Saturday, February 09, 2008

Career High

There are two things I would choose to spend my days doing. One is to be in trial in court, and the other is to be flying. Yesterday I got BOTH.

I'm in the middle of a bench trial in the General District Court of Hampton, Virginia. Hampton is near Norfolk and Virginia Beach in southern Virginia, southeast of Richmond about 80 miles. There's a big naval air station there, but not much else. I've been going there a lot for court proceedings related to a particular client, but never been able to fly. With the trial half over, though, the judge ordered us back at 1pm yesterday so the defendant could finish putting on his witnesses. My choices for getting there included (a) driving 3-5 hours, depending on traffic, (b) driving an hour to Baltimore, waiting an hour and dealing with security, then flying a half hour on a commercial airline, or (c) flying an hour by myself. I chose option (c).

I took the Cardinal, which has quickly become my favorite plane for cross-country travel. It is quiet, economical, roomy, and comfortable. What's more, its autopilot has been re-installed and works great, which removes some of the workload of flying.

I took off about 9:00 for the flight of 140 nautical miles. My route took me east through the VFR corridor south of the Baltimore Class B airspace and north of the DC Flight Restricted Zone, then south along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Threading my way between two restricted areas used for fighter pilot training, I crossed the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers, and headed on into Newport News International Airport.

The weather was mostly overcast, though the clouds were broken in the distance, where sunlight streamed through. I had to stay relatively low, about 2,500 feet above the ground, in order to stay 500 feet beneath the clouds. In this next photo, you can see that the plane was skimming along underneath the cloud cover.

The Cardinal is faster than the Skyhawks I trained in, and with a slight tailwind I averaged about 125-130 knots (145-150 mph) the whole way. With an album by The Great Unknowns streaming from my iPod into my headset, the miles sped by. With the great visibility, I could see the end of the overcast from sixty miles away.

The only glitch..... The radios stopped working, just like when Jodie and I went to Atlantic City. And this time I couldn't get them to work again. Newport News International is in controlled airspace, which meant that I needed to be able to talk to the control tower to land there, so I had a bit of a dilemma. I finally realized that the intercom speaker and handheld microphone still worked, so I used that to talk to the tower and get on the ground.

The day in court was great. The defendant's witnesses were all liars who couldn't keep their own stories straight, and I had a field day. In response to my questions, they got all tangled up and confused trying to make their testimony fit together with any semblance of truth -- it was great! When the day was done, though, I was tired. I hadn't had lunch and I needed a cup of coffee. By the time I grabbed a sandwich and a cup, it was getting dark.

Using the speaker and handheld microphone, I talked to the tower and took off into the twilight. The roar of the engine filled my head without my headset to muffle the sound. The sun had already set, but in the fading light I could see a fleet of Navy ships at anchor in Norfolk Bay. The sky was completely clear, with not a cloud anywhere in sight. I could see the entire moon, though only a sliver was illuminated. I leveled off and set the autopilot to take me to the first waypoint. On a whim, I reset the circuit breaker on the radios, and it stayed in! I put my headset on and enjoyed the relative silence.

The lights of houses, businesses, and cars winked below as I sped north. I monitored the Cardinal's engine gauges to maintain the best air/fuel mixture and watched our progress on the GPS. As I approached Annapolis, I descended to duck into the VFR corridor and turned west toward Gaithersburg. At night the ground seems much closer than it is, and just 1,300 feet above the ground it felt like I was skimming the tops of trees and buildings. At 125 knots (almost 145 mph), buildings and roads seemed to fly past and it was not long before I turned into the traffic pattern at Gaithersburg. The wind on the ground was calm, but there was a wind aloft that threw me off on my first approach, so I circled to try again and the Cardinal and I settled to the runway.

It was after 5pm when I got out of court. A sandwich, cup of coffee, and 140 NM later, and I was on the ground, minutes from home, at 7:30. What a great day!


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