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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story Greg. Thanks for sharing.


6:43 PM  

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