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, September 22, 2007

Overnight to Chapel Hill

I achieved another milestone in my Flying Life -- an overnight cross-country trip. My brother is somewhere around year nine of the longest-ever medical school career. He lives in Massachusetts, but one of his rotations recently had him in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Chapel Hill is far from Massachusetts, but it's only about 225 nautical miles by plane from my home airport in the Washington, DC, area. I found 36 hours with no work commitments and beautiful weather, so I took 35R and headed down to see him.

I was a bit nervous setting out on this trip. Earlier in the day, I'd been paying attention to the winds both at my departure airport and in Chapel Hill. It was a beautiful day, but the winds were strong and gusting at right angles to the runway in Chapel Hill. Not only would the ride down have been bumpy, but I might not have been able to safely land the airplane upon arrival. So I waited. And waited. The winds were forecast to die down around dinnertime, and they did. Jodie drove me to the airport and I launched around 6:30 p.m. It was one of the most beautiful flights I've had. There were a few bumps during the first half hour, but as I got further south the bumps faded completely and there was just a beautiful sky.

Because of my late start, night fell during my flight. I enjoy flying at night, so I wasn't worried at all. The Chapel Hill airport had runway lights, and the large Raleigh-Durham airport was nearby with multiple large runways if I ever had any trouble.

The sunset over the Smoky Mountains was gorgeous off my right wing.

I was so in awe of how beautiful and peaceful it was, I made a little video clip. If you're looking for excitement, don't bother watching this -- it's just a post-sunset glow from a little airplane. If you like boring but beautiful, then go ahead....

I arrived in Chapel Hill a bit after 8:00, having seen the airport beacon from 15 miles away, flashing green and white. The cities of Raleigh and Durham were off to my left as I approached the airport. I clicked the microphone to turn on the runway lights, then announced my intentions over the radio. As I like to do when arriving at a "new" airport, I was going to fly right over the airport to get a look at things, then maneuver to enter the traffic pattern.

I flew right over the green-white flashing beacon. But I didn't see any runway lights. I thought I could make out the shape of an airplane on the ground near the beacon, but where was the runway? I circled back and around.... No runway. I triggered the lights and circled again. I checked both GPS maps in the plane -- yes, I was right over the airport, as also confirmed by the flashing beacon on the ground, so where..... Then I saw the runway over my right shoulder. I circled around, but it wasn't there! Then I caught another glimpse of it as I circled. I turned so that I would be parallel to what I had seen, and now I could just barely make it out, but at least I now knew where it was and was roughly in the traffic pattern.

I was a little high, so I veered slightly away from the runway to give me a little space on my base leg. When I turned onto base, though, the runway was completely invisible again. Only when I was on final and perfectly lined up with the runway could I see the runway lights again.

In my experience, most airports have the runways in relatively wide-open areas, and the lights are visible from a long way away. I think that my problem with Chapel Hill was due to three factors. First, there were tall trees parallel to the runway, which screened the runway lights unless you were looking directly down the runway. Second, the runway lights appeared to be almost bi-directional, so you could see them clearly if you were approaching the runway from one end or the other, but not if you were directly overhead or approaching from the sides. Third, I think the lights were just plain dim, not very bright, and in the midst of a lot of lights on the ground from the nearby Tri-Cities area. Of course, I was also new to the airport, so I didn't have a pattern to look for (other than the shape of a runway near a beacon) and didn't know what to expect. The experience was a bit unnerving, and this might be the last time I fly to an airport for the first time at night.

As I taxied back on the runway to the tie-down area, my brother came walking out. He helped me secure the airplane, then we piled in his car and headed to downtown Chapel Hill for dinner.

After a good dinner and a night's sorta-sleep (a sleeping pad on a hard floor), my brother and I decided to fly somewhere.... We looked at the charts I had with me and just picked a place: Burlington, North Carolina, about 20 nautical miles West-Northwest of Chapel Hill.

My brother David and his wife, Jessica, were my first family passengers, as I wrote before, so Dave had been in a plane with me and knew what to expect. I remembered that he had been a little nervous during the first takeoff roll, so I gave him the headset with my iPod attached. I lined the plane up with the centerline of the runway and asked him if he was ready. He said he was, so I pushed "play" on my iPod and the song "Danger Zone" from the Top Gun soundtrack blasted into my brother's headset as we accelerated down the runway and took off. That was worth a few giggles.

The bottom track in the GPS trail above is our flight out to Burlington. We could see the airport from a ways away, and I joined a left cross-wind leg for a landing. We parked the plane and strolled into the FBO. The guy behind the counter greeted us with a smile, and I asked him if there was someplace nearby where we could get a bite to eat. He pretty much tossed me the keys to a crew car -- a car that the FBO keeps handy for airplane crews that need to get somewhere -- and gave us directions to the center of Burlington.

It was a Sunday morning, though, and the entire four square blocks of Burlington was closed. We couldn't find a single place to eat that was open, and headed back out of town. Then we lucked out: we saw a very pretty city park with some carnival rides. We parked and got out to explore. There was a town festival going on, and vendors were serving up all sorts of food. We settled for hot dogs and lemonade that we enjoyed while listening to a local country band, then we headed back to the airport, stopping to put some gas in the crew car as a way of showing some appreciation.

