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Solo Helicopter XC

Sunday was the planned date for my first helicopter solo "cross country." For those of you who don't know aviation very well, "cross country" only means "not local" and, in helicopters, that means more than 25 nm. Here's the route I flew.

So, I had spent Saturday night working on my preflight work. The plan was to go from Palo Alto (PAO) to Tracy (TCY) to Hollister (CVH) and back to PAO (click on the map for a larger picture). I thought I might as well make my first meet the requirements of my long cross country so that I don't have to make a point to meet that requirement later.

Looking at the maps, I saw that, on the way to Tracy there is a restricted area near the airport as well as the "please do not fly below 800' over this area" over the Lawrence Livermore Labs. I decided that, to stay clear of both, I would fly directly over the Livermore Airport (LVK) and the north of 80 until I got to I-5 and then follow it south to Tracy. That would keep me clear of everything save the LVK airspace, but I don't mind talking to controllers... As for the trip from TCY to CVH, that would involve a lot of time over mountains, so I decided I'd follow I-5 down to the Highway 135 and follow that through the pass -- that would give me a decent place to set down if I had to.

I knew that CVH to PAO would involve talking to Bay... oops, no... it's now called NORCAL approach, as I was going to go rather close to SJC but, again, I don't worry much about that.

Anyhow, the day of the flight I couldn't have asked for better weather. Winds forecast to be calm all along my route (winds at 3000' at 6 KTS max), no clouds below 12,000 feet and visibility greater than 10 miles. I was a little nervous but my instructor said "I have complete faith in you" as I left.

Departure was normal "Palo Alto tower, helicopter N290SH at the spot with Sierra, heading to Tracy would like a right crosswind departure." A slightly different clearance "N290SH cleared for straight out departure, traffic departing from the runway, remain south of the runway, I'll call your right turn." Not a problem, I was cleared for my right turn (with the plane at about my 4 o'clock position turning his crosswind) before I reached the golf course.

Crossed the bay (I had, in fact, remembered to wear my lifejacket as required when crossing the bay), staying at 1000' until crossing I-880, then starting a climb to 2500' to cross the Sonol pass. Called LVK tower while approaching the grade and he "approved transition as requested." A nice view from 2500' of a cute red biplane departing LVK, past the windmill farm (never seen it from the air before) and on to TCY.

Tuned in the AWOS for Tracy... "Winds 310 @ 9 gusting 15." Yikes! A 6 knot gust?!? Oh well, it's almost right down the runway (runway 31). So, I thought I might as well fly down to see what it was like, but I was fully prepared to say that I wasn't going to land there. Approaching the airport a Baron was taxing out but it looked like I had time, so I called on downwind and he waited for me. It was a little bumpy as I approached the runway but felt like something I could handle, so I came down to five feet over the runway and hover-taxied over to the parking area, set it down and looked up my frequencies for the next part of the flight so that I could copy them to a "quick reference sheet for myself" (since John had taught me to write everything down ahead of time and *never* write while flying).

All set, lift off and start to hover-taxi... aw nuts! I promised John I'd call him at each stop and I sure didn't want to use my cell phone while flying... so I turned back and set it down again. Called John and texted my roommate and, while there, decided to ditch the somewhat uncomfortable lifejacket (NPI) and then started off again.

Hover-taxied to the runway, waited for the baron, who seemed to be practicing full stop landings, and I actually got blown around quite a bit by the wind while waiting, so I decided to increase the altitude of my hover to about 10' to give me a little more margin for gusts. When he cleared the runway, I departed northbound and did a left downwind departure.

The flight South was a little bumpy from time to time but pretty uneventful. Flying over I-5 and the TWO aqueducts (I didn't know there were two). Several times I glanced down at I-5 and wondered if anyone below me saw me at 1000' and thought I might be a police speed enforcement helicopter since they do patrol I-5 from time to time. :-)

Followed I-5 all the way down to highway 152 and the San Luis Reservoir which is gorgeous from 2500' (and it was clearly FULL). Followed the pass through the mountains increasing my altitude to about 3700' (what made me feel comfortable as the ground rose below me) and tuned in to Hollister's CTAF. Heard a Pawnee reporting an approach and said "Hey! That sounds like my favorite tow-pilot" (since I also fly gliders from Hollister). He replied "Well, thank you." :-) I then called "Helicopter N290SH three miles to the east, inbound for a left crosswind to 31" which is what I did.

Landed above 31, taxied via Alpha to the South end of the ramp and parked. Met a few glider friends who were there, had lunch at the Ding-a-ling cafe, and headed back north via 101.

Called Norcal approach just north of South County... WOW! Was he BUSY! I called him with just my tail number (due to how busy he was) and he just gave me a squawk and ident then asked for my destination. "0SH, Palo Alto, currently at 2000'" was my reply. He requested I "turn left 270 for spacing." I did so, hoping it wouldn't put me too close to the smoke from the fire I saw burning in the hills just northwest of South County (it didn't). About three minutes later, he called "0SH, traffic 4 o'clock, approaching 3 o'clock, 1500' above you a 737." I looked right and, yah, it was hard to miss. "In sight," I called. He advised the 737 of my position, told him I had him in sight, and as soon as he passed, I was told "resume own navigation."

As I was about 7 miles SW of SJC, approach told me to contact Moffitt tower. I switched frequencies called them and they told me to "maintain at or above 1500'". As I reached Moffitt, I was just decenting to 1500' and as I passed the tower, I hadn't heard from him (and PAO was looking kind of close), so I called and said "Moffitt, 0SH, can I switch to PAO". He immediately replied "Affirmative, 0SH, have a nice day." I switched to PAO who cleared me to land (with the usual "landing at the spot is at your own risk") but advised me of a plane on left downwind for 31.

Standard (although straight-in this time -- which I haven't done VERY often) approach, landing at the spot and then hover-taxi to my parking space. Standard two to three minute shutdown procedure and then out of the aircraft. Check the hobbs --- 2.4 hours total time --- a nice trip and a great day. First, and longest needed, cross-country complete! Woo hoo!