Saturday, June 09, 2007

Adventures with Millie

Millie is my dog, and we've had some adventures together over the years. I picked her up as a 10-week old puppy from the shelter in Lynn, Massachusetts. She was a "flying puppy." That is, she was from a shelter in New Mexico, where they had more puppies than homes available, so she was put on a plane to Massachusetts where there are more homes than puppies. We had lots of adventures together when I was a bachelor, hiking and camping trips, long road trips, and so on. When Jodie came into the picture, it was love at first sight -- Millie just couldn't get enough of Jodie, and vice versa. So now we're a happy family, but I like to think that Millie and I still have a special connection from our long history. Last night we struck out for a little bonding through flying, and we had another adventure.....

It's been a goal of mine to fly with Millie. Rich got a puppy shortly before I finished my training, and it slept in the backseat while we did stalls and steep turns and short-field landings. I've been looking for the right time to take Millie in the plane, and last night was our chance. I reserved a plane for the whole weekend, thinking I might fly to Massachusetts and Maine to see family. The weather here was beautiful, but the weather in New England was not manageable for a pilot without an instrument rating, so I wasn't sure what to do with my reserved plane. Then I decided that I would use it last night to maintain my night currency. In order to remain "current" and be able to carry passengers at night, pilots have to do three takeoffs and landings at night at least every ninety days. It's a minimal requirement, but looking back, I'd only done one within the last ninety days, so I decided to take care of that. Also, when I go for my instrument rating, I'll need 40 or 50 hours of cross-country flying time, so I thought I'd fly to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, then go do some landings in Westminster, Maryland, then return to Gaithersburg. It's more than 50 miles to Carlisle, so the flight would qualify as a cross-country, I'd get at least three landings at night, so I'd be current, and I'd take Millie with me to see how she does.

We took off about 9:00, just after sunset, in Three Zero Yankee Romeo, a newer Cessna Skyhawk owned by one of my clubs, and headed North. I was busy flying and talking on the radio with Air Traffic Control for the first 20 minutes or so, but once I had some breathing room, I looked in the backseat to check on Millie. She was sitting up straight, her eyes were wide, and she looked very nervous. I tried to talk to her, but she didn't seem to hear me over the airplane noise, so I turned my attention back to navigating -- this plane has an autopilot and I'm still playing with it to figure it out.

The sky to the west was beautiful. The sun had already set and most of the sky was dark with stars already showing, but the silhouette of the mountains forty miles away was in crisp contrast to the bright pinks and oranges of the Western edge of the sky. I went to take a picture, but the battery in my camera was dead. The visibility was excellent, with little to no haze, which is a rarity in this part of the country. As the light faded from the horizon, I checked on Millie again. She had relaxed, and was lying down. Good, I thought.

We crossed over a low ridge into the valley where the Carlisle airport is and I headed down to pattern altitude. It was very dark, there was no moon, and I clicked the microphone seven times to turn on the runway lights. Nothing happened. I tried again, but nothing happened. I tried a dozen more times, but still nothing. I flew over the runway, just 800 feet off the ground. I could make out airplanes tied down, and I saw the runway, but just barely. It was too dark to land without runway lights and they weren't working.... I chided myself for missing the notice that I knew must have been published, considered what to do, and decided to head to an airport in York, Pennsylvania.

York is just under 50 miles from Gaithersburg, so I wouldn't have a landing far enough away for the flight to qualify as a cross-country, but I could still regain my night currency. Millie and I climbed over the ridge from Carlisle and headed to York. As we were flying away, I heard a helicopter on the radio heading to Carlisle, and I wondered if a helicopter needs runway lights to land. When I was 4-5 miles from York, I tried to turn on the runway lights. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Then I heard another plane click the transmitter seven times, and the York lights came on. Since the lights were on, I didn't think anything more about it and just landed.

We'd been flying for over an hour, so I parked the plane and let Millie out. She sniffed around the dark and empty airport, then when I said, "Ready to go?" she headed for the plane. I opened the door and she jumped into the back seat. Millie's always liked to go places. I started the plane, waited for another plane to land, then took off.

I headed South toward Westminster, and triggered the runway lights when I was about 6 miles away. There are a lot of lights on the ground around Westminster, and I couldn't pick out the airport. I thought I just wasn't seeing it, so I decided to fly right over the airport. I've been to Westminster a dozen times at night and never had a problem, so..... I flew right over where the airport should have been -- there was just a black hole in the middle of the surrounding city and street lights. I circled back, triggering the lights again and again. Nothing. I checked the GPS -- yes, I should be flying right over the airport. I circled back again.... Nothing. Was the GPS working? Am I just in the wrong place? I could dimly make out large buildings that looked like hangars, but they could have been warehouses and there were NO lights.

Then it all made sense. I pulled my handheld aviation radio out of my bag and turned it on. I bought this radio for safety purposes. It has rechargeable batteries, and when it sits for long periods the battery will go dead. Other times I'll just not bother to bring it. But this night I had it charged for my flight to Massachusetts, and I had it with me. I clicked the transmit button seven times as I headed back to the airport and . . . the runway lit up like a Christmas tree.

I landed, and the landing was funny.... I had noticed that although the airport was reporting very light winds on the ground, there was a significant wind aloft. I didn't think about it too much and landed according to the wind on the ground. My glide was off and I landed a ways down the runway. I'm just out of practice, I thought.

I taxied back and took off to head home. The visibility was incredible. I could see the lights of Washington from 40 miles away. My indicated airspeed was about 118 knots, but my groundspeed was 135 knots according to the GPS. (That's about 155 miles per hour!) The automated weather reporting system at Gaithersburg was reporting calm winds, so I planned to land on Runway 14, the preferred runway in calm wind conditions.

