May 11, 2005
New River to Lynchburg to Waynesboro, Virginia
After a relaxing day mountain biking around our
campsite at Claytor Lake state park Dee drops me at the airport and departs
in the motorhome. It's another late start due to morning fog but now
the sky is clear and blue. I'm on terminal hold for a flight
service weather briefing so I go inside to check the computer weather
station in the FBO. I'm unfamiliar with how this system works so a
local pilot operates the computer for me but there is simply no weather.
No rain, no fronts, no clouds. Each weather map we call up is virtually
blank. Next we get the text wind reports from the airports I'll be
visiting and the wind is at zero knots everywhere. It would be hard to
have a better day for flying and a big smile is on my face as I depart
I climb up a few hundred feet and turn over the airport waving to the
crowd that had gathered to watch me take-off. The flight is a
mix of some mountains but mostly open fields and I delight in taking
pictures of the interesting patterns the farmers have created just for me to
see from my sky high perch.
Today's flight is short and I could make it in one hop but I decide to
stop at Lynchburg just to see what's there. It's only a few miles out
of my way so I detour and drop in for another delicate landing as only a
gyro can do. The transition from flying to taxiing is so smooth that I
can't even tell the moment the wheel touches. The tower directs me to
parking and as I shut down the fuel truck driver tells me it is the
smoothest landing he has ever seen any aircraft make.
Inside I feast on the pilot's typical vending machine lunch but the stop
is made wonderful by my visit with the friendly staff and instructors from
the flight school. They have a first class operation with several
brand new Cessnas in their fleet and for a refreshing change of pace most of
the instructors here seem to be women.
They have dozens of questions about my trip around the U.S. and as I am
not in a hurry I answer them all before departing for Eagles Nest Airport in
Waynesboro. The next leg of the flight requires me to climb up and
over a tall mountain ridge so I keep the stick back and watch the altimeter
slowly move towards 3,000'. Once over the ridge I think the airport is
at the far end of the valley below, so I drop down to fly close to the
fields. At one point I see a farmer's private airstrip obvious from
the closely cut grass and windsock, so I reduce the throttle and glide down
in a tight spiral rolling out about 30 feet above the grass and flying the
length of the strip. I see no one to wave to so at the end of the
strip I pour on the power and continue on my way.
I get to the far end of the valley and the GPS says I'm within 10 miles
of the airport yet in front of me is a 2,500 high mountain ridge. I've
been deceived and the airport is on the other side of the ridge. I
scan ahead for the road which is indicated by my GPS but see nothing
obvious. Finally the sun glints off some metal in the distance and I
make out a very steeply graded road in a spot one would least expect it. Had
I looked a bit more closely at my flying chart I would have seen the line
indicting a mountain here but the line was nearly obscured by type and it
escaped me. Oh well.
I have a good climb ahead so rather than head directly for the road I
remember what I learned in my paragliding lessons and fly parallel to the
ridge hoping for some lift. Sure enough as I get near the mountain the
wind heading my way is forced up the ridge and takes me with it. I
gain 1,500 feet in 2 minutes without even touching the throttle.
I fly along the ridge to where the road cuts across at a low point then turn
and fly across the mountain and see the next valley below. I always
love the visual drama of moments like this. As I cross the ridge I am
only about 400' over the ground but then the earth drops away and a moment
later I'm 1,500 in the air.
I follow my faithful GPS but I am nearly on top of the airport before I
see the runway hidden behind a row of trees. A call on the
radio, a tight spiraling turn, the momentary flare and I surrender my wings
to become a creature of the earth again.
Dee and I plan to visit our nephew in college nearby and spend a few days
at a local bluegrass festival so I carefully tie the gyro down and sling my
bag of maps and flying books into the motorhome.
May 16, 2005
Waynesboro to Charlottesville to Ashland, VA
An easy day today starting with a quick hop over a high ridge to drop
into the beautiful valley that holds Charlottesville. This is getting
to the heart of Virginia horse country and I fly over dozens of magnificent
The highlight of the day is my stop in Charlottesville where I enjoy a
lunch with my cousin and his wife and afterwards treat him to a short flight
over the beautiful green countryside.
