No Toys Allowed
It was my first solo cross-country flight, from the John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA) to Ramona, Calif. (RNM). The objective was to use pilotage and dead reckoning, so my instructor admonished, Remember: No toys like GPS allowed, before endorsing my logbook.
But, using my visual checkpoints and timing them, everything was going according to plan. On my third leg of the flight, the wind must have shifted, though, because I couldnt find my next checkpoint.
I knew better-even then-and should have executed a lost procedure. I thought it would take only a few more minutes of looking around before I find something familiar. But the next thing I knew, SoCal Approach transitioned me to a tower frequency and there is a very big airport in front of me.
I thought to myself, Ramona got really big. I looked at my chart and realized it was what is now the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, of Top Gun fame.
Instead, I changed to the Ramona tower frequency. Ramona tower, Cessna 12345, five miles out and I dont have the field in site. Can I get a vector?
Without approach radar, they declined the opportunity to save me, but recommended going back to SoCal Approach and asking them.
Of course, the Tracon controller was ready and waiting, since they were sure that I would be coming back soon to ask for help.
At this point, I was in a 360-degree turn, still trying to figure out exactly where I was and how I was going to get home. Shortly, SoCal vectored me and I found the airport.
Upon landing the tower asked me to call a phone number, saying ATC wanted to talk to me. With some trepidation, I called, but they were great and told me that I did right by circling and asking for help. They just wished I would have asked sooner.
The moral? Dont leave Big Brothers watchful embrace until you really have the field in sight. When in doubt, use your lost procedure immediately. Dont forget to ask ATC for help.