Friday, August 30, 2013

The Voyage to Hampton Roads (Part 2 of 5)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
30 Aug 2013 N21481 FDK (Frederick, MD) - PVG (Chesapeake, VA) 2.4 1206.4

"We have clearance, Clarence."

From the lobby of Landmark Aviation in Frederick, I consulted FlightAware in an attempt to divine my likely IFR clearance to Hampton Roads Executive Airport near Norfolk, Virginia.

"V93 PXT V16 COLIN V33 V286 STEIN," it read.

For the uninitiated reader, Victor airways (indicated by a "V") are numbered highways in the sky, three letter codes denote VOR radio navigation aids, and five letter fixes indicate either named GPS waypoints or intersections where airways and/or VOR radials cross. I entered this route into ForeFlight to visualize it, but the software balked at the lack of defined entry point for V93. Inspection of the chart suggested that the V93 portion of the route would begin with the Baltimore VOR (BAL), continue to GRACO intersection, then turn toward the Patuxent VOR (PXT) as shown below.


Though I had filed a route around the west side of the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA, depicted above in red), our likely clearance would take us into the SFRA, directly over Baltimore-Washington International Airport and through its corresponding Class Bravo airspace, followed by some zig-zagging over the Chesapeake Bay to avoid restricted airspace south of Patuxent River NAS.  This new route was shorter than what I had filed, if more complex.

Temperatures were sweltering in Frederick and The Bear needed some gentle prodding to board the toasty Warrior. When I called Frederick Ground for clearance, I discovered that the information from FlightAware was a close, if not quite spot-on, prediction of reality.

"Warrior 481, cleared to Poppa Victor Golf via Westminster, direct Baltimore, Victor niner three, Patuxent, Victor one six, COLIN, Victor three three, Victor two eight six, STEIN, direct. Cleared to three thousand feet, expect six thousand in ten minutes, departure frequency 126.05, squawk 0004."

Kristy and The Bear sweated it out while I dialed this route into the Garmin 430W. It was the most complex flight plan I had ever entered into the unit (IFR newbie here, remember?).

"That's impossible.  They're on instruments!"

En route toward the Westminster VOR, we climbed through cumulus building over the area northwest of Baltimore.  Before reaching our first waypoint, we were rerouted direct to the Baltimore VOR and soon after crossed into the "sifra" (no sign of Godzilla, though). I originally took the FAA's SFRA training course two years ago, never dreaming that I would ever fly through it. At the time, I was VFR only and, though the SFRA is navigable VFR, that requires a level of hassle that I considered unappealing. But on an IFR flight plan, the Class Bravo airspace and even the SFRA itself were invisible. Our clearance cut through them like a hot knife through butter.

Like the Canadian overflight, this was another example of how being on an IFR flight plan had its privileges.

In cruise flight over the clouds, I commented to Kristy that she should watch out her window because we were about to pass over a big airport, BWI.

"Bweee?" Kristy queried.  Everyone's a comedian these days...

Photo by Kristy

"Yeah," she affirmed a moment later, "there's a big airport down there." Only a portion of it was visible through the clouds and afternoon haze.

"What's our vector, Victor?"

Our southeast course on Victor 93 was expected to change to a southerly direction at GRACO (just like the car seat people!) intersection. However, ten miles shy of GRACO, Potomac Approach issued another reroute.

"Warrior 481, cleared direct LOUIE intersection."  I scanned the chart, but could not locate the intersection.

"Potomac, can you provide Warrior 481 with a vector to LOUIE?"

"Warrior 481, turn heading one niner zero," she responded in a friendly tone. When in doubt, ask. Once pointed in the correct direction, I finally located the intersection on the chart. After verifying its spelling, I inserted it into the flight plan on the Garmin and skipped past GRACO. Now able to visualize our change in route, I realized that the controller had  done us a favor by cutting off a corner from our original clearance.

En route to LOUIE, the controller called again and descended us to 4,000 feet.  The reason for this became quickly evident.  Another single engine airplane was flying at 6,000 feet along our same route, inbound for Norfolk.  Our new altitude put us at the height of the clouds and closer to the Chesapeake, but we were never expected to cross any significant spans of open water.

Photo by Kristy

During this portion of the flight, we logged minimal actual instrument time (0.1 hours) as we popped into and out of the occasional cloud.  The Bear was always keen to see us pass through the clouds. It became Kristy's job to alert her that cloud penetration was imminent, drawing The Bear's attention away from her books and games to peer contemplatively out the airplane window as we passed through the mist.

The haze was sufficient that, from our position over the west side of Chesapeake Bay, the east side could not be discerned. If I have identified it correctly from the maps, this is Fleet Harbor.

As we neared Norfolk, the skies began to clear and I saw this interesting formation slide past below.

"No... that's just what they'll be expecting us to do!"

While talking with the controller at Norfolk, the remainder of our original clearance was discarded when we were given vectors away from our anticipated course.  I worried for a few minutes because the first vector we received had us pointing south toward the open mouth of Chesapeake Bay with nothing but water visible ahead. Fortunately, before continuing too far out over the water, we were given a new vector to the southwest toward Norfolk and our final destination.

We flew over the top of Hampton Roads, the waterway bounded by Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk. It is one of the largest harbors (technically a "roadstead") in the world.

I was puzzled by the small island connected to the mainland by two substantial causeways. Then I saw its counterpart on the other side of Hampton Roads and realized that a tunnel must run below the waterway.

A large freighter motored past, seeming almost toy-like in the vast harbor.

"It's a big building where [admirals]*
 meet, but that's not important right now."