As we approached the Gaithersburg airport, I tried to turn on the runway lights with the plane again. Nothing. From 8 miles out, I tried using my handheld radio. Nothing. When I got to about 4 miles, my handheld worked -- the signal it puts out is weaker than the airplane's signal -- and I could see "home."

I headed in for a landing, but the plane just wasn't going down like it usually does. Halfway down the runway, and still fifty feet in the air, I pushed in the power and climbed up to circle around and try again. Once again I was long! I wondered, how did I ever get my license when I can't even land?!?! Although I was long, I managed to get the plane on the runway with room remaining. As I taxied back to park the plane, I thought about it, and.... Wind shear! I had seen that there were strong winds aloft, about 20 knots, and I knew that the wind was calm on the ground, but I just hadn't put it together. That's why I landed long at Westminster and both times at Gaithersburg. I won't make that mistake again.

I shut down the engine and opened my door. I planned to get out, then slide my seat forward to let Millie out, but the second the door was open she squeezed past the seat and jumped out. She'd been asleep as we cruised back to Gatherisburg, so I think that aborting the first landing and going around made her nervous. Whatever the reason, she was READY to get out of the airplane. Anyway, it was almost midnight, so I secured the plane and jumped in the Jeep with Millie.

So that was our adventure. A malfunctioning "PTT" switch on the plane that wouldn't let me turn on runway lights, a steep wind gradient that made landing difficult, and Millie's first flight, all in one night. I've ordered her some "Mutt Muffs" for ear protection, now that I know she tolerates flying alright. I'm looking forward to going somewhere with her soon.....

Labels: , , , , ,

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!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, December 09, 2006

First Solo Cross-Country!

I spent a lot of time flying today, a total of 3.7 hours. The first 1.6 were spent on a flight in the newer Skyhawk owned by a club I recently joined. I've been flying Skyhawks all along, of course, but because it's newer, it has some differences, and I wanted my first flight to be with an instructor from the club. He also treated the flight as a mini-checkride, and had me plan a cross-country flight to Potomac Airfield. When we were halfway to Potomac, though, he had me do some maneuvers, slow flight, steep turns, a stall, etc., and then "divert" to Frederick, where we did three touch n' gos before heading back to Gaithersburg. He said I'll have no trouble passing my checkride, though he said I have a tendency to flare a bit high when landing.

My second flight was the BIG one, my first cross-country trip by myself. I planned the flight to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and met with Rich on Thursday night to go over my flight plan. The weather was beautiful today, as clear as I've seen it (for this region) in a really long time. It was cold, though, and while the wind on the ground in Gaithersburg was light, the winds aloft were forecast at 21 knots, or nearly 25 mph.

I took off and headed for my first visual checkpoint, a "tank farm," a grouping of big white oil tanks that can be seen for miles from the air. Before I even got to my first checkpoint I was being bounced around a bit in the plane. The flight continued, and the turbulence got a bit worse. When I was about halfway, some turbulence tipped the plane over on its right wing. I think that makes it qualify as "moderate" turbulence by formal definitions. It was worse than anything I've experienced since I started training, but it wasn't terrible and I wasn't scared. I just reduced my airspeed to below Va, or "maneuvering speed," and continued on.

Before long, I crossed the Susquehanna (sp?) River and could see the Lancaster airport about 8 miles away. I listened on the radio for the winds, and they were "250 at 13." The tower cleared me to land on Runway 31, and I set up for the landing. I knew there was a cross-wind from the left, and compensated for it as I approached the runway. This involves "slipping" the plane, banking the plane to the left, into the wind, and using the right rudder to keep it lined up with the runway. The wind was a bit gusty, and at one point (for just a moment) I had the right rudder in all the way and still couldn't keep the plane straight. The landing was a bit bumpy, certainly not my best, but not all that bad considering everything. It was kind of like ALL my landings were when I was first learning.

I stopped at the pilot shop and chatted with the owner, who signed my logbook to prove that I was there, then I called Rich to let him know I had arrived safely. I told him about the turbulence and cross-wind landing, and he asked if I had been nervous. I was surprised, when I thought about it, that I hadn't been nervous at all. That's either bad stupidity (not smart enough to know when to be afraid) or good confidence, I don't know which. I knew what to do, and I never felt unsafe, so I think it's probably just confidence in myself and the airplane, rather than stupidity, but.... Well, who am I to judge?

When I left Lancaster, I demanded Runway 26, which was almost directly into the wind. The controller tried to make me go on 31, but I told him the cross-wind exceeded my limitations and he had me taxi for the other runway. With the wind nearly right down the runway, I was off the ground in about 600 feet, and I headed home.

The flight home was beautiful. I was at a lower altitude, and the turbulence was lighter. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the turbulence went away altogether, and when I arrived back at Gaithersburg there was just a 3 knot wind, albeit straight across the runway. I made a nice landing, and taxied in.

Overall, the trip went really well. Nothing made me nervous, and I did everything right, except.... In retrospect, I should have asked the controller in Lancaster to bring me in on Runway 26. For some reason, I never even thought about asking, I just factored the cross-wind into my approach to Runway 31. Maybe that's because I fly out of an airport with only one runway. Whatever, next time I'm going to be sure to ask for the runway I want based on the winds.

Next cross-country -- maybe to Potomac airpark, the trip I planned for this morning but didn't complete. I'll talk to Rich and see.

