Monday, March 31, 2008

One Year: A Retrospective

The one year anniversary of my pilot's license just snuck by me! March 21st (of last year) was the date I passed my checkride. On March 22nd of this year, I celebrated (without knowing it) by taking Ryan and Rachael and Jodie flying down to Winchester. More on that, and my own version of March Madness, below. First, a few statistics from my first year as a pilot:
  • I flew 61.8 hours, 9.6 of which were at night.
  • 37.8 hours were cross-country flights (i.e., distances of more than 50 NM), and 14.8 of those cross-country hours were by myself.
  • I made 75 landings (59 during the day, 16 at night)
  • I carried 16 passengers (plus my dawg).
  • I visited 16 new airports.
  • Jodie flew with me for 14.3 hours, nearly a quarter of my flying time!
  • I've flown on 3 business trips, 4 overnight trips, and 2 weekends away with Jodie.
  • As an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor, two of my mentees have soloed and are on track to become pilots this summer.
My old friend Ryan and I shared a love of motorcycles when we were younger, so it was only natural that he would have had the same life-long love of airplanes that I've had. It took a year, but he and I finally went flying this month when he and Rachael came to visit. The four of us set out to go to Luray Airport, where we were going to take a shuttle to Luray Caverns. The weather was iffy, and we almost didn't go, but after hanging around the airport cafe at Gaithersburg, the weather reports were finally showing that we could make it. Cloud ceilings were about 2,500 feet above the ground over most of the area and we could stay in valleys all the way to Luray. Although Luray is among the mountains, we didn't have to cross any big mountains to get there.

There were scattered showers and temperatures aloft were just above freezing, but it was warm and dry in the plane and our flight toward Luray was smooth. We flew over Harper's Ferry, then headed southwest down the Shenandoah Valley. The visibility was poor. When we were several miles south of Winchester, Ryan and I looked ahead and saw an opaque gray sheet a few miles ahead -- it looked like a wall of slate, running from the clouds all the way to the ground. It could have been rain, snow or who knows, but there was no way I was going to fly into it. With muttered apologies, I banked us into a u-turn and we landed at Winchester to see what there was to see.

A half hour later the four of us were spread out inside a huge Crown Victoria ramp car, a former police car that the FBO let us borrow to look around Winchester. We saw a dirt oval track with cars racing on it and walked around a cobblestoned downtown, then returned to the airport for our flight home. There was a gusting crosswind on takeoff, but once aloft, the flight was smooth. Ryan took the controls (his first time) and flew us all the way into the traffic pattern at Gaithersburg. He's a natural. Although I wished for better weather and more time to fly with Ryan, it was a fitting end to my first year as a pilot to be flying with him.

On landing, Ryan and Rachael both endorsed my logbook:

Amazing to see and experience Greg's technical competency. Thanks for a very cool time. Love to do it again. Great to see you doing something you so obviously love. ~Ryan
Greg, thank you so much for the wonderful opportunity of experiencing beauty from a different perspective. :-) What a treat!! You are an excellent, highly skilled pilot. We had a fabulous time!!! Best of wishes as you continue your aviation endeavors. ~Rachael
Ryan, natural born pilot....

One thing I didn't do during my first year was spend a lot of time practicing landings. My landings are generally good, and I have frequent "greasers," where you almost don't feel the touchdown, but I haven't spent time just practicing. My flights usually have one landing at the end of each flight. To illustrate -- I noted above that I made 75 landings during the 61.8 hours of my first year as a pilot. Well, in the one year before I got my license, when I was a student pilot, I made 148 landings in only 51.4 hours.

So on Saturday I went and practiced landings. I flew the old routes from my time as a student pilot -- to Frederick, then to Carroll County, then home. I made several landings at Carroll County, and it was very good practice.

