We flew a straight line from KPAO to K022. Winds aloft were lighter than forecast and in the middle of the central valley I found myself off course and a little lost. Having just recently learned how to use the airplanes VOR (thats VHF Omnideractional Range), I dialed in the the Linden and Manteca radials and triangulated my position. I was about 5 miles north of course, and with that new reference in mind I was able to locate my next waypoint and continue on to Columbia.
We overflew the airport high, avoiding descending until I was certain I had the airport in site. Columbia is in a bowl, with rising terrain on both ends of the runway, particularly off runway 35. We had checked the pilots operating handbook for the C152 prior to departure to confirm it's takeoff performance at 2000'. We had enough performance to safely depart, but we decided that prior to landing we would execute a go-around to make sure we wouldn't get stuck there.
Entering the pattern for 35, I was nervous due to some turbulence, proximity to the hills, and sparse emergency landing options. At 20' off the runway, we initiated the go-around, full power, mixture full rich, flaps slowly up, best climb at 67 knots. The climb was meager. At the end of the runway we were a few hundred feet above the trees (maybe it was more, but it felt low). As I mentioned, the terrain slopes up off 35, and the sloping terrain seemed to almost match our climb. This gave the unnerving impression that we weren't climbing at all, though we were. I was white knuckling the yolk, my instructor told me to relax, keep it right at 67, and that we still had options.
I took a breath as we cleared the terrain, and turned out over the river. I looked at my instructor and said "so I guess we're not going to land there then...", he "let's land. We can take off going the other way."
Columbia was nice, quiet and scenic. We took off on runway 17 which gave us a slight downhill runway, and less terrain to clear. The wind was basically calms, maybe a 1mph tailwind. Again, the climb was noticeably weak. I was really surprised how much difference 2000' could make (Density altitude was 3000). Again, I was a little uncomfortable on the climb out, but soon we were off and away.
Now, we had figured we had enough gas to get to Columbia and back without refueling. But at Columbia we checked the tank levels and they were lower than we expected. Maybe not enough to make it to KPAO with reserve. We certainly didn't want to add weight to the plane before taking off, so we decided we would divert once we got to the valley and get some gas along the way. So to Oakdale, O27 it was. Used the VOR again and headed straight to it. Circled down, checked the wind and had a nice landing. It wasn't clear where the fuel station was, but eventually we found it. What was less clear was how to make it pump gas. A hand written sign on the pump said "Lower handle to prime. Slow ok after start." I get the first part, but still don't know what the second part means. In the end, we wasted 30-40 minutes trying to fill up. We were able to pump gas onto the ground, but not into the wing. Oh, and there was a hornets nest in the gas pump.
|Maybe if I stare at it long enough...|
15 minutes later after taxing all around the airport in the dark we found the fuel station. Filled up and hurried out of there. This wasn't planned to be a night flight, and climbing out in the turbulent pitch dark, I realized I was unprepared for the remainder of the flight. No flashlight, no flight plan, and unsure where the high terrain around Livermore is without a visual reference. I told my instructor that if I was alone right now I would head back to Modesto and figure out what to do on the ground. Instead we decided to cheat and he pulled out his ipad and we flew that nice purple line to assure we stayed over low ground.
Since I wasn't really navigating at this point we decided to get some simulated instrument time in. I donned the hood and flew back to KPAO under simulated IFR conditions.
I can't remember what time we landed, but it was late. All in all, a very fun flight. For me anyway. I'm not so sure my instructor felt the same.
This is all so new to me, I still find the hornet filled fuel pumps fun.