Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Back to the Sky!

What a great weekend! I finally got back to flying. It had been 5 weeks since I last flew, though I did join Husband last weekend for a flight (but I was still sick, so he had to do all of the flying). And talk about pressure, my first flight back was with my boss. Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal-- but my boss is also a pilot and instructor. He hasn't been current for about 15 years or so, but he goes faithfully to the workshops to keep his CFI going. He's generally very laid back, so I figured we'd have a great time. And we did.

He met me at the airport-- I thought I'd get there early and get the plane set up and be ready for him... but he beat me there! I walked in and saw him standing next to the windows watching the planes take off. He was bundled up with a baseball cap and a big grin. We finished up filing and getting the paperwork together and went out to the plane. I preflighted-- feeling a little self-conscious. Then we loaded up and headed out.

It was a gorgeous day, a little windy, but a clear blue sky; orange, red, and yellow leaves; and lots of sun to warm the Fall air. I picked SHD for our destination. It's south of JYO, and you fly over the Shenandoah mountains to get there. It looked like winds would be calmer than to the north (thanks to the hurricane making its way up the East Coast), and I thought that would be good for my first landing in 5 weeks.

We took off and headed out to Purcellville-- my normal route for heading south. Because of the likelihood of planes coming back into JYO at that point (most of the other side of the airport is taken up by IAD's bravo airspace), I typically fly out to the Purcellville water tower and then head south on my route. Since the change in ADIZ procedures, our practice area has changed to be before the mountain ridge that denotes the edge of the bravo airspace instead of after it. So I still haven't quite figured out the best way to avoid this traffic while exiting the area. On Saturday, we had three different traffic warnings from the TIS within the first 20 minutes of the flight (and they were the only warnings we got that day). Boss just laughed at my stress over avoiding the unseen targets. I made him promise: no performance reviews while in the air!

My excitement over flying again after so long, and finally getting to take Boss along meant that of course I talked way too much. I was a little worried because Boss was so quiet. So I finally asked: are you quiet because you're busy soaking it all in or because something's wrong? His expression when he answered was all the reassurance that I needed-- the big, slow smile told me that he was just really enjoying being back in the plane. I offered to let him fly, but he declined.

Sure enough, the winds were nice and calm at SHD, and I managed a decent landing. Whew! We parked, got out, walked the few feet to the terminal and got some lunch. The cafe at SHD is actually in the commercial terminal, so you have to enter the GA terminal and walk across a small grassy spot to get to the other terminal. But it's worth it. The airport is clean and bright. The space where the restaurant is also nice and sunny-- with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the airport. The food is ok-- we both had cheeseburgers that weren't bad. The seasoned fries were pretty good, too. It was so nice a space (if a little bland in personality), that we sat and talked (mostly about work) entirely too long! We joked that if we had brought along the other member of our management team (who also used to fly), we could have had an official staff meeting!

After lunch, Boss asked if he could fly a little ... including the take off. I think he thought I'd say no, but I said no problem. Of course, my fingers were centimeters from the yoke (I think I actually kept the tips of my fingers on the yoke till I realized it might make him nervous). He did a pretty good job on takeoff, though it was a little steeper climbout than I usually do. He seemed to pick it back up really quickly, though he said switching to the use the AHRS as his primary instruments was really hard. I kept up my scan-- just like I would have if I were flying, so of course noticed his deviations from altitude. I wasn't sure what to say at first-- I didn't want to embarrass him, but we were flying over mountains, and it is my plane, and I was PIC. So, when got more than 200 feet off altitude, I'd just say: check your altitude. He'd laugh, and adjust. He took us a little bit off our route (maybe 5 miles or so) to show me a peak that he's climbed a bunch-- Old Rag. It was really cool looking. It's in a national park, and has a little stream at the top. I made a mental note that Husband and I should go back with Flyer and hike it some time.

All too soon, we were entering the airspace under the bravo and configuring the plane for landing. He gave back controls when we got to the edge of the airspace, and I got us set up for landing. The winds were still pretty gusty, so I was relieved to again make a passable landing. It wasn't a greaser, but it was 3 distinct chirps of the tires hitting the pavement (what you want in a crosswind)-- and we didn't bounce or hit too hard. The only bad part about the return was that we were over 30 minutes late-- and someone was waiting for the plane. I felt really bad as I had thought that Husband had it reserved and didn't mind making him wait, but didn't mean to inconvenience someone else. (Sorry, Husband!)

Boss' parting comment as we walked out to our cars was: Well, I guess glass does really have some good and useful features. (This is a lot coming from an old-school pilot!) In retrospect, I probably should have shown him more of the functionality available in the glass, but I guess he picked up more than I thought.

1 comment:

DC Flyboy said...

Another good write up. Old Rag is one of the more spectacular hikes in the Shenandoah, with a long scramble near the top over, around, and in some cases under large boulders. It became so popular that they now limit the number of vehicles that can park near it to limit the hiker traffic - get there early!