My GPS track is below. I wish I had pictures, because it was a beautiful, clear day, but when I took out my camera in the plane, the battery was dead.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dual Night Cross-Country

Rich and I flew a cross-country trip last night. It's a requirement of pilot training to do a night flight with an instructor to another airport that is more than 100 miles, so I planned a flight from Gaithersburg, Maryland, 122 miles north to Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

My regular flying club has been having maintenance issues with its planes, so I almost wasn't able to go. BUT I did recently join another club that does not have any such problems, and there was a plane available, so we took that one.

Due to the trouble we had finding an airplane, Rich and I got a late start by about two hours, and we lifted off after 8:00. Neither Rich nor I had ever flown that particular plane, so we took extra time to familiarize ourselves with it and do a thorough preflight inspection. During the inspection, I discovered that the last person to fly it had left the gas tanks less than 1/4 full. The fuel service at the airport was closed, but there was fuel available in Allentown. I had done detailed fuel consumption calculations, and we had enough to fly to Allentown with required reserves, but I did not like cutting it that close at night.

Since we had enough fuel, we went. It was VERY cold, about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and we very quickly discovered that the airplane had no heat. My feet felt like blocks of ice, and Rich wrapped maps around his legs for extra warmth. The windshield apparently had leaks around the edges, and cold air was blowing on my face for the whole trip. Fortunately, it didn't take too long to get to Allentown, about an hour and a half. The flight was beautiful, slightly hazy but with a nearly full moon -- we flew over a reservoir, the Susquehanna River, and several airports. It was neat to see the airports down below us, and we turned on the runway lights of a couple with our radios. We were cleared by the Allentown tower to land on Runway 31, and I performed a beautiful cross-wind landing.

Rich and I got a cup of coffee and warmed up while the linemen refueled the airplane. Then it was time to go back.

It had been a very long day, and my GPS shows that I flew a decidedly curvy course back to Gaithersburg. We landed at Gaithersburg sometime around 12:30 a.m., and Rich ran to his truck to warm up while I secured the plane.

It was a fun flight, and I'm glad to have that requirement in my training complete. However, next time I'd like to be warmer and less tired, and I think the experience will be an overall more enjoyable one. That may be after I have my license, though.

Labels: , , , ,

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!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Under the Hood

I spent an hour with Rich today flying under the hood. For anyone who might not know what the "hood" is, it's a device that restricts a pilot's visibility to the instrument panel so they can't see what's outside. Learning to trust what the gauges are saying is hard -- my inner ear and other senses had a tendency to tell me I was leaning toward the right, so I kept wanting to bank to the left. It's hard, and takes a lot of concentration. On the map below, not how crooked and wavy the early part of my route is.
Rich had me go under the hood as soon as we took off from KGAI, and then dictated an instrument (VOR) approach to Carroll County (KDMW), a missed approach, a VOR approach to Clearview (2W2), a missed approach, and then an ILS approach to Frederick (KFDK), and then a missed approach. By that time, I was worn out from concentrating on the instruments, and I elected to take the hood off for the return to Gaithersburg. I was glad I did, too, in part because the sunset was gorgeous! But also because I was tired of concentrating so hard, and it made me happy to realize how relaxing simply flying has become compared to the early days of learning. I'm not really looking forward to the instrument rating I know I need to have.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tennessee Flyin'

It's the day after Thanksgiving. Jodie had to fly back to Maryland last night, and I'm sticking around in Knoxville to help with part of the Birdwell Family Leaf Rake on Saturday. So I called the flight school at the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (KDKX) and scheduled an hour of dual instruction. I'm not looking for instruction that will move me toward my license. But I'm going to fly into Knoxville at some point in the (near?) future, and I wanted to fly around the area with someone who knows the area.

When I fly to Knoxville, I'll pretty much follow I-81 down to I-40, which runs right into Knoxville. So when I met Brandon, the Knoxville instructor, I suggested we fly north, overfly Cherokee Lake, then head East, intercept I-81, and fly back into Knoxville. So that's what we did:

I navigated by pilotage, picking up and following the Holsten (sp?) River up to the dam where the water leaves Cherokee Lake. It's cool, 'cause this is where we all waterski in the summers.

Then we flew up and circled around the Birdwells' lake house. I got a few pictures of the house, but couldn't get a good angle, so I think the picture of the tomato farm up the street is my favorite.
I then flew up the rest of the lake, passing German Creek.....

headed East, and picked up I-81 South toward Knoxville and the airport. Along the way, though, we had beautiful (albeit hazy) views of Douglas Lake, the Smokies, and Mount LeConte.

I landed on runway 8 at KDKX after a high and fast approach, but with a nice flare and touchdown. On approach to runway 8, there is a hill of land that made me inclined to stay a little high. Then, when I got past it and dumped full flaps, I still landed 800 feet down the runway. The approach to 26, on the other hand, is low and over the water. I like to think that would have made a difference, as I wouldn't have been shying away from the treetops, but in truth it may be that I just need some pattern work.

All in all, this was a great flight, and I learned a lot about flying in the area from talking to Brandon. I'm confident I won't have any problem getting into Knoxville when I finally fly there, and really can't wait!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sky Ranch & The Champ

Jodie and I went to Knoxville Tuesday night for Thanksgiving. I had to do some work on Wednesday, so I holed up in a Starbucks with my laptop. I finished my work a couple hours before I needed to meet Jodie and her family for dinner, so I figured I'd explore the local small airports. I had read about the Sky Ranch (TN98), a club-owned airfield carved out of the Class C airspace around Knoxville's McGhee-Tyson Airport. With a little driving around, I found it tucked away on an island in the Tennessee River, downriver from the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (KDKX).

