Sunday, September 1, 2013

Homecoming for Junior Flight Rangers (Part 5 of 5)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
01 Sep 2013 N21481 PVG (Chesapeake, VA) - SDC (Williamson, NY) 3.6 1213.2

Being Direct

While planning the flight home, I started with plotting a direct course from Hampton Roads Executive back to Williamson-Sodus Airport in ForeFlight.

It passed through the outer edge of the DC SFRA and avoided the ultra-exclusive airspace at the center of the region known as the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ or "freeze").

With a closer look, it was clear that the route would pass west of the same restricted areas near Patuxent River NAS that had forced a zig-zagging flight path when southbound from Frederick. At the northeast corner of the SFRA, the direct route would pass over Baltimore-Washington International again.


The direct flight was an excellent linear approximation of the clearance I received on my way south and actually made a lot of sense. So that is what I filed.

Hampton Roads Executive Airport was busy with people practicing in the pattern when we arrived. While loading and pre-flighting Warrior 481, I cogitated on the best way to obtain my clearance. If the clearance was to be as complex as the one we received out of Frederick, I was not eager to copy it down in the air while flying without an autopilot. On the other hand, the airport was busy and there was no run-up area near the runway in use, so complying with a release / void time arranged by telephone might be challenging and inconvenient to other pilots.

When I checked FlightAware, it indicated that we should expect a direct clearance home. I decided that if it was really going to be that simple, then it made sense to pick up my clearance in the air from Norfolk.


Climbing over Hampton Roads Executive, I tuned the frequency for Norfolk Approach and waited. The controller was apologizing to another pilot for slow assignment of a squawk code. "We have a sewage leak down here and I was just on the phone updating my supervisor about it."

"Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that," responded the other pilot.

"Oh, it's not so bad, just a little stinky." Something told me that this was the understatement of the year.

I interjected when I could, giving my spiel and requesting IFR clearance.

"November 21481, Norfolk Approach (pronounced "Nawf'k" by the controller), squawk 5635, standby for clearance."  Then moments later, "November 481, cleared to sierra delta charlie direct, climb and maintain eight thousand feet."

Woo hoo!

We climbed through some clouds on the way to our cruise altitude. A few minutes later, Norfolk Approach sidestepped us a bit to the west. My assumption is that he wanted to give us a greater buffer with the restricted areas near Pax River NAS.


After a significant amount of elapsed time, we were still on with Norfolk approach. Based on the hand-offs we received coming south, I was surprised that we had not been handed to another controller yet. About twelve minutes before penetration of the SFRA, I thought it best to check.

"Norfolk Approach, did Warrior 481 miss a hand-off from you?"

"November 481, say position."

Shouldn't we be on radar? Kristy and I exchanged glances. With the SFRA so close, it was not a good place to be out of sync with ATC.

"Warrior 481 is five south of COLIN intersection," I responded.

Norfolk responded with an immediate frequency change to Washington Center. The Washington Center controller merely provided the local altimeter setting then switched us directly to Potomac Approach.

From Norfolk's response, I do not know if I missed a hand-off or if Norfolk lost track of us (or if it was some other circumstance that I have not thought of). I was glad that I asked, especially with the SFRA looming ahead. I have had controllers forget about us while receiving VFR flight following, but did not expect this to occur while on an IFR flight plan. To be fair, if we were forgotten about, I understand that Norfolk Approach was working under some non-ideal conditions! Regardless, this serves as a good reminder; if something seems amiss, ask.

As we flew through the SFRA, we were passed from controller to controller. Most noted that they showed us direct to our destination and asked for our on-course heading. I assume that, given how close we passed to the FRZ (even closer than planned after Norfolk sidestepped us to the west), ATC  wanted to ensure that we were on a trajectory that would keep us clear.

Photo by Kristy

We saw Andrews Air Force Base pass off our left wing and Baltimore-Washington International (above) pass to the right. Just north of Baltimore, Potomac Approach changed our clearance to direct Harrisburg, then direct Williamson-Sodus. I tracked to the Harrisburg VOR using the navigation radio because I could tune that more quickly. Harrisburg Approach called us before we ever reached the VOR and cleared us direct home from our current position.

Light Instrument Meteorological Conditions

North of Harrisburg, we were given a lower altitude that put us back in the clouds to log a total of 0.7 hours of actual instrument conditions.  It was good practice, though there was insufficient moisture to clean all the smashed bug carcasses off the airplane

Through holes in the undercast, we observed Williamsport, Pennsylvania and a familiar line of windmills atop a ridge. We were back in our home territory after flying in very unfamiliar airspace.

Kristy and I were chatting about one thing or another while The Bear tried to read in the back seat. Eventually, we heard a frustrated cry of "isolate!" on the intercom. With a chuckle, Kristy flipped the isolation switch on the audio panel to "crew".

We spent the remainder of the flight skimming through the tops of the clouds, a welcome privilege for the instrument rated. Sometimes, I unnecessarily added an occasional "whoosh" over the intercom as we zipped through those bits of cloud protruding into our flight path.

Everyone's a Critic

I misjudged the flare at Williamson and landed more firmly than usual.

"Daddy, that landing hurt my butt," The Bear declared. She sometimes struggled to break squelch on the intercom, but that comment came through loud and clear.

We had a great trip, but we were all happy to be back home.

Overall, we flew 11.7 hours, logged 0.9 hours of actual IMC, and made six landings (with only the one at home being poor). I flew my first post-certification instrument approach, flew through the DC SFRA for the first time (twice), and developed a greater level of comfort with more complex routings (and re-routings) in the IFR system. We got to meet up with a "fellow" blogger and pilot, added another state to our collection (Maryland), landed at four new airports (FDK, PVG, FFA, W95), and, of course, finally landed at First Flight Airport.

The Bear was very happy to have earned her Junior Flight Ranger badge.

Kristy and The Bear assisted with cleaning off those bugs that the clouds left behind. Afterward, they huddled around The Bear's workbench and assembled the small glider they purchased from an aviation-themed vending machine at Hampton Roads Executive.

The Bear was VERY excited about that vending machine. I really hope she remembers more from this trip than just that.

FlightAware track of our flight home


  1. What a trip well done!

    And, sitting here at my desk, I totally just said "woooosh!" out loud as I read those words. Good thing my coworkers were zoned out in their own cubes...

    1. Thanks! I occasionally have my moments.

      and, yeah, I find the whole "whoosh" thing hard to resist. Maybe at some point when the IMC stuff is old hat, but we're a long way off from that, I think.

  2. Kevin Carlson - ChicagoSeptember 13, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    Sounds like a fantastic trip! Great to ease into IFR flying - even better to do it with the family along over 11.9 hours with a mission in mind!