CPL Long Cross-Country

Solo cross-country flight of more than 300 nautical miles (it is about 540 km) with at least two full stop landings in different airports other than a departure airport is a requirement for any Commercial Pilot. This is correct both for the EASA and FAA, but FAA also requires that one of the airport should be located at least 250 NM from the departure point.

It means that in Europe it is possible to pick many airports nearby and fly a route between them considering that the total distance will be more than 300 NM. Some schools advice the routes where the most distant aerodrome is located at about 50 NM, which barely qualifies for a “normal” XC requirement in the US, and fly sort of a large circle around the home airport.

There is one more less obvious difference. In the US it is officially allowed to fly this long XC with the instructor considering that he does not manipulate flight controls, and both can log PIC time. In Europe only one person can long PIC time in a single-pilot airplane, so most generally this long XC must be solo. It could be done with the instructor if he does not log his flight time and does not interfere by any means. But better to fly solo than trying to explain why you still need a safety pilot if that question arises.

It is very important to know the requirements for each particular country: this long XC can definitely qualify for both FAA and EASA if it is a solo flight with one full stop in an airport more than 250 NM from the departure point and another full stop anywhere else.

Another important part for this flight – it must be fully done under VFR bor being valid for Czech CAA. If it has a night or IFR part, it will not qualify – I got an official response about that.

I did have both night and IFR part for my long VFR cross-country since I returned after sunset then. I would be OK if I logged that part as a separate flight, but I did not, and by the Czech CAA requirements I needed a pure day VFR solo XC.

The weather in Czech Republic in October is not perfect, and the sunset is before 5 pm. But today the sky was almost clear, the visibility is perfect, and that happiness lasts from about 10 am to the late night. That kind of day happens once in a week or even less frequently now.

The problem was that all Cessnas were fully booked, and the Tecnam was booked for some more than an hour in the middle of the day. I needed at least 4 hours for that flight, and that means that Tecnam was not an option too: I did not have 4+ our after sunrise and did not have them after that reservation too.

Fortunately that tecnam reservation was canceled just yesterday! I immediately booked the aircraft for 6 hours, and started my planning for Sazena to Ostrava.

Tecnam is even better than Cessna 152 for long cross-country flights: it has 6+ hours versus about 4 hours in Cessna. I can fly even without refueling. And the tecnam has more modern avionics, which is better in a long XC.

I planned the route around Caslav and Pardubice controlled airspaces, then to Olomouc, and finally direct to Ostrava. One full stop landing there, then coffee if I have time, then one landing in Gradec Kralove and then back to Sazena.

On the way to Ostrava some clouds started to form at about 3000 feet. They were not turbulent, but the tecnam is not certified for IFR, so I had to avoid them. I climbed to 4500, and found one more layer way ahead. The visibility was perfect, the weather in Ostrava was CAVOK, the layers were between scattered and broken, so I was able to stay VFR and decided to proceed at 4500 feet.

The clouds today

Near Ostrava I found a clear sky. After landing I had an assigned follow-me car – it was the first time in my life!

The wind at 4500 feet had more headwind component, and my flight became 30 min longer. I decided to get the weather, check the route and fly back right away for having some margin before night time.

On the way back I was hoping for some tailwind, but the wind weakened and became almost calm.

In Gradec Kralove I found a lot of traffic for Czech Republic: two airplanes and one helicopter were doing the circuits, somebody was taking off. It is very unusual, especially at the weekday.

By requirements I needed a full stop landing, so I taxied to the ramp, paid the landing fee and taxied back to the runway: there wasn’t much time left to sunset. Thanks to the FBO, they drove just to the airplane for getting the fees quickly and conveniently 🙂

The landscape was amazing on the way back. Some fog started to form, but it was still a perfect VFR. The photo does not reflect the reality well – the visibility was still pretty good.

Evening clouds

Near Sazena the fog dissipated almost entirely, and the landing was easy and smooth.

As a result, today I met my long XC requirement for CPL, and I need less then three flight hours to complete the course. All these hours will be dual in our Cessna 172RG. I am looking forward to it!

Lake-City

At the weekends I used to fly from the early morning, but this Saturday I decided to sleep some more: it is not a good idea to fly if you’re tired.

Today the weather was good, so it was possible to fly to Lake-City. So, why that place? First of all, the weather is much better for northbound routes, and that airport has the ATC – it’s always good to practice. The weather in Florida is the most critical factor in summer: for example, today it is not a good idea to fly more than 100 miles from the airport, because after about 4 hours there is some possibility of thunderstorms here.

