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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Road to the Vineyard

Last week was dominated by one thought and one thought alone: Saturday's flight to Martha's Vineyard.
My cousin Carol and her flatmate were visiting from Atlanta and they both wanted to visit the island. Carol's friend, however, was a little nervous about flying so the plan was that they would head down the long way by car and ferry, while Jen and I would meet them for lunch after a quick flight across the water since we had a plane all booked up anyway.
When I awoke on Saturday morning, I was pleased to find mild temperatures and crystal clear skies. Perfect VFR. Once my coffee was brewed I sat down to check the weather and NOTAMs (Notice To AirMen) and plotted the familiar route to KMVY. The plan was simple: KBED direct PVD, direct KMVY.
At 1030 the phone rang. Mark, we have a problem, Carol said. There were no buses to the ferry in Falmouth until noon, which would put them on the island mid-afternoon. That's no good. Determined to make it to the Vineyard on such a fantastic day, however, Stacey resolved herself to fly.
A brief interlude is in order here to explain what a great experience this particular flight was. My cousin Carol, also from Ireland, got into a bad accident as a teenager and has spent the past 22 years in a wheelchair. In that time she has also scubadived, skiied, parachuted out of airplanes, fenced for the U.S. Paralympics Team and learned to fly both planes and gliders.
I remember one day very vividly, many years ago. I was about 14 and my brothers and I paid a visit to Carol in the hospital in Dublin. She knew of the passion my younger brother Stephen and I harbored for flying and had in fact fueled that fire by sending us months before a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.1. When we entered the room she presented us with some of her flight gear: a chart, a POH and most confusing of all her flight computer. She explained how to do fuel and time problems using the strange contraption, most of which escaped me.
"So, are you going to learn how to fly," she asked.
I wanted to, I really did. But it was expensive and most of all I doubted I had it in me to become a pilot.
"Listen," she replied in a an oddly stern tone of voice. "If I can do it, you can."
She had a point.
So 13 years later, I did it and looked forward to the day I would take her up for a flight.
Hence my excitement on Saturday.
After preflighting 9ME, I lifted Carol into the co-pilot seat and secured her dismantled wheelchair next to Stacey on the backseat. Within minutes we were off in one of the clearest New England skies I have ever seen. After maneuvering to avoid incoming traffic, I checked on Stacey who was doing just fine. A quick glance over at Carol reveals a beaming smile on her face. Sweet!
Called up Boston Approach for flight following and was surprised when the controller immediately cleared us into Bravo at 5,500, which would give us a margin to return to land were my engine to quit over the Atlantic.
Running a little tight on time (long story... we left late!) I amended our route to fly direct KMVY. We got a nice view of Boston, Gillette Stadium, the Cape and the estuary at Providence. We crossed Buzzards Bay and had the airport in sight 30 miles out.
"9ME, is that you over Naushon Station?"
Hmm... well I know where I am, I just don't know what it's called.
"Is that the strip of land between you guys and the mainland?" I replied.
"Then that's us, 9ME."
We chuckled and came in for a nice crosswind landing. A quick cab ride later, we were sitting on the patio of an Edgartown restaurant, enjoying a cold drink while watching the boats come and go. After a stroll around the harbor we raced back to the airport since we had to return the plane by 1730 and I knew we'd be facing moderate headwinds on the way home.
Wheels off at 1625, open our flight plan, pick up flight following from Cape Approach and make a beeline for the coast. On the way back, I just know Boston won't clear us into Bravo because traffic picks up at that time of the days and they were using the 4s at Logan. Too bad, because we could do with a straight line home.
As we cross the water I can't help but marvel at the sun glare on the crystal blue surface. It's all so tranquil up here, so pristine, so grandiose and I don't have to put up with all the bullshit I usually have to at work.
It's now 1645 and a quick check of our groundspeed indicates between 98kts and 104kts. Not good. As we approached the outer shelf of Bravo, I keep more power I usually would on the descent and manage to push that number to about 125kts. Better.
Carol helped me spot traffic and as we crossed below the approach path to KBOS's 4s, we could spot lines of airliners inbound for landing. What an awesome sight!
Our return route took us lower and closer to Boston, which I thought was great for my passengers. I slowed the plane down a little so they could enjoy the scenery, then brought it in to land. Touchdown time: 1720. I handed the keys over at 1728. Nice!:)
It had been three atrociously long weeks since I'd flown and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Well, perhaps the same flight alone with Jen!


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