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It was all just a little too easy. After considering a number of more challenging destinations for my night cross country flight, I chickened out and went with an easy flight path so that I could focus on any surprises or difficulties. I straight-lined it from the Oceanside VOR to Fullerton, so there were no terrain hazards, no black hole flying, and several easily identifiable checkpoints. The only aspects that raised the difficulty factor were finding the right airport in a solid sea of lights and obtaining clearance through the John Wayne Class C airspace and the Disneyland TFR. The airspace clearances were a no-effort part of flight following. We didn’t have to do any maneuvering from the planned flight path coming or going. Easy.

I had both Saturday and Sunday evenings open, so I scheduled the flight for Saturday night so that I had the option of postponing if anything didn’t work out. The Saturday forecast showed strong and gusty wind, clouds below and above any reasonable cruise altitude, rain in some places, and worsening weather during the flight. The forecast was still the same at 6 hours before my departure time, so the no-go decision was quite easy since night was also part of the picture. For the first time I can remember, it hailed on our house that night.

Speaking of cruise altitudes, the official recommendation of oxygen above 5000 feet at night seems overly cautious to me since the cabin altitude of every pressurized airplane is somewhere between 6000 and 8000 feet.

The sky was clear Sunday night, but the forecast wind aloft was a 30 knot headwind on the outbound trip. That resulted in a calculated flight time that was almost twice that of the return trip. Since we spent the day at Disneyland and there were enough clouds about to see that the wind was very light despite the forecast, I really doubted the forecast but it was still the same 2 hours before go-time so I didn’t redo my flight logs. We all know how accurate weather forecasts are and this one was no different, but I’m certainly not enough of an expert to make my own estimates.

Tangent alert: Back when I was growing up in west Texas, one of the local TV weather guys got fed up with taking the heat for the lousy official forecasts, so he started presenting his own forecasts that were really, really good. His method? Walk outside and look up. Despite obvious success, he got enough heat from management that he had to stop doing that.

I did the preflight just before sunset on Sunday. This time I reserved the only 152 in the fleet that has both landing and taxi lights. As KennyO said, see and avoid is really hard when you can’t see. It also has a brand new engine. The indicated cruise airspeed was 5 knots faster than the book number even though the temperature and pressure were nearly standard. The time to the first checkpoint made it very obvious that I was right about the wind forecast. Since the actual flight time both ways was nearly the same, the wind had to be about zero. It was very smooth all the way out and back.

Reception of the Oceanside VOR was rock solid all the way, even at very low altitude. I didn’t expect it to be very accurate 55nm away, but keeping the needle centered resulted in the Fullerton rotating beacon showing up precisely, exactly, directly ahead. I couldn’t believe it. I actually spotted it well before my instructor did. He had never been there at night and said that it was really hard to find compared to most airports. As I said, I expected finding the airport to be a major challenge, but it was a piece of cake. On the way in, we got a good look at “the happiest place on earth”. It doesn’t look particularly interesting from above at night, but we did see bits of the laser show on the way back.

I forgot about the landing and taxi lights until short final, and flipping them on lit up the numbers nicely. The landing was long, but it was one of the softest that I’ve done. The pavement at Fullerton must be different from all of the other airports I’ve been to because the main tires made the classic “chorp” sound on contact. That was kinda neat.

We got there right at closing time for the FBO. The friendly folks there waited until we were 10 feet from the door before they locked it, flipped off the lights, and left. As a result, we didn’t feel too bad about watering the grass for them.

Just after engine start for the return flight, the tower announced that it was closing for the night. That was convenient for us since we didn’t have to exit the class D airspace before switching to approach control to request flight following and airspace clearances. On the climb out, I got a little too focused on centering the CDI and ended up flying 90° to my planned path to center it since we were so far from the VOR. After my instructor pointed that out, I took a more gradual approach to intercepting the return radial. The rest of the return flight was on-plan except for the forecast wind, uneventful, and made for some very pleasant sightseeing.

Next is yet another stage check with a senior instructor, then solo cross country flights. I’m getting close!

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