Flying to a new airport

At my most recent flying lesson, we flew to a new airport. I’d read up on what would be involved, but didn’t anticipate the amount of complexity! It was as if we’d been driving around the parking lot (to practice takeoffs and landings) and suddenly we turned on to the freeway to drive to the next town. (The next block is probably a more apt metaphor, but right now the jump feels extreme.)

Here is the route we took. It’s about 13 miles of total flying from El Monte (my home airport) to Brackett (which felt like another planet).

We flew south of the 10 freeway at 2300 ft, then angled northeast towards Brackett. This looks really obvious and clear on a map. It is distinctly harder to navigate in the air, while things are moving, with an L.A.-style hazy soup lying over everything. Thank goodness I live here, so I could recognize the freeways from ground experience.

The distance between the airports is short enough that you have to really be on the ball. As soon as you leave El Monte airspace, you have to switch over to Brackett’s ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) to listen to weather conditions at Brackett. That way, when you call Brackett to request permission to land, you can indicate that you’re up to date on those conditions. So you’re flying along, keeping an eye on your airspeed (~100 knots) and altitude (2300) and heading while listening to the radio while scribbling down the ATIS notes.

All too soon, you’re ready to enter the Brackett pattern, which like El Monte is 1000 ft above the ground, except that the ground is distinctly higher here (1000 ft instead of 300 ft). So you’re aiming for an altitude of 2000 instead of 1300, and all the ground references look wrong/different (because they are). However, we managed to land, and then do our regular pattern work of takeoffs and landings (with totally different visual references than at El Monte, plus it’s a left-turning pattern instead of right-turning. So many new things!).

Brackett’s control tower was quite busy that day, because there was an airshow going on to the north and they had to manage traffic diverting around that. A couple of times, we had to extend our approach (downwind) because the tower was too busy talking to other people to clear us to land. Meanwhile, my instructor called out helpful/distracting things like “watch out for that flock of birds”, and at one point I spied a blimp to the north (part of the airshow?), and Brackett has two parallel runways, so I had to be super careful turning for final approach. My instructor also threw in a surprise touch-and-go (arrrgh!) which led to a rather embarrassing fishtailing takeoff on my part (but he claimed it was “good enough because the centerline never got out from under your wings” (!)) and a soft field takeoff (the terrifying one where you take off a few feet and then try to fly really low along the runway — which, oddly, feels like you’re diving at the ground). However, I managed communications okay (with coaching when new/unexpected things happened).

My brain was definitely full (or over-full) from that lesson! Next time, we’ll be back at El Monte and practicing takeoffs/landings. My instructor says he likes to alternate between pushing students outside their comfort zones and returning to the comfort zone to solidify things. Here’s hoping. :)

In other news, I just crossed the 10-hour mark in terms of my total flight time!

Post a Comment

I knew this already. I learned something new!