As a relatively new pilot — having received my pilot certificate on April 3, 2015 — I’ve logged about 190 hours. Some of that includes the first multi-state, week-long trip I’ve ever done and by far the furthest I’ve flown as PIC.
The series of VFR flights would take my wife, Tameka, and I from our home base in Greenville, S.C., to visit Nashville, Indianapolis, and Dillard, Georgia.
The trip in our Cessna C-182 would span several days and cover hundreds of miles. As the pilot, I would be dealing with mountains, unfamiliar airports and several weather patterns.
I started preparing for our trip three weeks before we were to depart. I went on ForeFlight and researched airports close to our destinations.
I read the ForeFlight comments section to get an idea from other pilots as to the level of service and fees to be expected.
I used the fuel pricing module built into ForeFlight to make sure I was picking an airport with reasonable fuel prices.
Once I had decided upon the airports, I went on YouTube to find videos of pilots landing at those airports. YouTube is a very good tool for familiarizing yourself with unfamiliar airports. I was able to find several takeoff and landing videos of each airport. This gave me a good view of the area and what to expect.
The second phase of preparation involved flight planning the four different legs of our trip. The first leg of the trip was to be from Greenville (KGYH) to Nashville (KJWN). I plugged the departure and arrival points into ForeFlight.
The direct route would take me over high mountain peaks, an MOA (Military Operations Area), and a wildlife refuge. I decided against this route in favor of one that would take me along a road and several airports in case of an emergency. The alternate route would also keep me away from the higher peaks, MOA, and wildlife refuge.
The second leg of the trip was to be from Nashville (KJWN) to Indianapolis (KHFY). This portion was not as challenging, with the exception of a small area of restricted airspace. I decided to fly direct and deviate to the west around the restricted airspace.
The third leg of the trip was to be from Indianapolis (KHFY) to Franklin, N.C. (1A5). This portion of the trip would take me back into the mountains where I would be landing, so careful planning had to be done.
Flying direct would take me over high mountain peaks and set me up with a lot of altitude to lose right over the airport. Instead, I decided to fly towards Knoxville, where I could descend and follow a river that leads to a road that would line me up with the airport.
The last leg of the trip was from Franklin back home to Greenville. On this final leg, I planned to follow a road and then fly directly home once we were past the high peaks of the mountains.
A week out, I started studying the forecast along my routes. I used several weather resources, including ForeFlight weather charts, Weather.com and USAirNet.com. I used Weather.com to get a general idea of the forecast at each destination for the days we were planning to visit. Each destination showed clear and sunny for the days we were to be there.
Three days before departure, I started researching the prognostic charts and ceiling forecasts. Both of the forecasts showed favorable conditions as far out as it could predict. I also referenced USAirNet.com and it agreed with the charts in ForeFlight.
The night before our departure I called the Flight Service Station and received an outlook briefing. Conditions were to be VFR (Visual Flight Rules) as expected.
Greenville to Nashville
The day finally arrived for me and my wife to depart on our first leg to Nashville. I woke up around 9 a.m. and looked out the window. Not a cloud in the sky and no wind. It was a perfect day to fly.
I checked in with the FSS for a briefing and then we headed to the airport. We pulled right up to our plane and loaded our luggage. I did my usual preflight and made certain that the fuel and oil were topped off.
Meanwhile, my wife called the FBO in Nashville and reserved a rental car. Once we were ready to go, I radioed to the tower and requested a squawk code for VFR Flight Following to KJWN at 7,500 feet. After receiving our squawk code and performing an uneventful run-up, we rolled onto the runway. I smoothly applied full power and off we went.
We leveled off at 7,500 feet as I configured the plane for cruise flight. Below I could see the landscape gradually changing from mostly hills and lakes to mountainous terrain. I communicated with Air Traffic Control (ATC) as they switched me from one approach controller to another. I followed along on ForeFlight by identifying airports, roads and lakes with what I saw below.
There were a couple of scattered clouds that I had to deviate around, but for the most part, it was clear and smooth. At some point in the flight, I recorded the wrong frequency and was not able to contact ATC. I tried switching back to the frequency that I was just on, but received no response. I don’t know why, but it’s quite unsettling not being able to contact ATC.
I was eventually able to reestablish contact with them by finding the approach frequency of the nearest airport to me on ForeFlight. The rest of the trip went without a hiccup. Just as fast as the terrain rose, it settled and I was preparing to land in Nashville at John C. Tune Airport.
John C. Tune is a very busy uncontrolled airport. When I arrived, there were several other planes in the pattern and on final. I was thankful to have my Stratus ESG that had been installed just the day before. I was able to see all of the traffic right on my iPad. I made several calls identifying my position on final and short final. Over the numbers I pulled the power back slowly and as the plane started to settle, I heard the tires kiss the runway.
I turned off the runway and taxied over to the FBO where the flight crew ushered me in. By the time I shut the engine down and recorded my flight time, a crew member from the FBO had driven the rental car up to my plane and was unloading our luggage into the trunk. My wife and I walked into the FBO and were greeted by free popcorn, cookies and drinks! What a wonderful way to start a vacation!
