Sunday, September 17, 2006

Angwin Trip

Yesterday was the first time in about six months that I'd flown to an airport to which I'd never been. It marked a number of other milestones: my second Class B transition, my first night landing with a passenger, only the fourth passenger I'd taken up, my first time at an airport with no taxiways, my first time landing as high as 1850 feet (2000 and higher requires the mountain checkout), and the crossing of the 100 hour mark. What a day!

My friend Katherine wanted to go flying, and she came prepared with a plan: We'd fly to Angwin airport above the Napa Valley, get a cab over to Bothe State Park, go hiking, and come back. My first reaction was, holy cow, can I handle this? So I did some research, and basically could think of no reason I could not do this flight, despite the number of firsts and seconds involved. The previous two days had been pretty excessively windy, but yesterday was beautiful and calm. So we went!

Takeoff was uneventful. I had a lot of trouble understanding the SFO controllers for some reason, and on the way out I completely missed the fact that I had been given clearance into Class B airspace. They asked me why I'd turned away, and I had to sheepishly admit my mistake and thank them for their assistance. The rest of the journey up was great! We tracked the SAU VOR, then the SGD VOR. From there, my plan was to fly direct to Angwin, but the turbulence off the hills was pretty bad, so I decided instead to get over Napa Valley and follow it up. That was a good decision; things were much smoother. Kat actually found the airport first, which is impressive -- most non-pilots have a lot of trouble seeing tiny airports.

And tiny it was -- a single, narrow strip, no taxiways, and an upslope at the end, surrounded by trees on the top of a hill. What a totally different experience for me! We came in at about 4200 MSL, with the airport sitting at 1850 MSL and TPA at 2700 MSL, and me being nervous about the surrounding hills and trees. I chose runway 34 based on the windsock, and clumsily came into the pattern. My final approach was high, but I got it down in what turned into a pretty bad landing -- off center (on a narrow strip -- not the best idea!), and a little fast. There was a crosswind, and I came down on the upwind wheel correctly. I think the speed really was the biggest problem. But in any case, we got down, turned around and taxied back to the parking area at the approach end of 34.

We had lunch while waiting for the cab, and then went for a hike at the Bothe Napa Valley State Park. It wasn't the hike that we'd planned on, as we walked right past the entrance to the correct trail and got on the wrong trail. But it was great anyway! The cab picked us up at 6:30 as I got more and more nervous at the prospect of having to take off at night, on a runway whose lighting I was completely unsure of. But we got back to the airport and lifted off about 15 minutes before sunset, and headed south. I started to worry as I saw fog in the valleys toward the coast, so I called up Oakland Center and got the current weather for San Carlos: Sky clear. Whew! But I was having the hardest time seeing anything. Why can't I see anything? sunglasses are still on. Very clever!

On the way back, again I had a lot of trouble understanding the SFO controllers, so much that I think I had to say "Say again, please" four times. But whatever; we made it through. I contacted San Carlos, entered the pattern, and executed one of my best landings, especially fortunate considering that it was my first night landing with a passenger ever!

Overall it was a great trip! I highly recommend it. I clearly need practice with my Class B transitions, so that might be the next order of business. And I really want to fly more!

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