I had used the GPS to get us to Burlington. David was talking about how cool it would be to get his pilot's license, so I pulled out the chart and showed him how we would use landmarks to navigate back to Chapel Hill by pilotage. It was easy -- we just had to follow I-40, then follow the turn South at a fork as we approached the Raleigh-Durham area. I also offered to show him a short/soft field takeoff. That's a technique where you hold the nose wheel off the ground and get the plane to lift off as soon as possible, even before it reaches flying speed. Then you continue to accelerate close to the ground, then pull up to climb at a relatively steep angle. It's fun to do, and he enjoyed it. The flight back was uneventful, except for a bit of convective turbulence that had us bouncing around a little. There was one jolt in particular where the plane went down and we would have hit our heads on the ceiling but for our seatbelts.

We landed back at Chapel Hill and I saw someone hand-propping an old Piper Cub. I taxied the plane around to the ramp and saw a few more Piper Cubs sitting out. There were a few people sitting on lawn chairs in open hangars, a few other planes out and around, and while I re-packed the plane for my departure, we watched someone take off for a trip around the pattern in yet another Cub. It was the largest concentration of flying Cubs that I've seen anywhere except Oshkosh.

David drove me the 5 minutes back to his place to do my flight planning on his computer, as the computer in the FBO was broken. I filed both VFR and DC-ADIZ flight plans, and checked the weather, which appeared perfect. I started the plane as David walked back toward his car. There's a speaker by the FBO that broadcasts calls over the local radio frequency, so as I took off and climbed out, I called over the radio. "Boy, this l'il Cessna really climbs without my lug of a brother in it." A voice came back to tell me that my brother had left and didn't hear the call. I mentally shrugged and turned the plane North. I flew relatively slow for a while due to the turbulence. As it became late afternoon, the air smoothed out and I sped up a bit. I stopped briefly for fuel in Culpepper, Virginia, then took off for the last leg home.

Culpepper is Southwest of Dulles International Airport and the Class B airspace that surrounds Dulles. Gaithersburg is on the other, Northeast side of Dulles. I typically cannot fly in Class B airspace without special permission, because of the airliners that are departing and arriving, so I planned to circle all the way around to the Northwest of Dulles, then East by Southeast to get back to Gaithersburg. Leaving Culpepper, I contacted air traffic control to activate my DC-ADIZ flight plan. The controller said, "You're going to Gaithersburg?" I confirmed that this was the case. He said, "Let's see if we can get you up the East side. Stand by."

Before long, I was following ATC instructions and flying directly through the Class B airspace over Dulles International Airport. Unfortunately, I had left my camera in David's car, so all I had was my cell phone.

As I approached the airport, air traffic control told me to look for traffic at my 3 o'clock, an Airbus at my altitude. I looked to my right and yes, there was an airbus at my altitude, descending for a landing at Dulles. That was very cool, looking at the business end of an airliner! I flew right over the arrival end of Runways 1L and 1R just as the sun was setting over the mountains to the west.

An airliner lined up on Runway 1R and started its takeoff roll as I passed overhead. When I was past the airport, ATC cleared me to fly direct to Gaithersburg. I did, overflying the airport, then joining the pattern for a landing in calm winds on Runway 14. Jodie was waiting to welcome me home.

All in all it was a very successful flight and a ton of fun. I finally began to understand the allure of a faster airplane, as 110 mph suddenly seemed very slow. "They" say that you learn something on every flight, and I certainly learned a few things on this flight. First, I learned that I don't like arriving at small airports for the first time after dark. I also learned that maybe I can ask air traffic control for clearance through the Class B airspace around Dulles. I also learned that flying is a great way to cover longer distances for short visits -- it opens up an entire extended range of day trips, with the added bonus of beautiful scenery along the way.
I'm not sure where I'll go next, maybe Massachusetts or Knoxville.... We'll see.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Family Flying 5 - Wes

My littlest brother, Wes. Considering the ways in which my other brother and I "contributed" to Wesley's childhood, it's remarkable that he's turned out as cool as he is. Surely he would not be such a good guy if David and I hadn't "helped" him build so much character, right? I consider him one of my greatest works. Which also means that I get some credit for the incredible little boy he and my wonderful sister-in-law are raising (and the second one that just arrived). Right?

Wesley had waited patiently while I flew with my Nana, mom, and dad. Now that it was his turn, everyone else was tired of waiting and decided to head to a restaurant. And it was getting dark. I enjoy flying at night. The air is often still, smooth, and clearer than during the day, and it can feel like the plane is just suspended above the lights. Wes and I took off to fly the "beach tour" that I had done with my Nana and mom, and we got to enjoy the silhouette of the White Mountains to the west, against the remnants of a beautiful sunset.

