Friday, August 30, 2013

The Flying Bear Meets Turbo the Flying Dog (Part 1 of 5)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 Aug 2013 N21481 SDC (Williamson, NY) - FDK (Frederick, MD) 2.5 1204.0

Summer's Last Hurrah

It would seem that my family has forged a new tradition of taking a quick, three day flying trip at the end of the summer. Last year was an excursion to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  This year's trip would be to North Carolina's Outer Banks. Though I made the pilgrimage to Kill Devil Hills in 2011 on the cusp of my one thousandth flight hour, it was a solo journey, so I did not get to share the experience with my family. It also did not result in a landing at First Flight Airport in Kill Devil Hills because the airport was closed that day for the Soaring 100 celebration. Clearly, a return trip was in order with an actual landing at First Flight. Coincidentally, that first pilgrimage is what really inspired my decision to get an instrument rating and, with that in pocket, now seemed to be a good time to go.

While planning the flight, I noticed that northern Maryland would make for a logical lunch stop. I sent a note to aviation blogger Victoria (Toriaflies) asking for a PIREP (pilot report) on lunch destinations in northern Maryland.  She quickly responded with a recommendation for her home base airport, Frederick Municipal, and a meal in town with her, Bob, and Turbo the Flying Dog. That was an offer I could not refuse.

En Route

After days of fog and low scud, weather around the Williamson-Sodus Airport was beautiful and clear for our departure. Kristy, The Bear, and I launched and picked up our IFR clearance to Frederick in the air. Our route was direct to the Westminster VOR, followed by a turn southwest to Frederick.  I inserted the Westminster VOR into the flight plan to ensure that we would remain clear of P-40, the prohibited airspace around Camp David.

As we flew south, low elevation areas around the Finger Lakes were still shrouded in clouds.  We proceeded above them with confidence.

I monitored the weather at our destination via Stratus / Foreflight.  Frederick was IFR for most of our flight. Though the weather was slower to lift there than forecast, it was comfortably above minimums for the available instrument approaches.

South of the southern tier of New York, clouds covered most of the landscape.  We spent some time on the air with an approach controller in Elmira who was vectoring aircraft onto instrument approaches to the airport obscured by fog below.

Crossing Corning, NY, a hole in the overcast allowed a quick peek of the city.

Through northern Pennsylvania, only the tallest terrain projected above the clouds.

Ridge lines contained basins of fog like shorelines of a vapor sea.

User Error?

As we neared the Maryland border, the weather at Frederick was improving but still IFR. Runway 23 was in use and I briefed both the RNAV Z 23 and the ILS 23 approach plates in preparation.

"Warrior 481, turn left heading 150°, sequence for the ILS-23 approach at Frederick."

I asked if we could get the RNAV Z approach instead.  "Expect RNAV Z," is what I thought I heard the controller say.  I loaded the approach in the Garmin and, with additional time on my hands, set the navigation radios for the localizer and Westminster VOR frequencies necessary for the ILS, and identified both.

It was a good thing that I did this.

"Warrior 481, cleared direct NUMBE, intercept the localizer for the ILS 23."

I quickly loaded the ILS approach, entered the flightplan, and programmed the navigation system to go directly to NUMBE. The Garmin prompted a turn to the northwest and I matched the course. After a minute, Potomac Approach called again.

"Warrior 481, where are you going?"

"Warrior 481 is direct NUMBE," I responded in a tone of voice that was not quite a statement and not quite a question.

"Warrior 481, NUMBE is on a 230° heading." I checked the GPS again and it clearly showed NUMBE as the next waypoint with a desired track to the northwest that I had matched. Where was the Garmin taking me?

I turned the airplane directly to 230°, puzzled.  Rather than troubleshoot the Garmin further, I simply reloaded the approach and selected direct to NUMBE from the flight plan page again. This time, the GPS indicated a 230° heading. I find this very disturbing and have not been able to figure out what went wrong, though user error seems likely. I later tried to reproduce the phenomenon on the Garmin simulator at home, but the simulator always worked exactly, frustratingly, as expected.

In the end, I chalk this up to exercising the license to learn I was granted in late July. What could I have done differently? First, the NUMBE intersection is defined by the Frederick localizer and the 295° radial off the Westminster VOR. I already had these set and identified in the navigation radios and could have used them to verify my position relative to NUMBE. This would have told me that my heading was off. Since I have been flying instruments, I have made an effort to set alternative means for identifying navigation fixes when possible. Though I also did so in this case, I failed to cross check them with the GPS. Alternatively, the GPS itself may have provided a clue had I zoomed the moving map out sufficiently to visualize NUMBE and my position relative to it. A valuable lesson for certain, earned on a gentle IFR day with good visibility.

