Monday, September 1, 2008

New Orleans - Baton Rouge / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

This flight didn't turn out so well. It was a simple daytime VFR flight in my clunky Cessna 182, only about 70 nm. Unfortunately I still managed to get lost.

The departure went like clockwork. New Orleans was crowded. It took a while for me to get my clearance into the Bravo and taxi instructions, and then I waited a while to cross the active runway, and was directed to follow an airliner to the threshold of runway 28. Everything went smoothly. My route was direct RQR and then RQR321 for 30 nm, at which point I'd turn roughly to heading 220 to make my way to Baton Rouge for about 7 nm.

The problems started as I approached the Class C airspace of KBTR. I contacted ATC as I closed in on the Charlie airspace, but the controller seemed surprised by my call (I don't know why—as a VFR flight I'm required to contact him before I enter the Class C). He was chatting and goofing off a lot on frequency, which didn't inspire me with confidence. This also distracted me, and I lost my situational awareness, which is a bad thing.

I continued on roughly 220, weaving back and forth, looking for KBTR. I kept glancing at my TAC, when I could, to try to find the airport. The chart showed it being near a sharp bend in the Mississippi River. What I didn't know or notice is that there are zillions of sharp bends in the river, and the one I thought was the bend I saw on the chart was in fact downriver from the one on the chart. I searched and searched for the airport, but couldn't find it. Finally I saw runway lights a few miles away, and although the airport looked smaller than it was on the chart, I didn't see any other airport, and it seemed to be in the right place. By the time I got down and aligned with the field, I knew it wasn't Baton Rouge, or anywhere near it, but I figured I'd cut my losses and land, rather than wander around for another hour looking for the right airport.

Landing was without incident, apart from me fuming over my incompetence. After landing I looked at the GPS, and found that I was at Louisiana Regional Airport (L38). Grr.

Why didn't I use the GPS from the start, you ask? Because I normally reserve the Cessna 182 for pilotage and simple navigation, which means eschewing the moving-map navigation of the GPS. Just VORs or NDBs and looking out the window. But I didn't know the area, and I didn't look closely enough, and I ended up in the wrong place. Louisiana Regional is about 25 nm southeast of Baton Rouge.

I must learn not to be so careless. Next time there might not be another handy airport at which to land.