It grew completely dark as we headed down the beach and, since nobody was waiting at the airport for us to return, I continued past Ogunquit down to York. The Nubble Light lighthouse in York is a favorite place for Wes and Brandie. Since long before Emerson was born, Wes and Brandie have loved going to The Bagel Basket in York, then walking along the beach by the lighthouse. They've continued doing this with Emerson, and even now with Owen. The lighthouse no longer casts its light, as I presume sailors can use GPS just like pilots do, and no longer need to be warned of rocks. There is a little red, blinking light on the top of the lighthouse, though, and I flew a circle around it (1,000 feet above) while we looked down on the dim outlines we could make out.

I flew back to Sanford and decided to land on Runway 25. Although the wind was relatively calm, and Runway 14 is the preferred runway, Runway 25 is large and has approach lighting -- the "Christmas Tree" that can be seen for miles. Since Wes didn't get to see anything while it was light out, I figured I'd give him the experience of the big runway and all the lights. I triggered the lights as we approached the airport. I showed him how I could turn them down or up, then I set them to high for maximum effect. We landed and taxied back, he helped me push the plane into the hangar and lock it up, and we headed to a restaurant to meet my family.

I felt bad about Wes not getting to see much because of the late hour, so I offered to fly him again the next morning. We got a late start, though, and the wind had started to pick up by the time we took off. Wes asked me to explain everything I was doing. I love talking about what I'm doing and why, and I was happy that he was interested.

We headed West this time, over toward my parents' cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. It's an hour's drive, but only about 25 nautical miles. There were quite a few bumps. I climbed to 4,500 feet in search of smoother air and slowed the plane down to soften the bumps, but it only got a little better. There was also a strong headwind, around 25-30 knots, which slowed our progress.

As I approached the area where my parents' cottage is located, I looked at the small mountain ridge just to the West. With the 25-knot wind coming over that ridge, I was hesitant to descend to 1,000 feet above the ground, below the ridge. There was a gap in the hills to the South, which could provide a safe exit without climbing, but I did not want to be caught in the horizontal rotors and downdrafts that can be caused by wind coming over a ridge, so I stayed higher, at least 500 feet above the ridgeline. It was plenty bumpy even at that altitude.

Wesley snapped a photo of the area where the cottage is located and we headed back toward Sanford. Even with our airspeed dialed back to soften the turbulence, our groundspeed was around 135 knots. I listened to the automated weather reporting at Sanford as we approached the airport. The wind was from 250 degrees at 11 knots, gusting to 19 knots. I explained to Wes that the wind was right down Runway 25, which was good, but that I would keep our approach speed a little higher to compensate for the gusts. It was really quite bumpy in the traffic pattern, and the wind gusts kept me busy with the yoke -- as I turned onto our base leg, a gust tipped the plane to about 60 degrees. Fortunately, I was keeping our airspeed higher than I normally would, to give me better control authority, and I quickly corrected without losing any significant amount of altitude. The approach was a little tense, though, and Wes later did a very funny impression of me with my right hand "white-knuckled on the throttle," and my left hand on the yoke in seizure-like motion.

We crossed the fence at 70 knots and I held the plane in the roundout for a while before flaring. Surprisingly, the touchdown was baby soft. I was "white-knuckled on the throttle," prepared for the gusts to balloon or drop us, but neither happened and there was hardly a bump as the wheels touched down. Nevertheless, as we taxied back to the FBO there was plenty of humor about airing out the cockpit, cleaning the seats, etc. Other family members had arrived after breakfast, waiting for possible rides, but I wasn't about to take them up. It was not unsafe to fly in that wind, but operations close to the ground were a little squirrelly. I would go do pattern work in that weather just for the practice, but it wouldn't have been fun for them or me to go out just for a fun, scenic flight.

I forgot to have Wes sign my logbook, but maybe he'll drop a comment here. I loved flying with him, both times, and look forward to more of it. His son's interest in flying is infectious, I think, and may have infected Wes. I suspect that, given the opportunity, he'll end up a pilot himself.

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Family Flying 4 - Dad

When I landed, returning my mom to terra firma, I finally flew with my dad!

My dad and airplanes. Airplanes and my dad. My dad is not a pilot, but he has been talking about airplanes my whole life. There's the story of a neighbor in rural Charlestown, New Hampshire, where he grew up. That neighbor flew an airplane out of a backyard strip. Then there was the guy who built an airplane in his garage and couldn't fit it out through the door after the wings were installed.

My dad was working on airplane radar when he was 18 and in the Navy. For most of my life, he was in the Air National Guard and then the Air Force Reserves out of the now-defunct Pease Air Force Base in Newington, New Hampshire. KC-135s and F-111s flew out of there, and old bombers were set up as static displays near the entrance to the base. We would go to air shows and special events for the families of the soldiers, often walking around various airplanes and talking about how cool they were. I remember being in the back of our old station wagon on Interstate 95 at night, driving past the end of Pease's runway and seeing fighters take off overhead, twin tails of sharpened flame stretching from their afterburners. Or meeting my dad at the Newington Mall on one of his duty weekends, and hearing the periodic thunder of KC-135s doing touch 'n gos over at the base. That's how I learned what a "touch 'n go" is -- my dad told me as we listened to the big planes do it at his air base.

