Sunday, August 16, 2009

Home Solo

My brother and his family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. I have to admit I'm a little bit jealous, as I love Knoxville. It also happens to be where my wife grew up, so it's become familiar over the last several years. It's a big change from Maine, and a long way, so my brother and his family needed a place to stay on their way down. Washington, DC, is about half way, so they came and stayed with us. My mom and dad came too, as they were helping with the move. In the end, after two nights at our (2 bedroom) condo, we all headed from Washington, DC, to Knoxville last Sunday. My brother and his family went in one car. My dad drove another car. My mom, Jodie, and I took the Tiger.

We had a beautiful flight down to the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (KDKX). Both Jodie and my mom nodded off and slept while I climbed up to 10,500 feet to get above the clouds, haze, and heat. As we approached the Tri-Cities area, I spiraled down to get under the clouds and we flew the last 45 minutes down the valley.

The moving company didn't show up until four days later than promised, so we didn't get to help actually move stuff into the house my brother and his wife are renting. We did, though, get to spend good quality time with my nephews, paint and clean the house, relax with my family and Jodie's, and eat LOTS of watermelon.

Jodie flew home by airline on Tuesday night to be at work on Wednesday. I started looking for openings in the weather. While the weather in Knoxville and at home wasn't that bad, it was pretty awful weather in between. Finally it appeared that Thursday afternoon could work. A batch of thunderstorms was moving through Virginia. Worst case, it looked like I could head north into West Virginia, then cut east on the north side of the weather.

I took off in 95-degree heat on Thursday afternoon, with a wave to my brother and little nephews who had come to the airport to see me go. Heading northeast, towering cumulus clouds indicative of strong thunderstorms were ahead and to the right of my course. As it happened, though, I never had to deviate because of the clouds and just enjoyed the cloud-scape along my route.

One of the requirements to get a Commercial Pilot Certificate is to complete a solo cross-country flight of more than 300 nautical miles. The flight has to take you at least 250 nautical miles from your point of departure, and there have to be at least two landings along the way.

It is about 380 nautical miles from Knoxville to Gaithersburg. So for this flight to qualify, all I had to do was land at a couple airports along the way. In southern Virginia, I was passing by an airport that Jodie and I had landed at a year ago in on our first trip in the Tiger: Pulaski (KPSK). As I approached Pulaski from the south, I decided to descend and follow I-81 as it curved around the hills south of Pulaski. I called on the radio to tell them I would be landing, and a soft southern drawl answered that there were no airplanes ahead of me. "And welcome to Pulaski."

The man who refueled the airplane, and who had welcomed me over the radio, remembered me from my stop a year ago, and even remembered that Jodie and I had turned back and landed there because of bad weather ahead. After a nice chat and a cup of bad coffee, I took off and headed north for Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (KSHD). A quick stop at the vending machine for a Zagnut bar, and I continued on, following the Shenandoah Valley north to the airport in Front Royal, Virginia (KFRR). The valley was gorgeous at that time of day, and I stayed low and slow and kept the canopy open to enjoy the cooling air of early evening.

In the end, I think I'll remember this trip for several reasons. It was most significant for its connection with my brother's family moving to Tennessee. It was also the first time my mom went on a cross-country trip with me, and only the second time she has been in a plane with me. It was my longest solo trip to date, and also fulfilled a requirement for the Commercial Pilot Certificate. Finally, it pushed me over the 300-hour mark. (Three hundred hours has no real significance except that it ends in two zeros.)


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