Josef “Jeff” Sipek

First Solo Cross-Country

A week ago (June 15), I went on my first solo cross country flight. The plan was to fly KARBKMBSKAMN → KARB. In case you don’t happen to have the Detroit sectional chart in front of you, this might help you visualize the scope of the flight.

leg distance time
KARB → KMBS 79 nm 47 min
KMBS → KAMN 29 nm 20 min
KAMN → KARB 79 nm 46 min
Total 187 nm 113 min

Here’s the ground track (as recorded by the G1000) along with red dots for each of my checkpoints and a pink line connecting them. (Sadly, there’s no convenient zoom level that covers the entire track without excessive waste.)

ground track

As you can see, I didn’t quite overfly all the checkpoints. In my defense, the forecast winds were about 40 degrees off from reality during the first half of the flight. :)

Let’s examine each leg separately.


ground track

My checkpoint by I-69 (southwest of Flint) was supposed to be a I-69 and Pontiac VORTAC (PSI) radial 311 intersection. However when I called up the FSS briefer, I found out that it was out of service. Thankfully, Salem VORTAC (SVM) is very close so I just used its radial 339 instead. Next time I’m using a VOR for any part of my planning, I’m going to check for any NOTAMs before I make it part of my plan — redoing portions of the plan is tedious and not fun.

On the way to Saginaw, I was planning to go at 3500. (Yes, I know, it is a westerly direction and the rule (FAR 91.159) says even thousand + 500, but the clouds were not high enough to fly at 4500 and the rule only applies 3000 AGL and above — the ground around these parts is 700-1000 feet MSL.)


Right when I entered the downwind for runway 23, the tower cleared me to land. My clearance was quickly followed by the tower instructing a commuter jet to hold short of 23 because of landing traffic — me! Somehow, it is very satisfying to see a real plane (CRJ-200) have to wait for little ol’ me to land. (FlightAware tells me that it was FLG3903 flight to KDTW.)

While I was on taxiway C, they got cleared to take off. I couldn’t help it but to snap a photo.


It was a pretty slow day for Saginaw. The whole time I was on the radio with Saginaw approach, I got to hear maybe 5 planes total. The tower was even less busy. There were no planes around except for me and the commuter jet.


This leg of the flight was the hardest. First of all, it was only 29 nm. This equated to about 25 minutes of flying. The first four-ish and the last five-ish were spent climbing and descending, so really there was about 15 minutes of cruising. Not much time to begin with. I flew this leg by following the MBS VOR radial 248. My one and only checkpoint on this leg was mid way — the beginning of a wind turbine farm. It took about 2 minutes longer to get there than planned, but the wind turbines were easy to see from distance so no problems there.

ground track

Following the VOR wasn’t difficult, but you can see in the ground track that I was meandering across it. As expected, it got easier the farther away from the station I got. Here’s the plot of the CDI deflection for this leg. The CSV file says that the units are “fsd” — I have no idea what that means.

CDI deflection

I can’t really draw any conclusions because…well, I don’t know what the graph is telling me. Sure, it seems to get closer and closer to zero (which I assume is a good thing), but I can’t honestly say that I understand what the graph is saying.

The most difficult part was trying to stay at 2500 feet. For whatever reason, it felt like I was flying in sizable thermals. Since there were no thunderstorms in the area, I flew on fighting the updrafts. That was the difficult part. I suspect the wind turbines were built there because the area is windy.


KAMN is a decent size airport. Two plenty long runways for a 172 even on a hot day (5004x75 feet and 3197x75 feet). I didn’t stop by the FBO, so I have no idea how they are. I did not notice anyone else around during the couple of minutes I spent on the ground taxiing and getting ready for the next leg. Maybe it was just the overcast that made people stay indoors. Oh well. It is a nice airport, and I wouldn’t mind stopping there in the future if the need arose.


Flying back to Ann Arbor was the easy part of the trip. The air calmed down enough that once trimmed, the plane more or less stayed at 3500 feet.


It apparently was a slow day for Lansing approach as well, as I got to hear a controller chatting with a pilot of a skydiving plane about how fast the skydivers fell to the ground. Sadly, I didn’t get to hear the end of the conversation since the controller told me to contact Detroit approach.