Then the wind tunnel.... My dad explained Bernoulli's principle to me and helped me build a wind tunnel out of wood and glass. We went to the dump (remember those?) and found an old metal fan that we put at one end. I made a wing out of balsa, laminated it with plastic wrap and scotch tape, and we made it fly.

I think there are a lot of people like my dad, who love airplanes and flying, but just haven't ever done it. The money and time and responsibilities of raising a family, following the contours of a career, and caring for a house, barn, various pets, and a stable of cars, tractors, and boys.... Time goes by.
* * * * *
When I started learning to fly, my dad was just about the first person I wanted to call. When Oshkosh came around last year, I decided to go at just about the last minute. I called my dad to ask if he wanted to go, and he immediately said yes. We flew out by airline, rented a car, and camped at Camp Scholler. We had a great time, and I've been negligent for not blogging about the experience. In some ways, the whole experience was just too "big" to put up on a blog. Time with my dad (I've lived 500 miles away for the last five years), airplanes, me learning to fly, etc.....

We walked for miles, looking at all of the airplanes tied down around the airport and ogling some of the beautiful restorations.

We watched the airshows every day we were there.

And we relaxed by our tents every evening in Camp Scholler, enjoying our books and the comfort of my camp chairs.

Behind it all was the theme of what I was going to do when I finally had my license, and what he could do if he got his. Somehow I'm not surprised that my dad has shown up in so many photos of my young nephew Emerson falling in love with airplanes. I think I have vague memories of him lifting me up to look in airplanes thirty or so years ago.

So my dad was one of the first people I wanted to take flying. But months went by. It took me a few months after my checkride before we even got into the same state. Then there were other obligations and just not enough time to get to the airport, checked out in a rental, etc. Short of coming down to Maryland and parking himself on my couch until I took him flying, there's not much more my dad could have done to get into the air. We've come close, as I've written before, but it just never worked out.
So it was with a LOT of anticipation that I walked up to my dad at the fence after flying my mom around the beach. I briefed him, making sure he knew how to latch and unlatch the seatbelt and door, the climbed in. I told him about the flights I'd taken with my Nana and mom, and asked if he'd like to do the same or head inland. He didn't really have a preference, so I figured we'd head inland toward lake country.
I talked through my runup so he could follow along, asked him if he was ready, and we rolled down Runway 14. I climbed higher as we headed toward my parents' cottage in New Hampshire about 30 NM away. There were some hills at about 2,300 feet, so I climbed to 4,500 as we headed West. It was beautiful. The sun was low, the air was clear, and there was no turbulence.
Surprisingly, though, there WAS a significant headwind of 20-30 knots. As the duration of our flight to the cottage grew longer, and looking at the lowering sun, thinking of the people still on the ground hoping for a ride, I decided that we didn't have time to go all the way to the cottage. I explained the situation to him and asked if he minded if we headed back to the airport.
Other than asking a few questions, he had been pretty quiet the whole flight. I had done most of the talking, prattling on about the different instrument indications, what I was doing, things we were seeing, and so on. He said he wouldn't mind if we turned back, so we did.
I was high as we approached the airport, and on the wrong side of the runway, so I announced that we would overfly the airport 1,000 feet above pattern altitude. As we approached the airport, I flashed my taxi and landing lights at the small group of family on the ground, then I circled around and we entered the pattern to land.
Since he had been so quiet, I hadn't bothered to give him my usual spiel about avoiding non-essential conversation during the landing phase of flight. As I was about to turn base, he asked a question. I gave him a quick answer, then asked him to hold other questions until we were on the ground. There was a light crosswind, but I turned in another great landing.
As we taxied back, I said, "So, what do you think?" He said, "I think it's great!" Later that night, I gave him my logbook to sign. He wrote:
"Flying like clouds, floating like a feather, and just as smooth!
Well done! Dad."

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Family Flying 3 - Mom

"Here are your wings. Love, Mom."

My mom was waiting at the airport fence when I landed from flying with my Nana. She seemed a tad nervous, maybe just excited, as we walked out to the plane together. I showed her how to use the seatbelts and how to lock and open the door, then I walked around the plane and got in. A few minutes later we rolled down Runway 14 and climbed toward the ocean.

"Wow, it's really right there!" she said. With nearly unlimited visibility, an object the size of the Atlantic ocean appears "right there" from less than 10 miles away at 1,200 feet. I repeated the flight I had done with my grandmother, accelerating to 120 knots at 1,200 feet, then slowing to 80 knots at 1,000 feet as we flew South along the beach from Wells to Ogunquit.

I turned right to head Northwest when we were over Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, catching this photo of my mom as I did so.

She didn't seem in the least discomforted by the bank angle. As we headed Northwest, she was looking at the instrument panel and at the ground for landmarks.

We were a couple miles inland when she picked out my brother's house among the trees. I circled around twice while she snapped photos through the window.