Sunday was also a treat, as I went and flew with an attorney from my firm who is also a pilot. He flies a Cirrus SR20, which I cannot wait to fly someday. His plane has been in the shop for a couple months following some damage from a metal hook that was lying around on the ground at the airport and got picked up by his propeller, so he hasn't been able to fly. We have been talking for months about going flying together, so this morning I flew across the Chesapeake Bay to Easton, picked him up, then we flew down to Cambridge for breakfast. We had a good time. Jeff is an excellent pilot. He took the controls for a while and had the feel of the Cardinal within a minute or two as he drew circles in the air. After breakfast, he offered to show me Ridgely Airpark in Ridgely, Maryland, so we flew up there. I did a couple landings at Ridgely for the practice of it, then I flew him back to Easton and headed west toward home.

On my way home I did the following:

From this graphic, you might draw the conclusion that I was flying in circles over a large body of water. It's true. It took a while for air traffic control to recognize my transponder, and I couldn't proceed home until they did see it. It was a waste of gas and time, but at least the Chesapeake Bay was gorgeous. I practiced holding my altitude exactly and enjoyed feeling the burble of my own wake as I circled through it each time.

March Madness. I flew 3.5 hours Sunday, for a total of 16.5 in the month of March. That's a lot of flying, and it included a business trip, a weekend away with Jodie, and a lot of good flying with friends, all in one month. This is what it's all about, and I'm really looking forward to the year to come.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Running Just to Run

Two weeks ago, Jodie and I demonstrated the utility of flying on a trip down to Virginia Beach. Jodie is a runner. For the last few years, she and a friend who also enjoys running have moved from job to job together. This year, Jodie, Meg, and Nick, Meg's husband, decided to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) together in Virginia Beach on St. Patrick's Day weekend.

Virginia Beach is southeast of Hampton, where I've driven and flown to recently for work. The closest airport is Norfolk International Airport, which is serviced by Southwest Airlines, Continental, and several others.

Jodie and I took the Cardinal, while Nick and Meg drove. Our time in the air was about an hour and ten minutes. It was beautiful. The sun was shining and there were little puffs of clouds that we dodged. It was so peaceful that Jodie fell asleep. Or maybe it was just the thinner air at altitude....? (Just kidding!)

We landed ahead of a Southwest 737. While we taxied the plane to parking, we called for a . . . taxi. Jodie and I arrived at the hotel, had some lunch, and waited for Nick and Meg to arrive. They had begun the drive earlier in the day, but traffic made their trip about five hours long. Ugh. I've made that same drive with similar problems, so I can sympathize.

Jodie ran the race early Sunday morning and finished with a great time of 1 hour, 52 minutes, 12 seconds, her personal best so far.

We had lunch with Nick and Meg, got a late checkout, and were dropped at the airport around 1pm. The morning had been cold, rainy, and windy. While the rain had gone away, it was still windy and the clouds were low, so Jodie and I sat around in the plush leather pilot's lounge and waited for the clouds to lift as forecast.

We took off around 3 and headed north, taking note of the naval base and aircraft carriers off our left.

A stiff headwind increased as we headed north. About halfway home, there was a sudden jolt of turbulence. Between there and home, the ride was bumpy. The lack of a smooth ride didn't prevent us from picking out beautiful places to live along the Chesapeake Bay, though.

When we got close to Gaithersburg, I listened to the weather report. The first time I listened, the winds were variable from 320 to 020 at 21 knots gusting to 28 knots. I entered a 45-degree track to join the downwind for Runway 32. The airplane's crab angle was extreme, and while the airspeed showed 110 knots, our groundspeed was only about 85 knots. I listened to the weather again, and the wind was reported as being from 350 at 18 knots, gusting to 28 knots.

When we lined up on final approach, it seemed to take us forever to get close to the runway because the headwind was so strong. I told Jodie that we might have to go around and approach the runway a couple times before I was comfortable landing, which seemed to make her a little nervous. Fortunately, though, the first approach worked beautifully and we landed gently.

With the headwind, our flight time was about an hour and 40 minutes. We found out later that Nick and Meg had hit traffic again and it had taken them more than five hours to get home.

