My Short Solo Cross-Country

By Tenley Ong, EAA 1388744

After attending EAA AirVenture 2021 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I returned to Sacramento rejuvenated and super inspired to progress more quickly through my flight training. Within a week of returning home from Oshkosh, I took my written test. I didn’t get as high of a score as I would have liked to, but I did it and it felt amazing having that weight off my shoulders.

Since then, I’ve completed nine hours of night flying, and a couple of cross-country flights from my home base, Sacramento Executive Airport (KSAC) in Sacramento, California.

On Thursday, September 16, I reached another milestone, my short cross-country solo. I flew from KSAC to Modesto (KMOD) to Los Banos (KLSN) to University Airport (KEDU) in Davis and then back to Sacramento. I loved it so much that I wanted to share my story.

I woke up early Thursday morning, made sure my iPad was charged, and drove 30 minutes to Sacramento Executive Airport. I called WX Brief and obtained my first-ever standard weather briefing. It looked like it was going to be clear with some scattered clouds at 1,600 feet and maybe some haze from the wildfires.

Stan, my flight instructor, came to meet me at the airport at 7:30 a.m. to see me off on my solo. He helped me pull the Cessna 150 that I’m training in out of the hangar. We reviewed my flight plan, he answered my questions, and I promised to take lots of pictures. After that, I hopped in the airplane, waved goodbye, and taxied to the end of the hangar row.

I called up KSAC Ground on 125.0:

Good morning, Executive Ground. Cessna 3062S at south hangars with Whiskey. Request flight following to Modesto.

He then responded:

Cessna 3062S, squawk 3587, 125.25, altimeter 20.84, taxi to 20 via Juliet, Mike, cross Runway 12.

I repeated it back and continued on my merry way.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous. What if I forgot something? No, I had a thorough flight plan. Okay, but what if it was really, really windy and I couldn’t land? No, I got my flight briefing. Winds were calm. What if I forgot my emergency procedures? No, I wrote them all down. Just in case.

I was good to go.

I did my run-up, checked fuel pump on, and took off from runway 20 to the southeast. Flying toward the city of Modesto, I climbed to 5,500 feet. There were a few clouds, but I was way above them. And it was beautiful.

All I could think about was how lucky I am to have the opportunity to fly. I have the coolest airport friends and the best flight instructor in the whole world. I get to just take this airplane that Joe, the owner, is so kind to lend to local Young Eagles, and I’m trusted to fly it down the Central Valley alone.

What did I do to deserve this? Wow.

Focus, Tenley.

I remembered what my other mentor, Nick, always told me: Always be thinking ahead — what are the next three steps? Okay, first step: Make sure I’m flying my heading. I looked at the breadcrumbs on my iPad and it looked like I was flying like a drunk. I kept getting excited about things on the ground and flying toward them.

Focus, Tenley.

Second step: Keep pumping fuel. There’s an auxiliary tank in the back of the 150, and I had to make sure that fuel was getting up to the tanks in the wings.

Third step: Get ready to listen to Modesto ATIS.

Then we do it all again. Now, what are the next three steps?

I was getting close to Modesto, and I’d contacted the tower. The controller told me to enter right downwind runway 28. Great! I was descending toward a field, but there weren’t any runways…. What? I was so confused. The only time I’d been there was at night, and Modesto looked super different in the daytime.

I quickly realized that the field I was heading toward was totally not the airport. Well, crap, where is the dang airport? I looked off to my 11 o’clock. IS THE AIRPORT THAT GIANT FIELD? Shoot. I made a quick left turn and entered on the downwind. Glad I figured that out. I didn’t realize the airport was so big. OMG — should I be trusted to be a pilot?

I reminded myself that I was learning. I focused on my landing checklist. Fuel pump, carb heat, mixture, power back abeam the end of the runway, flaps down. Airspeed 70-80. The tower told me to do an extended downwind, so I got to practice slow flight.

I successfully landed at Modesto and taxied back to the runway for takeoff. I requested flight following to Los Banos. Taking off with a left downwind departure, I made my way to Los Banos, where I had never been before. Using my iPad and pilotage, I found it easily and successfully landed into the wind.

I didn’t see anyone else while I was there. Los Banos is a quiet airport in Merced County, California. It’s a good two-hour drive down I-5 from home, so I made sure I didn’t stop and get stuck there. I took off to the north.

I kind of followed I-5 north, with the San Luis Reservoir and Diablo Range off my left shoulder. The clouds had cleared and there was a gray layer of haze sitting in the valley. I successfully found the city of Davis and landed at University Airport, where I fueled up the airplane and took off on the last leg of my flight toward Sacramento. I successfully landed at Sacramento Executive and taxied back to the south hangars. Stan helped my put the airplane away, we agreed that the airplane was reusable, and I jumped up and down with delight.

One step closer to my certificate!

Words of advice to anyone about to do a short their solo cross-country:

  1. Don’t be afraid to communicate on the radio.
  2. Write down anything you feel like you might forget.
  3. Always be three steps ahead.

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