The iPad Pilot and Family Have an End of Summer Aviation Adventure!

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The Reluctant Flying Family

Not Looking that reluctant! 

First, there’s the back story: I’ve been into aviation as long as I can remember but surprisingly I haven’t always been a super confident aviator. I’ve always had two mental demons pulling my brain in two opposite directions. Demon #1 (The ‘Good’ Demon) channels the kid that can’t let an airplane fly overhead without looking up in wonder. I still look skyward to this day whenever I hear that sweet dron of an aircraft engine! Demon #2 (The ‘Bad’ Demon) is the demon can’t help but notice the fallen aviators that alarmingly have way more hours and experience than me but somehow manage to screw up somehow and make a smoking hole somewhere. The reasoning being: “If it can happen to THEM, what chance do I have?”

Over the years I think my wife has picked up on this. When a family vacation that involves General Aviation as the mode of transportation comes up in conversation there’s palpable resistance. This isn’t one sided either. Demon #2 is right there in my little pea brain rationalizing that the stakes are too high, the stress is too great and that with all the added pressure a GA flight adds, the juice just ain’t worth the squeeze. I usually convince myself that the trip will be more enjoyable without the added anxiety of planning and executing a flight as pilot in command and that’s that … it ends before it begins. 

But the Summer of ‘18 is Different

As of July of 2018, I’ve managed to earn a commercial rating and a CFI rating. Immediately after completing my CFI ticket, I went to work helping others to fly. I’ve probably learned more in the first 20 hours of flight instructing than I have in the past decade of casual flying. I’ll save the details for a later post but suffice to say, it’s been a real confidence builder. What’s changed? I don’t think I’ve become a dramatically better pilot, certainly not overnight but I’m approaching aviation with very much a professional attitude. This new perspective extends to all aspects of flight from the weather briefing and flight planning to the pre-flight and certainly to the flight itself. I’m finding that if you embrace this attitude, take the FAA’s recommendation on ADM (Aviation Decision Making) to heart, you begin to bake in an ethos that reflects a professional and serious approach to flying. This not only builds internal confidence, but also confidence of your passengers as well! 

This, I think, is a big change because when I proposed a weekend getaway to Ocracoke Island (W95) as an end-of-summer-getaway, Jana agreed to put aside her anxiety and concerns and “just go with it”. Yippee! It’s ON!

Why Ocracoke?

Well, first and foremost, Ocracoke just looks like fun! There are two ways to get there: by boat (there’s a ferry that regularly brings passengers back-and-forth between the mainland and the island) or by air. There’s a tiny airport on the island, w95 that is perfect for small GA aircraft. The biggest reason however to choose Ocracoke was how well it illustrates the benefits of General Aviation as a means of transportation. To get there from Richmond, Virginia, it takes 6+ hours by car. It’s a brutal 5 hour car ride to the ferry, followed by a 1 hour ferry ride to the island ferry terminal. This makes for a long day! If you’re flying from Richmond Executive (KFCI) you’re looking at an EZ-PZ 1:15 ride over to the island in our  Cessna 182RG. Even if you factor the drive to the airport, preflight, picking up your clearance and all the other prep, you’re still way ahead of the game. The final reason is that, in my opinion at least, it’s a perfect first flight for the family. Long enough to be non-trivial, but short enough not to be excruciating. 

Planning

We’re proud parents of 6 year old twins (Dexter and Lily) and the big questions that Jana and I had were centered around them. How would they react once airborne? What could we do to distract them? What kinds of entertainment could be bring along to keep them engaged? For me, the questions really centered around the safety of the flight. One of my biggest was the prospects of keeping people quiet when I was trying to communicate with ATC. We do have different isolation modes on our audio panel but I’ve not really messed with any of them. Thinking about it now, I probably should spend some time working out the right settings to isolate everybody else from me. Mental note! As it turned out, a simple finger in the air was enough to keep everybody quiet while Captain Dad was chatting with ATC.

As the day got closer, I watched the weather but I didn’t obsess about it. There was a big fat high pressure system floating over the area and it looked like it was going to persist for the duration of our stay. I was very clear though with the family that if I thought the weather would be tough or the ride would be unpleasant that I wouldn’t hesitate going to plan ‘B’ which of course was the death by road trip option. Thankfully though, I didn’t have to pull the trigger on option ‘B’. The weather was gorgeous! Good weather none withstanding, I always make it clear to my passengers that I will not risk a dangerous flight fueled by get-there-itis. 