As I said, the weather was good, but not perfect. The cloud ceiling was at about 2500-2700 feet, and I had to maintain about 1500 feet for about 20 minutes from the home base. I had to avoid large cumulus clouds too: they are dangerous, and it’s better to change a course a little than fly directly under them.

I suppose that almost everyone who flew in Florida heard about KCDK. It is a small airport at the shoreline with a concrete 1500-feet runway. Our school policy prohibits to fly there (as many others do), but the weather there is usually good even in summer, so at the very worst case it still can serve as an alternate. But it’s better not to count on that. 1500 feet is not so bad, but psychologically can be surprising after all of wide luxury concrete runways in Florida. Most of them are usually at least 4000-feet long.

After about 30 min of flight the cloud base became higher, and the clouds almost disappeared.

The route itself is very easy: it’s enough to follow the road.

While on weekdays the airport is controlled, on the weekends there is no ATC there, so I should act like at uncontrolled airport. I landed and vacated the runway. There were some Airbus on a taxiway, but I did not see a single person in the cockpit or around.

On the way back the weather became even better, and I was able to fly directly to the airport without avoiding clouds. A very nice day.

IFR Gainesville

I failed to fly IFR with the school’s black N4642J due to oil temperature problem, but the weather was still OK to fly, and one more airplane became available. At 2:30 pm it was still possible to fly to Gainesville and back. The weather forecast was FM1900Z VCTS и BKN40CB, which means that there would be some thunderstorm activity, but not necessarily. Usually thunderstorms sit at the same places day-to-day at approximately the same time. Moreover, it is very easy to see them from the very long distance.

The radar showed a very good picture too, so I decided to fly to Gainesville. I filed and IFR plan, again, just to practice these skills. The weather conditions were visual.

I saw some distant thunderstorms on the way to Gainesville, and even a small cell on my course, so I requested a deviation due to weather. After avoiding this cell I got a direct route to the airport, and landed on a longer runway.

I decided to depart immediately since thunderstorm clouds were far from the airport at that moment, but that could quickly change. I requested and got my clearance, took off and flew back to the Crystal River. At 3000 feet I had some cumulus clouds above, but after about 20 miles from Gainesville the sky became clear. I was happy that I had decided to fly today 🙂

The Thunderstorm

Thunderstorms and shower rain started today from the early morning. I took my time and slept: sometimes our body requires some rest.

The weather in Florida is very varied though: after 2 pm the rain stopped, and from about 4 pm the clouds started to dissipate, and the weather finally became flyable.

I found some new puddles at the airport which looked more like lakes, but the runway and taxiways were clean, and the wind reduced to zero. The only problem was that I had to step in a large puddle while untying the airplane.

Calm winds and no turbulence is perfect for practicing different kind of landings: normal landing, short field, engine out, sideslips.

Now I know that Cessna 150 is definitely able to take-off or land from/to a 1000-feet runway. I used runway threshold and aiming points to determine the distance. Our runway is suitable for instrument non-precision approach, which means that it has threshold and aiming point markings. The distance between a runway edge and aiming point is exactly 1000 feet. Something like that:

I suppose that with Cessna 172 takeoff and landing roll distances will be larger, and it will be useful to practice in that kind of weather to better know the airplane capabilities.

Gainesville

Flight time building is a great period, especially its cross country part: you just enjoy flying and have fun. Of course, it’s a big deal of planning, preparation and studying, but it is a great possibility to explore new places while gaining more experience.

Summer in Florida is challenging. It is not only sun and clear skies as we can see in flight school brochures, but also frequent violent thunderstorms and gusty winds in the afternoon. But today the weather was great, so I could plan one more cross country flight.

I had just returned from my previous flight to Palatka when I was told that Cessna 150 is back to service. So, it looks like I will have a flight without GPS 🙂 Actually, I even don’t need a paper map for flying North-East since I know that route pretty well, so GPS is not an issue at all.

At about 10 miles before Gainesville I got ATIS information: wind 310 (North-West), 10 knots, gusts 15 knots, runway 29 in use. Gainesville Regional airport is inside class D airspace, so I contacted tower and reported my intention to land. The controller gave me runway 25, which means that I will have some crosswind.

Runway 29 was rather busy at that time: one jet was taking off there, and two more were in line.