Overall, it was a great, fun trip, and Jodie definitely succeeded at her run. I'm really looking forward to our next weekend away. Here's a little video summary:


Monday, March 03, 2008

Pinch me....

I lay in bed Sunday night and wondered if I was dreaming.

Jodie and I had good reason to go to Knoxville this past weekend. But airfare was prohibitively expensive, so we thought we might fly. We drove to the airport on Saturday morning, but the weather was just not good for flying. Our route to Knoxville would take us along a mountain range for most of the 400 NM trip, and the winds were howling over those ridges at over 50 knots. Strong winds over mountain ridges cause things such as mountain waves and horizontal rotors that can make flying a small plane extremely uncomfortable. At the airport, I stuck my head into the office of a good flying mentor to confirm my judgment. That done, Jodie and I had breakfast and drove home.

Sunday was forecast to be beautiful, and so it was. Around early afternoon, Jodie and I decided to go fly somewhere for lunch. Recalling that my flying club had planned to go to an airstrip called Sky Bryce for a club trip, I confirmed the restaurant was open and we headed to the airport.

Jodie helped get the plane ready while I performed the preflight inspection, then occupied herself by taking many photographs of me performing my duties.

We took off into the gorgeous blue sky and headed southwest.

The visibility was excellent and we oohed and aahed as we made our way into the mountains. We saw this great series of bends in a river and took a picture. Later at the restaurant, we saw a photograph of this same piece of river, with the title, "The Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River."

We were both having a great time and the air was so smooth, it felt like we were just hanging suspended in the Cardinal.

Our first destination was the Sky Bryce airport in Bayse, Virginia. Sky Bryce is a small airstrip. It's not as short as Clearview, but it's only about half the length of Gaithersburg and narrower by 25 feet. More importantly, it is nestled in a small valley, up against higher ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I tried to find a good photo or graphic to show how sheltered the airstrip is, but couldn't find a good one. This computer rendering from my flight planning software is the best I could do.

I had overheard an experienced pilot and instructor say that when flying into Sky Bryce, if you're not looking in someone's bedroom window on final approach, then you're too high. I found that to be exactly true. I approached from the east, and decided to overfly the airport to take a look at the runway, and the windsock in particular. The windsock was barely moving, so I circled around to land. You can't see the airstrip until you're almost on top of it, so I didn't start descending early enough. By the time I saw the airstrip, I was too high. I used all the tricks in my book to get the plane down, but then I had too much airspeed. The plane still wanted to fly when we were halfway down the runway, so I pushed in the throttle and pointed the nose at the sky and we climbed back up for another attempt.

This time around, I knew when to start descending and kept my airspeed nailed the whole way down. Final approach is a little funny, because you have to round a bend in the valley as you're descending, with trees on both sides. As we came around the last bend, I saw a house pass by Jodie's window on the right. I could see in someone's bedroom, so I knew I had the landing nailed!

And I did. It was a great, smooth, short-field landing and the plane was nearly stopped within a third of the runway.

We strolled across the parking lot to the ski lodge. Ski lodge? Oh, yes, I didn't mention that Sky Bryce is a ski resort, hence the mountains, etc. There's also a golf course and other amenities. We had a good lunch at the lodge, watching spring skiers come down the slopes. The little kids were our favorites. After splitting a slice of pecan pie and two cups of coffee, we headed back to the plane. I suggested we stop at an airport in Luray, Virginia, for some gas, and Jodie readily agreed.

We took off from Sky Bryce (being careful NOT to peep in anyone's windows) and headed over the mountains to Luray. The straight-line distance on a map is only about 18 miles, but there are two mountain ridgelines with a valley in between in those 18 miles. It was gorgeous. From Sky Bryce on the west of a ridge to Luray on the east side of another ridge, we popped up to 4,000 feet then circled back down to land.