Pulling into Sky Ranch, I was impressed with the number of aircraft and hangars. I saw a bunch of old taildraggers, an RV, an AgCat, a few Bonanzas, and a lot of Cessna 150s and 172s. A cottage-like structure with a front porch, deck, and chairs overlooking the river was on one side of the grass runway. As I parked next to what I later learned was the clubhouse, a Cessna 152 landed. I walked down to chat with the pilot as he secured the plane, and learned that Sky Ranch has been a club since the 70s. It costs $250 to join, and $30 a month. They sell gas for $3.03 a gallon to their members, more than a dollar less than I pay in Maryland. The club owns three planes, and the monthly $30 gives you tie-down rights. That is a DEAL.

I walked back to the car, and as I did a man pulled up in a truck. Figuring I'd get some additional information, I introduced myself. His name was Lee, and after repeating some of the basics I had already heard about Sky Ranch, he asked me what I was doing right then. I told him I had to be home for dinner, and he said, "Well, do you want to go flying? Right now." I immediately recognized this as one of those pilot-community things that only happens every so often, so I said yes and grabbed my headset out of the car. "What kind of plane?" I asked, and he said, "Well, you're about to find out." We walked over to the covered tie-downs and right up to N84021, a 1946 Aeronca 7AC Champ. I've read about taildraggers, and I've read about grass runways, but this was my first experience of the way flying used to be. I helped him do the pre-flight inspection and pull the plane out, then I sat in the back seat and held the brakes while he spun the propeller to start the engine.

We taxied (bounced) out to the end of the runway, he pushed the throttle forward, and we started accelerating down the runway. It's commonly said that you have to fly an airplane from the time you undo the tiedowns until you re-tie them. When we had accelerated some, Lee pushed forward on the stick and the tail came up off the ground. For the first time, I understood-- although the main wheels were still firmly on the ground, Lee was flying the plane.

Shortly after we lifted off, Lee gave me the stick. There were no gauges in the back seat, but I could see the slip-skid indicator over Lee's right shoulder if I craned my neck. It took a LOT more rudder to keep the Champ coordinated than it does in the 172 I regularly fly. We climbed to 3500 feet and flew north to Norris Dam. We flew around the dam, then Lee took the stick, chopped the power, and pointed the nose at the ground in a steeply banked, circling dive. We dropped 1500 feet FAST, and for the first time ever I felt a little queasy. Lee leveled out and told me he wanted to practice a few s-turns over I-70. After one or two, he let me try, and I did a bunch. There was a 15-knot wind blowing across the road, so the conditions were perfect. Lee said he could tell I was a student because I did much better than almost all pilots he goes up with, not really changing altitude -- which was amazing to me because I couldn't see the altimeter.

We flew back to Sky Ranch after I flew low over Jodie's parents house, and Lee dropped the plane down onto the runway in a beautiful forward slip, stopping in well under 1,000 feet. As we were taxiing to the fuel pump, I asked Lee about radio calls. He said, "What radios?" For the first time I realized that although there was an intercom, there were no radios in the plane.

Taildragger, grass runway, no radio, no transponder, hand-propping.... This is what flying used to be. What a treat!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cross-Country At Last!

I finally got to do some real cross-country time. My old instructor, Rich, offered to fly with me due to the problems I've had scheduling cross-country time with John. So I made it a good one, from Gaithersburg to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Capitol City Airport in Harrisburg, down to Hagerstown, MD, then home. Not counting time or distance at the airports (pattern, taxi, etc.), it's a loop of just over 200 miles by air, or about 2 hours. By car, Mapquest says the route would be 275 miles and 5.4 hours. In reality, we made it into a 3-1/2 hour trip because we landed, parked the plane, and explored a bit at Lancaster and Capitol City. Here's the route from my portable GPS:

Although I had the GPS turned on, it was only there for safety's sake, and we didn't use it at all. Instead we mostly used pilotage and ded (dead) reckoning, with some VOR navigation thrown in. It was hazy, but there were a couple really pretty moments. Although my photo didn't come out well, the early morning sun was lighting up Baltimore's Inner Harbor in bright, neon-like orange.

When we left Lancaster, we were instructed by air traffic to follow the western bank of the Susquehanna River, up past Harrisburg International Airport and the big nuclear power plant on -- drum roll -- Three Mile Island. The river was pretty, and it was fun to follow the curves of the river. Later, after we climbed out of Capitol City, there was a layer of scattered clouds right at the altitude we were planning to use. We decided to climb above it. We did, and ten minutes later realized we had made a mistake. It was beautiful, because the air was clear, but what had been scattered clouds seemed to knit together under us to become one solid overcast layer.

When we finally found a hazy opening where we could see the ground, we took it, telling the bewildered controller that yes, although we had just requested a higher altitude, now we wanted a lower one. The opening wasn't very large, but with some steep s-turns we made it down through without breaking any rules.

Above the clouds, of course, you can't see the ground to navigate by pilotage, and for some reason we weren't receiving the Hagerstown VOR signal. We were only a few miles north of Camp David, and didn't want to break into the restricted airspace. If we hadn't found that break in the clouds and been able to get below them, I would have broken the "rules" of the flight and used the GPS.

Total flight time for the trip was 3.1 hours, which means that I got my required cross-country training all in one flight. Probably one more dual cross-country, then my solo cross-countries. Making progress.....!

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, November 10, 2006

High Air Work

I flew up to Frederick today. Instead of just landing and taking off, I decided to park and wander around the airport a bit. There wasn't much to see, so why did I do it? Just because I wanted to have the experience of flying TO somewhere, to get byond the feeling of the flying being the end goal. It was cool, though I would like to go back and look for the restaurant that's supposed to be good.

