The mission is simple enough. A Cross Country to two DIFFERENT airports, total distance more than 100 miles, one leg at least 50 miles and three landings at a controlled tower. I have three different plans prepared to match the weather. The West plan, the East plan and the North plan. South would be a swim! The problem has been trying to get ANY weather.

Tuesday rained and snowed. Thursday was marginal though later in the day it got better. Today – today was just perfect. Calm or light winds and a high ceiling. The night before I check the winds and I pick the West plan. Providence, Bridgeport, Windham and Providence. 163 miles. Friday morning – I put in the final details of the winds, call the weather at all the airfields I will visit – or might visit and then head to the school.

It is my instructor Greg’s day off – but he has kindly come in – just to allow me to fly today. I’m planning on navigating the “old(er)” way – flying between radio beacons called VOR’s and ignoring GPS direct flying. I want to use the VOR system to get more practice in its use. Greg goes over my plan carefully. He asks questions about one part where I have decided I will pick the second airport whilst in flight after getting the actual weather in the air. We do a final weather and TFR check and I go out to pre-flight the aircraft. Today I’m flying N9905F. She has just been re-engined and the engine is still getting broken in. I’m to run her at 72% power instead of 65% and run her an extra 25 degrees mixture rich. She is running on straight mineral oil to break it in and I take along an extra quart in case I need to top off.

After we have preflighted – we both look at the left main wheel. It doesn’t seem to be sitting quite square. I get under and look at the axle carefully – it seems OK. We rock the plane back and forth to “spring” the undercarriage and make sure she is not just sitting funny from getting her out. We get the mechanic to come look. Brian brings a T-Square and compares both sides. He confirms the wheel is not square on the left. There is not a spare aircraft. Oh boy – this is all I need. After some careful measuring Brian checks the numbers. We ask the question – “Will it fall off?” – “No”. “Is it safe?” – “Yes”. The angle is in tolerance. We joke that I will just have to make right wheel landings but it is decided all is well. I get in and settle down.

I haven’t flown for 6 days. I feel a hair out of sorts and turn to my checklists to focus and center myself. By the time I am turning the key to fire up – I’m back on track. And the engine goes “thunk”. The starter makes no impression on it – it is like everything is stuck at top dead center. A second crank and she fires. I go to the runup pad and get the plane warm while enjoying the luxury of using the empty passenger seat as my chart table. I check the VOR instruments carefully. I get minus 1 and plus 2 errors on them checking against the local VORTAC. I look in the aircraft box at the log sheet. It has been running with the same trend for the last couple of weeks and the 3 degrees difference is within the 4 degrees standard on the ground. All is well. I’m cleared and get the longest taxi down to runway 5 – why does this always happen on my solos? It is the quiet part of the day and I’m cleared, departed and handed off to approach just about as quick as the controllers can reasonably get rid of me!

My flight plan is so on the money today it is not true. I’m two minutes late climbing out – but the rest of the plan runs the same two minutes long. The visual waypoints come up on time. At the Connecticut River – Providence tell me they can’t get me a handoff to New York Center right now and they cut me loose to fly VFR. Try them on 124.7 in a couple of miles is the suggestion. I monitor the weather at Bridgeport and then Bridgeport Traffic and decide to listen to the traffic. It is busy and there seems to be a lot of student traffic. The Bridgeport controller is juggling and one student is not responding to calls. At 15 miles out I warn them I am approaching so they can start to factor me in. The controller is still trying to raise the missing student. The controller stops accepting traffic coming from all over and starts to make us all fly pattern so he can keep it under control. The missing student comes back on the radio and is shepherded home. I report my midfield downwind as requested and get warned about a plane low over Long Island Sound on a 3 mile final. I’m number two after him and I project the runway out across the water and spot him. I follow him in and land. It IS a right crosswind landing and I stay off the left wheel as I land.

I taxi in – park with the engine running for a moment, set up for Windham and ask to go. I follow another Cessna out to the runway. A plane lands, the Cessna goes, two other planes land and the I depart straight out to the NE. I’m headed for the Hartford VOR. It is my airport turning point. North South winds and I turn left for Hartford. East West and it is right for Windham. I try getting the weather at Windham but I am not close enough. I fly on – tracking the VOR. I can hear aircraft on the CTAF at Windham and they are using runway 27. That works for me. Looking left I can see Hartford standing out and I can pick out the airport and the abandoned GE airport to the NE. Looking right and ahead the haze is obscuring Windham. I’m quite close, almost on top of the Hartford VOR before I get the weather at Windham. It confirms Windham is good and I can hear two helicopter and a Civil Air Patrol aircraft working runway 27. I fly on to Windham and join the pattern. Someone else calls to use runway 9. I call and tell him the rest of us are using 27. We don’t want to meet in the middle flying in opposite directions! He breaks off and announces he is going elsewhere.

I land. It is about 5 knots fast, a little floating and long but there is plenty of runway left. I pull off and taxi round. Though 9905F is not supposed to be used for a lot of landing during her engine break in – one more will not be of great harm – I’d like to get this runway right. The Civil Air Patrol and I are going to be taking turns in the pattern. Just before I go – something makes me run the engine up and do a mag check. She runs horribly rough on the left – so I lean her out and run the engine up for 30 seconds. Another check and the plugs are clear. I take the runway, and fly a pattern. My second landing is nice and tight and I set up and take off and depart for Providence.

The flight back is an interminable, light, choppy hassle. The plane won’t fly level from one moment to the next. I’m constantly having to trim and adjust and getting the Providence Weather down is a scrawl. I call Approach and get cleared onto a left base for runway 23. I write it down. That’s a hassle – a long way around the airport. The opposite of 5 which was on the weather. I get handed off to Tower. I announce I’ll be setting up for 23. No – say Tower – we are on 5. I mention the other controller gave me 23 but I am fine with 5 – it is the logical and easier route from where I am. A moment later I hear the original controller on the radio talking to another aircraft. He is joking that he is retiring in November because he is no longer up to the job!. A good straightforward landing in about minimum distance. I’m straight off at Taxiway Tango. I don’t think I’ve ever managed that short a landing on runway 5 ever. Of course it makes for a long taxi back.

In to the school. I call and close my flight plan. Then I call for my security escort in to the school. As I put the plane to bed I stick the fuel tanks. Predicted fuel burn – 20 galls – Actual 21. Hey. I’m getting better at this! And the left wheel – seems quite straight after all.

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