We continued on toward the airport, looking for my parents' house where I grew up. The house is only 3 miles from the airport, so I was a bit nervous to be maneuvering at a low, pattern altitude. I announced our position relative to the airport on the CTAF and only circled once. It's a very pretty house in a beautiful setting.

We returned to the airport and I performed my second near-flawless landing of the day. My mom climbed out of the airplane all smiles.

Later that evening, I handed my logbook to my mom to let her "endorse" it. She joked (?) that she was going to have trouble sleeping because she would be thinking about everything she saw. She held onto the logbook for a couple days before giving it back. When she did, she had written the following:

"The York County (Maine) fly-over produced vivid sensations & images - all of them great - that continue to swirl through my mind. The pilot, who happens to be my son, was considerate & excellent. Thank you, Pilot Greg! Here are your wings. Love, Mom."
Pinned to the page was a set of gold plastic wings with the Delta Airlines insignia.
You see, in 1979, for my sixth birthday, my parents gave me my first flight in an airplane. My cousin, Janet, and I were put all alone on a Delta flight from Portland, Maine, to Bangor, Maine. It's only 100 nautical miles from Portland to Bangor, and the flight lasted all of 20 minutes. But we were aloft, alone, I looked down on houses and hills for the first time, and it was a major highlight of my life to that point. The stewardess gave each of us these gold, plastic wings.

According to my mom, who held onto them for the last 28 years, I've now earned those wings. And that feels very good.


Family Flying 2 - Nana

When I arrived in Maine on the Saturday before Labor Day, I found my grandmother at my parents' house. My grandmother is a remarkable woman, fearless, energetic, funny, creative, a brilliant conversationalist. When I brought up the idea of going flying the next day, she was first in line.

About thirty years ago, my uncle got his pilot's license and flew for a while. He gave it up not long after he got his license, though I don't know why. My grandmother had flown with my uncle, though the only story she's told me is the one about how my uncle couldn't find the airport to land. She also got caught once in a storm on one of Maine's islands and was flown to the mainland in the mail plane, but that was at least 15 years ago. So while flying in a small plane was not exactly new to her, it had been a while.

She and I drove to the airport ahead of everyone else and I checked out a newer 172SP. I did a thorough preflight and gave my grandmother a good preflight briefing. Before long, we were at the end of Runway 14, ready to go. I asked her if she was ready, and she said she was, so I pushed in the throttle and we began rolling.

Engine gauges looked good, power good, airspeed alive, twenty knots, thirty, forty knots, fifty..... We were just shy of rotation speed when my grandmother decided to adjust her position in her seat. Looking for something to pull herself up with, she grabbed . . . the yoke. And pulled.

"DON'TTOUCHTHAT! DON'T . . . TOUCH . . . THAT!" I yelled through the intercom, pushing against the yoke as she pulled. She let go, and two seconds later we passed rotation speed and were climbing away from the airport. She hadn't yet said anything in response to my shrieking. "I thought this was a collaborative venture," she finally said, and I burst out laughing. She was obviously chagrined, and I still feel awful for yelling at my Nana, of all people, but it was a dangerous situation. If I hadn't had the presence of mind to push on the yoke as she pulled, it might have been a very short flight with a bad landing. My passenger briefings now include detailed and explicit instructions/reminders on what parts of the plane should not be touched.

I levelled off at 1,200 feet, about 1,000 feet above the ground, and let the plane accelerate to 120 knots or so. There was absolutely no turbulence. We flew 10 miles East to the coast, just South of the prohibited airspace around the elder President Bush's place in Kennebunkport, then turned South. I kept the plane at 1,000 feet and slowed to 80 knots, flying about 1/4-mile off the coast so my grandmother could see the beaches from her window. We flew South to Ogunquit, then I climbed to 2,000 feet and turned Northwest to head back to the airport, snapping this picture as we went.

There was a 5-knot crosswind as I landed on Runway 14, but my landing was about as perfect as they come. When I taxied back, I saw the rest of my family that had arrived and was waiting on the other side of the fence. They had all seen my good landing! I stopped the plane, shut down, and my grandmother said, "Well!"

Later that evening as we all sat around the table in a nearby Bonanza restaurant, I handed my logbook to my grandmother, turned to the "Notes" section in the back. Mirroring my own sentiments, she wrote:

"Greg, soaring with you in the clouds was wonderful. So special. Love, Nana."


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Family Flying 1 - Introduction

I was in Maine this past week. The trip had originally been planned as a trip to Boston for work-related stuff, and I scheduled a little vacation around those days. Then my work commitment was cancelled. Since my in-laws were now planning to fly to Maine for part of the week, I decided to add a couple days to my vacation and stay for the whole week. It was a great time, in no small part because of the flying I got to do.

I previously wrote about the beautiful clear skies I saw in Maine, as well as my attempts to take my dad flying. This time it all came together. I reserved a plane for a 4-hour block on Sunday evening, from 5 to 9. Once it became known that I was giving rides, my family members literally lined up at the airport fence.

The weather was absolutely perfect. Nice and cool, in the 60s, with tremendous visibility, no turbulence, and only the lightest winds on the ground. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky.