After this initial gaffe, Kristy, The Bear, and I proceeded on my first instrument approach since earning my rating. I was spot on the localizer as we came down through the disintegrating ceiling. With conditions rapidly improving at the field, I had the runway in sight before we ever reached the final approach fix. I intercepted the glideslope at RICKE intersection (at Frederick? Cute), verifying my position by GPS and a cross radial from the Westminster VOR. On final, the tower controller requested an unusual number of position reports from me and even asked me to flash the landing light as she tried to see my airplane against the haze, but we were down and safely clear of the runway soon enough.

Photo by Kristy.

As we taxied to parking, we passed a MetLife blimp preparing to depart. At the time, I wondered if it was the same one Kristy and I encountered in Lock Haven five years previous, but the two blimps clearly have different color schemes.

Hometown Connections

We met Victoria inside Landmark, the field's only FBO. Though it was our first time meeting face to face, she and I actually grew up in the same small town in Michigan (I lived there until I was almost seven). She led us to her car, which I identified immediately in spite of the Maryland plate because of a familiar Michigan dealership name stenciled onto the trunk lid. It is always nice to encounter small mementos of home in unexpected places.

Frederick is a beautiful, old town. Looking around, it was obvious why the word "historic" is often included as a prefix when people speak about downtown. Victoria took us to Brewer's Alley, a former opera house, for lunch where we were soon joined by Bob and Turbo.  Lunchtime conversation focused on airplanes, flying adventures, and Bob's penchant for grand romantic surprises that also involve flying. I always enjoy talking with other pilots who use their airplanes to actually go places the way we do. We even discussed aviation insurance, so perhaps Victoria can count the time as a working lunch. It was a terrific meal with great people and I am thankful to Victoria for the invitation.

Turbo did a better job of smiling for the camera than The Bear

After lunch, we parted company with Victoria, who had to return to work. On the way back to Frederick Municipal, The Bear was delighted to walk Turbo. But it was Kristy who found herself the recipient of copious puppy kisses from Turbo in the back seat of Bob's car, much to The Bear's amusement. At the airport, Bob introduced us to Slick, his aptly named Glasair homebuilt. Bob modestly downplayed the airplane's 160 knot cruise speed, but I am still impressed that the Glasair extracts a 50% higher cruise speed over Warrior 481 from essentially the same engine. In turn, Bob visited the Warrior on the Landmark ramp. Honestly, I always feel a little inadequate when someone with a nice experimental aircraft looks over my Spam Can, but Bob was kind in his comments.

After Bob departed, Kristy, The Bear, and I returned to Landmark where I briefed and filed an IFR flight plan from Frederick to Hampton Roads Executive Airport in Chesapeake, Virginia.  Though it was not the most direct, I submitted a route that would take us around the west side of the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA or "sifra", which sounds like a foe for Godzilla) and would keep us out of complex airspace (i.e., out of the way). I had decided that my lack of local knowledge and my newbie status as an instrument pilot (who had already made one mistake for the day) might not be very compatible with the congestion and complexity of the airspace around Washington DC.

I fueled the airplane at Frederick's self service pump, taxiing past AOPA headquarters on my way back to the ramp. Rejoining my family at Landmark, I browsed to FlightAware to see our expected clearance and was a bit surprised by the result.

Oh well, taking the easy way out rarely makes for a good learning experience.

FlightAware radar track of our trip from Williamson to Frederick.


  1. It was great meeting you and your family! Glad to see the Bear had fun!

    1. Likewise! Look us up if you're in the area, we'd be delighted to return the favor.

  2. Chris - As a VFR pilot in the DC airspace now since 2006, don't let the myth of the area fool you. Especially being IFR, the airspace sort of disappears. Seriously, for an IFR pilot the SFRA is a non-issue as long as you never ever squawk 1200. Just be aware of P-40 and you are good. I have found avoiding the class Bravo airspace to be more challenging than anything else

    1. Chris - Thanks for your comment. Having experienced it now, I can only agree. This was a significant lesson learned on the trip. ATC was great and more accommodating than in some other metropolitan areas I've visited. And speaking of "never squawking 1200", I noticed on the way home that all the controllers were very diligent about reminding pilots bound for airports within the SFRA of that fact.