Log- 8 Virginia

08/22/08

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May 11, 2005
PSK-LYH-W13
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
W13-CHO-OFP
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 estates. 

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
OFP-ONX-FFA-PVG-OFP
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
OFP-HEF
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 later.  

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.

Washington, DC

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.

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This site was last updated 10/13/05

Copyright Rob Dubin 2005