So I took off and headed east over to the practice area. It was a bit hazy below, but not bad, and the sky was very blue. I had decided that I wanted to work on my transitions into and out of slow flight, the goal being not to lose any altitude. So I did it again and again and again, and I actually wasn't that bad at it. I was able to go from 110 mph to 60 mph and stay within 50 feet of my original altitude. Then I worked on steep turns. I didn't have any problem losing altitude in the turn, but I did gain some altitude coming out of a couple of the turns. Still, up to the point where I turned out to straight and level, I was completing the 360 within 25 feet or so of my original altitude. Not bad.

In order to kill time while I waited for permission to re-enter the ADIZ, I practiced just flying 360s while in slow flight, in figure eights. That was fun, and I could kind of imagine how nice it must be to fly a glider in circles, catching the thermals....

All in all, it was a good, fun flight. I'm hopeful that I can maybe get some cross country time soon, though, because I don't want to keep doing the same thing.

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sweet Freedom

I flew up to Frederick today, went around the pattern a couple times, then flew to the practice area southwest of Carroll County. What a gorgeous day to fly! The sky was clear of haze (rare in the mid-Atlantic), the leaves below are in various stages of changing color.... Blue above, reds, yellows, and greens below, and I can't imagine anything better than flying on a day like today. Sugarloaf Mountain was in sharp relief to my left as I flew to Frederick, I think for the first time ever. There was some wind, and a mild crosswind. I haven't had much experience with heavier crosswinds because my endorsement includes a limitation of a 5 knot crosswind, but I'm pretty much at a point where I correct for light crosswinds without having to really think about it.

My two landings in Frederick were good, not greasers but no real bumps either, although I did balloon slightly just after one touchdown. It wasn't really a bounce, because there was no impact, I just kind of touched down, then ballooned up a couple feet, then touched down again.

When I got to the practice area I decided I'd do some stalls, so I did. It's funny, my earliest blog entries are so full of fear about the stalls, and now they are just non-events. In between stalls I called for my ADIZ clearance, and continued practicing while I waited for ATC to recognize my transponder code. Climbing up, stalling down, blue skies, beautiful leaves.... I'm in awe of how wonderful this was. Then, when ATC called my code, I headed back for an uneventful late-afternoon landing on 32 with the sun in my eyes.

Another pilot walked over to help me push 35R back into the parking spot and introduced himself. It turned out he's also an attorney, with the DOJ's Civil Division. He said he mostly does constitutional violations, which I think means equitable remedies, injunctions, etc. Anyway, he's a member of another club at GAI that I've been considering joining in addition to my current club. I've been frustrated with the lack of available planes in my club, and his club has good rates and four planes, and is less populated. I'll think about it some more.

Anyway, great flight!

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back in the game!

Seven weeks to the day since my last flight, I flew today with John. It was a short flight (I had a dentist appointment to go to), so we just went up to Frederick and back in trusty 35R. I've been slammed with work the last six weeks or so and have barely had time to stay acquainted with my wife and dog. Flying, being the solo hobby it is at the moment, took a back seat. But, I turned in a large project Monday night, and began aching to fly again. My 90-day solo endorsement had expired, so when I saw John at the flying club meeting on Tuesday I did my best to schedule some time, and today was it.

My landing in Frederick was one of the best I've ever done despite the 6-knot wind 70 degrees off the runway. In fact, after touchdown John said, "Better than I can do." I got to play with the new Garmin GPS that's in the plane, which is nice because it shows the ADIZ boundary, that imaginary line with a very real F16 on the other side. On our return to Gaithersburg, the wind was 12 knots, gusting to 15, but not far off the centerline.

So my solo endorsement is renewed, and I can now try to get back out there to fly. If I could just get John scheduled for some serious cross-country time.....

Oh! One other thing, a very important thing. Several clubs at my airport have gotten together to sponsor a PinchHitter course. For the uninitiated, this is a course that teaches non-flying spouses how to control and land a plane if the pilot they fly with somehow becomes incapacitated. Of course, Jodie said, "Give me a parachute and I KNOW what to do!" Nevertheless, she volunteered, and is taking the course in December. It takes place over two Saturdays, includes four hours of classroom time and four hours of flight time. I can't wait, but I hope and pray that it goes well and she doesn't get scared (er, more scared, I mean).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 24, 2006

First Point-to-Point Solo!

While it may not technically qualify as a "cross-country" flight because it was less than 50 miles, tonight WAS my first flight alone from one airport to another. It went fine, but I could have done better. I talked to a weather briefer minutes before I took off, and the conditions in Frederick were reported as sky clear, wind 3 knots, visibility 10 miles. The only clouds in the area were at 12,000 feet in Baltimore, though there was also a high ceiling in Gaithersburg where I took off.

But as soon as I took off I could see that at just 2,000 feet above the ground it was VERY hazy. I think, in retrospect, I should have turned around and landed. I kept going, and I navigated to Frederick without any problem. When I got there, though, I had trouble picking out the airport in the haze. Visibility was very poor up in the air and it seemed to be getting dark. My instructor always said that if I got into trouble I could just land anywhere and call him or anyone else in my club-- they'd come get me without any hesitation. I thought about it, but the air was smooth and I didn't think the conditions were that bad. So I just landed, immediately took off again, and started to head back to Gaithersburg. It was getting darker, it seemed hazier, and the clouds seemed to be pretty low. I couldn't even see the (small) mountain that was only a few miles away.

In order to get back to Gaithersburg, I have to fly into the Washington, DC, Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ. To do that, I have to file a flight plan, then talk to the air traffic controllers. They give me a four-digit code to punch into my transponder, and I have to wait for them to see my code on their radar. Once they see me, they will give me clearance to fly back into the ADIZ and toward Gaithersburg. If I skip any step, I can expect (at a minimum) to be intercepted by a military plane or helicopter and interrogated while face down on the tarmac of a runway. The procedure is cumbersome, and the consequences of messing it up are dire, but for pilots who fly planes based inside the DC ADIZ, it is routine, albeit annoying.