I flew four people: my grandmother (Nana), my mom, my dad, and my youngest brother, Wes. I'm going to write about each flight separately, because each one meant something different to me, and it would be a very long post to write it all at once. Those accounts will be coming shortly. For now, here's my updated ride list:
  • Eric G. (DONE)
  • Eric W.
  • Dad (DONE)
  • Millie (DONE)
  • Chloe B. (DONE)
  • Ryan L.
  • Ted K.
  • Len G.
  • Mom (DONE)
  • David (DONE)
  • Jessica (DONE)
  • David L.
  • Mike D.
  • Wes (DONE)
  • Nana (DONE)
  • Emerson
  • Brandie
  • Jodie
  • Amy M.
  • Pete G.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Southern Maine Aviation

I had to be in Boston on Friday for work, so I booked my return flight on Sunday so that I could spend the weekend with my family. My nephew's birthday party went off with an airplane theme, and he was really cute as he watched the little video I made for him.

Since I was going to be in the area, I had planned to get checked out so I could rent airplanes from the airport near my parents' house. I was scheduled for the checkout flight on Sunday morning, but on Saturday afternoon I had some time to kill so I stopped by the airport. Southern Maine Aviation is based in a large hangar on the West Ramp at Sanford Regional Airport (KSFM). When I walked into the hangar, I was confronted with a PBY under restoration, an L39 that was polished like a mirror, a Diamond DA40, and a handful of Cessnas in various states of disassembly.

The guys there were great. There was no apparent work going on, but there were three or four employees hanging around and talking. They decided to take care of the paperwork, since I had dropped by, then asked if I'd like to see the planes. They have a Cessna 172M, the same model as Three Five Romeo, in which I did most of my training. They also have two 172SPs, a 2003 model and a 2004 model. Then there's the Diamond DA40 and a Citabria.

I'd never flown a 172SP. It has 20 more horsepower than any 172 I've flown, and a dual-axis autopilot, and is a really nice plane. It turned out that if I checked out in the SP, then I could rent either the SPs or the M-model. If I checked out in the M model, I would need another checkout to rent the SPs. It was a no-brainer for me.

My dad and I arrived at the airport on time (after the obligatory run through the Dunkin Donuts drive-through) and I met the instructor. We sat down for 2 minutes to talk about different things, then he took me out and I pre-flighted the plane. The instructor suggested that my dad could come in the back seat, but when I did the weight and balance calculations, we were 150 pounds over the maximum gross weight. The instructor said,"You're PIC, but I can tell you that it would be fine."

What a dilemma. My dad has been waiting patiently for FIVE MONTHS to fly with me. He got up early to go to the airport, was standing there with a headset they had loaned him, the instructor (who knew the airplane we were flying) was saying it was safe.... In the end, it was the concept of "PIC" that helped me make the decision. "PIC" is an abbreviation for "pilot in command." The pilot in command is pretty much like the captain of a ship or a commanding officer in the military. The term is defined by FAA regulations as the person who:
  1. Has final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of the flight;

  2. Has been designated as pilot in command before or during the flight; and

  3. Holds the appropriate category, class, and type rating, if appropriate, for the conduct of the flight.

The instructor was correct -- I was PIC. A student pilot flying the plane with an instructor is NOT pilot in command. A certificated pilot, however, is in most circumstances PIC if he is flying the plane, even when flying with an instructor. In this case, I was PIC, which meant that I had "final . . . responsibility for the . . . safety of the flight." It was a plane I had never flown before, in an area I had never flown in. Although I have flown almost exclusively planes of the same model, this one had some features (engine power, autopilots) that were different than any plane I'd flown. Further, as part of the checkout, we were going to do some basic maneuvers, such as stalls, slips, etc. And now I was being asked to fly the plane while exceeding the maximum gross weight set by the manufaturer and FAA certification. How could I take responsibility for the safety of the flight in those circumstances?

I also thought of what my dad would take away from the experience. He's reading Stick & Rudder and studying while looking forward to maybe taking flying lessons. As I was standing there, I asked myself whether I wanted to take responsibility for anything he would learn from seeing me "bend" the rules.

There was also my personal philosophy regarding flying safety. It can be articulated several different ways. One way to state it is to say that I am committed to always taking the conservative approach in aviation. Another way I have articulated the philosophy is to say that if I have to seriously consider and weigh whether something is safe or appropriate, then I will not do it. I caught myself standing there and thinking, "It's not legal. But the FAA issues permit for overweight ferry flights, which it wouldn't do if it was unsafe. But it's not a good example. But we're not doing any maneuvers that will put a load on the wings." When I caught myself weighing factors back and forth, I knew that I could not make the decision to do it, at least not while staying true to my commitment to always make the conservative decision regarding flying.

There was no way. "Dad," I said, "I think I'd rather take you up after the checkout flight." My dad immediately said, "No problem," and started walking away. I could tell he was disappointed, and it tore at me a little. I was really angry at the instructor for suggesting he could come without first confirming that the flight could be made legally under those circumstances. What is an instructor doing suggesting that rules regarding the safe operation of a flight can be bent and broken? And why couldn't he have not said anything until he had talked it over with me privately, especially since I WAS PIC?