Luray, Virginia, is home to Luray Caverns. I have never been to the caverns. As for Jodie and me on Sunday, it was about 5 p.m., too late to go to the caverns, so we had the plane fueled and I chatted with the nice people while Jodie lay back in the grass and soaked up the sunshine. We were completely relaxed. Luray was quiet and quaint, with planes tied down in tall grass and the mountains rising up above it to the west. Nothing seemed to be in a hurry, and us least of all.

We waved to the one other pilot who was there as he lifted off the runway to fly home, then got back in the Cardinal to head home ourselves. We followed a line of mountains northeast toward Leesburg, Virginia, before turning east to Gaithersburg. The late sun cast long shadows in the valleys and I wondered aloud to Jodie if people in the valleys considered it to be nighttime.

Even as we were still flying, I think we both appreciated what a special day we had experienced. The setting sun at our tail as we approached Gaithersburg made us smile, so I grabbed the camera to catch the moment.

We flew into the traffic pattern at Gaithersburg and joined the downwind leg for Runway 32. As we turned base and final, the sun set in one final, brilliant blaze and we glided down to land without even a bump. Jodie helped me secure the airplane and we drove home.

Lying in bed Sunday night, I stared at the ceiling in stunned reverie. Did that day really happen? Were Jodie and I really soaring serenely above the mountains and fields of Virginia? In our days of constant striving for one thing or another, did we really spend one day completely in love with each other and the exact thing we were doing at that exact moment? Was I dreaming?

I wasn't dreaming. It was just the magic of flying. Jodie got it on video.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Overnight With Jodie!

I haven't flown much in the last couple months. In fact, I've been flying so infrequently that I came within two weeks of being "non-current," which would mean that I couldn't legally carry passengers without doing some practice takeoffs and landings by myself.

However, my sister, Chloe, came for a few days in January and we went for a nice flight across the bay to Easton. We tried to take a couple pictures, but they didn't come out because it was dark by the time we remembered to try and take them. We had a great time, though, and Chloe told me one impression she had: "It's smoother than riding in a car!" I think she's right, and I was glad her flight was longer than the last time I took her up.

Then this past weekend marked a significant "first" for my flying life. Some former clients, who have become friends, invited Jodie and me to go to Atlantic City with them for the weekend. Jodie and I are not gamblers, but we'd never been to Atlantic City and thought it could be fun to go. So we both marked our calendars with an appointment titled "Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City," and planned our weekend away. ("Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City" is the name of a song by one of our favorite artists.)

The drive to Atlantic City would be about 3 1/2 hours, but the weather was perfect, so we took the Cardinal on our first overnight trip together. When we arrived at the airport, Jodie was helpful and curious about everything I was doing as I preflighted the airplane. After I completed the preflight inspection and we were seated in the plane, though, we realized that the seat in the Cardinal is too low for her to see anything over the instrument panel. My emergency/first aid kit added a perfect six inches to her seat height and was sufficiently comfortable for the whole trip.

The air was smooth all the way to Atlantic City and we had a 30-knot tailwind. We flew across the Chesapeake Bay and over the Bay Bridge. Coincidentally, my flight instructor Rich and a friend were landing in Three Five Romeo at Bay Bridge Airport (W29) as Jodie and I flew over.

The land east of the Chesapeake Bay is beautiful. It is mostly low, flat, marshy farmlands all the way to the Delaware Bay. Our route took us from Maryland, across Delaware, into New Jersey and just thirty miles from Philadelphia. Jodie held the controls for a while and practiced keeping the plane straight and level, and did a great job. We made remarkable time. Our airspeed was about 120 knots, but with the tailwind, we were doing about 145-150 knots across the ground --about 160-175 miles per hour!!!

As we approached Atlantic City, I listened to the weather report. Everything was fine except that the wind was 10 knots gusting to 21 knots. That's about 12 mph gusting to 24 mph, and it was blowing across the runway. Cross-wind technique is something we learn and practice before getting a pilot's license, so I wasn't worried. Everything worked out perfectly until we were just a foot or so above the ground and about to touch down. Then a gust pushed us toward the side of the runway. If we'd been in a taildragger, it would have been a recipe for a ground loop, but we touched down safely.