I had filed my flight plan by phone before I took off, so once I was up in the air at Frederick, I called the air traffic controllers on the radio and asked them to give me a transponder code. A few minutes went by while I flew around. I called again, and they said they couldn't find my flight plan! So I flew around for a few more minutes. Finally, they called and gave me a code. I punched in the code and continued flying around while waiting for them to give me permission to enter the ADIZ. Meanwhile, it's getting darker and hazier. After a few minutes, I called and asked them if they had my code. "Oh, yes, we do have you, cleared to enter the ADIZ, remain clear of Bravo airspace." I headed south, but then they called again and gave me a different code. I punched in the new code and asked if I was cleared to enter the ADIZ. They told me I was cleared to enter the ADIZ and reminded me to stay below the class B airspace over my head.

I pointed the plane straight for Gaithersburg and opened the throttle. I was at 2,100 feet, the minimum safe altitude as marked on the chart-- the haze was so thick it was all I could do to make out the ground, but I couldn't safely descend any further without better visibility. And it was definitely getting dark.

When I got to where my VOR needles said the Gaithersburg airport should be, I couldn't see it anywhere. I tried triggering the runway lights, but still couldn't see it. I finally picked it out in the darkening haze, did a circling descent a couple miles out, and entered the traffic pattern. My landing was great. It was 7:40. By the time I tied down the plane and was walking back to my car, it was 8:10 and it was DARK.

Two lessons here. First, I should have had a clearer sense of when it would be getting dark. I was still thinking of summertime and long days-- wasn't it only last week that it was getting dark at 9:30? Second, the haze I saw when I first took off from Gaithersburg should have made me turn back. I'm only authorized to fly when visibility is seven miles or more. Visibility was greater than 10 miles on the ground, but I know for a fact that it was far less only 2,000 feet above the ground. There's nothing wrong with flying at night, and on clear nights it's absolutely beautiful. And perhaps the haze would have been fine during the day. But the combination of darkening skies and haze was more than I should have accepted.

Lesson learned.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I flew this morning with John, and it was wonderful! It was clear, blue skies, no real wind. We flew to Carroll County (KDMW), landed, and then practiced maneuvers in the practice area. I did three power off stalls with a variety of flap settings, and it was flawless-- I didn't deviate at all from my heading and the recovery was uneventful. I also spent some time under the hood (flying by instruments only) and it was fine-- I think that comes naturally to me, and John said I'm very good, which is nice considering I had a total of 0.2 hours of hood time before today.

Also, the DG (directional gyroscope, like a compass but steadier and more accurate when it's working) was inoperable. The DG is used to tell you what direction you're heading. It was no real problem without the DG, because every plane has a regular magnetic compass-- in fact, it was good practice. I'm not sure I ever would have tried ignoring a working DG to see what flying by compass is actually like-- it's a completely different experience, and really drove home all the stuff I had to study about compasses for the written exam. Magnetic compasses have a bunch of quirks in an airplane that I never would have know of or thought of if I hadn't studied it as part of my training. I knew all of it, but I'd never paid enough attention to the compass before to use what I knew and watch it function. I only wish we could have covered up the DG, because I kept looking at it.

We also did some "hood work," which is flying with a view-restricting device so you can't see outside the cockpit. That was an interesting experience. The compass doesn't show your heading when you're in the middle of a turn. So if I wanted to turn a certain number of degrees, I had to bank the plane into a "standard rate turn" and watch the seconds on a timer to know how far I was turning. (In a standard rate turn, for example, it takes 60 seconds to turn 180 degrees, 30 seconds for 90 degrees, etc.). It was a good experience-- if I'm ever a CFI, I may take a primary student up with the DG covered sometime to have a lesson like today. Standard stuff for instrument pilots, I'm sure, but it was a good experience for me at my level.

I'm anxious to start my cross-country training, but John wants to do one more session in the practice area before our first cross-country trip, which makes me wonder why we can't count trips to Carroll County as cross-country trips? Because it's too short, only 27 nautical miles or so?

I also made a progress chart that I've uploaded here, and it's available as one of the links on the right. I have to manually update it, but it does show that I'm making progress, although lacking in the cross-country area.....

What a great way to start a day!

Labels: ,

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Little More Rope

My instructor, John, gave me a little more rope today. We flew early this morning from Gaithersburg (KGAI) up to Frederick (KFDK), then toward the practice area over Westminster (EMI) and circled while Potomac Approach thought about letting us fly back into the ADIZ to get back to Gaithersburg. When we got back, John endorsed my logbook to let me fly solo to and from Frederick. It's not much distance, but the freedom to take off and fly to a different airport still feels like a big step. It's only 17 miles and 10-12 minutes by air, but it's a good half hour by car, so it's really my first taste of the freedom and speed of flight from one place to another.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Same old pattern....

I now have about 7.5 hours of solo time in the traffic pattern at KGAI. I typically have 3 out of four landings that are good, with one out of four having something just a little off, e.g., being a little off the centerline, landing a little long, etc. I'm starting to wonder if these will get any better, and if there's any point to me continuing to spend money running around the pattern. Today was beautiful, calm winds, clear sky, late in the day, but even the beauty of the landscape around KGAI is starting to lose some of its luster. My eyes kept wandering to the hills to the north, and I'm yearning to go fly around.

I've got time scheduled with my instructor later this week. My luck with weather, plane, and schedules has been good lately, starting to make up for the first six months of my training. If it holds through Thursday, I'll be out of the pattern with John and maybe I'll get cut loose to go to the practice area all on my lonesome. Fingers crossed to that!

