Washington Flyer

So far this summer we’ve been able to fly to Glacier National Park, Grand Teton, Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. We’ve had mostly lovely flying conditions with only a stretch or two that required IFR flying. Even those stretches were reasonably docile.

Today we get to add Washington, D.C. to the list. We’re taking nephew Jacob up for his first flight and first trip to DC. After school his mom ran him over to our house and we took possession of him for the four day weekend. We weigh his bags, get instructions from mom concerning homework and start going through his list of things he wants to see. He has a list of monuments and museums that is far longer than we will have time to visit. It’s cool to see a kid who is actually interested in going to see some history. Many would be disappointed to have to go to such a city instead of spending a week on a beach or going to DisneyWorld.

Although he’s just gotten out of school I have him sit down immediately and do his math homework. With that out of the way we won’t have to worry about finding another time to get it done. Then we start to work on prioritizing his list of things he wants to see.

We categorize things and decide the best approach is going to be to group the monuments together as they are all on the mall. We leave ample time for air and space on the mall, though I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see the air and space at Dulles. It’s supposed to be fantastic, but we have too much to do in the city. Beth gets home and bumps up the priority on the Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard.

As a final check I get out the scale and make a final check of everyones bags. Over the past few days I have been planning the flight and there was no way that we could make it non-stop with three people plus luggage. The plane we’re taking could make the trip with full tanks of fuel, but this time we have to trade off fuel weight for people weight. This means we will have to make a stop on the way.

We get the plane out and get it loaded up. Our plane this time is a Piper Archer with a glass panel. It’s a joy to fly, but I’m still getting used to it. There are many more buttons and knobs to push, rotate and understand. Sitting in the alley between the hangers I get a weather update, request a clearance for our IFR flight plan and a few minutes later we are zooming through the skies.

We fly for about three hours and find ourselves in the vicinity of Zanesville, OH. I request a full ILS approach for the sake of practice. The conditions in the area are VMC and there is no need to do a full approach, but it’s been a while since I did one. I’ve only done two in this plane and, even though I have to keep my head up and look out the window as I don’t have a safety pilot, it seems like a good idea to go ahead and turns the knobs and push the buttons to gain familiarity.

We land in Zanesville and find a very nicely appointed FBO with reasonably priced avgas. I’m ready to push on, but Beth and Jacob are hungry. We agree on a compromise. We will go get some Subway and bring it on the plane to eat in-flight. The folks at the office are helpful and give us a ride down the road to pick up the sandwiches and soon we are again on our way.

Flying along in ones own plane makes Subway sandwiches about as enjoyable an experience as it could possibly be and we are all full and ready for the rest of the day. After a while we start to notice some changes in the terrain. We are getting into the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains. They aren’t a super tall range, but they are very large and quite pretty.

About an hour from Dulles we get handed over to Washington center controllers. The ATC system is organized, roughly, around airports that have ground and tower controllers, airport control areas that have approach and departure controllers and centers that are responsible for large areas and manage the routing between airports. Since DC is a very busy area with two major airport we notice and immediate increase in radio chatter once we contact Washington center. In fact, it takes me several minutes before there was a break in radio communications sufficient for me to jump in and state that I was on their frequency.

ATC quizzes me as to my intentions and equipment and asks if I can fly a standard arrival procedure SHNON TWO. I ask them to stand-by for a moment while I check ForeFlight on my iPad and let them know that I’m fine with that arrival. They give me vectors to KESSEL and I fly the arrival from there.

Center transfers me over to Dulles approach and, astonishingly, they are even more busy. I manage again to get a word in and they tell me to expect ILS runway 19R and they take me off the standard arrival and put me on vectors again. They ask for my parking location and I tell them that we’re going to tie down over at Signature Flight Services.

There is a big ridge of mountains on the west side of the DC area and we are in a small plane flying at only 7,000 feet so we are within 10 miles or so before we can see the airport. Visibility is probably 20-25 miles, but we had to get past that last ridge line before we finally have line of site to the runway surfaces.

Now that we have the airport in site approach helps us out by switching our runway to 19C. 19R would have put us a long taxi from our ultimate parking spot, so this will work better.

I’m on a very long straight in final approach for 19C and there is a jet on a much longer final for the same runway. Approach turns me over to tower and I’m requested to keep my speed up as long as is practical. There is nothing about this situation that implies he wants me to do anything unsafe, but there still is a bit of pressure to manage speed well so the jet behind me doesn’t have to do a 360 degree turn to waste time while I’m landing. A turn like that in a jet costs hundreds of dollars, so I do my best to fly a safe-but-fast final approach.

Upon landing tower is again asking me to hurry. This time he wants me to keep my speed up on the runway and turn off on the first high speed taxiway. I do so and moments after my wheels pass the runway position markings Beth sees a jumbo jet touching down over her right shoulder on the runway we’ve just vacated. In my headset I hear tower say “Archer 41598, Good job”.

He switches us over to ground control and I receive taxi instructions over to Signature. We putter down the taxiway until it ends and still don’t see the FBO. I call ground control back and they say “Oh, you should have said that I had you down for Landmark”. Hmm, frustrating. I had been rushed prior to flight and hadn’t had any luck locating where on the field Signature was located. Had I done that, or had they documented my arrival properly, we wouldn’t have wasted time taxiing around the airport.

