Up, up, and away

Dear Kids: I thought I would write and try to describe my first flight of any distance away from the local airport -- it's called the cross-country flight instruction. On Tuesday, I flew with my instructor to the town of Easton, 71 miles as the crow flies, from Frederick. Easton is on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay -- Mom and I have visited there several times. The trip is about an hour and a half by car -- past Annapolis, over the bay bridge, and down the peninsula.

The trip actually started a week ahead of time, when we planned the flight. It was the simplest of all courses, a straight line from Frederick to Easton -- a course of 121 true (measured from North). That, naturally, has to be corrected for compass variation and for wind drift -- nothing, but nothing, is natural or easy. So far, so good.

About every 10 miles on the chart I made a mark on my course where some prominent landmark should exist. My landmarks were: (1) abeam the town of Damascus, (2) the Triadelphia Reservoir, (3) the Severn River, (4) landfall at the Eastern Shore, and (5) the airport at Easton. I noted the distance from each to the next and figured the speed (accounting for wind). That gave me the time from each point to the next. All this I jotted down merrily ahead of time, on a form prepared for the purpose.

After looking up more data, I also jotted down the radio frequencies of the Baltimore approach controller, since I had to fly through his airspace, and the frequency of the airport at Easton. By the time I had checked out the aircraft, had gotten gas, and performed the last-minute run-up, your junior birdman was ready to go.

I had mentally rehearsed every step along the way -- where to hold the chart, how to fold it, what to say on the radio to Baltimore, how to ask Easton what runway they were using, what the landmarks should look like, etc., etc.

On the runway; full throttle; up, up, and away!

Now I was climbing to my altitude of 3,500 feet. Only I was headed North, since that is the way the runway I was using pointed; my desired course was Southeast. After a while, the instructor said, ``Don't you think you ought to get on course soon''!

A little finagling and I got to where I should be. The scenery was delightful, but by now I had developed this habit of looking constantly for other aircraft, and regularly at my instruments, especially heading, altitude, and airspeed. Where is Damascus?

Through the haze, it could be that large cluster of houses, but then again, maybe not. OK, well I noted the time. So in 12 minutes I should get to the reservoir. And, sure enough I came upon a body of water -- but the thing extended for miles. When should I clock it?

Oops, time to call Baltimore. I called; they answered; I said I'm flying to Easton direct. They said, ``Where are you?'' After all those mental rehearsals, I forgot to tell them where I was. There were only a million 727 pilots and other aircraft on that same frequency talking to the same controller -- all listening to me have stage fright. Bah, that's what we pay taxes for.

Then Baltimore called and told me to change to another frequency (channel). I didn't understand one word! I asked my instructor, ``What did he say?'' He reached out and changed the frequency after acknowledging it. So I called the new controller and he had me do something else which involved setting some numbers on another instrument, I got half that -- thank goodness for the instructor!

Next we approached the Severn River -- but it's all over everywhere. By the time I figured what part of it was my landmark I had passed it and missed another time.

Inside the cockpit (a VW beetle is spacious compared to this), the map kept slipping off my lap; the pencil kept getting lost in my shirt pocket (hidden under my jacket -- it was 32 before we took off); my watch was hidden under the sleeve of my jacket; the plane tended to drift off course or up or down.

Also the gyro compass drifted and had to be reset every few minutes with the magnetic compass (which, however, was itself very sluggish and difficult to read).

Wonder of wonders. I look down and see my own wheels, and then 3,500 feet below, the stadium at the Navy Academy -- right over the top of it! Now the Chesapeake comes into sight -- the heck with the time. Right past the bay bridges, past ships in the bay, precisely overland where I wanted to be. I was very proud! Fortunately I saw Easton, called in, and landed. WOW! That was something.

A bathroom stop and back we went. This time I could understand what Baltimore was saying much better. However, it was now evening rush hour. The controller called traffic at 11 o'clock. Only a 747. A long way off (5 miles), but big as a house! After a while he called traffic at 9 o'clock. Sure enough, a corporate jet comes whipping by. Just like the wartime pictures -- zoom!

When we finally got back (I did a real nice landing), I tied down the airplane and gave a sigh of relief. It was a concentrated afternoon's experience that I won't forget. My instructor's final remark, ``That was a good job -- for the first time.'' I have no doubt what that is a euphemism for. Love, Dad

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