I called on the radio and asked the FBO to call a taxi for us. As we taxied up in the plane, a van with a flashing yellow light pulled out with a "Follow Me" sign on the back. We followed it until it stopped and the driver got out to direct us into parking position. He loaded us and our suitcase into the van and drove us the short 100 yards to the building. We helped ourselves to a complimentary cup of coffee, then climbed into the luxurious car that arrived for the ride to the Tropicana. As we rode to the hotel, Jodie gushed: "You have GOT to get a plane!" I asked her if she was referring to the ownership share in a Mooney that I had been considering, and she responded, "I don't care. That plane, any plane, but you have GOT to get a plane!"

We enjoyed seeing our friends and meeting their other friends, but the gambling scene just isn't our cup of tea. The highlight for me was when Jodie told me that she would be interested in learning to fly, but only if I could teach her. I was grinning ear to ear. We went to bed relatively early and watched a movie in our hotel room. I woke up well rested and ready to fly back. Unfortunately, Jodie woke up with food poisoning and/or the flu and it was so foggy, we couldn't see more than a quarter mile out of our hotel room window. The weather was forecast to clear, however, and by noon the sky was blue. Jodie was still not feeling well, but we got a taxi and went to the airport where the Cardinal was fueled and waiting for us. Jodie climbed in and fell asleep while I did the preflight inspection, taxied, and took off.

The flight back was uneventful. It took a bit longer than our flight out because we had a 15-knot headwind instead of the 30-knot tailwind, but it was mostly smooth until the last few miles. The only excitement was when we lost radio communications with ATC. I switched headphones and radios to troubleshoot the problem, and finally found a circuit breaker that had popped. I reset the breaker and everything was fine. Then it popped again a while later, but I reset it once again and there were no more problems. Our landing at Gaithersburg was one of my best ever, one of those landings where you don't even feel the touchdown.

So all in all, it was a great flying trip. I'm shopping for an affordable airplane and calculating how long it will be before I can be certified as an instructor -- at least two years, I think. What a great weekend!


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beautiful Day

Jodie and I went for a short flight yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful day -- there wasn't a single cloud in the sky for most of the day, the air lacked much of the usual haze, and the winds were light. Jodie hadn't been across the Chesapeake Bay before, so we headed out that way, I did a touch and go at Easton, and we flew back for a beautiful sunset landing.

The whole flight was just gorgeous. This picture (the only one I took) is looking out Jodie's window. The water is the Chesapeake Bay, looking southwest. The Chesapeake opens to the Atlantic to the south.

It was one of those flights that really drives home how much of a privilege it is to be able to fly, at will, and to gain that vantage point . . . kind of like box seating for nature's beauty.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Jodie and I went to Paris. There was much more to this trip than aviation, but there were some cool airplane-related highlights. For starters, the flight to Paris was beautiful in ways that can only be seen from the air. As our flight path arced northeast, the sun set to the west over an overcast below us, with just a few towering cumulonimbus in the distance.

One of the things I wanted to do in Paris was go to the French national air & space museum. We went on Monday, but it was closed, as it is every Monday.

The next day, we went to the Louvre, and discovered that the Louvre was closed, as it is every Tuesday. So we went back to the Air & Space Museum.

The French have been involved in aviation from the very early days, and this museum had some incredibly rickety examples of early flying machines. Jodie commented that she was impressed with how much those early aviation pioneers must have wanted to fly to put themselves at risk in such rickety crates.

I think she compares us all to Icarus. There was a nice collection of aviation art - paintings and sculptures all depicting flight in one form or another.

