Flight School – Recap – Week 13

I’ve officially completed all the flight requirements needed for my private pilot certificate! Just today, after previously having to reschedule, I completed my ‘long’ cross country flight. This was the final flight requirement for the private pilot certificate and the parameters are as follow:

  • Flight with at least three stops (including departure/return airport)
  • Over 150NM total distance
  • One leg (between stops) of at least 50NM.

This was by far the longest flight I have done up to this point, not to mention I flew it solo. I planned the flight from my home airport due west to Reading, PA (KRDG) where I landed, taxied back, took off heading back East to Morristown, NJ (KMMU), landed, then back to home base, Trenton-Mercer (KTTN). The weather for my flight was clear, but I had a pretty strong wind from the North, so my entire route (in both directions) required pretty significant wind correction, keeping me crabbed into the wind basically at all times.

The first leg of my flight, from Trenton-Mercer to Reading Airport, a familiar route, went great. The approach to Reading, PA from the east brings you over some high terrain just east of the airport, which means you have to keep your altitude and begin your final descent after clearing the ridges (and the towers on top of the ridges). There is a 405 foot lighted tower on top of one of these ridges, the top of which extends to 1309MSL (above sea level). As I passed over the ridge at about 2500 feet, with the town of Reading, PA sprawled out below me, I descended hastily for a straight in landing on runway 31. Conditions were calm at Reading and I had a great landing. I taxied off the runway and parked outside the terminal at Reading for a few minutes to update my flight log and get ready for the next leg.

My next leg, the longest of the three, had me departing Reading PA, climbing out to the north east, and flying direct to Morristown Municipal, KMMU. This leg of about 75NM, at 3500 feet, had me passing through Allentown PA’s Class Charlie airspace, and then having to descend under 3000 feet to remain clear of New York’s Class Bravo airspace as I approached Morristown. Morristown Municipal, a Class Delta, sits under the outermost ring of New York’s Bravo airspace. I had flight following for my entire cross country today, so I was always in contact with ATC, and I had to be in order to enter the Class Charlie around Allentown. I experienced some moderate turbulence as I was passing west to east back over the Pennsylvania / New Jersey border. This was to be expected, as the weather briefer had indicated reports of turbulence below 8000 feet right in the area I was flying. As I approached New York’s Bravo airspace, Allentown approach handed me off to New York approach. I contacted New York approach and told them I wanted to descend to 2500 feet to remain clear of their Bravo airspace. As a student pilot, I am not allowed to fly in Bravo airspace without a Class Bravo endorsement from my flight instructor. We had discussed this before I flew out today, and I explained my plan to descend and remain clear of the Bravo airspace. He was going to sign the Class Bravo endorsement into my log book but I believe we simply forgot before I headed out for the flight. Anyway, it didn’t make a difference as I simply descended and remained under the outer shelf of their airspace, and shortly there after was asked to contact Morristown Tower. I called Morristown and gave them my position southwest of the airport, inbound for full stop taxi back. I had never flown into Morristown, and was relatively unfamiliar with the layout of the field, although I had looked at it before starting my trip, and I had the airport diagram on hand. Tower indicated that runway 5 was the active runway, with winds 320 at 15 knots gusting 22 knots. I asked tower if I could land runway 31 as I felt more comfortable landing directly into the wind rather than on runway 5 with a crosswind. Tower had no problem giving me runway 31 and asked me to report a left downwind for runway 31. As I descended to pattern altitude from the southwest, with a visual on the airport directly in front of me, I had a moment of confusion on my position relative to the downwind for 31. A more direct approach from where I was would have been a left base for runway 31, and the set up for a left downwind had me flying a bit out of my way to enter the pattern as requested. This had me questioning if I was setting it up correctly, or if I had mixed up the runways. As I approached the left downwind for 31, I called tower and said, “Morristown Tower, Skyhawk 745, unfamiliar with your field, can you please confirm my position relative to a left downwind for runway 31”. They came back, “you are just about to enter the downwind for runway 31”. So, I had gotten it right, and I think it is important to make it clear that if at any time you have any doubt, it is OK to contact tower and talk to them. ATC is there to help you. I turned base, then final, and had my second great landing of the day in Morristown. I taxied back to runway 31, and got myself ready for my final leg back to Trenton Mercer.

The last leg of my trip was my shortest one, around 35NM. I planned to take off and fly a heading of 230°, southwest, direct to Trenton-Mercer. My altitude for this flight was 2500 which kept me below New York’s Class Bravo airspace as I climbed out of Morristown. As I got closer to Trenton, the terrain was relatively familiar, as this is where we practice quite often. As I had Princeton Airport (39N) off my left side I contacted Trenton Tower, inbound for full stop. Tower asked me to report a right downwind for runway 34. As a approached the downwind, there was a lot of chatter on the radio. Being Sunday, the airport tends to be very busy. I reported downwind and was number 3 to land, there were a few departures waiting on the ground, and a regional jet was also landing straight in runway 6. As I was abeam my touch down point on runway 34, ATC extended the downwind of the aircraft in front of me, and gave me a left 360° turn (for spacing). I rolled into a 30° bank, and flew a 360° degree turn at their request, and reported when I was back on my downwind. They then extended my downwind as well, and I flew out over the city of Trenton, before turning base, and then to a long final. Definitely some fun, unexpected, and out of the norm operations due to all the traffic in the pattern. I landed runway 34, taxied to parking, and just like that, my three hour, three leg, solo cross country was done. I felt very accomplished and proud to have completed this requirement. When I got back in to the school, my instructor was there and showed me that he had been tracking my progress on an app called Flight Radar 24, and he took a screenshot of my route of flight. Very cool app. We discussed the flight and talked about whats next for me. With all the flight requirements completed, I now have to take and pass the private pilot knowledge exam and then book my check ride! I’ll lay out the plan for all that shortly, but hopefully in the next week or two I’ll be a private pilot! Incredible.

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