Was asked to put together a paper flight plan, which I made the mistake of finishing a few days prior to the flight2. Oops. By luck, the winds happened to have not changed much since I made the initial calculations. But still. I kinda want to write a tool that takes in the GPS coordinates for each section of the flight, fetches the relevant winds aloft data, and outputs a filled-out flight plan for you. Of course, plenty of these exist already, so 🤷🏽♀️.
Ok, so my flight plan happened to be good. Called up flight services and asked for a standard briefing3. Wrote it down, determined that there should be no issues with the flight, we got in and went about our flight.
On the way up, things were mostly fine. It was quite hot, and the cylinder head temperatures were a bit high. To address this, instead of climbing directly for our target altitude (a measly 4500 feet), we leveled off at 3500 feet and ran the engine at 5200 RPM in order to maximize cooling. Once the CHTs were back in the green, we resumed our climb to 4500. This occurred roughly when we were past Malibu.
One thing I learned on the outward leg is that there is restricted airspace around Point Mugu Naval Airbase from the surface to space. I missed this completely on the sectional - to the point where I think that the previous time I flew up to Santa Barbara, I busted that airspace. Essentially, the way around this is to fly east of 101 when close to Point Mugu. Oops.
We continued on, tracking each leg. We were on time with the calculations I did prior to the flight - within 30 seconds of the calculated time.
As we approached Santa Barbara, approach asked us to stay east/north of 101 (inland). Which keeps us out of the approach path of jets for runway 25. When we got closer, tower cleared us for runway 15 Left, and asked us to report a 2 mile right base - continue with 101 off our left wing, and report 2 miles out. We were cleared to land on 15 Left when we were about 4-5 miles out, so we didn’t even have to report the 2 mile right base 4.
Santa Barbara’s 15 Left runway is not wide - at 75 feet, it’s half of Santa Monica’s 21 runway. Primary training warns us that thinner runways mess with your sight-picture - they lead you to think you’re higher up than you thought you were. I knew this, and perhaps overcompensated. I leveled out earlier than I should have, which made this the hardest landing I’ve made in months. Certainly the hardest landing I’ve had with my current instructor. At the very least, I didn’t break anything, and I didn’t hurt either of us.
We spent a while on the ground - mostly so that my instructor could set up the GPS with the flight plan. He wanted me to use a paper flight plan on the way out, but was ok using other methods on the return flight. We copied our flight following clearance, and was told to make straight out over the water - to get out of their airspace as soon as possible. We did that, flew over some oil rigs, and were then cleared to resume our own navigation.
As we were approaching Oxnard (as one of the points to fly over), we were advised of traffic above us and same direction. We caught sight of them, and it appeared we were flying faster than them. Which surprised both of us. We tried to keep them in sight, but at some point they ended up behind us and neither of us could position ourselves to keep them in sight without making a turn. Eventually, we caught them behind and to the left, as well as sufficiently far that we felt safe to climb up to our target altitude.
Afterwards, the flight continued without much incident. We landed at Santa Monica maybe a little bit overtime. For our next cross country, I’m going to book the plane for 4 hours.
Perform performance/weather calculations as close to departure time as possible. Have general flight plans ready in case weather makes one route more desirable than another.
Be better at examining airspace and recognizing the less common airspaces. In general, practice reading sectionals and TACs.
Practice landing at other (specifically, differing widths) runways.
Always watch for traffic. Be better at spotting traffic. There’s a reason we’re advised for 10º sweeps.
A cross-country flight, according to the FAA, is any flight with a stop at least 50 nautical miles (straight-line distance). The FAA uses the “large amount of land” definition of “country”, not the “nation” definition of “country”.
It’s obvious in hindsight, but, really. For a flight plan to be valid, you need accurate winds aloft/temperature forecast. These forecasts are only valid/useful for a few hours, so obviously you get better data if you delay retrieving that data for as much as possible.
Call 1-800-WX-BRIEF, “Hello, I’d like a standard briefing. I’ll be flying from $START to $END, in $TAIL_NUMBER, at $CRUISE_ALTITUDE.” Mention you’re a student if you want them to make life easy for you.
I’m 100% certain the “report 2 mile right base” instruction was in case we were flying a decently fast plane. However, the sportcruiser cruises at under 100 knots - slower than a Cessna 172. So we ended up being much slower than the expected, which I suspect is why they gave us the landing clearance when we were that far out.