As I mentioned in the last post, I went with my instructor on Tuesday and was introduced to flying under the hood for instrument conditions simulation. It was the first time day people had been able to fly in weeks, and the weather just kept improving from there.
I also mentioned at the end of my last post that I'm glad for the training I've received, which has been excellent. A good part of training is focused on dealing with the unusual and unexpected. I put it to good use, as you'll read further on.
I'd been doing a bunch of flight planning in preparation for my long solo cross country flight that I needed to get done as I (hopefully) near the end of my private pilot training. I'd planed three different trips, all of them longer than necessary by a safe margin (and a couple of them probably just too long to be realistic for one day worth of flying in a slower plane like the C-150). On Wednesday, I filed a VFR flight plan with the FAA for a three-leg flight from Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro to Newport, a town on the Oregon Coast to the southwest. From there my plan would take me to Astoria, a port town at the northwest corner of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. I would then fly to Woodland State airport in Washington and from there almost due-south back to Twin Oaks.
I arrived at the airport mid-day Wednesday and saw the fog had cleared and the overcast cloud layer was quickly burning off and breaking up - A good sign. I'd planned my flight to leave at noon, but in reality I would not be able to get off the ground until closer to 1:30 p.m. Fortunately (planning-wise), I found out the Woodland State airport runway was closed according to an FAA notice, because it apparently had been under water and was not serviceable yet. It turned out that with my late departure I'd need to find a way to shave some time off the flight in order to make it back before civil twilight anyhow, so Woodland wasn't really an option anyhow.
I departed the airport at Twin Oaks (7S3) and flew to the Newberg VOR (UBG). When I climbed to about 2,000 feet and looked over the ridge to see what the conditions were to the south, beyond the ridge the VOR sits on top of, I was greeted by an overcast cloud deck that surprisingly covered the entire Willamette Valley floor almost as far as the eye could see. I would not be able to fly over that legally or safely as a student pilot, but I had discussed this potential circumstance with my instructor before I left. I observed that a few miles to my west the conditions were clear, and I let the Seattle Center (who had me on their radar and was aware of my flight plan) that I was going to fly a few miles west and then turn southwest over the VFR area to reach Newport. And that's what I did.
My path took me over the coastal range just for a few more miles than would have been the case if I'd done a straight shot from Newberg's VOR to the one at Newport. I climbed to 7500 feet , which was higher than I had originally planned in order to make sure I had plenty of gliding range should an emergency situation occur, and I steered to ensure I had prospective landing spots in view (which is what one should be doing at all times anyhow). I made my way down to Newport just west of my originally planned track and took a look at the city, it's lighthouse and it's distinct bridge from the air for the first time. The airport was east to find, just south of the bridge, and I checked the weather and winds on the automated radio channel and then prepared to land.
The Newport Municipal Airport (ONP) is a nice facility, with two big huge runways (compared to what I'm used to). I set up to enter on a 45-degree entry into the downwind leg for Runway 34. There was a stiff crosswind, partially a headwind, with a crosswind component of probably 7 knots with some light gusting. As I flew the final leg toward the runway the gusts became apparent and I had to really work to crab the airplane into the strong quartering headwind. I stayed on the centerline and straightened out just before touching down, and put it down one wheel at a time (in the correct order even). I had to make sure I was "steering" into the cross wind with the ailerons, just to make sure the winds wouldn't try to lift the right wing.
I fueled up the airplane and shot a goofy little video of myself at the airport in the afternoon sun (you can click on the video to see it larger and in HD-ish quality on YouTube). The temperature was spring-like, which is nice for January. As soon as I was fueled up I got back in the plane and prepared to depart on the next leg of the flight, which would take me to Astoria, about an hour or so north of Newport. My path of flight would take me straight up the shoreline of the northern Oregon Coast.
It was so nice out I flew with the window open for a couple minutes twice on the way up. I saw lot of smaller, interesting airports while enroute and had the chance to see this beautiful piece of our country from a whole new vantage point. I'll be going back there again in the future for some scenic flying, for sure.
When I finally reached Astoria and stated to descend, I was a little worried about the fact that one of the fuel gauges was now reading almost empty while the other one was showing almost full. Now, I know these gauges are notoriously inaccurate, which is one of several reasons why you don't rely on them. Instead we check the fuel level in the tanks manually with a measuring stick and determine how much fuel will be burned on the flight leg by leg. My concern was of the self-questioning type: Had I been a lunkhead and left the right tank cap off when I refueled? I thought back and was certain I had not since I double checked, but at the same time I wanted to visually confirm it was on there. So it was good I was arriving at an airport.
