29R - Nothing but blue skies...

Weather: KBJC 231650Z 35003KT 25SM FEW070 SCT100 BKN200 07/M06 A2983

Flying alone still carries a sort of magical charm that is so difficult to describe. The feeling of being able to fly yourself places gives you a feeling of freedom that is very difficult to match. The restriction of 5 hours of usable fuel, and the even tighter cost of that fuel, is the only thing that keeps me in check. As I learned after my long cross-country, I'm additionally limited by my energy levels.

I just completed my long cross country flight this weekend. The weather was cloudy and slightly hazy, but overall good. The important thing is that the winds were calm. I left Boulder (BDU) for Cheyenne, WY (CYS) with the second leg of the trip to Sidney, NE (SNY).

Flying to CYS from BDU is very easy to navigate. There are plenty of landmarks and cities along the way, there is a VOR just past CYS and inline with the airport, but you can really just follow I-25 straight north, and you can't miss it. (Once I get close to the city though, finding the airport is another story.) On the way up, there was some scattered clouds and virga, and I had to make a course deviation along the way to avoid some of the virga. It was mostly light, and I was trying to decide weather or not to fly through it, or around it, knowing that there can be some significant down drafts associated with it. Before I got very close to it though, I started to pick up some turbulence and a decent amount of wind shear and altitude changes. That was enough for me to fly around it, and I was able to avoid any other bumps along the ride.

I always have difficulty finding the airport in Cheyenne since it really sits in the middle of the city, so it is more difficult to spot. Flying into CYS, I contacted the tower about 12 miles out and was directed to runway 27. As I continued my approach, I heard some other traffic in the area that would be landing at the same time I was. The wind was calm and I was lucky enough to get clearance to land on 31 as I was about 4 miles out. This was nice because landing on 31 from the south, is a more of a straight line than working your way into the pattern for 27. This gave me a nearly straight in approach and I was able to fly a long final in from about 3 miles out. That ended up perfectly and I flew it well, landing maybe 200-300 feet from the end of the runway. This is especially good for me, since it is always more difficult to judge when to add flaps, etc. when I don't fly the base leg of the pattern.

The stop at CYS was quick and easy, and I was happy to head off for SNY. The flight to SNY is just as straight forward as the flight to Cheyenne as far as navigation. There is a VOR at the field in Sidney, you can follow I-80 just about straight there, and there are some good landmarks along the way.

If you've never been to Sidney, apparently the best thing in the city is Cabella's. Shortly before approaching the city, I heard another pilot ask UNICOM about the winds, and choice of runways. The winds were calm and since I didn't hear any other traffic, I was also curious to see what runway was preferred. The guy at the FBO responded that the current runway was 13 and "will you be going to Cabela's today?" I had heard that they asked you this when you fly in there, but was still surprised to hear it. After some research, I learned that Sidney is home to Cabela's, and has quite an impressive store there. While I was there, I also learned that if you call them on UNICOM while you're flying in, they'll send a free shuttle to the airport to come and pick you up. Apparently it's popular to go there for lunch while they fuel your plane.

I spent a few minutes at SNY to get fuel for the plane, fuel myself with some snacks as I was getting pretty hungry, take a few pictures, and check the weather before heading back to BDU. When I checked the weather at BJC it was getting windy and was only supposed to get worse. I made another call to Journey's at BDU to see how things looked there, and fortunately the winds were fine there. I wasn't going to risk it, so I hopped in the plane and started my way back to try and beat any weather that was approaching.

The flight back was good, but pilotage (navigation) in northeastern Colorado is not easy. First of all there aren't a lot of cities out there (and cities make for good reference points), and secondly there isn't a lot of anything out there (no major roads, landmarks, anything!). So at the suggestion of my new instructor earlier, I changed my altitude from 8,500 MSL to 10,500 MSL to get a better view of things. This helped the view through the haze, and was also a bit fun to take the plane the highest I've flown it. I flew at 10,500 for about 40 minutes before I had to drop back down to 8,500 due to some clouds at about 10,000 MSL. The clouds were being reported as broken by AWOS stations along the route and I didn't feel like violating any FARs by flying around them. It did make for some good views for a while there before dropping down and I like flying near clouds, as long as I don't catch any associated turbulence.

The rest of the flight was mostly uneventful. That is mostly a good thing, but I realized as I got closer, that the long flight was wearing on me a bit. I could tell I was ready to get back to BDU and the lack of interest in this section of the flight made me take a bit more notice to my waning energy. Another thing about flying this area of the country, is that you can set your radio to 122.8, and forget about it. All the airports in a large part of the tri-state area have the same frequency for CTAF. This is nice from the stand point that you don’t have to worry about changing frequencies, but most of the traffic is for Greeley/Weld County Airport, and to be honest, I kind of get tired of listening to their traffic.

Anyhow, to turn a short story into a long post, I made it back to Boulder without much else to report. My landing at BDU was pretty bad, and by far the worst of the three for the trip. I realized that I need to really work on my pattern, as I think I’m overflying the downwind leg and coming up short on my final, which throws a few things off as I recover from my mistakes, and generally makes for a less than perfect landing.

But one of the biggest lessons from this trip, was realizing that after I landed, I was physically exhausted. The flight was over 3 hours of actual flying. While I was flying, I was focused and just fine, but I was running on my last bit of energy. Part of flying by yourself (or at least without an instructor) is that you are solely responsible to pay attention to everything. Mostly for me, that means not having any help looking for traffic, as all else is handled by me while flying anyhow. But when I complete a solo out of the pattern, I’m much more tired than when I fly with an instructor, or another pilot. Maybe I just unduly stress myself out. If that’s the case, I’m sure things will get better with experience.

So the next flight is just some pattern work at BDU to get back into better shape there. Now is the time to start greasing my landings, since I really only have practice before I’m ready to take the test.



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