Landing with a gusty crosswind requires some more attention and concentration, but it is a good practice. Here in Florida there are usually more than one runway in a lot of airports, and crosswind takeoff and landing is not a skill that we practise every day. There are two basic techniques: “crabbing” and “one wing down”, and it is better to know both.

This flight was a very good exercise!

The Weather

The weather is a critical factor for any pilot. For today we were planning ILS and VOR approaches in a controlled airspace.

The forecast was pretty good and even improving: almost no wind, ceiling 4300, visibility 10 miles or more. After all preparations and a preflight check the wind became 190, 4 kt, but we planned runway 36 (the only one with ILS in that airport). It meant that we would have a tailwind, and more likely that all other traffic would use 18, and ILS would not be an option.

So, the only option for a precision approach (the one with a glideslope) could be a GPS approach with LPV, but the airplane we took does not have WAAS. It meant that we just cannot fly any precision approach.

Fortunately the airplane with WAAS was still available, and we decided to prepare a GPS approach. Instrument-wise there is almost no difference between ILS and GPS with a glideslope.

Meanwhile, the weather decided against us again, and the ceiling became 800. Definitely these were not proper conditions for a training flight, especially for the first precision approach ever for me. So we are waiting for appropriate conditions. Sometimes it just happens, and a proper decision is a part of good ADM.

Bad Weather

Today it is not possible to fly. The weather radar shows dense clouds, and for me it means that I should wait for a better weather.

Basically the weather radar shows water droplets concentration. Red areas mean very high amount of water, which usually means that there is a thunderstorm in that area. Then from higher to lower is yellow, green, blue and violet.

Today we can see something like this:

I hope that it will be better by tomorrow morning.

Strong Winds

I supposed to fly early in the morning, but it did not happen: the airplane did not have enough fuel, and the fuel service is usually available only in the afternoon. Anyway I needed some more sleep.

I took off in the afternoon. During the flight I noticed that the ground speed is way less that the airspeed. It means that I had a strong headwind, which means that I would fly faster on my way back. Today I chose a direct route from one point to another.

I found one more abandoned aerodrome on my way and made some photos.

The wind was strong, but there were not so much crosswind and no gusts as well, so the landing was smooth.

Today was really hot. I suppose that it was up to 40 degrees celsius in a sunny areas, so I experienced a longer takeoff run and a slower climb: hot air really affects the airplane performance.

On the way back I landed on some airfield where I owed a landing fee previous time, and finally paid it today. I felt some gusts, so it was safer to approach with a higher speed: the airplane was more stable.

When I returned to the home base the wind became almost calm, and the landing was very easy and smooth. Very nice flight!

I’m A Little Black Rain Cloud, of course

I’m just a little white rain cloud
Hovering under the honey tree
I’m only a little black rain cloud
Pay no attention to me…

Sometimes the weather does not want to cooperate at all. Today one of these rain clouds just did not allow me to not pay attention.

The clouds are gorgeous, but they can be scary. Particularly this one looks not so dangerous, but in reality it is huge and very turbulent. I was thinking about circumnavigating it, but it would require flying almost half of the country, so I decided to go back. Anyway now I am flying just for sightseeing and meeting necessary flight time minimums, so it does not matter a lot where to fly.

Today I had a chance to overfly a very beautiful landscape. Sometimes flights over that area are restricted, but today it was not a case, and I made some beautiful photos.

The clouds were forming very beautiful patterns. There were mainly cumulus clouds because of high thermal activity – usually cumulus are the most beautiful but the most dangerous clouds.

According to the weather forecast for today something huge, scary and dangerous was expected from the west in the afternoon, so I decided to return to the home base before it would come there.

In the sky the power of nature can be felt much better. It is something really powerful, real and beautiful, and sometimes you feel like a child facing these primeval, savage forces. And they are still charming and marvelous.

Lakes and Mountains

I always wanted to see the mountains and lakes near the Austrian border. It really worths to see them, they are incredible. The problem is that you should climb pretty high, up to 6000 feet, but today’s weather allowed to do it.

I bet that glider pilots would be jealous about my flight today. There were very wide and strong thermal flows, that weather is ideal for gliders. Even in Cessna I could turn a little bit and get +200 feet without any power change. I wonder whether it is possible to stay in that flow in Cessna, probably it is, but of course I did not check it 🙂

One more impression for me today. In the pattern at České Budějovice I was the second after a small jet. Actually it’s the first time when I see a jet flying out of a large international airport.

I saw incredible landscapes today. I cannot find proper words to describe them, so I am just attaching some photos. Sorry for my camera, some day I will replace it.