Trip Day!

The night before our departure, I spent some time with my trusty iPad (of course!) and ForeFlight (of course, again!). I like to plug in the flight point-to-point and then use the ‘routes’ feature on the “flight planner”. With this feature, you get a list of previously cleared routes to your destination. Typically I’ll choose one that looks reasonable, pick an altitude that remains above the MOCA but favors the best wind and then file my IFR flight plan. This is the many parts that I love about ForeFlight. Once you file, you get your brief which includes all the weather products you’ll need for the brief as well as any NOTAMS. I use the PDF graphical format as I find this the most terse and the most helpful. ForeFlight also gives you confirmation that your flight plan was filed and usually within a few minutes, you’ll get your expected route back from ATC. This little nugget is just awesome! I’ve never been too surprised when I’ve picked up my actual clearence. I can’t recall a time when my clearence hasn’t been either exactly what was returned as “expected” or real darn close! This has the added benefit of reducing those ATC clearance copy jitters!

The next morning, we’re off to the airport for a 10am departure. The weather is severe clear/VFR with some puffy cumulus along the route. With the baggage loaded, W&B completed, family strapped in, I start the reliable Lycoming and taxi out for our clearance. Much to my delight and surprise, we’re cleared direct to W95 at 5000’. “Piece of cake” I tell myself! We depart straight out on runway 15 and climb to our assigned altitude. The plane is running great, everything is right down the center, everything in the green and everyone is settled in. I know things are going smoothly as we climb through 3500’ and Dexter asks “Have we started flying yet?”. Music to my ears! “Yes, kiddo, we have!!” The kids are on their iPads engrossed in movies, Jana is in a book and I’m watching everything like a hawk as we settle into the cruise checklist. A few radio hand-offs later and a little over an hour of flight time, we’re lined up on 06 for a final touchdown into W95!

Our Time on the Island

We didn’t have a lot of time in Ocracoke. We arrived on a Sunday and had plans to stay until Tuesday. For ground transportation, we ended up renting a golf cart. This seems to be the preferred means of getting around the Village. The big ‘gotcha’ though for us was an unknown (to us) limitation on golf carts. Golf carts can only operate around the village itself and are not allowed beyond a certain point (basically past Howard’s Pub). This can be a problem if you’re interested in venturing out to the more remote portions of the island. Next time we visit, we’ll either rent a car or take advantage of one of the beach shuttles.

Some places we visited:

Heading Back Home

We packed a lot of activities into the short two days we were on Ocracoke Island. All too soon it was time to head back to Richmond. Like the inbound trip, I did my flight planning and IFR flight filing on my iPad using ForeFlight from a pub while have a tasty adult beverage and of course there was way more than 8 hours before my flight! 😉 The weather looked great but my expected route was more convoluted than I would have liked. I would later find out that the restricted area around the island was hot and I think the additional routing was to avoid that area. We departed to sunny but hazy weather Tuesday morning, climbed up to 6000’ as assigned and cruised home. When we hit the first way point (PEARS intersection) I asked and got KFCI direct. This shaved a few minutes off the expected enroute flight time. Like the trip down, everybody was plugged in, reading or in Dexter’s case, sound asleep!

In Retrospect

This was a really great ‘first trip’ for the family. It wasn’t too long and I tried to plan altitudes such that

we’d likely avoid the worst of the bumpy summer air. Figure out where the top of the Cu’s are and file above that if possible. Though we didn’t have the means to fly in the “flight levels”, I did feel like there should be relatively smooth air above the cumulus clouds. This turned out to be the case and I would recommend a similar approach if possible when flying with your family.

All in all, I would declare this trip a resounding success. Everybody was comfortable with the flying parts of this trip and the payoff was to make some really great memories. At one point Jana even remarked that we might need a bigger airplane. Yeah! I couldn’t agree more! How about a nice Baron! 🙂 I’ll be spending a lot of time on Barnstormers! 🙂 

Pictures © Jana Braswell

Tailwinds!, Peter

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