Washington D.C. 2015                                       

7/2/2015 -

One of the trickiest things about flying your own airplane for vacations is that weather and mechanical issues can make it very unpredictable, and thus difficult to schedule exactly where you're going and when.  That unpredictability is also a source of adventure though.

With the July 4th holiday falling on a Saturday this year, it made for a nice long weekend with Friday off, and I was looking to take the plane somewhere fun.  On a bike ride with Ella on Wednesday, we discussed maybe a camping trip out west.  Perhaps Colorado or Utah.  Later that evening, I was chatting with good friend and fellow Cozy driver, Bob Bittner about my possible plans for the holiday.  Bob suggested we should take our planes to Put-In Bay, OH, a little island in Lake Erie.  This seemed like an even better idea, and Ella really liked it as well.  As the evening wore on Bob and I worked different angles of planning the trip, but unfortunately could not find lodging or even an campsite open on the island.  He suggested we could go to D.C. as a backup plan if we couldn't figure out lodging by morning.  Somehow, D.C. seemed like a really appropriate place to spend the 4th.  The next morning when I told Ella it didn't look like we would be going to the little island, she was bummed.  When I told her we were planning D.C. instead she was instantly happy again.

As soon as the work day was over we headed straight for the airport, loaded up and wasted no time heading to Watertown, WI to meet up with Bob.  Watertown is a short 1.5 hour flight, so we arrived with plenty of daylight to spare.  I had done my night currency landings just earlier in the week, but I still prefer to fly daytime over nighttime.

The next morning we filled the tanks and departed Watertown as a flight of 2 with Bob flying lead.  I gave Bob a bit too much space before taking off and soon lost sight of him in the climb.  It didn't help that the visibility was only 4-5 miles at best, not the 10 the ATIS was claiming on the ground.  I let Bob know I lost him and that I was going to step a mile or so left of our course line to ensure we had descent separation when we leveled out.  As it turned out I should of shallowed up my climb a bit as I ended up reaching our cruise altitude before Bob and then ended up ahead of him being I leveled out first.  We had gotten flight following as soon as we departed Watertown, so with a little guidance from ATC we were finally able to form up and become a real 2 ship flight about 45min into the flight.

The rest of the flight was mostly uneventful and unfortunately not very scenic, as the haze was keeping visibility to less than 5 miles.  As we got to about the 2.5 hour mark Bob suggest we contact Flight Service and update his SFRA flight plan with a more accurate ETA.  It looked like the ETA I had put on my SFRA flight plan would be a better guess.  Being Bob was on frequency with ATC, I was free to contact Flight Service.  It was a good thing Bob had me do this, as it turned out they had no record of EITHER of us having filed SFRA flight plans (We would discover the reason later).  Flight Service was helpful in getting both our SFRA flight plans entered so we wouldn't encounter any issues (or fighter jets) upon our arrival to the D.C. area.

ATC had us break formation about 35 miles out and we both made uneventful landings in Gaithersburg.  We met up with fellow Cozy Builder Ron Springer, who graciously took us and all our gear to the hotel.  Bob had found an incredible deal at a brand new hotel in Rockville for just $80 a night!  That's crazy cheap for D.C.!

After a great lunch with Ron, we hopped on the Metro and went downtown to show Ella the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, The Reflection Pool, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, the White House.  The rest of us had all seen them before, but still enjoyed them again.  It was a long, but incredibly rewarding day.

The next morning we first went to the National Archives, where we spent the first hour and a half standing in line outside in the rain.  Fortunately Bob had the good sense to bring an umbrella that was big enough for all of us to fit under (mostly).  To me there was something incredibly special about standing in front of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the 4th of July.  It was just the right place to be at that moment.

Next up was the Air and Space Museum, followed by the Natural History Museum.  Ella loved them both, but it was particularly awesome to see her get so excited when she realized she was standing next to THE Space Ship One.  Just warmed my heart.  After the museums we head towards the Capital Building to find a place to watch the fireworks.  We weren't able to get inside the gated lawn area (they had closed the gates early for some reason), but Bob found a perfect spot only a block away.

Bob's nephew mentioned that the fireworks were to start at 9:09pm, and I laughed as I said "Yeah, these things never start on time.  I give it even less of a chance in D.C".  At 9:09pm precisely I was eating my words as the first of the fireworks exploded.  They continued for exactly 20min, and while they were definitely a good show, the part that left me in awe was that they started exactly on time and were efficiently done in 20min flat.  Why can't the rest of D.C. function with that level of precision and efficiency???

By the time we got back to the hotel, Ella was thoroughly exhausted.  She makes for the cutest pictures when she sleeping (she's kinda cute when she's awake too I guess).  I proceeded to plan the next morning's flight home, and though it was looking like we'd have to wait for some fog to burn off in the morning, as long as we got going by noon we would be able to get back to St. Cloud before storms would roll in at home.

Luck was not on our side in the morning, as the fog turned to low clouds that were relentless in breaking up.  Eventually I gave up on trying to get out under VFR rules, and proceeded to file an instrument flight plan (should have done so right form the start.  We loaded the plane, did the preflight and taxi'd down to the end of the runway.  I contacted clearance delivery and was told "4TF, we have no flight plan on file for you."  WHAT??  I just filed it an hour ago, what the heck?  Soooo...I taxi back to the ramp and call Flight Service.  After back and forth they finally identify the problem.  Filing my flight plan online through DUats, I was listing my departure time as UTC (which is what ATC wants).  The problem is that Duats assumes you are entering the time as local time at your home airport, so it was converting it to UTC (which I had already done) thus adding 5 hours to the time.  Flight plans filed via DUATS don't actually transmit to ATC until an hour before the departure time.  This also explained why there were no SFRA flight plans for Bob or I when we checked before our arrival.

So after all the messing around with Flight Service and ATC we were finally able to get going about 11:30am (EDT).  We had planned a lunch stop in Racine WI, which by the time we got there was just a "fuel/quick snack so we could get back in the air" stop.  I checked weather while we were in Racine as well, and luckily the storms were moving in a bit slower and weren't expected until about 8pm now.  All the same we quickly got back in the air and finished the last hour and a half to home, put the plane away, and smiled at how cool it was to have places like D.C. reachable with just an afternoon of flying.