Monday, March 31, 2008

One Year: A Retrospective

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

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

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

On landing, Ryan and Rachael both endorsed my logbook:

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

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

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

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

On my way home I did the following:

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

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

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