Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou ... OVER?

If somebody had told me ten years ago that I would decide to get my pilot's license upon turning thirty, I probably would have believed them. If that same somebody had told me that I would also start blogging my flights, I probably would have thought they'd been drinking out of the punch bowl again.

So, ... here's to not being able to predict the future. At least, not exactly.

Pre-flighting 5135 R[omeo]

As a child, I was enamored with the U.S. Air Force "Aim High" commericals. On more than one occasion, I recall telling my parents that I planned to join. Although Top Gun went a long way to keeping my interest alive during my teenage years -- in planes, of course -- the closest I ever got to actually joining was during my final year of university. I was looking for a new opportunity, was pretty sure I wanted to go to law school in the States, and so decided to call the number at the bottom of a T.V. ad. The recruitor I spoke with was pretty excited. We went over LSAT scores and my interests in flying and world travel. Yep, he was pretty excited right up until the moment I mentioned that I was not an American citizen.

Come Fly Away With Me
So, off to law school I went without the benefit of the U.S. Air Force picking up the tab (yes, and without the multi-year service commitment on the other side). It took me a while to stumble into a conversation with an enthusiastic pilot while working my day job at Venable, but it ultimately happened in Spring of '07. I was attending a pro bono event on behalf of the firm and just happened to get seated next to an associate from our Rockville office, Greg, who also just happened to be a pilot. Although we both know he raised the topic of flying first, my interest was genuine. Greg was on the lookout for a new mentee to infect with the flying virus, so we quickly agreed that he would take me flying "soon." Being busy associates, it took us a while to coordinate our schedules. Nine months, to be precise. While that first flight was very memorable and definitely blog-worthy, Greg has already done a terrific job of capturing it.

You can read about Greg's and my first flight

Thelma & Louise Ride Again

If you followed that hyperlink you probably noticed that Greg called our flight "Sharing the Joy." This past weekend, I got to share the joy of flying with somebody who has been a big part of my life since she was eleven and I was seventeen. Gillian and I started her weekend in D.C. with the Habs v. Caps game. Despite the Habs ultimate loss in overtime, we had a great time, and even managed to get into a little post-game mischief. Although this is my "Flying Blog," I had to include at least one game night picture. (Canadian first; pilot second, eh?) Ha ha. I can hear my mentor's disapproving voice from here. "No, no, no ... flying first."

We Make The Planes Look Good

Knowing that Gillian was coming and was keen to fly, I had spoken to my flight instructor, Rich, several weeks earlier about getting in a lesson while she was visiting. We agreed on the Saturday, at a time earlier than I would have liked, but at least it was not 5:30 a.m. early. (Much to my relief, Rich and I have come to the mutual agreement that I'm useless at 5, and have been scheduling my lessons of late closer to 9:30). Gillian and I shopped till we dropped Friday afternoon, and then got to bed at a decent hour in preparation for our flight the next day.

Up, Up & Away!!!

After antagonizing me with various unhelpful suggestions for activites to make Gillian's first flight memorable -- such as showing her how to stall an airplane or "better yet" spin it -- Rich and I had eventually agreed that we would fly somewhere and get breakfast. Greg had recommended a restaurant on the Eastern Shore because the flight across the Chesapeake Bay is so scenic. Rich and I ultimately decided to fly across the Bay to an airport at Cambridge, Maryland (CGE) to get breakfast with Gillian.

Using The Shoreline As Pilotage

It was not until the day before Gillian arrived, as I was emailing Rich while en route from a quick business trip to Illinois, that it dawned on me exactly what I had signed up for. Flights more than 25 miles are considered "cross-country." Although 25 miles doesn't sound like much, once you start crossing through different controlled airspaces and getting handed off by multiple controllers, the stress placed on student pilots, in my humble opinion, significantly increases.

Grass Landing Strips Can Be Your Friend

Rich and I had done a cross-country flight my second lesson as part of a Club Fly to Sky Bryce Mountain. The idea was to head out to the mountain and go skiing, or have breakfast and watch other people ski, depending on your preference. Suffice to say, the challenges that day of aviating, navigating, and communicating -- not to mention tough winds in the valley that were strong enough to prevent us from landing -- instilled in me a healthy amount of respect for cross-country flights (and flying in general).

