So…….

Not being personally completely satisfied with my cockpit log and paperwork management during my long cross country yesterday – and with the wind still gentle today – I ask if I could fly another long cross country today. I think my instructor is beginning to get the feeling that I don’t want him in the plane but he smiled and said sure – and I set up to the EAST today – out over Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket to land – some landings and then to Hyannis before coming home. Doglegging to Hyannis via Martha’s Vineyard so I would stay in gliding distance of land at all times. The winds were calm in the morning and the fog was burnt off everywhere – except Providence. My instructor rightfully fretted over the visibility as I preflighted – but by the time I was done – it was burned off. I was warned to immediately return if there was any doubt about visibility after takeoff.

I got in, ran the checklists and tuned for the weather. Nothing. I checked the radio on other frequencies and it was fine – just no Providence Weather. I dialed the number on my cellphone – listening to it on the Bluetooth link to my headset. Then I called Clearance for my squawk code and they asked if I would like the weather as Providence’s ATIS antenna was out today……. I ran up and called Ground for my taxi. For the first time in 8 months of flying at Providence I got offered runway 16. RIGHT next to the school. No taxi – great – the controllers must have read my blog from the day before! I was off and headed straight out to Martha’s Vineyard – clearly visible over 20 miles away. No problem with visibility. I’d been cleared on course but not given an altitude clearance so as I got to Tiverton I was still maintaining the last instructed “at or below 2,000ft”. Trouble is there is a big radio tower in Tiverton. I could see it but it was getting close. I call Providence and ask if I could be released to my planned 3,500ft altitude. I’m also going to need it soon for my glide to safety if the engine quits while crossing Buzzard’s Bay. I’m released and also handed off to Cape. I climb out and called Flight Service to open my Flight Plan. Fight Service asked if I was up to speed with the IFR weather warnings. I asked if they were new or if they related to the ones that had the fog burning off about now. “No they were for the fog burning off now”. I asked about Restricted Areas 4104 at Falmouth but they had nothing new to offer on the standard notice. I was ready for the usual request and offered a Pilot Report. “Cessna 172, 12 Miles FROM Radial 319 Mike Victor Yankee, 3,500ft, Wind Calm, 10 miles or more, 2 degrees C, No turbulence”. Then I checked in with Cape.

I start crossing to Martha’s Vineyard keeping close eye on the engine to make sure it would keep running. As I overflew the airfield in the middle of the island I dialed my VOR to the new heading and altered slightly for Nantucket. Again I watched the engine as I made the water crossing. The sun came out. The plane is trimmed perfectly and flying herself today. I get some pictures and Cape releases me to Nantucket Tower. I already had the weather for Nantucket and at 12 miles out I told them I was coming and they set me up for a left base to runway 6. It was busy – they were conducting Land and Hold Short operations. Well in my pre-flight research I knew they did – I would just have to be strong minded and decline a LASHO clearance if offered one. Not wise for a student at an airport they had never been to before. As I turned to final however – the airfield was quiet and all mine. It was a definite right crosswind landing as I turned final but the ominous smell of something getting hot was not too good. It wasn’t engine or exhaust but had that electrical whiff to it. Not good. Well I was going to land anyway – so I put her down in a stiff 90 degree right crosswind landing. I gave myself top marks for it – Right wheel graze and held square. I got off at the first taxiway.

The smell was stronger and the ammeter had an ominous discharge showing that was way too much for the low engine RPM. Tower asked where I would like to park. I told them I needed to stop and review something “that was getting hot”. They told me to “stay there – was I declaring an emergency?” Clearly they didn’t want a “hot” plane amongst the parked ones. I was working my post landing workflow and the very hot landing light switch was a big clue. I flicked it off and the ammeter went back to normal and the air quickly cleared. I reached under the dash to see if there were any hot wires but all was OK there and the insulation all seemed good. Everything was back to normal. Landing Light – not required. Only for night landings if for hire. I also have other lights to show my position in the landing pattern. Taxi, Nav, Strobes and Beacon. I am legal without it. I call tower and tell them all is well and I’d like to do some pattern work. They send me round and I fly a right pattern for noise abatement and to stay clear of the town. I crab 20 degrees on the downwind to deal with the stiff crosswind. Tower calls to say they will call my base turn and tells me to follow traffic on a left base. I call I see him and follow him in. Not as good a landing. The wind is now square right crosswind and slightly gusty. Even though I use less flaps and have her running true to the runway as I touch down – I still get blown off centerline a couple of feet – though I quickly get her back. The day is warming up and tower are reluctant to offer runway 15. Well I only need one more landing at Hyannis and I will have met the three controlled tower landings for the solo today so I elect to go for Hyannis. They send me straight out to Hyannis but I call and tell them I am going west first to overfly Martha’s Vineyard for gliding safety. The climb to 8,500ft to be sure of gliding safety across Nantucket Sound is a waste of gas. Flying a slightly longer dogleg but lower route uses less.

