flying straight back to Providence. Full Stop landings.
CRM will require setting up for takeoff and next airport at each stop. Airspace Transitions and requests for Flight Following En-Route.
Though GPS equipped and GPS will be set up for each airport being flown to – VOR tracking will be the principal method of navigation used in order to practice the use of VOR.

Points
Cruise Speed is estimated at a conservative 90 knots.
North Central to New Bedford direct touches the NE edge of Providence Class C airspace. Call will be made for Class C transition and Flight Following

On the day – a perfect forecast only slightly let down by the “1,500ft scattered” reported at Providence but not actually visible at the field. Would this be a deal breaker?

After looking at the haze to the North, going through my performance calculations for the sea level and 440ft altitude airfield, weight and balance, flight plan as calculated online with the FAA DUAT tool, my hand calculated plan, my radio frequencies and then a final look at NOTAMS and TFR’s my instructor endorsed my log book to fly the mission. I calculated I needed 8 galls of fuel – I was taking 53 – I should have plenty in reserve!

Out to preflight the aircraft – I was watched do it and of course – as ever – my instructor checked I’d put the caps back on the wing fuel tanks and verified my engine oil measurement. We pushed the plane out the hangar and I got in. My instructor did not. “Call me when you get back” and he disappeared into the hangar. I ran through the pre-start up and fired her up – only I had to have three goes – I slightly flooded her on the priming. But on the third go she moved the treacle thick and recently changed oil and roared into life. Immediately back to 1000rpm and check all the gauges. Everything was green or climbing to green. I taxied across the ramp and way from the hangar so as not to blast air around if anyone else was getting a plane out. The windsock was limp and the sky was blue. I worked my checklists – setting up the radios, nav radios, GPS, got the weather, got a clearance for North Central and then ran up the engine. All well – I called tower to taxi out.

“Runway 5 via Victor full length, Tango, Echo, Mike, Cross Runway 16” – the longest taxi from the school – sigh! I read back – was confirmed – and I got moving. A couple of jets came up on ground and also wanted to get moving. It started to get busy. Ground called – could I take a partial runway at Tango? I checked the remaining length – easily 5000ft and well over my 3000 minimum. It would also shorten my long taxi. I accepted the change. “Thanks for your help” from tower “Taxi to runway 5 via Tango”. I altered course and started to set up my lights and mixture while on the roll for the expected call – “N470U – are you ready to go?” – “Affirmative” – “Turn left heading 300 cleared to take off runway 5 at Tango”. I kept on rolling onto the runway, checked everything was in the green. Stopped for a moment on centerline – set the DG and started rolling. No wind and the plane smoothly lifted off into the air. Behind I could hear a SouthWest jet getting cleared onto 5. As I hit 400ft I started a bank to clear the runway as the tower called – “470U as soon as altitude permits – oh thank you – never mind”. I climbed out. The SouthWest jet was vectored on 360 for his take off – he would be to my right.

Damn! Here was that “broken at 1500ft” the forecast mentioned but which we could not see from the field – out to the west and north. But clear all the way up after that. “N470U contact departure – good morning” – I switched to departure and checked in while I looked at the cloud. There were some big holes – one of which I was climbing through. Looking to the North where North Central was – there seemed to be plenty of holes. Everywhere else was clear. With no wind it wasn’t going anywhere and even looked like it was still burning off and dissolving. Do I head back or carry on climbing? I can easily get back down because there is no cloud to the east. I kept climbing. Providence departure released me to my own navigation. I turned to North Central – tracking the VOR as planned. I picked up North Central weather – calm – pick a runway! Looking ahead I could see the airfield through a big hole. I was six miles out. “Providence North Central in sight”. I was released to change frequencies. I immediately announced my arrival in the vicinity on the CTAF but no one else was on. I called UNICOM to see if they had declared an active runway. No reply. Well I was going to have to overfly and then decide. 4 miles out – an aircraft announced a departure on runway 5. That made it easy. I announced a midfield left crosswind entry for 5 and watched the airplane take off. He called asking where I was. I announced I had him in sight, was well behind him and I was not a factor. “Thanks” from him. I was a little low from dropping through the cloud layer but powered back up to traffic pattern altitude before I made the crosswind entry. Not a good place to be low. The departing aircraft started to do radio checks with UNICOM while I announced my entry into the pattern, midfield crosswind, downwind, base and final. I set her down – very gently and took my time – a VERY smooth landing. Little long but I only used half the runway. I pulled off at taxiway C – announced I was clear, cleaned up and then announced I was taxiing round to go again on 5. 09:10 on my timeline – a little tight. Glad I planned a conservative 90 knot trip. I can make up a little on the next two legs at 115 and I can always skip Quonset. The windsock behind me said 5 was still good. As I crossed runway 15 the windsock ahead said I should be going the other way – but not very convincingly. I stopped and looked at both windsocks – both were barely moving but in opposite directions. Sigh – I’ll stick with 5. I taxied on down to the hold short and pulled over to set my radios for New Bedford. Dialing through the GPS – I wasted three minutes confirming that for some reason it was not in the GPS. Hunh? I manually entered it. Confirmed everything else and announced my departure on runway 5.

09:20 off and running – into the air. I set up on a climb for New Bedford and announced I was no longer a factor at North Central. I climbed on and called Providence Approach for flight following and for permission to skirt through the NE of their airspace. They acknowledged my call sign so I was good to use their space – then there was a pause while someone looked one up – then I got a radar squawk code. I flew on. This part of the plan was easy. Keep I-195 on my right till the Brayton Power Station then start letting down for New Bedford. My course was taking me across I-195 – that was not in the plan. There really didn’t seem to be any wind. I checked the temperature and calibrated the altimeter. I was making a true airspeed of 115. The GPS agreed. Compass and DG check – Ah ha! The DG had precessed a lot more than I was used to. The other plane I fly more often has a much more stable DG. I corrected and looked to where New Bedford should be – there it was. I got the weather. Calm.