Norfolk, Virginia is known for its massive military presence.  Directly off the nose of the airplane was Langley Air Force Base.  Out the port window was Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval complex in the world (per the facility's website; I'll take them at their word). Several massive ships floated at anchor below, partially obscured by haze.

I had never seen a naval hospital ship before. Adjacent to the naval station was the local port. It was filled with colorful cargo containers that, from our perspective, looked like giant Lego blocks (well, Duplo blocks to be more specific).

On the opposite bank of the Elizabeth River was the Craney Island US Naval Reservation.

Back over dry land, Norfolk issued descent instructions that brought us below the remaining clouds. We cancelled IFR in preparation for landing at Hampton Roads Executive Airport.

"Excuse me Doc, I got a plane to land."

For anyone contemplating a visit to Hampton Roads Executive, I highly recommend it; great facility, wonderful people, and reasonable fuel prices. There are also some alarmingly huge towers northwest of the field that are uncomfortably close to the airport and vigilance is recommended, especially when approaching from the northwest.

We chose Hampton Roads Executive Airport to be our home base on this excursion because it came highly recommended by Darrell, had inexpensive lodging nearby, yet was conveniently located within a 30 minute flight of the Outer Banks. We originally contemplated staying in the barrier islands themselves, but the affordable rooms were already booked by the time we planned the trip.

We shut down at the self serve fuel pump ($5.79/gal) and Kristy unfolded herself from the Warrior to check on our rental car. In the back seat, The Bear gingerly removed her David Clarks and grinned from beneath a helmet of sweaty, disheveled hair.

Photo by Kristy.
For the first time, I let her assist with refueling operations, which made her happy. The fuel hose blackened her hands and rapidly undid all that happiness, but she pulled it together before we departed the airport.

With the sun setting over the airfield, I contemplated the voyage we had just taken through the SFRA and complex airspace around Washington DC. Even with multiple reroutes, the flight went well and served as a confidence booster. I was fortunate that the FAA computers diverted me from the lame route I originally filed!

We left the Warrior tied down at Hampton Roads Executive, fully fueled and ready for the next day's adventure. 

FlightAware depiction of our clearance (dashed line) and actual radar track (solid green line) from FDK to PVG. In some cases, the in-flight reroutes we received from ATC are blatantly obvious.
* Yes, OK, I cheated with this one and changed "generals" to "admirals" to better suit my needs. Sue me.


  1. Love all the Airplane! references, of course. And that photo of The Bear helping with the 100L reminds me of the first time I realized just how dirty every Avgas hose seems to be. They certainly do a number on your hands.

    Great shots of Norfolk - I've been there a couple times. The airshow at NAS Oceana is superb. At least it used to be. Not sure what's happening these days.

    Good flying around the SFRA and all that jazz, too!

    1. Oh yeah, once we saw how dirty her hands were, she got really upset and wanted a hug. When neither of us wanted her to touch us with her hands, she got even MORE upset. It was not a good situation, but it was remedied by a trinket offered by the man at the FBO (another reason why I say that airport is awesome).

      In a word, flying over Norfolk was cool.

      What amazed me about the flight through the bravos and the SFRA is how the instrument flight plan made them no big deal. It was very different from when we flew through the bravo right over Atlanta-Hartsfield VFR in 2011. That felt like a big deal. This was nothing and that's part of what made it so cool.

    2. I still think of your trip over ATL every time I fly into/out of there, ya know. Definitely must've been a cool experience!

      No doubt that the IR opens some handy doors. Still trying to figure out when I can work on it. I'm itching to get it done with already.

    3. The trick for me was, once I got started, it was hard to find the time to keep at it in a diligent fashion. I did all the ground school stuff first though and think that worked out well because my instructor did not have to teach me any concepts during lessons - I already knew them. In my opinion, this is not a good place for training lapses. The skills atrophy quickly and it is best to push through and get it done without any significant breaks (you know, like I had).

    4. Indeed. I do have all the books and I have the same plan in terms of ground study. Just waiting to save up the chunk of change that'll let me go all-in on the flight portion!

  2. Chris, Awesome flight, and great pics. We were stationed at Langley AFB from 1981 - 1984. made many trips across the bridge-tunnel, and tours of ships at Norfolk. Really enjoyed the area. Thanks for pictures. Ed D.

    1. Thanks, Ed! I seem to be making the rounds of your former addresses (Lowry comes to mind), don't I?

  3. Chris,

    Great trip report and pictures, as always. I love the Bay Bridge Tunnel, well, flying over and around it, not driving over it. Awesome view flying over the fleet! In all my trips to/from Williamsburg I only got that over flight one time, it's hard to concentrate on flying while drooling on the window trying to take it all in. :)

    I think Bear needs a special pair of gloves stashed in the baggage compartment if she wants to help. Maybe a package of baby wipes too for that exact reason. Mary keeps a fresh pack in the seat pocket every time we fly for this big kid.

    Sometimes you have to scratch your head at the routing or vectors you get but ATC usually has a plan in mind. You just have to watch that they don't forget you. I've been given vectors out of the blue and ATC will usually say vectors for traffic or spacing. Glad to see you taking advantage of the instrument rating.

    1. Thanks, Gary! I'm sure ATC usually has a plan - they have a big picture view of things that I simply do not have. And I'm glad they are there to straighten everybody out. In some instances, we were able to at guess why we received the vectors we did, but not always. And I think they DID forget about us on the way home (I'll get to that a couple of posts later), which I did not think was a likely scenario while IFR. I've had it happen several times while VFR, but in those circumstances, I realize that I am not their primary concern.

  4. Thanks for stopping by! Just found this post via a Google images search of PVG. Our 100LL self-serve is even cheaper now, $4.59/gallon. Come back soon!

    1. Good to know! We enjoyed our stay previously.