My dad later said that he thought the instructor was testing me to see if I would fly with the plane over gross weight. The disappointing thing about it is that the instructor was not testing me. He graduated from one of the big colleges with an aviation degree, has all of his instructor certificates, etc. In the plane, he told me how when he was in college they would routinely take planes out with several students and full fuel, way over gross. He said they would just burn off fuel before starting any maneuvers. And I've heard bush pilots say that a Piper Super Cub handles best when 500 pounds over certificated maximum gross weight.

The plane might have climbed a little slower, but with that 180 horsepower engine, it would have climbed just fine (it climbed at 1,000 feet per minute with the instructor and me). The air was cool and dry, there was no turbulence and only a light wind. Our maneuvers did not impose any heavy loads on the airframe. And by the time we returned to the airport, we would have burned off 60 pounds of fuel before landing, so been closer to the weight limit (albeit still over). It would almost certainly would have been fine, which made it harder to make the right decision, but I don't doubt that was the right decision.

As things turned out, I did not have the chance to take my dad flying after the checkout flight. We had to meet my mom and sister, then go to my nephew's birthday party, and then I had to catch my flight home. There just wasn't time. But now I'm checked out, and I can go back and take my dad up whenever the weather and our schedules permit. The SPs are NICE planes, and we're going to have a great time when it finally works out. I can't wait.

Other than just wanting to be in a plane with my dad, one of the reasons I can't wait to fly again up there is that the air is SO much clearer in New England. When we were perhaps 1,500' in the air after taking off from the Sanford airport, it seemed like I could see forever. The White Mountains of New Hampshire were off to the right and clearly visible except for Mount Washington, which was making its own weather and covered by a cloud. To the south, just off our nose, was the distant skyline of Boston, also clearly visible from 60 NM (about 70 "regular" miles) away . Between us and Boston, Pease International Tradeport (KPSM) was visible 20 miles away, as well as the City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Off to the Southwest, the instructor pointed out the Class C airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, 40 miles away. I wondered, if I climbed another 1,000 feet higher, would I be able to see Worcester, Massachusetts, where my brother and sister-in-law live, 85 miles away? We turned to the East. Looking Northeast, there was a hook of land jutting into the Atlantic -- Kennebunkport, where the first President Bush has his house. Further on, Biddeford and then Portland were also visible.

I could see Boston sixty miles away!

Where I live and do most of my flying in the mid-Atlantic, 5 miles of visibility is a decent day, 7 miles is pretty good, and 10-12 miles is terrific. Sometimes in cooler weather, usually at night or the early morning, the visibility can be better, but I have never had visibility like I did at 1,500 feet over Sanford, Maine. It was the most beautiful flight I've had to date, and I really cannot wait to get back up there again. Without that instructor.

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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.....

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Over Land, Over Water....

I've been busy with work (again) and unable to find time to fly. When I have scheduled a flight, the weather hasn't cooperated, as usual. Also, I'm finding that now I can go anytime I want, I'd much rather have someone to go with me or have a destination and purpose. My favorite flight to date was with Dave and Jess, and it would be a blast to go somewhere with a purpose, but when it's just me and the prospect of flying around aimlessly, it's often not enough to get me out of the office and to the airport.....

So. In order to make myself get back in the air, I decided that today would be the day I flew the "VFR Corridor" between the Washington and Baltimore airspaces to get to the Chesapeake Bay.

The corridor.... It's four miles wide in its narrowest stretch. At the speeds we fly, it would take about two minutes to fly from one side to the other, half that time if we were flying down the middle and veered sharply to the right or left. To the right (the South side) is the Flight Restricted Zone, or FRZ, pronounced "Freeze." If you fly into the FRZ, you're in BIG trouble, and can expect meeting with Secret Service while face-down on the ground, perhaps an "intercept" by an F-16 or Blackhawk helicopter, and so on. To the left (the North side) is the Baltimore "Class B" airspace, in which large planes (i.e., 737s) are descending to land at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). If you stray into the Class B airspace without permission, the FAA can "take action" against your hard-earned pilot certificate.

Other than the corridor, though, the only other options if you want to get from Gaithersburg to anywhere East of Washington is to either seek and get permission to fly through the Class B airspace around BWI, or go North and all the way around Baltimore. But, Air Traffic Control is not guaranteed to give you permission to fly through the controlled airspace. And one of the whole points of flying is to go in a straight line rather than following the seeming vagaries of roads, so going all the way around Baltimore seems like a waste of time. So, with certain limited exceptions, all the airplanes that want to get from one side of the Baltimore-Washington line to the other have to use this corridor, which can make it somewhat congested. There are different altitudes that East-bound and West-bound pilots are supposed to use, but a lot of pilots seem to not even know about the published altitudes, much less pay attention to them. It's not an enforceable rule, so there's the possibility of coming in close proximity with an airplane heading the other way.

