I was 6,000 miles away in San Francisco when Carlo did his first solo cross-country in the Philippines, a month ago today. He called me before setting off from Omni Aviation at Clark Field in Pampanga. I gave him some encouraging words that were really meant to calm my nerves.
This is the second-clumsiest person I know, who doesn’t even drive a car, about to set off on a 200 nautical mile odyssey to three different airports, all on his own. He has never even taken a jeepney alone. He had never been away from Manila by himself. Now he was flying himself to airports four provinces away, alone. What airplanes can do.
I told him about the offshore crosswind in Lingayen, and the windshear from the treeline beside the runway threshold.
He took off from Omni and promptly opened a bag of chips as he flew the airplane over Central Luzon. His first stop was Lingayen, Pangasinan, an airport right on the beach at Lingayen Gulf.
Lingayen’s runway is parallel to the beach. Since the wind normally blows onshore from sea to land, the wind is always at right angles to the runway. This creates interesting tales about student pilots landing there. Ask me how I know this. (Photo is overhead Lingayen, Dec 2006)
Every pilot gets stomach butterflies when landing in crosswinds. There you are, trying to land on a concrete strip no wider than a provincial road, and the wind is doing its best to heave the airplane on its side. Crosswinds rough up the approach and require special techniques. (Photo at right is Lingayen from cockpit on short final, Nov 2004)
If there are trees beside the runway, the crosswinds churn over the treetops and become roiling whirlpools that change direction unpredictably. This is windshear, which can rock you away from the runway just when you want the airplane to be at its steadiest. Crosswinds are tricky enough, but crosswinds over trees….
Carlo called me on his cellphone when he was on the ground at Lingayen. (Isn’t the 21st century amazing? Carlo dials my number from an airstrip in Lingayen and puts a call through to a telephone in my pocket in California.)
He had landed at Lingayen. Actually, he didn’t notice the wind much, he said. What he did notice was the flock of sheep that had wandered onto the runway right after he had touched down. He said the sheep looked lost.
But he had stopped the airplane in time. Now he was off for San Fernando, La Union. I didn’t get to say much on the phone. I was trying to remember if I had ever seen sheep at Lingayen, during my student days. (Later, I looked back on my old pictures of my own cross-country flights to Lingayen, and guess what? I had a picture of the sheep. So much for my dire warnings of the perils at Lingayen. Crosswind, heck. Sheep!)
I wished him luck on the 40-minute flight to La Union.
He called me again just 10 minutes later. Huh?
He was back on the ground at Lingayen. The oil temperature gauge had fluctuated and then pegged to the right as he climbed out. Carlo had made an instant decision to fly quickly around the airport landing pattern and land. In the crosswind. And windshear. Among the lost sheep.
He had already called Omni Aviation. The gauge had been fluctuating for day or two, but the engine had checked out fine. They advised him to continue the flight.
He wanted my opinion.
I said this was his call. He was Pilot in Command. (Actually he was Pilot Home Alone). If he continued, he should double-check the oil dipstick. Should be over 5 quarts and not bubbly. Check the exhaust pipe soot. Should be gray, not white. Fly over coastlines, not offshore. Climb at 80 knots or higher for engine cooling, and to fly high so that he could glide farther, just in case he lost the engine.
An hour later he sent me an SMS text message, “Safe at RPUS”. So he did make it to La Union. Then, no more word.
He called me over 2 hours later. He was back at Omni Aviation in Pampanga. No sweat. He had refuelled at La Union, went for a snack via tricycle (another first, taking a tricycle…), and flew the airplane all the way home. Done for the day 😀
Carlo at Omni during early student pilot days, May 2006