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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.

Home again in the sweeps SR22

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 is tucked back in its hangar at Frederick, Md., after a coast-to-coast-to-coast journey that showed general aviation’s exciting new possibilities from the Chesapeake Bay to the Golden Gate and back again.

The two-week odyssey spanned the Appalachians, Great Lakes, Northern Plains, Rocky, Wasatch, and Sierra-Nevada, scorching Southwest and soggy Southeast. The airplane got a exterior makeover in Middleton, Wis., was on display at Watsonville, Calif., on the Monterey Bay, and stopped in Memphis, Tenn., on the banks of the Mississippi River, where AOPA Pilot staffers researched a magazine article and produced a video on a fascinating family of agricultural fliers there.

The cross-country portion of the trip included eight takeoffs and landings, six time zones, and about 34 total flight hours. The Let’s Go Flying SR22 flew at altitudes all the way up to its service ceiling of 17,000 feet topping the snow-capped Sierras near Mt. Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit, and its broad windows offered panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, Great Salt Lake, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and San Francisco Bay.

But now that it’s over, it’s easy to recognize that the most valuable and lasting part of the trip wasn’t the majestic scenery, America’s grandeur, or learning the nuances of the sleek, technologically advanced aircraft that some fortunate aviator is going to win in January (although those aspects were certainly enjoyable). The truly magical part of GA travel was the ability to connect with geographically far-flung family and friends and tend to some of the bonds that time, distance, and our ceaseless busyness erode.

In California, I got to share the cockpit with my sister-in-law Loree, a former U.S. Navy pilot. That was a treat in itself, as was seeing her amazement at the glass-panel revolution that has given modern GA airplanes navigational and collision-avoidance tools that surpass anything in the S-3 Viking and F/A-18 Hornet jets she used to fly.

I also spent most of an afternoon with an old friend whose feelings I had needlessly hurt years ago. She came along on a photo flight over the San Francisco Bay on a sparkling afternoon, and any bitterness or awkwardness from that long-ago period was vanquished by the time we landed. My mom, a private pilot since 1968, wanted (and got) a detailed explanation of the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s Avidyne Entegra avionics system on the ramp one evening; and my five- and seven-year-old niece and nephew got to explore every inch of the composite aircraft when it was on display at Palo Alto Airport.

In Memphis, I had the privilege of introducing AOPA colleagues, Tom Haines and Warren Morningstar, to the amazingly talented, resourceful, and lively group of GA pilots who helped me get started in flying when I lived there for 10 years ending in 1999. David Peeler hosted a cookout at Gen. DeWitt Spain Airport near downtown Memphis that brought together an uncommon assortment of agricultural, airline, aerobatic, and warbird pilots and families for an absolutely delightful evening.

Haines, editor in chief of AOPA publications, flew the Let’s Go Flying SR22 on the eastbound, transcontinental flight home. He had much to contend with in terms of changing weather, strong winds, and high terrain, and he used all the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s considerable tools to deal with ice over southern Nevada, thunderstorms across Arkansas, and powerful, shifting winds in the canyons of Arizona.

Haines owns and flies a GNS 530-equipped Bonanza, so he quickly mastered the dual GNS 430Ws that drive the Avidyne Entegra avionics system in the Let’s Go Flying SR22. He also flew simulated or actual IFR approaches at Sedona, Memphis, and Frederick.

The final 4.1-hour leg of the trip home took us up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, but the craggy hills were invisibly draped beneath a thick blanket of clouds from Tennessee all the way to Maryland and beyond. I amused myself by snapping photos of some of the more dramatic cloud formations along our path. We arrived at our home field about 30 minutes before the first in a series of towering cumulus clouds brought more rain to a now-vibrantly green region.

Even though Tom and I were anxious to get home to our families, we lingered in the hangar for a time wiping the bugs and road grime off the Let’s Go Flying SR22 and getting the airplane fueled, oiled, and ready for its next adventure.

The Let’s Go Flying SR22 looks no worse for the wear after its long, sometimes challenging, and richly rewarding U.S. circuit. It’s an amazing aircraft that not only can carry people safely and comfortably across continents—but also brings us together.