First in Flight (1903-2003)
Welcome to North Carolina!
So read the welcoming sign post as we tied down the airplane and made our way to the Wright brothers’ memorial site. But I am getting ahead of my story. There were many hurdles to cross before I could be there to read that sign and feel the reverence one feels when visiting a sacred site. Returning to the east coast after nine months of living in the west, I was excited to hear about the flight to Kill Devil Hills that the flight school was organizing. I knew I definitely wanted to make this flight.
I had hoped to bypass the proficiency check that flight schools require, since I had just completed both my Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) and my Biennial Flight Review (BFR). But that was not to be. Fortunately I was able to get my checkout done earlier the week of the fly-out. I even managed to find a co-pilot who was interested in sharing the flight expenses and best of all had an a/c reserved. Everything was falling into place.
The first sign of trouble appeared two days prior to the scheduled flight. Ian, the co-pilot, called and indicated that the aircraft we had reserved was coming up on its 100 hour inspection and hence we might not be able to fly it come Sunday. He suggested that I reserve the one remaining C172 on the flight line. It was an old Cessna 172 with old avionics. At least it had a GPS unit even if not IFR certified.
Throughout the week I had monitored the weather. The forecast fluctuated from Sunny skies to cloudy weather and to the extreme: 80% chance of thunderstorms. DC weather was totally unpredictable. There was virtually thunderstorm in the forecast every single day. Even if the day started out sunny there was no knowing if a quick afternoon thunderstorm would roll across. Until the day of the flight I couldn’t be sure if I would be able to fly.
As anticipated, the aircraft Ian had scheduled was down for maintenance. Hurdle 2 occurred when I called the flight school to enquire about the after-hours operations the day before the flight since we were scheduled to fly at 8:00am the next morning. I had previously been checked out in the C172 G1000 (fuel injected) which did not qualify me to fly the carbureted engine C172 I had reserved according to the flight school regulations. I frantically tried to avoid yet another checkout. Even if I did want to go through with a checkout wasn’t it already late? As luck would have it, I was given the option: Show up at 6:30 am and an instructor would do a quick check in the pattern and I would then be able to fly the aircraft.
To be at the airport at 6:30am, I needed to leave home prior to 5:30 which meant I had to be up at 4:00am! But I was determined to make this trip by hook or by crook. And so it happened that I woke up at 4:00 am and headed for the airport in rain, thunder and lightning. Weather was the biggest hurdle of all! Ordinarily, if this was California, I would have canceled my aircraft reservation and gone back to bed, expecting the weather to persist throughout the day. But this was the east coast and weather such as this was the norm. The forecast indicated that the thunderstorm would pass in an hour. As I drove north to Leesburg, the skies were already beginning to clear. A quick spin in the pattern and I was cleared to fly!
Eight aircraft set off from Leesburg and Manassas all of them faster and newer than the old 172 Ian and I set off in eventually a little after 8:00am. I had thrown my old Garmin 196 in my flight bag along with my handheld radio as backup. Ian and I had decided that I would do the flight outbound to First Flight Airport (FFA) and Ian would fly the return trip. We expected to catch up with the storm that had just previously passed and moved east. We had decided to give it a try and if uncomfortable we would return back or stop along the way.
We departed JYO, and headed for the Jasen gate out of the DC ADIZ area before turning south at the Casanova VOR. My flight plan was simple and went from VOR to VOR: CSN->RIC->ORF and then along the coast to FFA. A few clouds loomed ahead along the way and we expected at least one of them to be rain bearing. But as luck would have it, we made the journey uneventfully, taking pictures along the way of Richmond, Williamsburg, Norfolk, and Hampton Roads. Ian was a good navigator. Quickly identifying landmarks and pointing them out, setting the radios, planning the route in the built in GPS and my handheld GPS.
First flight airport is tricky to identify when heading from the north and west. A row of trees border the runway, making it had to locate, when flying downwind. After a less than stellar pattern flying, spotting the runway at the last moment, we landed safely and met the rest of the group that had already arrived well ahead of us.
The Wright brothers’ memorial sits atop a hill: a simple tower with inscriptions commemorating one hundred years of powered flight. A winding walkway leads up to the tower. The site also contains a museum and gift shop. A replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer occupies the center stage of the museum. Hourly talks are given free by a ranger who describes the events leading to the momentous event of December 17th, 1903 when the first successful manned flight was achieved by the Wright brothers including a demonstration of the working of the flyer control surfaces. The memorial site also marks the historic location of the first successful flight with a commemorative plaque along with a display of the rails used to launch the flyer. After a visit of the sacred grounds and listening to the ranger’s presentation, we headed for the restaurant on the outside patio of Ramada Inn facing the ocean for a hundred (or rather a few hundred) dollar hamburger and some hanger flying, followed by a walk down the beach.
The highlight of the return trip was staying ahead of the clouds and weather cells tracking east. What looked like a harmless wisp of white puffy clouds, turned ominous as we flew under them and only in retrospect realized it was a stormy weather cell making its way east. Only by mere luck Ian and I decided to skirt ahead of it. With a little deviation further east to stay away from it we made our slow progress north back to JYO without incident.
What a fun filled long day it has been. My first cross country out in the east and what a memorable one. I think I am finally getting the hang of the weather patterns in the east. Next stop Tangier Island. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures to come!
Note: This article appeared in the Slipstream (June issue of the newsletter of the San Luis Obispo 99s)