Saturday, August 31, 2013

In Blackbeard's Wake (Part 4 of 5)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
31 Aug 2013 N21481 PVG (Chesapeake, VA) - FFA (Kill Devil Hills, NC) - 
W95 (Ocracoke, NC) - PVG
3.2 1209.6


In the early 1700s, what are now idyllic vacation spots in North Carolina's Outer Banks were havens for pirates. Notorious corsair Edward Teach, best known by the fearsome nickname "Blackbeard", was fond of mooring his ships in the deep inlets off the southern tip of Ocracoke Island. It was here that he eventually met his demise, permanently intertwining his story with that of Ocracoke.

Ocracoke Island was our next destination. Sadly, we did not bring any puffy shirts with us; our ordinary non-buccaneer garb would have to suffice.

Trivial Pilotage

Kristy, The Bear, and I navigated from First Flight Airport to remote Ocracoke Island using a chart unlike anything ever employed by Blackbeard or his ilk. On first inspection, it is a bewildering superposition of restricted airspace annotated with arcane incantations like "request status of R-5313 A, B, C, D from GIANT KILLER on 118.125." The wildlife refuge areas around the islands necessitate flight above 2,000 feet and the Pamlico MOA overlies the islands at 8,000 feet. Provided that one stays over the islands and within the aforementioned altitude bounds, navigating the region is a non-event.

On departure, Warrior 481 bore us steadfastly through mechanical turbulence generated from gusty winds sweeping through trees around First Flight Airport. Once above the treeline, the air calmed significantly. We stayed over the western shore of the islands, proceeding south with Kitty Hawk and Nags Head passing beneath our port wing.

The massive fishing piers of the Outer Banks make the pier back in Webster, NY look ridiculously inadequate.

The black and white lighthouses of the Outer Banks are iconic. We flew past this one, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, on our way to Ocracoke.

Bodie and Pea Islands are connected by the Oregon Inlet Bridge, which I recognized from my first sojourn into the Outer Banks.

When following such a narrow strip of earth surrounded on both sides by seawater, navigation is easy-peasey. The Outer Banks are unlike any other place we have visited by airplane.

The distinctive tip of Cape Hatteras was easy to recognize. We turned southwest to continue along the barrier islands toward Ocracoke.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and stands vigil over a particularly hazardous region of sea known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". In 1999, an eroding beach forced a move of the entire lighthouse complex 2,900 feet inland.

There is an airport on Hatteras Island named for General Billy Mitchell who is widely regarded as the father of the United States Air Force. How this remote landing facility came to be named for a Brigadier General is unclear. I could find no connection between Hatteras Island and Mitchell. I was tempted to land there just for the sake of landing there, but decided against it and proceeded to Ocracoke.


Ocracroke Island is one of the more remote places in the Outer Banks. It lies approximately 16 nautical miles off the mainland and, unlike many of the islands, is not connected by any bridges. The island can only be reached by boat or airplane. Pictured above is the northern tip of Ocracoke Island where two ferries that connect Ocracoke to Hatteras are crossing paths.

Ocracoke Island Airport lies directly - conveniently - off the beach. Our plan was to get a ride to Howard's Pub, whose website advertises that they actively monitor the airport's Unicom frequency and will pick up customers after landing.

We overflew the airport and entered a descending turn over the Atlantic to position us for a 45° entry to the traffic pattern for runway 24.


Though remote, the Ocracoke Island Airport featured an air-conditioned flight planning office. Residing so close to the beach, however, even the computer keyboard was littered with fine sand. From the office, we called Howard's Pub to verify that someone could pick us up for a late lunch. Our chariot arrived within minutes: a street-legal six seat electric car similar to the Red Bugs of Jekyll Island. The driver delivered us to the pub by pulling into a narrow car port bearing the sign "Limo Parking".

Reading the menu, we learned that the Howard family had deep roots in Ocracoke. William Howard was Blackbeard's quartermaster.

Lunch / dinner was good, though we realized that we were all a bit dehydrated when we each drained several glasses of lemonade in short order. Getting a Junior Flight Ranger badge is obviously hot work for the entire family! The Bear was provided with crayons, an activity book, and food served upon a Howard's Pub Frisbee (above).

This was a good $100 hamburger spot and they even had Bell's beer (brewed in my beloved Kalamazoo, MI!) on tap. Unfortunately, my designated driver does not hold a private pilot certificate and The Bear can't reach the pedals, so I had to abstain.