I Call Cape Control and they give me a squawk code and I fly my doglegs. It is the first nice Saturday of the year and the air is thick with General Aviation traffic – all practicing calling for Flight Following and generally stretching their winter wings. I call I see Hyannis and as expected Cape is happy to hand me off as soon as possible. I have the Hyannis weather already and they offer me a right base on runway 15. Almost head to wind. Great! A nice landing and they ask what I would like to do. I tell them I’d like to sit in the runup pad for a few moments and then I am back for Providence. The helpful controller sends me down to runway 24. There is a nice big runup pad at the end and when I depart I will be aimed almost at Providence. I take a few minutes to roll my shoulders, breathe deeply and set up my radios and nav gear. I experimentally test the mags – they are in limits but there is a little spread. Not usual on 503SP. I lean the engine a bit and give it a 30 second run at 1800rpm and then test the mags again. The spread has gone – back to the Sierra Papa I know. I call I am ready and after a landing aircraft crosses the threshold I get a one breath – “Cleared to taxi, cleared to take off runway 24 and depart on course and own navigation”. Clearly they don’t expect to talk to me again.

I climb out – maintain a nice centerline in a stiffish crosswind and climb hard to get over adjacent Falmouth’s Class D airspace as I head for Providence. I skip calling Cape for a code. It is only 10 miles and I will be handed off to Providence – so I fly along squawking VFR at 4,500ft trimmed out, leaned out and hands off – like the flying has been all day. Just gently prods at the rudder pedals to ease the plane around and make her gently rise or fall. I’ve been reading about this and it really seems to work.

As I pass New Bedford I can see a Cessna against the dark trees flying the pattern 3000ft below. I call Providence and announce I am coming home. The ATIS is still down and he offers to read me up the weather. I tell him I got it from a previous read up he just gave someone else. The controller is happy and relieved. This reading up the weather is a complete workload killer for them. You can tell they are busy. Flight Following is not being offered to the aircraft to the north near North Central airport. Instead the controllers are announcing “Numerous aircraft between 500 and 2,500ft around North Central”. I’m handed to the controller on 127.9. He is harried and busy. It takes me three calls spaced at two minutes before he gives me a vector for sequence and “please make best speed”. I’m trying to put the sound picture together but though I figure a Cutlass is in the pattern and a South West jet is coming in from the North – it sounds incomplete. I put my nose down and crank up to 120 knots. I’m reluctant to go into the yellow arc and go faster – the air is smooth but there tends to be bumps over water/land transitions. Bumps in the yellow arc are not a good thing. Between the wind and the incomplete sound picture and my speed – I’m scanning the sky outside like crazy to be sure I don’t miss anything. I’m expecting runway 16 because of the wind direction and I get vectored into what seems like a downwind leg. Then suddenly – “turn left and make straight in runway 23 – watch out for the Cutlass below you at 800ft – you are number 2 and cleared to land”. WOAH!

I haul back on the throttle, level to lose speed and as soon as I’m in the white arc get in flaps 10 and then 20 as I turn final to get her to sink down. I’m high and I keep the power out – but I can’t see the Cutlass. The controller clears me to land – he fits in that the Cutlass did a missed approach and then a SouthWest jet is cleared to land behind me “after the Cessna on one mile final”. I’m crabbing for the left crosswind and getting established in the glide slope. I’m feeling good about it. Then the controller calls up – “Wind 150 10 knots”. Darn – that is over my crosswind limit and though I’ve done it plenty of times with my instructor – I’m not endorsed to do this on my own. But I’m coping. I’ll keep going down and be ready to fly the go around and ask for runway 16. But it is still coming together and I’m over the runway in the right place with the crab transitioning to a sideslip and rudder correction. This is one of those – “Don’t try and grease it – just get it down firmly and safely at the right moment” landings. I’m flying her along waiting for the moment and when it comes I plant her and aileron hard to hold her. It is good. A two smiley landing on my scale of landings when anything that rates ANY smiley is good. It is nice and short too and I am easily off at taxiway Charlie. I stop to clean up and the jet follows in a minute later.

I taxi in to the school – every parking spot on the nearside is taken. I taxi around to the other side of the hangar and every spot there is taken except the far one at the access road and fence and which no one uses if they can help it. It is the longest walk in. It doesn’t help that the Twin Comanche has just been pulled out her hanger and I have to negotiate my way around her to hit the spot. I shut down, call in to close my flight plan and then clean up and go in. I squawk the landing light switch. Then a discussion with the instructor. There are two threads. One is a serious inquiry as to whether or not my training in emergencies helped me deal with the hot switch issue. I can’t honestly answer that one. I’ve had a past life at sea dealing with emergencies and am pretty sure my larger life experience led me to not panic on this issue. Also there was never demonstrably an electrical fire so that checklist never kicked in – I only figured the hot smell was electrical after landing. Then a more serious and good point well made – I should have gone to the FBO and got a mechanic to check the system over. It is true. I used a different bit of training in ship systems and my own skill set and I judged I was OK after isolating the problem. It was not my call to make. Good point. I’ll behave next time.

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