“Providence Departure – New Bedford in sight” – “Clear to change frequencies and call New Bedford”. I did – telling New Bedford tower I had weather “Bravo”. Tower called back the wind was now actually 130 at 6 and I was cleared to make a modified entry for runway 14 – cleared to land. I chugged on gently letting down to traffic pattern altitude and then a little more as I was coming straight in on final. There was some light chop on the way down. Hope I don’t have this over the runway. I got set up and called a 2 mile final. New Bedford called up the wind was still at 130. Slight left cross wind. My instructor would be proud of this crabbing and my gentle ‘left wheel first’ crosswind landing – only the wind was suddenly RIGHT of centerline and I let down with a right crosswind correction and right wheel first. NEARLY on the centerline. I was off about two feet. Slight bounce but I flew her on and the final touch was gentle. No barking of the tires. Well he would have liked the crab and cross wind correction. He would have sighed at the bounce – even though slight. Used about 1500ft to land. 09:40. Good for my timeline. Taxied on to exit at A and told tower I was departing straight out and did not need parking. I was offered a back taxi but I asked to come off and set up for my next airport. “Taxiway Alpha then Bravo at your discretion”. I pulled off, cleaned up and set up the radios. Called I was ready to go. “Right on Bravo, cross runway 5, cleared to take off runway 14 and right turn at your discretion”. I taxied down and set up then off at 09:45. Short of pattern altitude I turned right and headed for Quonset. 21 miles away but sticking out like a sore thumb in the bright day. I carried on with my VOR tracking to check for wind. There wasn’t any to worry about.

Called Providence Approach for following and to tell them I was for Quonset and THEN Providence. I got my squawk code and thanks for the heads up – “keep the squawk code for both landings.” I trundled on. I got the weather. Quonset was using 34 – another straight in from where I was. Not much pattern today. It was a beautiful day. Then I heard Providence announce to all traffic that they were switching runways and so would Quonset. I got the weather again and there was the switch – 16 instead of 34. I was handed off to Quonset Tower – “Make left base for runway 16”. I flew on – letting down till I was at pattern altitude on the downwind and abeam the numbers. I started the landing workflow. I called Quonset as I made my turn to base. “Check wheels down, cleared to land runway 16”. I always smile at the military “wheels down” – my wheels are always down in a C-172! I crabbed a left cross wind approach and slipped the end. Fair landing. Correct speed and on the left wheel. Flared a little high perhaps but I ran straight and centerline and she didn’t slam down. She might have if the instructor’s weight was also aboard – need to watch that early flare. Down at 10:02 I stopped quite quickly and I doubt if I used 1200ft of runway. I had to taxi on to A1 – a bit down the way. Quonset had me stay on tower frequency and sent me right on Alpha and depart at your discretion. I held short on the ILS hold short while I flummoxed the radios for a moment – temporarily dropping Quonset Tower. Stop, take a breath. Don’t let the aircraft get ahead of you. I set up again and then double checked all the frequencies. I called I was ready. I was cleared to take off and depart for Providence at my discretion.

Wheels off at 10:08. Climbed straight out and over to Providence Approach. “Make left base for 23”. I got to 2000ft and stopped climbing. Something “in the book” came to mind about maintaining VFR at or below 2,000ft would allow them to vector jets over me as needed. I made for the notch in the lake and looked for the schoolyard. Both now familiar set up points for a left pattern on 23. “N470U – Providence Approach – contact tower” I flipped frequencies. “Providence Tower 470U on left downwind runway 23”. I let down to pattern at the end of the downwind and in the absence of any calls from the tower called my position and turn to base. Was cleared to land. I nailed the turn to final, finishing in a left crab on centerline. Just a little high but flaps 30 and a power off dropped her onto the glideslope. As I came over the numbers I just flew her on, turned to left wheel low for the crosswind and after chasing it a little let her down. Good but not a greaser. I wasn’t complaining – neither was the aircraft. Down at 10:20. First taxiway I could come off at was Charlie and I turned off as tower called me to “turn off at Charlie then Mike and Bravo cleared to cross 16 back to the ramp – stay this frequency”. I stopped for a moment to clean up, kept my lights on till across runway 16 and then taxied into the school.

The parking spot was the tight inside one. All others were full. I squeezed between the building, the overhanging hanger door edge and the aircraft on my left. I snuck her up to the spot and stopped. Nailed it! Transponder standby, avionics off, engine stop, master off, fuel to left tank, trim to neutral, key out and safe. Silence. 10:24.

I called my instructor to come out for my security escort into the school while I wrote up the Hobbs and Tach and put the plane to bed. My instructor appeared and chocked her for me while I squared everything else away. I sticked the tanks to find out my actual fuel burn.

Mission planned time – 122 mins
Mission actual – 102 mins

Planned fuel burn – 7.8 Gall
Actual Burn – 10.5 Gall
Reserve left – 42.5 Gall (About 4 hours more operation). I think I had enough fuel!

Difference – flying at 75% instead of 65% to keep up with mission time and I could have leaned the engine better on the leg to Quonset. Should also up the fuel burn in planning.

Debrief, then – “Come in with a cross country prepared every time it looks like we might have weather. Time you went and found somewhere yourself you have never been before”.

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