"Ok, you're at the beach!"
(with a tip of the hat to Phil Collins)

Back at Ocracoke Island Airport, we learned that a Piper Cherokee can serve as an adequate cabana for changing into your swimsuit provided that you are six years old. Otherwise, it is perhaps not the best choice (a little too small and a little too public). Once The Bear was changed, we strolled off airport property and directly onto the beach.


The Bear enjoyed finding sea shells along the pristine beach.

But mostly, I think she delighted in playing in the surf. Kristy and I waded out with her for much of the time. At one point, a large wave soaked my shorts, so I retired above the tide line to dry off and watch The Bear frolic in the sea.

As I admired the waves crashing on the beach, my mind still focused on pilot stuff like, "gee, that looks like a nasty thunderstorm over there." But it was far out over the ocean and no such cumulo-anvils were visible in the direction of home.

Return to Hampton Roads

As the sun crept closer to the western edge of the world, it was time to take flight from Ocracoke Island. Convincing The Bear to leave the water and return to the air took a bit of effort.

While I briefed weather and NOTAMs for the flight back, Kristy struck up a conversation with another experienced "airplane wife" waiting for her husband to arrive in their RV-9A. Once Warrior 481 was fired up and ready to go, we taxied to the hold line on the edge of the ramp nearest the runway to perform a run up.

Before advancing the throttle, I was startled by a loud knocking sound. Whirling around, I saw the RV pilot standing behind our port wing and knocking on the window next to The Bear.

"LOSE YOUR PURSE?" he yelled.

Kristy looked around for her purse and, not finding it, nodded to me and I killed the engine. But no, the purse the man and his wife found was someone else's and Kristy's was in the Warrior's baggage compartment. Better safe than sorry, though.

We departed Ocracoke after a second engine start. Climbing parallel to the shore, we noticed that the beach had emptied out significantly.

I marveled at the tree-like pattern created where people drove their cars onto the beach.

We turned back over the barrier islands to retrace our course to First Flight, then fly direct to Hampton Roads Executive in Chespeake, Virginia.

Northeast bound, we flew over the small, crowded ramp at Ocracoke Island Airport.

We flew past the town of Hatteras, this time staying east of the beach.

The Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, also known as the Frisco Pier, has been beset by natural disasters and remained closed since 2008. It reached out from the shoreline in a broken line, isolated portions of the once contiguous structure now man made islands standing above the waves. "I would NOT want to go out on that!" remarked The Bear as we flew past.

Oblique lighting from the late day sun accentuated haze in the air over the narrow islands.


I have always liked the way a saturated camera CCD often brings out high contrast details while infusing the image with a golden luster.

I first noticed that conditions were right for this as we flew past Pea Island.

Details in Oregon Inlet stood out in stark contrast against early the evening sun.

The mainland can be see in the distance, connected to Roanoke Island by the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. The Washington Baum Bridge connects Roanoke Island to Nags Head, just south of Kill Devil Hills. This was the very route I drove from Manteo to Kill Devil Hills two years before.

As we flew over the Wright Brothers Memorial, two things happened almost simultaneously. The most obvious one was that my camera ran out of battery charge and shut itself off. The second thing was not evident to me until a later review of my logbook. I crossed the 100 hour mark for 2013 somewhere in the vicinity of First Flight Airport.

Thus ended our day-long adventure in the former haunts of pirates and pioneering airmen. We turned inland and flew an additional half hour back to our home away from home, landing shortly after sunset. This time, The Bear abstained from assisting with the fuel hose and that struck me as a fine decision.


  1. You're right about the camera angles - love the reflections of the bridge and waves on the water!

    Oh, on a Bell's note, you would not believe some of the deliciousness currently only on tap in Kalamazoo. I had Überon (Oberon aged in bourbon barrels) and a porter, also aged in bourbon, that tasted like dark rum. Both were tasty and frighteningly easy to consume.

    1. Yup, I chuckled.

      See here, then be depressed about living far too many hours away from Kalamazoo.

    2. "Tap Cam" - excellent.

      We have been so focused on visiting new places (like Ocracoke!) that we have not had a lot of time to visit old haunts like K'zoo. We still have a lot of friends back there that we miss seeing.

  2. Enjoyed your write up. Heading down to FFA-MQI-W95 for a few days ourselves. Looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks for commenting. It's a beautiful part of the country to fly. We had a wonderful time and I expect that you will, too!