I took a look down below me at the Astoria Regional Airport (AST), which I understand was a military airfield in another life. I crossed midfield 1,000 feet above traffic pattern elevation and determined that the winds were favoring Runway 8. I continued to the north after crossing midfield and did a right turn until I was headed back to the airport and then entered a downwind leg for Runway 8. I made the approach and then an uneventful landing on Runway 8. I eventually found a taxiway, and after trying to figure out where I was I made my way to the ramp to park and look at the top of the wing to see if two gas caps were on there.
Once parked, I was relieved to find both caps properly in place and secured. So it turns out I'm just paranoid, not an idiot. I can live with that. I got out the fuel level stick and confirmed there was still 8+ gallons in each tank. Then I saddled back up and got ready to go. I departed from Runway 8 and climbed out, turning toward Hillsboro, since it was time to get back, and Woodland State was still underwater.
The sun was going down while I flew the last leg, so I got to see a coastal sunset as I made my way home. I was still surprised at how warm the air was as I flew at about 5,500 feet toward Hillsboro. I was getting dusky as I arrived and descended to the small Twin Oaks airstrip. It also got very cold very quickly, as I descended into the inverted cold layer. I'd been pulling the carb heat as I flew and descended, since it was prime conditions outside. I entered the pattern on a descending 45-degree entry leg into the downwind leg and started my downwind run.
As I came abeam the numbers, I pulled the carburetor heat knob out, reduced power to 1500 RPM, and dialed in 10 degrees of flaps to start the landing routine... and the engine quit. It was a little quieter than usual, I remember noticing that first. What the?!?! I pushed the carb heat back in, pulled it again, no go. Checked the mixture, it was okay. Primer knob locked in place, check. Key in the on position, check. Pushed in the throttle all the way, nothing. Got the nose properly positioned for glide and glanced to my left at the end of the runway. I had enough time to try to get the engine back online one more time before I'd have to turn to assure I could make the runway. Checked the fuel valve, it was on. Set the throttle in a few notches and turned the key, noticed the prop was spinning, so I pushed the throttle in again and the engine came back to full-power life. I fed it more fuel quickly and assured it was running and not stopping, confirmed the carb heat was still on, reduced power and tried to calm down a notch.
I was still at proper pattern altitude and in a good position to make my runway landing, engine or not. I reduced power a bit more and turned to my left base leg, then set my flaps, and made my turn to the final approach leg. I dialed in some extra flaps since I was a little high (the extra power surge on the restart/whatever-it-was had caused me to balloon a little altitude), then landed the airplane right where it belonged, about 100 feet past the numbers on the runway.
I have to admit, as irrational as it is, for a brief second there when the engine power was unexpectedly gone, I looked to my right and half expected to see my instructor Kelly sitting there telling me my engine had just died, as he's done so many times in the pattern when simulating an engine failure in almost exactly the same place. My mind just started doing what it does every time he does that. It was pretty much automatic. Not as organized as it could be, granted, but automatic nonetheless.
I taxied to the fuel pump, powered everything off and killed the engine, removed my headset and seat harness, and jumped out and onto the ground. Wow, that was an experience. I was a little jumpy with adrenaline from the experience.
In discussing it with the Starks (who own the airport and have been flying since forever ago) and my instructor there at the airport, we determined that I'd been descending into a prime-for-ice-condition cold, moist layer from a warm, dry layer with the engine running in the lower end of the green operation zone. I'd been applying carb heat periodically while descending to prevent icing, but when I entered the downwind leg and applied power to maintain altitude the carb heat was off. I flew the downwind leg in these prime conditions for carburetor ice and apparently built up quite a bit until I again applied the carb heat. When the ice suddenly melted, it likely entered the engine and cause it to bog down and stop producing power. I don't remember seeing the propeller sitting completely still - It was always spinning, I think. It's not like I was looking at the prop, I was focused on solving the problem and those things I needed to check to get the engine running normally again, and making decisions about when it would be necessary to forget the engine and just glide to the field. At any rate, most likely some melted ice (water) got aspirated into the engine and had to disperse before it would run properly. The airplane checked out okay, and it was basically a non-event, but without the proper good training, it could have been a lot scarier.
The next day I went back out, check on the plane and found out it was fine, then got back in it for a couple hours and flew a bunch of take-offs and landings at Twin Oaks and Hillsboro airports. It was a good day of flying, and I wasn't about to let the jumpy ending of my awesome cross-country flight get the best of me, so I went back out and got back on that horse and kept up with my training.
It was a great couple days of flying. The weather has remained excellent, and I was able to fly again on Friday with my instructor. More on that next time.