Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Flying into a Fly-In

Last Saturday was HOT! It was also the AOPA Fly-In in Frederick, MD, a short hop, skip, and a jump away from JYO. Husband and I have been looking forward to this fly-in for a long time, mostly because we'd be able to "fly in" instead of drive in. (We went last year and the year before that, but we didn't have our certificates yet.

Our departure from JYO was delayed by haze. The air was thick, hot, and steamy, even once it cleared enough to depart VFR. Usually, to fly up to Frederick, we can head out of the ADIZ and then turn to a head of around 350 and we're on the ground less than 30 minutes later. Because of the special procedures for the fly-in, we flew through the ADIZ to northeast of GAI, out through the WOOLY gate, and then joined up with the line of traffic to fly over the EMI VOR, turn right before the tower, up along a highway over a school and another water tower, then descend to land straight in. I flew the plane while Husband tried to figure out the procedures and listened to the temporary tower frequency. Sounds simple, right?

It actually wasn't too bad. Husband is good with maps and charts-- and our G1000 was a big help. I was on edge though-- and I think he was too-- both because of the heat and because the route took us within a very short distance of the ADIZ. Neither of us wanted to be the cause of an ADIZ bust!

We did hear someone bust the ADIZ as we were flying along the posted route-- the on-guard channel was hopping for a while as the controller barked out instructions to the guilty party (TURN RIGHT TO HEADING 360, DEPART THE ADIZ IMMEDIATELY). Later, we learned that the pilot was not going to Frederick, but had managed to stray into the ADIZ. When the guard started barking orders and scrambling whatever it is they scramble, the pilot then fled from the ADIZ, only to run straight into the expanded P-40 (restricted) airspace around Camp David! Poor guy had a BAD day.

We heard some of this on the frequency as we made our way through the AOPA hoops... so I was a bit flustered. As we approached the VOR where we would join the line of planes headed to FDK, we saw blip after blip appear onscreen on our MFD. I was a little nervous about making my way into line. The visibility wasn't great, so it was hard to trust that the other pilots would see and avoid us. Luckily, Husband had a handle on things and was a huge help.

We continually heard pilots announce their position on the tower frequency as they came into the area. This really confused me at first as the instructions clearly said not to talk to tower, but only to waggle your wings in affirmation if tower gave you instructions. For a while I was convinced that we should be communicating with tower, until we finally heard the tower state that all planes should maintain radio silence unless asked for specific information. That made me feel a bit better.

Somewhere over the school, we heard the tower recognize the plane in front of us, us, and the plane behind us (we were separated by about 3/4 mile between each). That was good, but it was strange to not answer on frequency, instead waggling our wings with vigor in response. After this point, things got a little hectic. The runway was looming in the windscreen-- right at my 2'o'clock. The plane in front of us didn't seem to be descending. Up until this point, I had been basically just following that plane, and since I hadn't heard a clearance, I didn't know whether to descend and prepare to land, or to stay high and follow the plane in front of us.

As I debated-- (and inadvertently made altitude and power changes to match my indecision), two things happened, 1) it became clear that the plane in front of us was not landing and was instead turning to parallel the runway; 2) I realized that Husband was telling me what to do. After a few moments, I was finally able to listen to what Husband was saying and I got us stabilized on short final and landed without incident.

Reviewing the approach and landing afterward, I realize a few things:
  1. I will know to look ahead of time (and listen) for what point the controllers are "recognizing" planes approaching the fly-in.
  2. I'll be more comfortable next time with the non-verbal communication aspect of these approaches.
  3. Husband and I need to be even more clear in these situations about what job each of us is filling. We almost always split the flying and navigating/communicating responsibilities. But the pilot flying typically is still able to follow the communications as they occur. In this case, it was very helpful to have a second person in the plane that could devote 100% attention to communicating and figuring out how to follow instructions. In these complex situations, we need to decide what the pilot must hear for him/herself and what (s)he can trust the copilot to hear/understand.
  4. This was a great example of needing to fly the plane first. I goofed and made some pretty big altitude and power changes when we were pretty close to the ground. Luckily, I never had the stall horn go off, and we were never in danger of being out of control. However, my pitch and power changes resulted in several wide airspeed swings (65-90) in a short amount of time and distance.
  5. Though I hope our next entrance to a fly-in is a little more polished, I can say that we didn't damage ourselves or the plane, we didn't bust any airspace, and the landing (in the end) was pretty respectable with distinct chirps for back and front wheels.

More next time on the fly-in itself!

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