Fly Girl in Training: The ultimate long cross country- Flying to Oshkosh!

The Cessna 182 tied down in Custer, South Dakota. On the first day of
my long cross country to Oshkosh, I figured out that South Dakota is
my 43rd state! Only need to visit the Eastern Seaboard to get all 50. FYI-
13 things you must know about EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh

“I’m doing pretty good, aren’t I?”

No sooner do I say the words then does the Cessna 182 drop out and we sink 500 feet in a heartbeat. As I bounce in a big late afternoon down draft, stomach now in my throat, adrenaline pumping, I tell myself: “It’s just like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s just like a roller coaster.” Only in the sky. Over hostile terrain! Next to the Grand-freaking-Tetons.

The good news? We are headed to aviation Disneyland, aka EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. And high mountains are just part of the fun of traveling from California to Osh.

With Mr. T’s guidance (and his rocking planning spreadsheet), I crafted a detailed flight plan for our east-bound trip from Sacramento to Custer, South Dakota, then from Custer to Chillicothe, Missouri, and finally from Chillicothe to Oshkosh.

Rocking what T calls my new “bumble bee” glasses. I admit feeling tons
of nerves flying high over the mountains. All of my flight lessons have
been at low altitude during smooth conditions. This turbulence business?
Nerve wracking!

All of this without the aid of a GPS, by the way. Yours truly is learning how to navigate with radio navigation and dead reckoning. That means using radio frequencies, sectional charts and visual landmarks–aka looking at the ground!–to figure out our course. All of that plus climbing and descending to/from high altitudes, finding and landing at new airports, and managing the engine, altitude, and fuel flow (more or less).

If these tasks sound busy, believe me they are to a brand-new student pilot. The learning curve is extraordinary and I feel exhausted from all of the thinking (not to mention the rigors of late afternoon flying over high country, hello turbulence!).

But with T’s help, I’ve had a number of insights:

Me and T. Flew 12.8  hours in the last two days and most of
them have been filled with instruction about navigation and engine
management. Believe me, even two months ago I wouldn’t have thought
I’d ever find those topics interesting. Becoming a pilot warps
the brain I guess.


  • When you get a student pilot’s license, it doesn’t come with magically larger bladder. (Bummer.)
  • Holy crap, density altitude is real!
  • Auto-pilot is my friend.
  • Headwinds are bull$*%!
  • Tailwinds are manna from heaven.
  • No matter how different an airport may look, no matter how tall the trees or high the nearby mountains, flying in and out is fundamentally the same. (Read: Don’t freak out; keep flying flying the plane )
  • Planes operate differently at high altitudes.
  • Trying to fly straight and level over the mountains is a fool’s errand.
  • Death grips don’t make down drafts or up drafts any easier.
  • Just a few degrees off course can make a huge difference in where you end up.
  • Big rivers make marvelous ground references.
  • Flying is almost as much fun as the destination.
Well that’s the news for now. Turns out 13 hours of flying in two days is exhausting so without shame, I’ll be hitting the sack before 10 for the second day in a row.
Tomorrow we’re headed to Oshkosh. We me luck arriving and landing on the appropriate dot! (More on that later, for sure.)

More photos, of course!

Early morning cruising by Lake Tahoe. This is give or take 25 minutes outside of Sacramento and I already needed
to pee. Meanwhile, 2.75 hours later we landed!
Flying over the Grand Tetons was more spectacular than terrifying, I swear. Although the turbulence and high surrounding peaks did get my blood pumping, I flew with a sense of awe. Such majesty!
It surprised me how much the terrain of South Dakota fluctuated. My favorite parts? The green belts and dense trees.
Turbulence face.
Flew by the in-progress Crazy Horse sculpture.
Mount Rushmore!! I squealed to see those faces as we flew by.
160 knots in the 182, God bless the tailwinds.
South Dakota Badlands by air.
Flying over the Missouri River. It made an excellent ground reference as we navigated via dead reckoning. Following the curves of the river as compared to the highways and towns helped me figure out where the heck we were. Some of the time anyway! I’m hoping navigation comes more naturally by the time we get home next weekend.

Fly Girl in Training

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