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Ooooh boy, cross country flight planning! That gave me an opportunity to unleash my inner technogeek and seriously overanalyze every step of the process. I built an Excel spreadsheet with a weight and balance calculator, a crosswind/headwind component calculator, a density altitude calculator, a weight-dependent calculator for all of the V-speeds, my own customized nav log including a divert destination block for every leg, a descent time/rate/distance calculator, a true airspeed calculator, a range-vs-speed calculator, and for the grand finale a climb profile/engine-out departure point return calculator with inputs for circle climb, airport density altitude, and headwind/tailwind component. I had already recorded the compass deviation profile for “my” airplane so I graphed that as well. The degree of number crunching sophistication behind the navigation checkpoints I chose was about the max that I’m able to bring to bear.

Part of my motivation for going so far down that path was a strong desire to avoid having to swim. Yep, I went ahead with the suggestion to go to Catalina. It was very cool to plan a trip to a place that’s actually worth going to rather than just some random desolate outpost. Another reason for going there was that as soon as I mentioned it as a possibility, my wife suddenly became more receptive to the notion of flying places once I get a pilot certificate. We went there a few years ago by ferry boat, which became a strong disincentive to go back.

Despite all the sophisticated planning, the winds aloft forecast just managed to foil my plot to completely eliminate the swim zone during the over-water leg. The return trip was at 9,500 feet, but a headwind shortened the engine-out glide distance to the beach and the Catalina airport elevation shortened the return glide distance, leaving a short section in the middle with a swim zone.

I chose 10,500 feet as my outbound altitude, which eliminated the outbound swim zone but it took a loooong time to get up there in a 152. The airplane I fly has a fresh engine and the atmospheric conditions were very close to standard, so the top of climb was right on the time and distance chart in the POH. The flight path followed the coast to within a few miles of the LAX class B airspace, then across to the island.

It was hazy enough that Catalina was practically invisible from 35nm away. Fortunately, the VOR receiver finally got fixed so there was never a doubt about staying on course. Except for the haze, one very nice aspect of the trip was that it was practically impossible to get lost. Both the VOR transmitter and the airport were very easy to see once we got close because everything else was green.

It was helpful to see the YouTube videos of landings at Catalina, so I had a good idea of what to expect. The wind was from the northeast, so we landed on runway 4 instead of 22 like all of the videos. My instructor must have confidence in my ability since he took some photos while I was flying the final approach. The air was really bumpy below 4000 feet, so it was a challenge to deal with that while approaching an unfamiliar airport with steep dropoffs on both ends and a slope change in the middle. My aiming point was the 5th centerline stripe from the threshold to avoid the downdraft at the dropoff. I’m very glad to have experience at Fallbrook because this airport was fairly similar. The landing was nothing to be proud of because I wasn’t forceful or fast enough to keep roll and yaw controlled during the gusts, so I had a bit of crab on touchdown. Despite that, I kept it on the centerline and easily made the first turnoff.

After closing my flight plan and calling my wife, my instructor and I had an early lunch at the airport restaurant. The Buffalo burger was great! Just after liftoff, I saw about a dozen bison grazing near the wind sock. Sorry guys. My return flight plan included a spiral climb before heading inland to stay above the engine-out return glide path all the way up to cruise altitude. So, we made a big loop around the island and did a little sightseeing over Avalon. Again, it was very cool to go to a place worth seeing from above. After more photos, we intercepted the VOR radial to go back the way we came. For some reason, it seemed like the climb on the way back was over a lot faster than on the way out. All of the numerous approach controllers we talked to for flight following were very friendly and helpful, as well as the flight service station folks.

The only odd occurrence during the flight happened just before turning right to follow the coast back. The airplane got a little wobbly and began descending despite holding the airspeed constant. I suspected carb ice, but my instructor chocked it up to a descending air current.

This flight lesson was a lot more like I had envisioned flying to be like: actually going somewhere and spending most of the flight just getting there and back. It was really nice to just do that instead of a never-ending stream of perspiration-inducing maneuvers ending up right back where I started. I like this kind of flying!

The actual flight time and fuel burn both ways were very close to my flight plan estimates. That impressed my instructor, so now I have a “Good Job!” comment in my log book.

I expect next week’s flight lesson to be humbling: night flying including at least 8 takeoffs and landings at increasingly difficult airports. Wish me luck!

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