Unwanted Wingman Off To My Left

Cross-country flights also require flight plans. (Yes, yes. BOTH ways, Rich. I know, I know.) While I do not suffer from math phobia, working on vectoring and flight calculations at 1 a.m. is not ideal. Figuring out how you get from Point A to Point B, particularly in this part of the world, is rarely as simple as drawing a straight line between them. There are restricted airspaces and no fly zones, not to mention the general havoc caused by the nearby presence of Reagan, Baltimore and Dulles airports that all must be factored into the flight plan equation.

We're Following The Shoreline, The Shoreline, The Shoreline

Fortunately, I got home from Illinois earlier on Wednesday than expected, so I was able to crack open my TAC (Terminal Area Chart) at 7 p.m. and get to work on the flight plan. I could not finish it, however, until the morning of the actual flight because I needed to know the wind speed and direction to be able to calculate accurate headings, ground speed, etc. Hence why early morning cross-country flights inspire especially frugal behavior the night before. Falling out of bed and driving to the airport is not all that is required, unfortunately.

Gillian & Eddie Bond In The Backseat

I was a bit worried when I checked my crackberry on Saturday morning because a pilot in our club had cancelled a plane reservation, citing poor weather conditions. I had not yet called for a standard weather briefing, so decided to move that up to before making coffee, in case we were not going to be able to fly. Although my bed looked tantalizing, I was definitely hoping that the briefer would give me good news, as I was looking forward to Gillian's and my flight more than a few extra hours sleep.

World's Cutest Airplane (No Offense, Romeo)

The weather briefers I've spoken to so far have all been really great, particularly once they've learned that I am a student pilot. Saturday's briefer was no exception. He went through the Airmet Tango that was in place (i.e., warning to airmen of high turbulence), but ended it with some free advice that the winds would definitely be calmer by the time we were pre-flighted and ready to go. A quick email to Rich confirmed that he was of the same opinion. So, as Gillian slept on, I finished the flight plan. (Jealous? Me? Never!)

A Typical Day In The U.S.
As Gillian was getting herself breakfast, loud cursing suddenly erupted from my end of the dining room. Still new to the E6B (think "slide rule"), I realized after about twenty minutes that I had only been reading one number from each calculation instead of two. Constantly
chastized for being tardy by one of my two flight mentors -- I'll let you guess which one -- there was little I could do but send an apologetic email and promise to drive my Civic like it was a Boxter on the 45 minute trip to the airport. Gillian and I were making good time to the airport ... right up until I sailed past the exit. (Kevin and Tracy's exit is eight more down and I was on auto-pilot; no pun intended). Gillian commented that it would probably be a good idea if I didn't fly when I was having "a blonde day." I didn't threaten to ground her, partly because I was feeling charitable, and mostly because I know that that power has long since disappeared. Forunately, the next exit hooked us back into the road to the airport. So, shortly after 9, we met Rich and Eddie (Rich's adorable dog, who is a frequent backseat passenger to my flying lessons) at the airport. While I pre-flighted, Rich entertained Gill by explaining distinctions between the various airplanes parked at the airport. (She did get coffee out of the deal, though, so it could have been worse). I was a bit nervous about flying through the four-mile-wide VFR corridor over to the Bay because straying out of it is an absolute NO-NO, but Rich assured me that he would be watching the landmarks to verify that my flight plan was keeping us on course.

Our Dining Locale in Cambridge
We took off from Gaithersburg and headed East. The winds had died almost completely, and the flight was silky smooth. Visibility was nearly unlimited, and the views were incredible. Rich pointed out the skyline of Baltimore, and various other landmarks. It wasn't far into the corridor that the shore came into sight, making pilotage easier. We went almost all the way to the water before turning South. Gillian and Eddie were model passengers. Apparently, Eddie slept until I was about to land. I guess he knows which of my skills still need some work!

Look At The Poor People Driving

The only "interesting" event during our flight over was another plane that was buzzing around a local airport, seemingly oblivious to our presence. We kept a careful eye on him as he criss-crossed in front of us while we flew our heading.

