Friday, April 06, 2007

Dave & Jess Go Flying

My brother, David, and his wife, Jess, visited us on their way North from visiting Charlottesville, Virginia, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They're looking for places to move while Dave completes his medical residency. They arrived late Thursday night and expressed an interest in going for a flight, so I looked for a window when the weather would provide a pleasant flight and a plane was available. The winds have been pretty stiff lately, and a winter weather system moved through this past week, but I had my eye on a window of time late Friday afternoon. The weather cooperated, and we all met at the airport to go for a flight in Three Five Romeo. My brother acted the part of the intrepid aviator, though I later learned that while he was brave on the outside, he was a quivering wreck on the inside.....




We started off with David in the right seat and Jess in the back. They got settled in while I conducted the preflight and went through my pre-start checklists.


Part of David's preparation was to make a visual record for the NTSB in case of a crash. He figured that if his camera was recovered from an accident scene, it would provide some documentation of the plane's "last seconds."


At least, that was his explanation for this photo. In reality, though, I think this is a reflection of how he was feeling even though the plane hadn't moved from its parking spot.

We flew North over Sugarloaf Mountain and then West for a view of Harper's Ferry. Dave and Jess, along with my brother Wes and friend Ryan, drove down to Harper's Ferry several years ago to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, so the view had special meaning for them. In significant part, it was depressing to see how close residential development encroached on the forest through which the trail ran. While they had felt secluded and "miles from civilization," the aerial view showed that there were houses just a couple miles each side of the trail.

The air was smooth, and after flying over Harper's Ferry, we turned North to follow the Potomac up the valley for a while. It was great flying, and both Dave and Jess were impressed with the smoothness and feeling of stillness even though we were making a ground speed of about 130 mph.

I asked them if they'd like to land somewhere, just to get a sense of distance, and they did, so I headed toward Hagerstown and called the tower as I approached the Class D airspace. I was told to enter a left base for Runway 27, and then cleared to land. There was a 9 knot crosswind blowing from 330, sixty degrees off the runway. Crosswind landings are something that it seems every pilot needs to keep working on, and I'm no exception. The technique it to tip the upwind wing into the wind, then keep the plane straight with opposite rudder. This has the plane approaching the runway with one wheel tipped lower than the other. (There are other techniques, but this is the one I like best.) My tendency has always been to level the wings just before touchdown, which then results in a drift off the centerline of the runway. This time I was determined to do it right, and I held the "slip" all the way through the flare and touched down right wheel first. It was a smooth landing, and both Dave and Jess said it was a good one, though David later told me that he thought the one-wheel landing was unintentional.


We stopped the plane at Rider Aviation, and used the bathrooms. It was nearing dark, so after using the posh facilities, we piled back in the plane, with Jess in the right seat and David in the back. We took off on Runway 27 and headed Southeast toward Gaithersburg. Jess steadied the controls and held the plane straight and level while I flipped a chart to get some frequencies I needed for our approach back toward DC. We flew over the Frederick airport at 3,000 feet and watched an airplane approach to land below us, then turned East while I waited to get a transponder code to reenter the ADIZ. It was fully dark now, and the lights on the ground were sparkling as I cruised slowly between Frederick and Westminster. We chatted while we flew, and David told me that he had nearly panicked during our first takeoff roll, and had felt a nearly irresistible impulse to grab the controls. Both he and Jess were relaxed now, the air was silky smooth, and it was beautiful cruising with the lights from Baltimore and Washington and the surrounding areas all lit up. I circled to kill time, and Air Traffic Control then called to allow me into the ADIZ. I headed toward Gaithersburg, and listened to the weather on the radio. The wind was calm and there was no traffic in the pattern, so I set up for a left downwind on Runway 14 and triggered the runway lights. The landing was good, and we taxied back to park the plane, then headed home.

I'm very happy to have had the chance to take up my first family members, and Dave and Jess were wonderful, fun passengers. We flew for a total of almost two hours, and the evening hour and perfect weather made it a great experience. Both David and Jess had a bit of "the bug" when we landed and were asking how much it cost to get a pilot's license, how long it took me, and so on. I'm not sure they'll jump into it right now, but perhaps soon.....

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