Archive for August, 2009

College Park Airport’s first 100 years

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of College Park Airport.

Actors in period dress helped re-create the look and feel of the early days of College Park Airport.

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.

Where might the Cirrus show up next?

Monday, August 24th, 2009

A quick call to friend and fellow pilot Tom Linton on Saturday, August 22, confirmed his participation in our all-day aviation immersion experience. I picked him up less than 12 hours later on Sunday morning and we headed to Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Airport. The Let’s Go Flying Sweepstaks Cirrus SR22 was tucked in Hangar A11. And I do mean “tucked.” The Cirrus’ 38-foot, four-inch wingspan leaves only about two feet on either side inside of the hangar. My biggest fears regarding the Cirrus have nothing to do with flying the airplane; it’s putting it back in the hangar.

Anyhow, we pulled the flashy sprinter out into the early morning mist, loaded her up, and headed northeast to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for Airport Community Days. The all-weekend event was lightly attended on Saturday because of testy weather. The air show had been moved to its rain date of Sunday.

We arrived after a quick flight from Frederick, with Tom getting his first flight in a Cirrus and a little stick time too from the right seat.

The effecient air show crew soon had us backed in front center between an A-10 Warthog and a Russian Beriev Be-103 low-wing amphbian. We were in good, albeit eclectic company.

Before the crowds arrived, Tom and I took a quick walk down the ramp, passing a peck glimmering of P-51s, a B-17 Liberator, a couple of more of the angry-looking A-10s, a fleet of World War II trainers from Fairchild, Grumman, and other iconic companies, and a big clutch of light sport airplanes.

Somebody somwhere threw open a gate and we were suddenly awash in people oogling the A-10 next door, kids crawling in and out of the Beriev, and AOPA members checking in on “their” Sweepstakes Cirrus.

Unlike AirVenture, Sun ’n Fun, and AOPA Aviation Summit, where the audience is predominantly pilots, the folks at the community days were mostly nonpilots. It was a target rich environment for engaging folks about the benefits of general aviation and letting them know what an airplane such as a Cirrus can do for them. Many had never fathomed that someone would or could own an airplane themselves. “What would you do with it?” was a common question. As one who is immersed in aviation and who routinely uses GA airplanes for business and personal travel, I was at first stunned that people didn’t know. But I quickly recovered and began evangelizing about the benefits of GA flying, taking some tips from AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign.

Almost an equal number of people expressed an interest in flight training, giving me an opporunity to tout the advantages of learning to fly—which is a part of the Let’s Go Flying theme of this year’s sweepstakes project.

Meanwhile, AOPA members were pleased to see the Cirrus and get a chance to peek inside after reading about it in AOPA’s magazines and on its Web sites all year.

I was glad Tom was there, because we were swamped—heavier traffic than we usually see at the big air shows. Tom is a consummate salesman and quickly picked up enough facts about the Cirrus to answer most of the routine questions. He backed me up all day long. Thanks, Tom!

After two different versions of the air show throughout the day, the crowds dwindled and the ground crew quickly got us pulled out on the taxiway for our quick flight home. A strangely intense isolated rainshower just southwest of Lancaster caused us to deviate a little westerly before turning to Frederick, giving Tom a little more Cirrus stick time as reward for his volunteering a day to the cause.

Back in Frederick, a helpful line guy helped us tuck those long wings back in the hangar, wing tips still intact and without a scrape.

What a fun day visiting a nicely organized local aviation event. If you see such an event in your region, make a point of going. You probably won’t be disappointed, and who knows, perhaps our Sweeps Cirrus will greet you on the ramp.