After leaving the airport, we headed to downtown Nashville to a highly recommended diner named Demo’s. There we grabbed lunch and searched for a hotel. I often book my hotel once I reach my destination and not in advance. This allows me to decide at the last minute whether the trip is a “go” or “no go” without the pressure of losing money on a room.
Initially, we were only going to be in Nashville for one day. We really wanted to stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, but it was completely sold out. However, there was availability there the following day, so we decided to stay in Nashville for two days and chose a different hotel for that night.
With all of our accommodations made, we set out to tour the city. We decided to take a hop on, hop off trolley tour of Nashville. This allowed us to quickly familiarize ourselves with the city, along with some of its culture and history.
The second day in Nashville we relaxed and toured the Gaylord Opryland Resort. We took a Venetian style gondola river cruise that ran through the hotel, and enjoyed some fine dining.
As our last night in Nashville wound down, I did some final preparations for the second leg of our trip to Indianapolis. I went through my usual preparations of calling FSS for an outlook briefing, researching ForeFlight weather charts, cross referencing USAirNet.com, and checking the Weather.com forecast for the city. Conditions were to be VFR with few clouds and calm winds.
I compared fuel prices in Nashville to fuel prices in Indianapolis using ForeFlight. Fuel was cheaper at my destination, so I decided to get the 10 gallon minimum at John C. Tune to avoid a landing fee. I calculated that this would give me more than 1.5 hour fuel reserve to reach my destination. With everything planned, I turned in so that I could get plenty of rest for the trip ahead.
Nashville to Indianapolis
The next morning I checked the weather on ForeFlight and called the FSS to confirm that nothing had changed in the forecast. With the weather cooperating, we ate breakfast and headed to the airport for the second leg of our trip. I called ahead to the FBO to let them know we were on our way and to request fuel. We arrived at the airport and our airplane was sitting on the ramp ready to go. I did my usual preflight and carefully checked that we had enough fuel onboard to make it to Indianapolis.
Before I knew it, we were back in the air traveling to Indianapolis at 6,500 feet and talking to ATC. As we crossed over the Ohio River, the landscape changed dramatically from mountains and hills to completely flat.
The flatlands are such a different terrain from what we are used to at home. It looked like a giant puzzle of squares and rectangles.
As we made our way closer to our destination, I checked the ATIS and noticed that we would have a slight crosswind when landing. Knowing this information, I decided to land with 20° of flaps and a slightly faster speed. With no traffic in the pattern and on long final, we descended into KHFY. We touched down gracefully and taxied to the FBO.
This was a smaller airport and therefore, we did not get marshaled in or the red carpet treatment that we had received in Nashville. We simply found a place to park, tied our plane down, and removed our luggage from the plane. Inside the FBO, we decided on a hotel and planned to use Uber instead of a rental car.
We’ve found parking to be expensive and inconvenient in large cities. Our plan was to see Indy by walking, biking and Uber.
Once checked into our room in downtown Indy, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. We visited one of the most well-known restaurants in Indy, St. Elmo’s. All the locals rave about its shrimp cocktail so we had to give it a try. I won’t spoil it for anyone wanting to try it, but I would advise using caution on the first bite! After a delicious meal, we retired to our room to plan out our time in Indy.
The next day, we woke up early for breakfast and to catch a trolley tour of the city as we had done in Nashville. The trolley took us all around Indianapolis while giving us the history of the city. We visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, affectionately called the Brickyard, Lucas Oil Stadium, and a host of museums and city sights.
After the trolley tour was over, we decided to rent bikes to revisit some of the sights that we had seen during the trolley tour. We enjoyed The Canal Walk as we rode our bikes alongside the water and watched the paddle-boaters.
While riding through the city, we came upon a large parade celebrating the start of the Circle City Classic. It’s always nice to get unexpected free entertainment! As the day began to wind down, we ate dinner and enjoyed a late night stroll back to our hotel.
Back in the room, I began to go over my flight plan to Macon County Airport in Franklin, N.C. We were to meet some friends there the next day at 4 p.m. to go horseback riding. The flight was to take about 2.5 hours. We needed to leave Indianapolis by 12 pm to allow time to get the rental car and drive to Dillard, Georgia, to meet our friends. After a long tiring day, I decided to finish my flight planning in the morning with a fresh set of eyes.
As the sun started to peep through the curtains, I got up to see if I could catch the sunrise from our perch on the 24th floor. As I pulled the curtains back, to my dismay, there was no sun, no blue sky, nothing but a thick layer of gray fog.
“Where did this come from?” I thought as I grabbed my iPad. For the last few days, we had awakened to blue skies, but today was different. The TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) was predicting IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions until 1 p.m.
I immediately started doing the math in my head. If we left exactly at 1 p.m., we could still make it to Franklin by 3:30 p.m. Although that only left us 30 minutes to secure the plane, rent a car, and drive 30 minutes to Dillard, I still had a small sliver of hope that we could pull it off. But as the morning drew on and I looked back and forth from my window to my iPad, I began to lose hope. The fog lingered as our noon checkout time approached.
