October 27th, 2014
Total Hours: 92.2
I had another great cross-country experience at the end of the week. This time we flew from Kona to Lanai, across to Maui, and back to Kona. Like my first long cross-country flight this one was rewarding and filled with new experiences. Our flight was once again to fulfill requirements for the commercial certificate. It is necessary to do a cross-country with at least 50nm straight-line distance and three stops. We could accomplish that here on the Big Island, but to make things more interesting we decided to fly over to Maui.
The plan was to leave Kona and fly more or less direct to Hana, a small airport on the north shore of Maui, then follow the coast to Kahului, Maui’s main airport, to refuel, and then continue around the west side of the island. From the west side we wanted to make a short hop over to Lanai, check out the north shore there, and then continue back home to Kona. I made my cross-country plans and looked at the weather, which again included some questionable conditions. The problem is that the northern and eastern shores of many of the islands get a lot of clouds and precipitation because of the trade winds. There was a forecast for rain showers and clouds on the north side of Maui for the morning hours and I knew we would have to wait and see how things looked.
As we flew north from Kona we could see the sheets of rain coming down over the channel. In fact we couldn’t see much of Maui at all. As we reached the northern tip of the Big Island it became apparent that flying directly to Maui definitely wasn’t going to work. Time for a change of plans! After a quick look at the options we decided to fly the reverse of what I had planned so it was easy to accommodate the change. We were almost directly east of Lanai at that point so we made a left turn and skirted the showers as we headed west. While flying over open water isn’t necessarily the most interesting thing it became a very beautiful flight as the early morning sun shone through the sheets of rain creating some spectacular rainbows. The best one almost made a complete circle around the cockpit. The bottoms of the clouds were very close to our altitude and I enjoyed weaving around their wispy shapes.
On the way to Lanai we passed Kaho’ Olawe which is an off limits island just off the coast of Maui. Apparently it was the subject of a lot of munitions testing before being given back to the people of Hawaii. We wanted to give it a closer look but were informed by ATC that the minimum safe altitude was about 2,000’ higher than the highest point on the island. No mention of that on the charts and still no real clue why, conspiracies I guess. Not long after we reached the Lanai airport. Lanai is one of the smallest islands in the chain and sparsely populated. The airport was fittingly simple with no tower and just a single strip near the main town. We made an approach and landing and then headed for the north shore. The north shore of Lanai is basically deserted. There were a number of pretty beaches and a ton of odd things washed up all over the place. There must be something about the currents in the area because we saw lots of driftwood along with a few small sailboats and the remnants of what I think were shipping containers. There are two prominent shipwrecks along the north coast and we took extra time to check those out. It was a lot of fun exploring the empty coast of the island.
From Lanai the flight across the channel didn’t take long and we were soon skirting the west end of Maui toward its north shore. The airspace around Kahului is expansive and before long we were being directed by their ATC. Landing at a new airport can be a little intimidating. Getting directions from ATC can be tricky as every airport has its local landmarks and the charts don’t always give us all the information we’d like. There may be local names for sections of the airport as well. It can be hard not to worry about messing things up, but I continue to learn that the controllers are just people too and if you pay attention, read back your instructions, and ask questions when in doubt there is nothing to fear. Adding to the intimidation was the fact that Kahului is the busiest airport I’ve flown to and there was a lot of traffic on the radio. Of course this is relative and I can just imagine what Honolulu will be like!
After we fueled up we headed back along the north shore working our way east. Along the north side of Maui there are a lot of beautiful green landscapes and waterfalls. We explored a couple of small valleys, not quite like the ones in the Kohala Mountains, but very nice all the same. Our final stop in Maui was at the Hana airport, our intended first stop, on the northeastern edge of the island. From there we followed the coast just a bit further before picking a direct line back across the channel to the Big Island. Since we had time and were out and about already we stopped at Upolu and then worked our way east along the Kohala Mountains before finally climbing up into Waimea. Because of the early morning rain the waterfalls were particularly nice outside the valleys. From Waimea it was a quick leg back home to Kona. We covered a lot of new ground on the trip and these experiences continue to build my confidence.
I am now about 60 hours away from having enough time to qualify for my commercial certificate. This will be followed fairly quickly by the CFI certificate. With these remaining hours I imagine that I will be back to practicing maneuvers on the airfield once again. The interesting thing is that I am kind of craving the maneuvers training. Training maneuvers is an intense experience, primarily because they are hard to perfect, but also because there is constant critique. While I know that the critiques are necessary for improvement it is hard to be corrected constantly. All the cross-country and fun flying has provided a platform to simply fly, without the endless corrections and attention to detail that comes with maneuvers. But after my break I am ready to tackle those maneuvers once again!