The museum had two Concordes. Known as the "SST" for Super Sonic Transport, the Concorde was the only supersonic commercial jet to ever fly commercially to the United States, and was one of only two ever in service, the other being a Russian Tupolev. The museum had two Concordes, and we could go through them. To me, the inside felt like a very tight regional jet. These jets were unique in many ways, all of which can be read about on Wikipedia. The Concorde flew routes from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and Heathrow in London to Dulles in Washington, DC. I remember the last flight of the Concorde to Dulles in 2003. The plane that made that last flight is in the (US) Air & Space Museum Annex at Dulles.

Antoine de St. Exupery is a big name in aviation literature. He was a pioneer in many ways, and was involved in flying the early mail flights to and from French colonies in Africa and South America. He was a thoughtful person, and his work is worth reading. He died after being shot down off the coast of France in World War II. The museum had an entire section devoted to him.

Perhaps my favorite part of the museum was the section devoted to experimental aviation. The things that people have tried to fly just blows my mind. This one, with its super-narrow wing, for example:

This next one is amazing. The entire body of the plane is one big jet engine. The pilot sits in a plexiglass cone in the front!

It was kind of like aviation overload, if there could ever be such a thing.

Jodie was a great sport, and enjoyed herself despite not being infected with the aviation virus.

As for me, well, I was happy to the point of silliness....


Monday, October 08, 2007

A Winged Dinner Date

Jodie and I went on a date last night. We had a few things to celebrate -- her first week in a new job, her upcoming birthday, etc. There are several airport restaurants around the area that I've been meaning to visit: there's one at the airport in Lancaster, PA, and the crabcakes at Kentmorr on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay are legendary. A little while ago I saw a comment online that the restaurant at the airport near Cumberland, Maryland (actually in West Virginia), was also good. Jodie and I had been looking for the right time for me to take her flying, and the promise of dinner at the other end of the flight was exactly the incentive I needed to get her in the plane.

Our departure was delayed by stuff we were doing during the day, so we didn't take off until about 6pm. Sunset was about 6:45, so we had a beautiful flight to Cumberland in the late-day sunshine. Jodie was nervous. I did my best to reassure her, and plugged my iPod into her headset so she could listen to her favorite music. I took her over Sugarloaf Mountain, where she and I have hiked a dozen times, then we followed the Potomac River up to Harper's Ferry before heading on a direct line for Cumberland.

It was very gratifying to hear Jodie "ooh" and "aah" over the different things we saw. I've been talking for two years about how beautiful it is in a small plane, so I was very happy to finally be sharing it with her. I think it was about the time we were over Sugarloaf that she asked, "So, could we fly down to Knoxville for Christmas?" I tried to act nonchalant, but I was grinning all over myself at the idea.....

For a lot of the trip, Jodie was listening to the music, nodding her head and tapping her fingers and mouthing lyrics.... When I made radio calls, though, she could hear them over the music. After one of my radio calls, Jodie looked over and said, "You sound just like a pilot!" There I was, grinning all over myself again.

The air was smooth and there was almost no wind. I started a gentle descent several miles out from Cumberland and flew over the last ridge to join the traffic pattern. The day was fading, but there was plenty of light to see the little town as we circled for a landing. My landing was great, and we taxied, parked, then walked over to the restaurant for a home-style meal.

It was fully dark when we left to head home. The day had been hazy, and I could only pick out one bright star overhead. There was no moon. Cumberland sits in a valley and is pretty well surrounded by mountain ridges. As we took off, I could not see the ridges very well, so I circled over the lights of Cumberland until we were well above the surrounding ridges, then headed us on our way.

There's a stretch of rural country between Cumberland and Gaithersburg where there are NO lights on the ground, and it was DARK. There was no visible horizon ahead, which was a little unnerving. I was flying Three Zero Yankee Romeo (N30YR), which is a newer Cessna Skyhawk with a single-axis autopilot. I dialed in our heading and turned on the autopilot, letting the autopilot keep us flying straight while I divided my attention between the various instruments and the blackness outside the window. I was grateful for the instrument training I've received to date, and made a mental note to get back to finish my instrument rating. For the first time, I also experienced how an autopilot can significantly reduce the workload on a pilot. If I ever buy an airplane, it will have to have at least a single-axis autopilot.