One thing I could work on-- I am not focusing on the runway length markers as I'm on final, so the only information I end up having about how long I land is where I turn off onto the taxiway. Maybe if I end up in the pattern again, I'll take a look for the distance markers and try to start including that in my land/go-around analysis. With a 4000' runway, it's generally not a concern at KGAI, but once I get cut loose I'll need to start paying attention.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Most of my flying club is at Oshkosh for the week. And the one plane they didn't take is the one plane I can fly as a student! So I went out today for two sessions, about an hour and 45 minutes each in the morning and late afternoon. I really wish I could leave the pattern, but I'm finding plenty to focus on IN the pattern. All told, I did seventeen trips around the pattern. Well, actually I did eighteen trips around the pattern because I was waaaay too high on one approach in the morning and had to go around.

But I did seventeen landings. Fourteen of them were genuinely good, and I seem to have figured out how to avoid bouncing. The density altitude is pretty high, about 2400 feet, so my ground speed is higher than my indicated airspeed, and that can result in a bounce if I have any extra airspeed. So I WAS flaring at about 70-75 mph IAS, and that is definitely too fast. The cheat sheet that John gave me, though shows 70-75 on final, so.... But the problem that had me bouncing is definitely that I was too fast, so I'm now shooting for 65 going into the flare. And today I only bounced once, and it was only a slight bounce.

Four of my approaches were high this afternoon, but I just dialed in some more flaps and still got down in the first third of the runway. No problemo.

What I really wanted to write about, though, was the feeling I had toward the end of my afternoon/evening session. It was 7:30 or 8:00, and the sun was orange/red and low in the West. There was little wind (3 knots) and it was pretty much perpendicular to the runway. Traffic was using runway 32. A quarter mile off the approach end of 32 there begins an expanse of farm fields. The fields are patched, with thin lines of trees separating them, and there are horses in some of the fields and an occasional building. The fields are very green, and the orange light of the sun made them seem even more so.

Maybe because it was my seventeenth landing of the day, certain parts of the process were becoming natural, not mechanical, but natural. (There's a big difference there-- "mechanical" would imply that I was moving the controls through rote memorization regardless of the conditions affecting the plane, whereas "natural" implies that I was responding to changes in altitude, airspeed, etc., albeit without too much conscious effort.).

As I was on downwind on my last lap around the pattern, a plane cut into the pattern on the base leg, and I had to extend my downwind leg by a half mile or so. I was low, the sun was low, and the landscape was absolutely beautiful. As I banked into a turn to base, 700 feet or so above the ground, I had a feeling like it was me flying, not just me "making an airplane fly." I wasn't thinking too much about how I made the plane turn, I just wanted it to turn and my hands and feet did it automatically. We (the plane and I, like one) swooped down over the trees and fields on base, then into the sun for final and a good landing. I really felt like I was flying, and it was wonderful!

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 16, 2006

1942 Waco ZPF-7 NC32162

I got a chance to go for a ride in a WACO at GAI yesterday. The pilot was very cool and let me take the stick and play for a while, and then walked me through some simple moves, aileron rolls, hammerhead, wingovers. He's based out of Culpepper, Virginia, and I would highly recommend going up with this guy (his name's John Corradi). If he knows you're a pilot (or a wannabe like me) he's very easygoing and fun to fly with, and he was willing to show me moves and then let me try them. (

And the plane is absolutely beautiful: a fully restored 1942 WACO ZPF-7, big 7-cylinder 282hp engine, but slow (<60mph>

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 02, 2006

My First Solo Experience

I flew six times in the first month I was taking lessons, then between a death in the family, an out-of-town trial, maintenance issues with the plane, 04G going, various scheduling issues, and weather, I flew four times in the next six months. I spent those months reading six magazine subscriptions, a bunch of books, playing Flight Simulator, listening to a half dozen flying podcasts-- I passed my written exam almost six months ago with a 97. But no flying. I thought I was NEVER going to get anywhere with this flying obsession. My wife, although hesitant about the idea of flying in a small plane, grew to look forward to the rare times I would fly because of the miraculous improvement in my mood. I was flying so sporadically, though, that it felt like the "two steps forward, one step back" syndrome.

Then I got to fly four times in the month of June and got to keep some of what I was learning. I flew on the morning of the 28th, and everything was great except for my schedule, which had me changing into a suit in the FBO bathroom and racing to DC while my instructor (John) tied the plane down. But I was consistently coming in lined up, and flaring well, and basically landing the plane repeatedly while handling everything else well, and I had 16.5 hours, which is about the national average.....

So I knew that if the weather was good, Friday June 30th could be the day. As I headed out the door for the airport, I checked my flight bag: headset, keys, kneeboard, logbook.... logbook? logbook?!?! It wasn't there, and as I ransacked the house, glancing up through the skylights at the clear blue sky and motionless leaves, I thought that this was exactly my luck. No logbook, and my certificate is in my logbook, and FARs say a student can't fly solo without the certificate. I headed to the airport and explained to John. I realized that I must have taken the log into my office after my last flight (I log my time online at and left it on my desk. So I left the airport and headed to work, picked up my logbook, and headed back to the airport. And as I drove, I could see the tops of trees tossing in a wind that was picking up, and I knew, I just KNEW that it was going to get gusty and I wouldn't solo.

But the wind was pretty much right down the runway, and John and I flew for almost an hour, and everything was fine. I botched a few approaches and got to practice my go-around technique, but that was fine too, and John had me taxi over to the hangar. I ran to the bathroom, received a call that I had to be in Tyson's Corner right after lunch, and ran back to the plane. John had his flight bag out on the ground and was endorsing my logbook. I was nervous, but.... I had the disciplined calm feeling I get in the courtroom-- when the stakes are high, and all you can do is have faith in your abilities and the outcome, you just trust in your training and ability and keep going. That's the feeling I had, and it's funny to me that the two things feel so much alike.