In the snippet from a navigation chart, above, the Gaithersburg airport is the little magenta circle in the top left corner. The blue on the right is the Chesapeake Bay. The red line on the bottom is the boundary of the FRZ, and the red line on the top is the boundary of the Class B airspace. You can see the challenge -- get from Gaithersburg, through the narrow corridor to the other side without straying into forbidden airspace.

And remember, in the air, the boundaries are NOT there for you to see -- they're invisible lines in the air.

Since I decided early on in my flight training to always err on the side of caution, I had thought that the first time I went through the corridor as a pilot, I would take an instructor with me. But scheduling an instructor's time on top of scheduling a plane and finding time away from work, well, it was just too complicated to get a flight scheduled. So I reevaluated and decided a week or two ago that I was just going to have some faith in my abilities, prepare thoroughly, and do it.

Today was the day.

I studied the procedures and maps, I looked at waypoints that could be programmed into the GPS, and I decided to go. I had learned everything I needed to know to do it safely: it just requires good, meticulous flying.

On the way to the airport this morning, though, I thought of my friend, Gashaw. Gashaw is an instrument-rated pilot with a lot of experience compared to me, more than 280 hours. So I called him up as I headed to the airport and asked if he'd like to go flying. "Sure," he said. So he met me at the airport and we took off.

We had a great time. On the way out, Gashaw offered to show me how to ask for a "Class B Transition" from Air Traffic Control. If ATC granted our wish, we could fly on the North side of the corridor, away from the congested center of the corridor. I had never asked for a Class B transition, so while I flew the plane, Gashaw called ATC on the radio and requested the transition. The first controller said we needed to talk to a different controller, so we changed frequencies. The second controller agreed to let us into the Class B airspace, and instructed us to fly a certain heading. This allowed us to climb higher, above the other traffic using the corridor and North of it. In the GPS printout above, you can see where the green line veers straight East, then Southeast and parallel to the corridor. That was the route we were given and allowed to use with ATC's permission. After a little while we were past the corridor and the magnificent Chesapeake Bay opened up in front of us. We were having a lot of fun.

We crossed the bay, and headed for an airport in Easton, Maryland. When we arrived, I was going to fly over the field about 1,000 feet above the traffic pattern altitude, but realized that would put me on the wrong side of the runway for the proper traffic pattern. So I put the plane in a spiraling descent (the circle below), then entered the traffic pattern and landed.

We parked the plane and I spoke to the "lineman" to have it refueled, then we went into the Hangar Cafe for some breakfast. We were disappointed -- it was 11:31 when we sat down, and the waitress told us that breakfast ended at 11:30. We had to settle for hamburgers named after various airplanes. Gashaw had the "Cessna Burger," with bacon and cheddar cheese. I had the "Mooney Burger," with mushrooms and Swiss cheese. The food was good, but I had REALLY been looking forward to breakfast.

We lingered for an hour, eating and talking, then paid for the fuel and took off again to head back to Gaithersburg. On our way, we flew over Kentmorr, a small grass airfield right on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. This is one of the airports that Jodie is looking forward to visiting when she starts flying with me.

As we crossed the bay, we watched all the "little" sailboats enjoying the beautiful day on the water.

To our right, the Bay Bridge arched its minuscule trellises up and across the water.... In truth, it's a BIG bridge, and long, and I absolutely hate driving across it. I crossed it once in my Jeep, which has canvas sides. The wind was howling and traffic was jammed up. The wind was pushing the Jeep around on the road, and I felt (or imagined I could feel) the bridge swaying in the wind. I feel much safer in the airplane. The bridge looked so small from our height (2,500') and distance a couple miles away....

As we headed back into the corridor, I decided to fly the center of the corridor and not ask ATC for a Class B transition. The published altitude for flying the corridor towards Gaithersburg is 1,500', so I descended, turned on my landing light to increase our visibility to any airplane flying toward us, and kept the plane centered smack dab in the middle of the corridor all the way through.

At that low altitude, the air was a little bumpy, not too bad, though it got worse as I descended toward a touchdown at Gaithersburg. It was bumpy enough that it wasn't my best landing, but the plane and all our teeth were intact, and I didn't set off the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) in the plane, so we can classify it as a "good" landing. (The ELT is designed to send out a radio signal if it senses an impact. Hard landings can sometimes set them off.)

So that was it. I flew the corridor, and it was fine, fun, and just as beautiful as I anticipated flying over the Bay. With Gashaw's company and advice, it wasn't nerve wracking at all, and I look forward to doing it again. I will say, though, that having the GPS in the plane was very reassuring, and I'm not sure that I would ever fly through the corridor without the GPS. I've heard more experienced pilots say the same thing, though I've also heard older pilots scoff at the idea that a GPS is "needed" for anything. But the airspace and rules affecting and restricting it have changed a LOT in the last five or six years. In fact, the FRZ didn't even exist until after 9/11. The Feds now see small, wandering planes as much more of a threat than they used to (though with little reason), and the consequences of not being precise in your navigation can carry much greater consequences for minor deviations in course. Given all of that, I think I'll simply set the use of a GPS in the corridor as one of my "personal minimums" and consider myself prudent.