(My plea that we divert course to give him a wider berth was ignored). He soon caught sight of us and dropped away behind us. My landing at Cambridge worked better than some, although, allegedly, I tried to take off again after touching down. I blame it on the fact that the landing was so soft, I didn't even realize we were on the ground. Anyhow. We were 45 minutes late to meet another instructor and a former boss of Rich's, who is also a student pilot. We went inside post haste and talked a mixture of Montreal, flying, and real estate transactions. Afterwards, we headed outside, where we were enthusiastically greeted by Eddie, and Rich and Ken talked about Rich's WWII-era shotgun. Gillian kindly modeled said shotgun for the above picture.

Take My Breath Away

Once we had taken a look at the Cessna 182 that Ken was flying, we headed home to Gaithersburg. We climbed quickly to 3,000 feet to give Vice President Cheney's house on the Eastern Shore its allotted distance. The flight back was just as pretty, perhaps more so. The sun was catching the tiny waves on the Bay and making them sparkle like diamonds. I lamented to Rich that I wanted to be the one taking the pictures instead of concentrating on flying. I think he thought I was joking, which is probably a good thing. My vectoring did not work as well as on the way over, so Rich worked harder to identify visual landmarks. Gaithersburg was busy with lots of folks flying, so we hung back a while until the pattern cleared up and I could start my approach to land. The process of landing is starting to become more intuitive, but I am still very thankful that Rich is beside me watching my airspeed and a million other things as I land the plane.

A Rare View For The Pilot

All in all, it was a fantastic flight with beautiful views, and made all the better because I got to share it with a good friend. Athough I don't think Gillian is interested in learning to fly, just hearing how excited she was about the idea of flying, the
unconditional trust she placed in me, and the fun we had with the boyz over breakfast in Cambridge, made it a really terrific experience. Some might even say blog-worthy. Flying is fantastic, but getting to share it with friends is even better.

I think every student pilot has one flight that they look forward to above all others as they are working towards their license. For me, that flight will be to Montreal and back with Kevin, Tracy, and Evie.

Of course, I already have high pilot aspirations for Evie in her own right ....


At February 6, 2008 at 1:03 PM , Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At February 11, 2008 at 10:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool trip! Pray tell, why is your blog called "Young Jedi?"

At February 11, 2008 at 11:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow-eee!!! My sister is a pilot! The flight *I'm* looking forward to is when you fly us to Hawaii! :-D So, how do you go about chartering a 747?? Great blog site, excellent photos, sounds like a way-cool adventure! You'll never lose the edge ;-)
Any you boys seen an aircraft carrier around here?

At February 11, 2008 at 11:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

great blog. LOVE the pictures! (especially the thelma & louise one!).

At February 12, 2008 at 5:34 PM , Blogger Greg said...

Nice job -- the flying, the pics, the blogging -- all ver' nice. Next stop: solo!

At February 14, 2008 at 3:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great first blog Amy. I felt as if I was there for the flight. Such great descriptions and photos. Keep up the good work :)

At February 14, 2008 at 4:34 PM , Blogger Kathy and Kim Gibson said...

amazing pictures and great story. Nick enjoyed it very much.

At February 19, 2008 at 8:42 PM , Blogger Kathy G said...

I am waiting for an the next installment. How do you follow landmarks when they are all under snow?

At February 24, 2008 at 5:46 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Very nice site, look forward to reading more. Where is the scarf and leather head gear or do you get that after your first solo flight?

At March 24, 2008 at 4:44 PM , Blogger Bob Hawkins said...

I really enjoyed reading it.
Keep up the reporting.

At March 24, 2008 at 4:51 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Are you Thelma or Louise? Either way, you got a lot better way of going over a cliff now...and hopefully can reuse the vehicle afterwards. Way to go on the solo, glad the "innoculation " took effect eh.

At March 25, 2008 at 2:07 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is amazing for an exec. secr. To bad you are so far away. Buy a fast plane, it's a long trip. Congrats. My hat is off to you. PS - we now have one very young vegitarian. thanks


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