Before long the lights of Martinsburg appeared, then Frederick to our left and Dulles to our right. I descended under the shelf of the Dulles airspace and approached Gaithersburg , then circled to join the pattern and land. I let the plane touch down just a little early and we bounced slightly. I said something about a "bad landing," and Jodie said, "Is that as bad as it gets? If so, then I've got NO problem!"

That made me realize how high our standards for landings are as pilots. If another pilot had been in the plane, I would have been embarrassed, but it didn't seem like anything unusual to Jodie. Compared to most airline landings, I guess it wasn't....

I think Jodie had a good time despite her nervousness, which she said started to dissipate immediately after takeoff. I had a GREAT time. It was almost exactly two years ago that I took my first flight lesson, and I got my license almost seven months ago. I've been waiting and dreaming of flying somewhere with Jodie for a long time. It was every bit as fun as I expected it would be, and I can't wait for the next time.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Long Cross-Country Accomplished!

Today I flew solo from Gaithersburg to Potomac Airfield in Berkeley Springs, WV, then to Hagerstown in Maryland, then back to Gaithersburg. It was a perfect day to fly, except that when I left the wind was 12 knots, gusting to 17. Surprisingly, there's little to write about this trip. It was beautiful, very clear, with wide open blue skies. The visibility was more than 10 miles -- I could see the airport at Hagerstown from 14 miles, and Gaithersburg from 13+ when I was flying back.

W35 is a tiny airport, with just a runway, no taxiways, no gas or services. The last few miles to the airport are along a river, and the approach to Runway 29 is over the river, with a low ridge to the left. There is also no weather information broadcast from the airport, so when I got to the airport I flew over it to look at the windsock on the ground, then circled out and around to land. I'm pretty happy with the smooth circles of my GPS track and the smooth rollout onto the downwind heading.

The airport is so small there are no taxiways, so if you land and want to take off again, you have to turn around on the runway and taxi back down the runway. An airplane took off as I was approaching the airport, but there was not a soul on the ground, so I called Rich just to let him know I arrived there safely. Then I took off and headed East to Hagerstown. I had to climb up to clear a low mountain ridge, then drop back down, because Hagerstown was only 20 miles away.

When I landed at Hagerstown, I was cleared for a stop and go, so I landed, stopped, then took off again. Then I landed again and taxied to get gas. A lineman waved me in with hand signals, and literally put down a piece of red carpet for me to step onto when I got out of the plane. The lady inside was very friendly and signed my logbook just for fun.

The flight back was uneventful, though even more beautiful with the sun low in the sky. A flock of crows was wheeling around near Sugarloaf Mountain, and I had to turn hard to avoid them. My landing at Gaithersburg was near-perfect, and I was fortunate to have a half dozen witnesses. Jodie was there, because SHE FLEW AGAIN WITH JOHN TODAY! (I think she had fun, too, though I don't know much about it yet.) There were also a couple guys from my flying club there working on a plane, and they saw the landing too. Perhaps the nicest touch was, after I was clear of the runway, a voice came over the radio and said, "Welcome back, Greg." It was Rich, who was there to head out for some instrument training. That, followed by Jodie running up to the plane as I got out to give me a hug -- those two things made a perfect conclusion to the flight.

So today I finished my solo landings at a towered airport, my long solo cross-country, and.... Well, I wasn't in the air long enough to finish all of my solo cross-country time, so I have to do one more solo trip. No problem!

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Places to go....

Jodie finished her Pinchhitter course yesterday morning, and she must have had some fun conversations, because last night she told me there are two airports she wants to fly to. Now, Jodie saying "I want to fly to...." is enough to get my attention at any time of day or night. As it stands, she's still decided that she won't fly with me until I've had my license for a year.