So John walked over toward the approach end of 32 and I buckled up, shut the doors, and started the pre-start checklist. Then John walked back and unchocked the plane, with me feeling like an idiot. I continued through the checklist and started the plane, and checked the oil pressure, and.... I had never flown the plane when the engine was hot, and the pressure tends to be a bit lower when the engine's hot, apparently, and the needle was hanging down just below the green even when I ran it up to 1500 rpm, and I had never seen it that low after starting. So I shut the plane down, and John walked back AGAIN and looked at it, and told me it was fine.

I taxied out to 32 and did the takeoff checklist. Four times. And it seemed like the checklist was supposed to be longer and I was missing something, but it wasn't. And I checked final. Six times. And there REALLY wasn't anyone coming. So I made the radio call and rolled out, lined up, and went. And my first thought as I climbed out was that John must weigh a lot more than he looks because to me alone in the plane, it felt like 04G used to feel with the two of us. As I passed over the departure end of 32 I just started laughing. Out loud. And I slapped my knee, and slapped John's empty seat, and basically got completely giddy. Then I thought about power lines and wanting to be turning downwind before I reached pattern altitude (i.e., turned toward the airport before the first power reduction) and I got serious and just did IT. Made my radio calls, checked extended downwind and final before turning, held my altitudes, headings, and airspeed on the dot. I used about 20 degrees of flaps and flared a tad high, but the landing was basically fine. And as I rolled out, John's voice came over the radio: "Good. Do it again." As I taxied back past him he was smiling and waved, and it was NICE.

As I was climbing out the second time I looked off toward Sugarloaf and the hills and thought how wonderful it will be to come out sometime (soon, I hope) and take off to go fly around. And the second landing was probably just about the best I've ever done. Chirp-chirp, right down the centerline, and I never felt the wheels touch down. John's voice came over the radio: "I bet you think that was a good landing!"

The third time around I overshot my altitude a bit and had to come down from 1600 feet (pattern altitude is 1549). And as I flew I looked down and thought, "Holy S&^%, I'm flying!" And it was getting hot and a bit bumpy by this time of day, and it was tough keeping things smooth on final. I landed a bit left of the centerline, but I've certainly had worse landings.

As I taxied back to park the plane I even remembered to radio UNICOM to have the fuel truck come out.

It's funny-- in some ways it seems as if the stress should make you forget things. But it almost felt like not having John there to remind me to do things just made something click into place. Sometimes with John in the plane I would forget carb heat or be sloppy about airspeed and altitude, maybe because part of my brain knows he's there to remind me. But solo, I did all my callouts just instinctively and it felt like the checklists and procedures were ingrained, and other than overshooting pattern altitude that once, I had all the numbers nailed. It felt REALLY good, and it felt like I knew how to do it. And I'm still looking for some way to get this grin off my face.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Stalls Conquered!

All my reading has paid off!!! Having read entire books that were essentially about stalls (e.g., Stick and Rudder) plus countless magazine and online articles, my fear of them is gone! John and I went out to the practice area this morning and, among other things, we did power on and power off stalls. And I'm fine with them. The fear is gone, for one thing, but I have also learned and memorized all of the control inputs to control them, and today I didn't even go off my heading! We only did a couple, and I'm looking forward to doing more, but I'm not worried about them.

One thing-- John did some "spin awareness" training today. Which means that he demonstrated a stall and then kicked hard left rudder. The plane spun to the left, nose toward the earth. It was, um, startling, a little. It was really only an incipient spin, because about the time the left wing was pointing at the earth, John had given it full right rudder, stopped the spinning tendency, and recovered the plane to straight and level flight.

One thing I know for certain-- I want spin training. But not in this plane, not without parachutes, etc. But it is in my future, that's for sure.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Gorgeous Morning

I'm writing about this much later, but I just don't want to forget it. It was, I'm pretty sure, November 3, 2005, my second morning flight with Rich F. I met him at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., and we were off the ground before the sun came over the horizon. We flew northeast toward Westminster. The late fall, early winter sky was clear blue, dark in the West and brightening quickly in the East. Fog lay in the hollows of the land that passed underneath. It was still dark down there, but at our height the sky was brightening and we could see clearly in the pre-dawn light. The sun peaked over the horizon as we flew toward Westminster and rose above the horizon as we practiced maneuvers 2,500 feet over the late-sleepers below.

Then during a clearing turn I saw the most beautiful thing, it took my breath. The sun was low, but above the horizon, to the east-southeast. On the ground below it, like a footprint, was a bright red-orange neon glow, a V-shape like an arrowhead pointing directly at us. It was a piece of the Chesapeake Bay, 25 miles away. The sun was reflecting off the Bay-- I can only imagine that the Bay was glass-smooth in the early morning, because the glow of the Bay seemed as bright as the sun itself. It was amazing and beautiful, and I guess that there was nobody else to see it-- only from the cockpit of a small airplane for those two minutes, at 3,000 feet msl over Westminster, Maryland. My instructor and I were silent for the minute or two before the angle of the sun had changed and the neon arrowhead was gone.

That morning was instrumental in giving me the motivation to keep going with flying. Learning to fly is frustrating. It's hard to get it right, there's a lot to absorb, and the constant delays can make it seem futile. But flying is a privilege, and what I am seeking is the privilege to go up and see those things that are withheld from all but the few who can go there. Going places is important and attractive, but seeing things that take my breath away is what I'm really working toward.

Labels: ,