After we checked out of our hotel, we headed to the airport to top the tanks off and preflight. In route, we started to see hints of the sun peeking through the clouds. Although still not VFR, it was encouraging.
At the airport, we loaded our luggage and bags into the plane. I checked the oil and did the usual preflight as conditions progressively improved. As 1 p.m. approached, I taxied my plane to the self-serve station to top off the fuel tanks. Things were starting to look up! I may just be able to pull this off!
I attached the static line to my exhaust pipe, set up the ladder next to my wing, and pulled the fueling hose out. I went through the usual routine of inserting my credit card, inputting my tail number and selecting how many gallons I wanted.
I flipped the switch to turn the pump on and nothing happened. I tried recycling the pump several times, but nothing. With the time approaching 1:15 p.m., I went and asked for help from the FBO. A worker came out and went through the same procedures that I had several times, with no result. By now the time was fast approaching 1:45 p.m. and I was getting very frustrated.
I petitioned the guy to top me off from the fuel truck. After filling my tanks, I went into the FBO to pay, but the credit card computer system was down. Another 30 minutes went by with the FBO troubleshooting their system. My sliver of hope that we would make it to Dillon on time to ride horses with our friends quickly diminished.
Indianapolis to Franklin, N.C.
At 2:30 p.m. we sent a text to our friends and let them know that we would not make it in time. The FBO finally took my phone number and said they would call for payment once their system came back up.
After a 1.5 hour refueling effort, we were finally lined up on the runway for takeoff. The sky was still very hazy but VFR conditions existed at my departure and destination. As I climbed through the thick layer of haze, I made a right turn out towards Macon County Airport.
At 5,500 feet, I was still in the haze and opted to climb to 7,500 feet. By then, I had picked up Flight Following and was above the haze. I trimmed the plane out and dialed in my favorite XM radio station as we cruised along.
About an hour into our flight, I found myself having to maneuver around groups of cumulus clouds. As it became more and more difficult to avoid them, I decided to climb to 9,500 feet to get over them. The clouds began to clear as we approached Knoxville and I was able to descend to 6,500 feet. Back in the mountains we followed a valley river towards Macon County Airport while slowly descending to 4,500 feet.
The views were breathtaking as we flew in the valley with mountains flanking both of our wings and the crystal blue river below. By then, we had lost communications with ATC, probably due to the terrain.
With the airport about 10 miles away, I dialed up the ATIS and was greeted with clear skies and calm winds. I flipped to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) and announced my position, “Skylane, 5 miles NW of the field, inbound full stop Macon County.”
Surprisingly, the FBO responded back to let me know that no one was in the pattern and with a runway advisory. As I cleared the last mountain peak at 4,500 feet, the airport came into sight. I was lined up on final but high. I pulled the throttle and raised the nose so that I could slow down enough to drop the barn doors. With the barn doors fully extended at 40°, I was losing altitude quickly. Once established on a suitable glide path, I brought power back in and flew her onto the runway for a nice touchdown.
We didn’t make it in time to go horseback riding with our friends that day, but the important thing is that we made it safely. We ended up meeting our friends for dinner later that evening and were able to schedule another session of horseback riding in the morning before our flight home.
The next day brought a crisp clear morning; a perfect day for horseback riding and our return flight back home. Before starting our day, I called the FSS and requested a standard weather briefing, which revealed no significant weather for my 30 minute flight back home. I reviewed my plan to fly along a road in the valley until I gained enough altitude to cross over the mountains safely and then fly directly to Greenville. With my flight planning done, I packed our bags in the car so that we could leave directly for the airport after breakfast and horseback riding.
After roaming the mountains by horse for a few hours, we were ready to grab our wings for the final leg of our trip back home. On the way to the airport, I noticed a few clouds building in the distance. I decided to get an updated weather briefing and check the radar in ForeFlight. Everything still looked good for our flight home.
Heading for Home
This time, I had decided to have the plane pre-fueled before I arrived to reduce the possibility of being delayed by issues with the fuel truck or pump. This was a lesson just learned in Indianapolis that I was applying already.
While settling our debt with the FBO, I inquired about the normal departure route for the local pilots. I was informed to make a right turn out and follow the valley just as I had planned.
Lined up on the runway with 10° of flaps, I held the brakes as I advanced the throttle. As the engine began to rumble, I released the brakes. This time I rode 230 horses down the runway and into the air. I retracted the 10° of flaps and made a right turn out towards the road in the valley.
Dillard and the sloping hills where we had just been horseback riding grew smaller in the distance as I climbed to a safe altitude and made my turn across the mountains towards home.
As we grew closer to home, I began to recognize the landscape again. I was able to pick out lakes, towers, and other landmarks that I was used to seeing. Even the voices on the radio all became familiar as I called the tower for a full stop landing.
As I lined up on final for runway 5, I thought about the week long journey we had experienced. I remembered the training and sacrifice I had put in to be able to safely complete an expedition like this. I thought about all the times that I had wanted to throw the towel in, but hadn’t.
The freedom of flight is something that can’t be explained. It can only be experienced.
As my wheels squeaked down and I heard a familiar voice from the tower say “Welcome back home 3-3-Xray,” I was already pondering the next journey.