Friday, February 04, 2011

Flying time again.

It seemed like a nice day, and I need to step up my game a bit in anticipation of a possible long-distance cross-country flight later this year, so I went up for another hop today, taxiing out past the assorted ramp ornaments and hangar queens over on the G side of the field.

Once aloft, I headed east, over towards the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah River, this time singing "Free Bird" loud and off-key.

I did my usual tour about the neighborhood, looking down on all the mere mortals below and wishing that I had something worth dropping on them. This little red-roofed house looks like a great target from here...and me without even one bag of flour!
Heading back north along the Shenandoah, I get to Harpers Ferry, the place where I usually bank left and follow the Potomac River back towards the west. But not today! Today it's off into new territory as I head through the pass and up north to the airport at Frederick, MD.

And there it is, just past the big quarry and Interstate 70--the Frederick airport, otherwise known as FDK. I've never been here before, because the old Washington DC ADIZ used to be in the way. But now that they've shrunk it, I can fly direct without worrying about accidentally busting it.

There's no control tower here, so it's basically every plane for himself. Each pilot in the area announces his position and intentions and in a perfect world, everyone gets along nicely. Today is not perfect, though. There are several aircraft trying to use this field and a couple of jokers doing ILS landings are messing things up for the rest of us, calling in nonsense like "9 miles out on final approach to runway 23" when I'm already on a downwind pattern leg VFR for the same runway. A nine-mile straight-in final with closer aircraft already in the landing pattern? What kind of silly shit is that? But me being nice--and also because I could not see this other aircraft that I knew was coming in, I turned out of the pattern and went around again for "noise abatement reasons". (Two aircraft hitting each other in mid-air makes a lot of noise.) Once the other traffic had landed, I came around again and executed a flawless touch-and-go, then skated on out of the pattern to the west, running back along I-70 towards Hagerstown, and another airport (HGR)that I'd never been to before.
Switching over to Hagerstown Tower (they actually have one there), the first thing I heard was another pilot coming in from the north calling up to ask the condition of reservation P-40, which is the airspace around Camp David. This is an important thing to know, because while the airspace directly over Camp David is always restricted, on those occasions when the president is out there, the restricted zone expands and even an inadvertent violation of this larger restricted zone will result in you seeing fighter jets up close and personal, and typically meeting with Secret Service and the FAA upon landing.
So this pilot calls in and asks the status of the P-40 airspace, and the tower replies with: "P-40 airspace is as published."
In other words, you should have checked your NOTAMS, and if you had, you'd know.
The other pilot replied with: "Uh, P-40 as published. Roger." But he was undoubtedly thinking the same thing that I was thinking, that the Hagerstown controller is a dick of the first order. Yeah, the other pilot should have checked, but still--he was asking for help and the information is important in this area.

A few minutes later, I called Hagerstown to let them know that I was five miles out and request clearance for another touch-and-go. They just told me to call back when I was turning base (the last leg of the landing pattern before final approach) and went back to whatever it was that was more important than paying attention to the Cessna pilot who has never been here before. Well, ok then. I can do that. I set up for a left pattern on runway 27 and headed on in.

They cleared me before I started my base turn so I went on in and put the rear wheels smack on the numbers for a perfect landing--the kind that I can only ever seem to make when I have no passengers or other witnesses.

Once all wheels were down, I pushed the carb heat off, smacked the flaps up, and jammed the throttle to the firewall to take back off again--Oh, look! A DC-3. I love those things!

OK, ADHD on take-off...probably not good. But I got off the ground without a problem, climbed out over I-81, banked left, and headed south for my home field again.

All was good at this time. I got back to my airport, called at five miles, and they set me up for a right base pattern. Uh, surely there must be some mistake, as left patterns are the norm at this field. I called back for a repeat of the instructions, and they confirmed that I was to call back when I was downwind for a right-base pattern. Darn it, guys! All of my landmarks are on the other side of the field. Not only that, a nearby industrial plant is putting up a ton of smoke, and you're making me fly right through it. Thanks for that! But it's their airport, so I fly a right-base, meaning that I fly a clockwise pattern, making all right turns. Once more, I come in and make a nice, no-bounce touchdown on the numbers, and this time I go full-stop and turn off onto the second taxiway, right back to the FBO. Elapsed fight time: 1.8 hours. Much fun!


  1. In those 1.8 hours, about how many miles do you cover?

  2. One must studiously apply oneself to avoid become a mono-directional pilot. If you do something to the left you should be able to do it to the right. Steep turns, traffic patterns, clover-leafs, barrel rolls and spins. Unintentional violent maneuvers in a single direction are acceptable if entry was accidental in the first place.

  3. Sounds like a good time, with an exception or two... And Ed R is correct, practice ALL of the approaches!

  4. Ed S., Probably 150 ground miles or so total if you count my playing around early on.

    Ed R., you're right. And I'm trying to do different stuff now, which is why I decided to fly to two new airports today. All I've been doing lately is flying the same little circuit around the county so I'm pushing myself into new areas and trying new things.

    As for the barrel rolls...can you even do those in a 172? Every time I've asked at the plane rental place, they just give me one of those looks that suggest that they're having second thoughts about the rental. And I had to sign an agreement not to spin their planes.

    But I'm looking at getting one of my own this year, which is why I'm trying to fly more and push my boundaries out further now.

  5. NFO, I agree that it's good practice. But as long as I've been flying out of this airport, they've always used a left-base pattern. This it the first time I've ever gotten to try it from the other side, even when up with an IP on check rides. I'm actually glad that I got to try it from the other direction, but after so many left-pattern approaches to that runway, it was weird to suddenly get new and different instructions from the tower, especially ones that put me in fairly close to a big smoking chimney when there's nothing at all on the other side of the field. So I called back and asked for a repeat, and when they confirmed their instruction, I adapted and overcame.

  6. Sounds like a great trip. And about that red roof . . . I always thought it was brown. Must be the snow contrast thing.

    thanks! It is a cute little place and Bruce's garden fence actually looks very square from that height.

    I am always happy to see a nice bottle of Chianti or a case or two drop from the sky - just please try to miss the garden in the summer and remember to use lots of bubble stuff packing material.

  7. Well, I am envious.

    I learned and soloed in a Skyhawk, oh, in about 1985, but haven't flown as PIC since forever. The last time I was aloft was probably in the front cockpit of ex-FIL's Starduster II about 5 years ago.

    Thanks for the post!

  8. Regarding spins and rolls in that -172, NO! You'll have to get in a bird that's stressed and certified for that sort of thing and take some quality instruction. Do not go out for on-the-job-training solo!

    They used to be called "Utility" class and/or "Experimental". Dunno what the nomenclature is these days. Parachutes were required as well.

  9. You guys are gonna bankrupt me with all this talk of piloting, exploring here and there, and buying some cute little airplane.

  10. Ed R., Worry not. I learned the adage about no old, bold pilots a long time ago, and I figure that if no one else is stunt-flying a 172, there's probably a good reason for it. I also know the one about a man having to know his limitations. I plan to get a lot better, but I plan to get a lot older, too, so I don't deliberately take crazy chances.

    That said, I would like to see a spin first-hand just so I know what it like, but I'm not young and dumb enough anymore to deliberately enter one without an experienced pilot next to me.

    Still, I have to admit that when I read your books about your flying envious, I can't help but be more than a little envious. Your first book "When Thunder Rolled", was one of the ones that inspired me to get back to flying again a few years ago.