Only 33 nautical miles away from AOPA’s headquarters, College Park Airport’s (CGS) 100th Anniversary AirFair was the nearest event for AOPA’s 2009 Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22.
The Aug. 29 event was the first centennial of any airport anywhere, as College Park in suburban Washington, D.C., is the world’s oldest continuously operating airport. And airport supporters outdid themselves with the unveiling of an exact re-creation of the Wright Brothers’ 1909 Flyer, the airplane that launched fixed-wing military aviation in the United States.
Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of the green, leafy, tree-lined airport a stone’s throw from the University of Maryland campus.
An aerobatic display by veteran airshow performer Greg Koontz was a rare occurrence inside Washington’s highly regimented flight restricted zone, the inner wall of the already imposing special flight rules area (SFRA).
Even though the straight-line distance to College Park is short, getting there required getting TSA and FAA screening in advance. Fortunately, I’d been through that bureaucratic scavenger hunt last year, so the IFR flight planning and filing process the morning of the event was virtually identical to any other domestic trip.
Fog and low clouds blanketed the mid-Atlantic that morning, however, and had barely lifted enough (700 feet) by 10 a.m. to allow the Let’s Go Flying SR22 to make it there on time.
Even with clearance to enter the SFRA, it’s a bit unnerving to see all the red lines and warning areas graphically depicted on the multi-function display, and then intentionally cross them. The two Garmin 430W GPS units practically beg you not to with multiple warnings of “special-use airspace ahead,” and “inside special-use airspace.”
Our ATC-assigned route directed us to the KRANT intersection, which, according to the Avidyne MFD, looks like it’s located just about on top of the White House swing set.
“I can’t believe they want us to fly that close to the Capitol,” said fellow pilot Joey Colleran, director of AOPA’s Airport Support Network, as we flew along in the clouds, watching the miles count down.
I was hoping for a turn to start the RNAV/GPS Runway 15 approach before we got there, and thankfully, we were cleared to descend and begin the approach before anyone scrambled the F-16s.
The WAAS-derived vertical guidance on the approach made flying it extremely smooth and precise, and we broke out of the murk in plenty of time to see the airport. The winds were calm, and the deer that like to graze on the grass near the 2,600-foot runway were absent.
The clouds lifted throughout the late morning, and we got to see some exceptional flying and talk with some of the many dedicated people who have done so much to keep College Park open despite the onerous restrictions and pressure to close the historic gem.
More than a dozen volunteer pilots at College Park were giving airplane rides to a long line of visitors, even as the 5 p.m. deadline to finish the flights approached. Scores of first-time passengers had been introduced to general aviation already that day, but the volunteers couldn’t accommodate all of them before time ran out. Fortunately, enough of the volunteer pilots kept at it, filing their own individual flight plans for each trip, to ensure no one who wanted a first flight left the airport without one.
It’s that kind of generous, resourceful, and determined spirit that ensures that, despite the obstacles, College Park will extend its remarkable legacy.