After lunch it is a quick trip to Ashland/Hanover where the greeting from
the FBO is as warm and friendly as any I have experienced.
May 17, 2005
Ashland VA to Kitty Hawk North Carolina and return
We had already covered North Carolina but a trip like this one would not
be complete without a pilgrimage to Kitty Hawk where Wilbur and Orville
Wright started it all. The 300 mile round trip in one day is mostly
uneventful but 5.6 hours of flying takes its toll on me.
I had flown here once previously in a Cessna 150 and the attractiveness
of the locale and the fine job done by the National Park Service certainly
made it worth the return. December 2003 was the 100 year anniversary
of the Wright brothers' achievement and there are several new exhibits that
commemorate the ceremonies held honoring the centennial event. The
park personnel give a presentation that makes the events of 100 years ago
come to life and the Hall of Fame pictures and stories allow one to follow
aviation from it's birth to our modern space age.
May 18, 2005
Ashland, VA to Manassas, VA- Washington, DC
It has only been a week since two idiots in a small Cessna flew to within
a few miles of the White House and caused congress to evacuate. The
pilots were lucky not to have been shot down by the fighter jets tracking
them. General aviation is in the news and it is not flattering.
Now I am heading into that same complex, restrictive airspace surrounding
Washington, DC and I sure do not want to make any mistakes.
After reading the complex legalese of the rules twice and talking to some
local pilots I have a handle on what to do in order not to cause any
problems. I also take a few minutes to read the intercept procedures,
they explain what you had better do right if you have already screwed up and
see F-15 fighters flying next to you ready to shoot first and ask questions
I file a special flight plan giving them detailed information on where I
will enter the restricted airspace and am told there are two important
requirements: make sure to have my transponder on the code number they
give me, and make certain to maintain radio contact with the controllers at
all times inside the DC airspace.
Shortly after take-off I contact flight service and activate my flight
plan. They give me my unique transponder code and a radio frequency to
maintain contact with the controller as I fly towards DC. All goes
fine for about 15 minutes until the controller I am in contact with begins
to loose my radio signal. She says something about loosing me
and another controller as I get closer to DC but unfortunately I am unable
to make out her exact transmission and when I ask for a repeat she does not
hear me at all. Not good but I continue on my way as I'm still 20
miles from the restricted airspace.
As I get to the edge of the White House airspace I make repeated attempts
to contact the approach controller but he never responds. I fly in
circles in a tiny space sandwiched between the prohibited airspace and
Quantico Military base calling repeatedly with no luck. I already had
a plan B so I now execute that which is to call the tower at Quantico.
They tell me to keep circling while they relay to approach and eventually I
am cleared to enter the controlled airspace and continue on my way with a
frequency to speak with the controller.
Minutes later I am transferred to a different controller and he and
I can barely hear each other. Fortunately a jet overhead relays
messages back and forth but these guys are very busy with airline traffic in
and out of Dulles airport and they do not have time for gyros with weak
radios. When I no longer hear the controller I contact the tower
at Manassas. He clears me in for landing with no problems then tells
me the approach guys want me to fix my radio before I depart the airport.
My hand has been slapped but at least I'm on the ground and all is OK.
I can boost my radio output a bit by using the radio directly without my
gyro's intercom, but the real problem is that my small radio just does not
have the signal of a full size radio. When I depart I will exit their
airspace as quickly as possible and an outbound aircraft should be less
concern to them than one flying towards the White House.
From the Wright brothers to the Space shuttle in 2 days. One
highlight of DC is visiting the new branch of the Smithsonian Air and Space
museum. The central hall of the new Udvar-Hazy museum near Dulles
airport has the Enola Gay an SR-71 blackbird, The Concorde, a space shuttle
and dozens and dozens of smaller aircraft including several gyroplanes.