Saturday, February 9, 2008

Big Dogs and Little Dogs

Husband and I usually refer to airplanes as "Dogs"... as in "Look at all those dogs in the sky!" I know that sounds strange... and I'm not even sure how we started that. I think we may have even done that before we named our plane 'Good Dog Flyer'. In any case, Friday afternoon, as I sat in Chicago O'Hare, waiting for my flight back home, I looked around at all the 'big dogs' and wished I were the one doing the flying, as opposed to sitting in the back listening to "channel 9" (the channel on United's entertainment center that lets you listen in to cockpit-ATC communications).

My colleague and I were headed back home after my fourth straight week of business travel (New York two weeks in a row, then Atlanta, and finally-- Chicago). I enjoy a little travel, but it does make it tough to keep up with home stuff. And our real dog, Flyer, has apparently been pretty stressed by my absence, as he's chewed a nice hole in his leg. So-- I was pretty happy to head home. Up in the sky, we quickly climbed up through the low-lying snow clouds and up through the clear blue to our cruise altitude. It's amazing how fast a 777 can fly!

As we climbed up above the snow clouds that had been covering Chicago since well before our arrival on Tuesday, I started to feel the pull of the blue sky. By the time we got into the familiar airspace surrounding Dulles, and I started hearing familiar voices on ATC, I was hatching a plan to do a little flying of my own. A few quick calculations-- if we landed by 4:15, I'd be in the car and out to JYO before 5-- that'd give me about an hour before sunset! If I was lucky, I'd even be able to get Husband to meet me out there to go with me.

On touchdown, I called Husband-- and he immediately jumped in the car to come out and join me. After an eternity on the people mover, and miles of walking, I finally made it to the car and out to JYO. Somehow, Husband and I arrived almost at the same time. A quick preflight and check of weather (and filing!), and we were on our way. I breathed a happy sigh as I pulled back the yoke (with 10 degrees of flaps in) to do a pretty much perfect soft field takeoff (those are my favorite). Husband didn't even know we were off the ground until at around 75 knots, I released the pressure and we soared up into the sky.

Because we knew the sun would be setting soon, we just headed over to Winchester for a quick flight. Going out there, the sun was a blazing ball of fire on the horizon, dippin lower and lower. It's only a few minutes out over Purcellville and Round Hill and then over the ridge, and over Berryville to Winchester. As we neared the airport, we could hear all kinds of traffic reporting in, including a helicopter coming from a local hospital. I decided overflying the field at 3500 ft (at midfield, of course), and then flying out about 2 miles before descending and turning was our best bet. As we manuevered around, we were pretty glad to have the TIS, though at one point, it screamed "TRAFFIC" as a plane crossed underneath us inbound on the 45 entry while we were still outbound at 3500. Luckily, the craziness ahead of us had straightened out (at one point there were two planes on base at the same time-- not a good thing!) before we got there, and after a nice smooth landing we were on the ground at Winchester.

We ran in the airport to get our stamps, and headed back out as the sun sank completely below the horizon. Husband had the flight back-- and did a great job getting us back into Leesburg. He's done less flying around that time of day than I have, so he was a little startled at how easy it was to see other planes. By the time we landed, it was definitely good and dark. I guess it must sound kind of funny to go out and only get .5 hours each of time in the plane each. But it was a GREAT way to end the week. Now, if only the weather will improve today, maybe I can sneak in another flight!

Till next time, flap hard.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Heros come in all shapes and sizes. This past weekend, I got a new one... completely by chance.

Husband and I were out exploring more Virginia airports (in pursuit of the "$10,000 leather jacket"), and we stopped for lunch at FCI- Chesterfield County Airport. While enjoying a great lunch buffet-- barbeque, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy-- a great combination of southern foods, we watched the comings and goings of the local aviation community. The restaurant is right in the FBO, so we were able to see the ramp and the runway from our table. We saw a flight instructor and his student land (it was a really bouncy landing!), and then we saw the flight instructor go back out with another student.

Then we saw an older woman walk briskly across the ramp to one of the planes (a high-wing Cessna tail-dragger), give a cursory look at the airplane, and hoist herself up into the plane. She got herself settled and waved to the line guy as he took away her chocks, and off she went, taxiing at a great clip across the ramp. A few minutes later, we saw her take off and climb up and away.

I've been pretty proud to say that I'm a pilot-- especially as there are not a lot of female pilots out of my flight school (a few, but not a lot). But seeing this older woman fly so confidently really got my attention. How long has she been flying? How awesome that she still seems to enjoy it so much. Ironically, later that day, Husband was perusing the Virginia Aviation Ambassadors site for some information, and found a picture of her! She apparently the Honorary Aviation Ambassador-- and has been flying for over 56 years. As Husband said when we watched her climb into her plane, if I think I sometimes get funny looks for being a female pilot, think what she must get! I just hope that I'm still flying with zest and enthusiasm when I'm her age.