Lately, my ground studies have included interpreting charts, doing weight and balance calculations, and attempting route plans. Brett figured we should put these skill to use and have me plan out a cross country flight from The Dalles to Yakima, Tieton State, Packwood and returning to The Dalles. Route planning would not be the only challenge this flight. Flying into Yakima airspace would afford an opportunity for communication with a control tower and both Teiton State and Packwood would offer challenging approaches and landings.
I don’t find route planning all that difficult, just time consuming. Once one learns the tools to use it goes smoothly though I still feel faster doing the actual math than using the E6B. I had stumbled through most of learning how to do this while studying, but Brett showed me some tricks that sped the process up.
The initial leg felt pretty casual till we started into Yakima airspace. Talking with the tower was fine, as long as they kept the phrases short. Once I had to repeat back any volume of information, my brain would hit erase and I’d end up asking Brett what was the proper response. I am still surprised how task saturated I get. Just as I feel like I am starting to keep ahead of the airplane, Brett gives me something else to learn and I get behind again. Seems like it just takes time to be able to multi-task. At least the runway was a mile and a half long so there wasn’t any pressure to nail a short landing.
Next was Tieton state. This is where the trip started to become really fun. Within 10 minutes of departing Yakima we were flying over the forests, granite cliffs and waterfalls of the Cascades. Navigation was relatively simple since I just had to follow a prominent valley right to Rimrock Lake and the Tieton State airstrip. Flying over this relatively rugged terrain I was struck by the reality of how serious this could be. While beautiful, the terrain offered no open, or relatively flat places to land in the event of an emergency. If the engine were to cut out on us, the best we could hope to do would be to find a location to minimize injury to ourselves. The plane would not survive a landing here. I don’t think this fact will keep me from flying over mountainous landscape in the future, but I’ll make sure to have my ducks in a row. It’s not the place to get complacent.
The runway at Tieton State is 2500 feet long and 150 feet wide, as well as running uphill, so there is plenty of space to touch down and stop. A descision to go around though must be made early on because one needs to climb over the trees, steer away from a large cliff, and continue to climb as the terrain rises. As Brett and I talked through our strategy, he mentioned that if anything felt even a little off we would abort the landing. Luckily on this approach I was able to nail my altitude and speed such that we were set up perfectly to land. Final approach, low, and over the water, was beautifu,l and touchdown was as gentle as could be expected from a backcountry grass strip. I knew I had nailed it when Brett excitedly told me, “I want every approach and landing just like that one. Nice job!”
Maybe I let that go to my head. The last two landings of the day were much less graceful. At Packwood I initially approached to high, necessitating a go-around, followed by getting pushed sideways almost to the edge of the narrow runway. Back at the Dalles I really pooched it. Coming in to fast on final I rushed the timing of rounding out into ground effect and flare, resulting in a hard bounce off the nosewheel, and a few bounces after. That first bounce blew out the front tire. I was extremely frustrated to finish such a great day on such low note, not to mention embarrassed as we made the walk of shame, pushing the 172 down the taxiway by hand.
Well I know now exactly what I need to focus on. That final landing was about as good a lesson as I could ask for. We weren’t hurt but the point of what my current weakness is was driven home. Hopefully the next round will prove to be redemptive.