Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Back to my discussion of the weekend. Other than not getting home in a timely fashion, it went really well. I was in NC partly to cool down after 35 consecutive days of work, but also to see Rich- my business partner in a seperate venture- and to generally have a good time flying all around the state, seeing airports I've never visited.

To a non-pilot, I don't know how exciting that sounds, going to different airports and landing there, seeing the sights, and heading off. Pilots have a term called the "hundred-dollar hamburger." Naturally, most actual hamburgers don't cost that much. But add in the cost of getting there and back in a small plane, and it can easily become that much or more. The truth is, the meal is just a convenient excuse to fly somewhere- a destination existing solely for the purpose of enjoying the trip.

When I'm not teaching, I do my share of this kind of flying. Some part of me just wants to see everything there is to see, so staying home to watch the next installment of the reality-show flavor of the week wastes my time. Part of my goal is to fly to as many different airports as I can. Again, a non-pilot might not get it. But every airport offers something different. From parallel 2-mile-long runways at Dulles International, to the 1,800-foot-long, narrower-than-your-plane, grass-growing-through-the-pavement strip in the middle of nowhere, there is something enjoyable and satisfying about each one.

This weekend, the plan included several key elements: get Rich back in the air after too long a hiatus, fly to a bunch of places I hadn't been before, find some out of the way restaurant with good food, and generally just enjoy the glider-esque flight characteristics of the aircraft I brought with me.

The plan on Saturday went flawlessly. From Harnett County Airport, we departed, flew about 1,500 feet above ground the whole route, and touched down a few minutes later in Pinehurst/Southern Pines. Moments later, off again, to the urban sprawl of greater downtown metropolitan Star, NC, in Montgomery County. There, we shut down the plane and found a local who directed us to a diner half a mile away. After 10 minutes of hoofing it, we sat down to a a nice country meal. Probably the cheapest meal I've bought in years, $13 for both of us. For the return, we ran through Asheboro, Siler City, Sanford, and Triple W, before parking the plane back at Harnett. 20 minutes later, the storms began to develop.

Monday's plan was a little more intense. We would cruise south toward the SC border, landing at every airport along the way, then run up the coast through Wilmington, to get to Okracoke Island, where we knew some decent seafood would be waiting. Afterward, the return would take us across the 20 mile stretch of water separating the barrier islands from the mainland, and back home.

6 airports and 150 miles later, we were flying 5 miles offshore to avoid restricted airspace, heading up toward our lunch destination. That is where the standard North Carolina summer haze caught up with us. It was getting difficult to see the shoreline. Sky and ocean were mixed together, eliminating any sense of a horizon. These are the kind of phenomena that led to JFK Jr's crash. It isn't terribly difficult to fly that way, but you have to have the discipline to believe your instruments, even though your inner ear's sense of balance is saying something completely different. Rich was starting to have a little trouble with it. I recognized how long it had been since Rich flew regularly, when he pointed at the attitude indicator with a "why is the instrument getting all messed up?" kind of look on his face. I explained the problem by taking the stick and getting the plane upright again. With low clouds keeping us only 1,500 feet up, and military airspace forcing us offshore, we were going to be out of gliding range of land. Not always a smart thing when you have only one engine.

There are always better days to fly, and that simply leaves us an excuse for doing another trip later, so we changed the plan, got back over land, and headed north, toward a few more airports.


At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work
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