Ground control asks me to do a 180 degree turn and head back the other way. I do so and get to the main terminal before he comes back on the radio with an impatient “Archer 41598 stop right where you are” and a claim that he told me to hold short of taxiway alpha. Neither Beth nor I heard that instruction, so I’ll assume that he really did say it but his finger slipped off the mic switch.

We are transferred to ramp control and given permission to cross the terminal. I’m not super happy with how we ended up taxiing through this area, but it’s pretty darn cool to be driving through the gates with 777, 747 and A380 aircraft at all sides. I wonder what the folks in the terminal are thinking as we roll by in a plane smaller than most of the engines in the area.

We are now getting progressive taxi instructions and there is no more confusion. We coast into Signature, shutdown and start to deplane.

Two linemen are quickly aside our plane asking how they can help. I tell the first that we need fuel to the tabs and the other that if he can grab the nearby luggage cart we’ll happily use it.

As I start to unload the plane I hear lineman one radio in that we need our fuel topped off. If they do this then we will be over weight by 75 pounds. It’s possible to offload fuel and it wouldn’t be my responsibility if they mess up, but it would be a hassle when we leave. I correct him and make certain that the fuel ticket is properly filled out before we head for the shuttle. We have been traveling for quite a while already, but in some ways the commute is just beginning.

Our commute is complicated by that fact that there really isn’t a good way to fly into DC in a small plane anymore. The entire area is covered with a ridiculously large and onerous flight restriction, so the options for landing are very limited. We selected Dulles thinking that it would be convenient in terms of going to the air and space museum located at the airport.

The downside of Dulles is that it’s really busy, doesn’t have a rail connection to the city and it would be about a hundred dollar cab ride downtown. The folks from Signature give us a ride to the main terminal so we can catch the Washington Flyer (bus) to the train station. The bus ride is about 25 minutes. We next jump on the Metro, DCs subway, and spend another 30 minutes riding into the city. Finally we emerge from the subterranean tubes and walk 20 minutes to our hotel.

It’s getting to be late afternoon and we decide to walk to the mall to see some of the monuments as the sunsets. The sky is clear and turning crimson as we walk past the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and, finally, the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial in particular is stunning at night. By now the sky is black and the white marble of the memorial is theatrically lit making an already bigger than life sculpture seem even more magnificent.

We’ve been on the road for the entire day and need to find some food. We head toward George Washington University and look for a restaurant Beth has read about online.

Tonic is a pretty typical bar and restaurant. We enjoy our meal more because we’re relaxing and not under any time pressure than because the food or service is in any way notable.

We head back to the hotel and sleep.

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Going With The Flow

‘If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.’ – Professor Irwin Corey

For three weeks I’ve been looking forward to today. On this day 108 years ago the Wright brothers started a new era in travel by accomplishing the first powered flight. Today we had all four planes, plus two planes of friends, ready to fly up to for breakfast. I had been talking with the manager there and was lined up to do an interview with him. I’ve put together a shot list for all the b-roll I was going to take. I had emailed the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for that airport and he was going to stop by and say hi. Even the weather seemed uncharacteristically cooperative given that we’re getting into early winter.

Yesterday I got all my toys charged up. For this trip that meant two HD video cameras (one of which could be strapped to the outside of the plane), still camera, backup GPS, iPad and aviation headsets. I also had all the gear ready to go, tripods, flight bag and camera bags. Then things started to break down.

I looked at the weather last night and while our forecast for the past few days has wavered between 0% and 20% chance of snow, it had been updated to say 60%. As I’m contemplating that I get a call from one of the other guys in the club. He’s managed to get himself stuck in Ohio. While flying back from Boston the same weather that looked good, then turned bad, stopped him from making progress. So, it was looking questionable as to whether I would even have a plane to fly.

Still, 60% chance of snow means 40% chance of no snow!

I get up this morning and look out the window and find an inch and a half of snow in the back yard. That’s not good. I wander down to the basement and check the aviation forecast. That’s gotten worse also. Now it looks like the good weather won’t be getting here until mid-afternoon. As a last ditch attempt to salvage the trip I call the resort, but they report snow also. That’s the final nail in the coffin. The destination runway doesn’t have snow removal equipment, so snow up there means the trip is definitely scrubbed.

Plan B, is to go to Indianapolis. I call the guy who has the plane in Ohio for status update, and learn that he is still stuck there without much hope of getting back until mid-to-late afternoon. There is a big band of snow, the stuff that went through Chicago last night, still working its way through the Midwest and now is sitting in between Ohio and Chicago. I look into changing planes, but the only other plane suitable for the mission isn’t available until almost 4 o’clock. So, I guess that’s the end of that plan.

Beth and I talk, and decide to head back to downtown Chicago. We had fun down there a couple weeks ago and we can get a room for free at the Hampton thanks to all the points that I’ve accumulated over the years staying there. Also, the plan all along has been to go downtown tomorrow night and visit with some friends for dinner and drinks. Heading down a day early and taking advantage of the free room seems like a no-brainer.

All in all, I don’t think that seems like such a bad backup plan.

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