As far as the ground track is concerned, you can see two places where I stopped flying current heading and instead flew toward the next checkpoint visually. The first instance is a few miles north of KOZW. I spotted the airport, and since I knew I was supposed to overfly it, I turned to it and flew right over it. The second instance is by Whitmore Lake — there I looked into the distance and saw Ann Arbor. Knowing that the airport is on the south side, I just headed right toward it ignoring the planned heading. As I mentioned before in both cases, the planned course was slightly off because the winds weren’t quite like the forecast said they would be.

ground track

You can’t tell from the rather low resolution of the map, but I got to fly right over the Wikipedia article: Michigan stadium. Sadly, I was a bit too busy flying the plane to take a photo of the field below me.


With one solo cross country out of the way, I’m still trying to figure out where I want to go next. Currently, I am considering one of these flights (in no particular order):

path distance time
KARB KGRR KMOP KARB 239 nm 2h19m
KARB KBIV KJXN KARB 220 nm 2h08m
KARB KFWA KTOL KARB 210 nm 2h03m
KARB KMBS KGRR KARB 243 nm 2h21m
KARB KGRR KEKM KARB 266 nm 2h40m

FAST 2013

Since FAST starts today, yesterday was dedicated to flying out to San Jose.

Once at KDTW, I spent most of my wait there watching planes at the gates as well as watching more planes take off on 22L. Somehow, it was fascinating to watch them land on 22L and see 22R in the background — the same 22R that I got to do touch and go’s on a couple of weeks ago. I think not having to aviate first let me enjoy the sights — planes large and small barrelling down the runway and then *poof* they gently lift off the runway. At about 500 feet the gear retracts. It’s magic!

At one point, I saw the plane at the adjacent gate being prepared for its next flight. I both enjoyed seeing and sympathized with one of the crew (I assume the first officer since I suspect the captain wanted to stay warm) walking around the plane visually inspecting it. I know how annoying it is to be outside when it is cold to make sure the plane is safe to fly, yet I find it comforting that the same rules apply not only to Cessna 172s but also to Airbus A320s.

The first leg of the trip took me to KSLC. I brought my copy of the FAR/AIM with me. I read a bunch. I looked out the window a bunch. After we got past Lake Michigan, the sky cleared up allowing me to watch the ground below instead of the layer of overcast. I was very surprised to discover that the snow covered landscape makes it very easy to spot airports. Well, it is easy to spot paved runways that have been plowed.

The approach to KSLC was pretty cool. I never thought about the landscape in Utah before, but it turns out that Salt Lake City is surrounded by some serious mountains. Now, throw in winter weather with overcast and you’ll end up with a sea of white except for a few places where the mountains are peaking through.

Learning to fly in southeastern Michigan doesn’t make you think about mountains — there just aren’t any. Seeing the mountains peeking through the clouds was a scary reminder that there are more things in the sky than just other airplanes and some towers. If one were flying VFR above the clouds (which is a bad idea), where would be a safe place to descend? Obviously not where the mountains peak through, but any other place might be just as bad. The best looking place could have a mountain or a ridge few hundred feet below the cloud tops. Granted, sectional charts would depict all the mountains but it is a dangerous game to play.

I knew we would end up descending through the overcast and so I played a little game I expected to lose. Once we were in the clouds, I tried to keep track of our attitude by just sensing the forces. I knew I would fail, but I thought it would be interesting to try my best. We spent maybe 90 to 120 seconds in the clouds. At the end, I definitely felt like we were in a right bank — Wikipedia article: Spatial disorentation. I knew that we probably weren’t, but without visual information to fix up my perception there was no way for me to know.

We landed. I watched all the airport signs and markings, following our progress on an airport diagram. Once people started getting off the plane, I decided to ask to see the airworthiness certificate. The first officer (I think) found all the paperwork in the cockpit and showed me. It was really cool to see the same form I see every time I fly the 172 but filled out for an A320. (Theirs was laminated!) We chatted for a little bit about what I fly, and how it’s a good plane. It was fun.

It was time to get to my connecting flight. Nothing interesting happened. I spent about half the flight watching the outside and half reading my book.

After arriving to KSJC, I got up from my seat in the small but comfy plane (CRJ200). I grabbed my backpack from the overhead bin with one hand since the other hand not only had my hoodie draped over but was holding the FAR/AIM. I started filing out. All that was left to do was give the thank-you-for-landing-safely-and-not-killing-me nod to the crew as I exited the plane. The captain or FO happened to be standing in the cockpit door saying good bye to passengers. I nodded as planned. He responded: “good book.” I smiled.

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