The two airports she wants to fly to are Kentmorr (3W3) and Sky Bryce (VG18). Kentmorr is a small grass strip on Kent Island, in the Chesapeake Bay and just a couple miles south of the Bay Bridge. There was a writeup on it not long ago in one of the aviation magazines I'm subscribed to, and it looks like a neat place, with great crab cake restaurant(s) within walking distance. I do know from looking it up on Google Earth that the approach end of Runway 10 is AT the edge of the Chesapeake, so that should be a fun landing. It's also only 2400 feet long, plenty long for the airplanes I fly, but shorter than I'm used to.

Sky Bryce is in the Virginia mountains and run by a ski resort. It is AT the ski resort, and you can walk from your plane to the lodge. I've heard that it's very cool, and there's been a trip there every year by a contingent from my club.

Neither airport is far away, so these can definitely be fun trips a year or so from now when Jodie starts flying with me. Kentmorr and crabcakes in the summer, Sky Bryce and snowboarding in the winter!


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hey, that's my plane!

Jodie's taking the Pinchhitter course. This is even bigger than the cake she baked me! The thought of flying makes her nervous, but not only is she supporting me in my obsession, she's actually taking the course and a couple hours of dual instruction! She's never even been in a small plane before!

I dropped her off at the CAP trailer where the course is being given and then went to breakfast at the Airport Cafe with a fellow pilot. Two hours later I shivered in the cold outside the door to the trailer, nervous like an expectant father to see her reaction. She came bouncing out of the trailer talking a mile a minute - she had a question about barometric pressure, but "they" said flying's not hard, etc. We went back to the airport cafe with John (my instructor) so they could eat something, and chatted for a while as they ate.

Then we went out to the plane. My plane of choice for her, 739BA, was not available, so we went to trusty 35R. John told me to do the preflight inspection of the airplane, making a comment about how I'm more thorough than he is -- for Jodie's benefit, I'm sure. Then John got in the left seat, and Jodie sat in the right seat. I hovered by the right door while John went through all of the controls and instruments with Jodie. After explaining what "COM1" and "COM2" were, John told Jodie he was going to use COM2 to check the weather. He turned the knob on the audio panel to COM1, and Jodie said, "I thought you were going to use COM2." I just about kissed her for paying such close attention, but decided I should leave them alone and went to the car to listen on my handheld radio.

A couple minutes later the propeller started. I listened to the clearance frequency and heard John call for a transponder code, then I made a note of their code, just in case. When the plane started taxiing, I drove to the end of the active runway near the runup area, got out, listened to John make his calls on the CTAF, then watched as John, 35R, and my baby rolled down the runway and lifted into the air. I heard John make his radio call for crosswind, then no more.

I was, once again, waiting like an expectant father. The wind had been blowing at 14, gusting to 21, and I was really worried it would be bumpy and Jodie would have a bad first impression of flying. An hour later, I was still waiting.

Almost an hour and fifteen minutes after they left, I heard John announcing their arrival into the airport traffic pattern, and drove to the arrival end of the active runway. John made the radio calls, and I saw 35R on a slooooow final. The headwind was 15+, and the plane seemed to be barely moving across the ground. They touched down, right wheel first, came up slightly, then touched down again.

I called on the radio, "Three Five Romeo, that was a nine point two."
John's voice came over the radio, "Nine point two?"
"That's right, Three Five Romeo, nine point two, niner decimal two."
"She landed it," John said.
"Make that a 10.0, Three Five Romeo, that was a perfect landing," I radioed as I got into the car to drive to the parking area.

Jodie had a big smile on her face, but with a slightly guarded look. It turns out that John had had her take the controls right after takeoff, and she had spent the hour practicing turns, climbs, and descents all the way from Gaithersburg to Gettysburg and back. She had thought she was just going for a ride and that John would show her what HE was doing, not have HER do it, and I think she was a little overwhelmed. I'm hoping to get her to contribute her thoughts here, but if not I'll write more about what she told me a little later.

For me, this was a great day, even though I didn't get into the air myself! Man, do I love that girl!

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