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ChapterGram: November 2013

Anatomy of a Successful Eagle Flight


Chris Front (left), and Chris Deely with PiperSport N2259X at GAI before the Eagle Flight.

Chris Deely (left) at the controls while Chris Front snaps the requisite "buddy shot."

By Chris M. Front, EAA 816258

I've been an EAA Young Eagles pilot for about seven years, and I've also introduced a number of adults to GA flying. As a middle-aged professional working for the FAA, I frequently come into contact with other professionals who are intrigued by the idea of personal flight but have never had the opportunity to experience it. Over the past several years, I've taken a number of adults for flights, and a few of them subsequently expressed plans to take flight training. So I'm pleased that EAA has formalized the familiarization flight for adults who are good candidates for student pilots with the Eagle Flights program.

I took my young cousin, Kristin Deely for a flight in an Army Flying Club Cessna 172 a few years ago, and she really enjoyed it. At the time, I told her that I would also be happy to take her husband, Chris, for a flight. Kristin told me recently that he was considering flight training and wanted some information about the sport pilot versus private pilot options. Chris is a perfect candidate for flight training: a 38-year old, successful small business owner, cognitively sharp and physically healthy.

I provided him with a copy of a Plane & Pilot magazine article that did a good job of clarifying the pros and cons of each certificate and the related training, then emphasized that I would be happy to take him for a flight.

I currently fly out of Montgomery County Airpark (GAI) near Gaithersburg, Maryland. It just so happens that Chris' small business is just down the road, so it seemed like it would be easy to schedule a flight. This summer's crazy weather resulted in several cancellations before we finally got great flying weather on Saturday, September 14.

Prior to planning the flight, I asked if he wanted to fly west toward the mountains or east toward the Atlantic. He expressed interest in seeing the coast from the air. To make the flight more meaningful, I planned to fly to Millville Municipal Airport (MIV) in southern New Jersey. MIV was an Army Air Forces P-47 training base during World War II, and they have a very nice museum there, as well as a great airport café that is situated in what used to be the guardhouse during World War II.

En route, we overflew the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay, formed by the mouth of the Delaware River. Since it's a policy of mine to systematically do at least a touch-and-go at every airport on the local sectional, I also planned to land at Delaware Airport (33N) and Chandelle Airport (0N4) en route to MIV.

Chris and I met at GAI at 0900 and spent about 45 minutes discussing the flight plan, with me explaining the planned route and altitudes, which led to some explanation of the special flight restrictions in our areas: The Washington, D.C., special flight rules area (SFRA), Class B airspace around IAD, DCA, BWI, and ADW, flying east from GAI through the corridor between the FRZ and the BWI surface Class B to Annapolis, then climbing to 3,000 feet to have enough altitude to glide to a land mass in the event of an engine failure while crossing the Chesapeake Bay, then to exit the SFRA via the "PALEO" Gate.

Chris asked good questions, and I responded with enough detail to answer them but not to overwhelm him. He then listened in while I filed our required SFRA flight plan and got a weather briefing, and then we went out to the airplane. We would be flying PiperSport N2259X, one of several sweet little LSA operated by Fleming Aviation at GAI.

Once at the airplane, I enlisted Chris' help to add 5 gallons of mogas while I preflighted the airplane - describing what I was doing and what I was looking for at each point in the process. Once the preflight was completed, we climbed in and discussed the safety harnesses, flight controls, and emergency procedures. Those included how to activate the airplane's BRS and communications, including the voice-activated intercom; calling our traffic using the clock face, comms on the CTAF, and with Potomac approach while within the SFRA; our call sign (N2259X); and my practice of using a "sterile cockpit" (only safety-related communications) while taking off and landing. Again, Chris listened attentively and asked good questions.

After engine start, we taxied to the run-up area where I explained what I was doing and why during completion of the run-up checklist. Then we departed Runway 32 and headed east to Annapolis, making sure to remain beneath the 1,500-feet floor of the BWI Class B en route. Chris seemed to be comfortable in the airplane and was enjoying the view from 1,300 feet.

Just west of Annapolis, we followed the Severn River east so that Chris would have a nice view of the U.S. Naval Academy off the right wing, then climbed to 3,000 feet to cross the Chesapeake Bay and exited the SFRA at the PALEO Gate. After leaving controlled airspace, I entered 33N in the Garmin 696 and trimmed the airplane for level flight.

After explaining the verbal procedure for verifying transfer of controls along with cautioning him about the PiperSport being pretty sensitive in pitch and to make small movements with the stick, I turned the controls over to him, and he practiced flying straight and level. Even experienced pilots usually overcontrol the PiperSport upon first taking the controls, but Chris seemed to pick it up pretty quickly. It was at that point that I decided that this man definitely should become a pilot!

Soon it was time to contact Dover Air Force Base (DOV) approach to let it know of our plans with regard to 33N and 0N4 (which is at the northern edge of the DOC Class D airspace), and then we did the planned touch-and-go at 33N. A full stop was required at 0N4 due to the small runway (2,533 feet x 28 feet) with tall trees at both ends. That provided a nice opportunity to discuss the relative advantages of Vx and Vy and then to demonstrate a short-field takeoff.

Climbing out of 0N4, we had to do a spiral climb to get above the clouds while maintaining legal cloud clearance and remaining clear of the flight path of the C-7 that was departing DOV at the same time. I pointed all of these issues out to him as we climbed to 5,500 feet to cross the Delaware Bay. Then we immediately descended to set up for arrival at MIV, where we enjoyed some terrific burgers and great service at the airport café; it has walls covered with memorabilia from the airport's days as a P-47 training base during WWII.

After doing another preflight and calling FSS to file our return SFRA flight plan, we departed MIV. Once on the west side of the Delaware River Bay, I again transferred control of the airplane to Chris and turned him loose to practice some S-turns while generally adhering to our route from MIV to Annapolis. After a quick explanation of vertical and horizontal lift vectors and the requirement for back pressure to remain level in a turn, he again quickly caught on.

Chris flew the airplane most of the way on the return flight, with me taking control again for the descent to below the Class B floor over Annapolis. Once on the ground again at GAI, with the airplane secured, I introduced him to Tim Fleming, owner of Fleming Aviation, and Dana Holladay, a Fleming CFI. That way, he knows who to talk to when he's ready to schedule his first flight lesson.

We didn't have the time I would have liked to debrief the flight, but it was very clear that in those 3.2 hours of flight time, Chris had been hooked. He expressed a desire to fly again soon and reaffirmed plans to begin flight training.

All in all, my first official Eagle Flight was a very enjoyable experience for both of us. I'm looking forward to flying with Chris again soon and being available as a mentor as he begins his flight training.

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