Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to Chi-town!

Life returned to normal (as normal as life on the road can be) after Kristina left, and we did a lot of working and flying.  We finished up in Frederick, where we found out what was wrong with our strobe light.  Apparently the reflector fell onto the light and melted into the bulb, effectively self-destructing

Its kind of hard to see, but trust me, that is not what it is supposed to look like.

Leaving Frederick, we went back to Cambridge/Salisbury.  Back again? Yes, back again.  Same old flat land and chicken farms.  But after we finished up the material in Cambridge, we went to Roanoke VA to take pictures of Smith Mountain Lake.  Roanoke airport is a training area for new air traffic controllers, and it is not very busy.  Regardless, they make you talk to ground control, get a unique squawk code, then talk to tower, then a departure control!  Ridiculous for a helicopter VFR departure, but understandable if they are trying to train new recruits.  There is designated helicopter parking, where we must park, which is 300 yards from the FBO, so you would think it would be common courtesy to send a car to come pick us up, especially when we called for a ride specifically, but this rarely happened.  Landmark Roanoke is probably one of the worst FBOs I have ever dealt with. They had many employees, but all of them seemed completely uninterested in helping us out.  It was a gigantic hassle the entire time we were there, and we will not stay in Roanoke if we have to go back.

Smith Mountain Lake airport, on the other hand, was great.  It is a very small airport tucked in among the trees, which makes it hard to find, but there is an old pilot there that owns the airport, and he had a lot to talk about.  He was a very nice guy, and I would rather give my money and patronage to him and his airport than Roanoke who couldn't care less.  The lake was a lot of fun to shoot, there were a lot of people out on their boats and jet skis waving at us and having a good time, not to mention it was beautiful scenery.  Not a bad place to work!   No pictures though, sorry.  Here is a stock picture from Google:

One night I went to downtown Roanoke, and I was not expecting much. I am learning very quickly though, that these smaller cities that have been here for 100 years or more actually have a pretty decent downtown!  There was a lot to do, and some really nice places, I guess I shouldn't underestimate these smaller places any more.  The photographer and I went to a bar that had pool tables, and a cigar lounge, so I was pretty happy.  He schooled me in pool, with his own cue he brought in a nice leather case, yeah I had no chance.  But afterward I got to smoke a nice cigar on a plush leather couch while watching the NBA Finals, not a bad night overall.

The 100 hour couldn't come soon enough though, because we were doing it in CHICAGO!!!  I was really excited to get back and see a bunch of people and have some fun in my old city! 

During the 100 hour, I got the extraordinary opportunity to go to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field!  Kristina's mom called and said she had free tickets, so of course I jumped at the chance!  They were great seats and I couldn't thank her enough for an excellent time and my first Cubs game, it was a blast!

Kristina's little sister, Anna

Anna, Kristina's Mom Mari, and Me

Wooo!!! Cubs win in the 9th!!

Anna pretending to be drunk at a bar after the game

So here I am back in Chicago, it feels like it has been longer than it really has.  I have already gotten a chance to see the Uribarris, Angelo, and even mark who happened to be visiting from Phoenix (perfect timing!!), but I am looking forward to seeing many more friends over the next week and a half we have left.  Since we are getting lousy weather, I have had the chance to finally update my blog, but let's hope the weather clears sooner or later, I need to get back to work!


To me, the entire state of Maryland looks the same from the air.  It is relatively flat, spread out, and boring.  Where we were taking pictures, there are a lot of chicken farms, and if you have ever smelled a chicken farm, you know what I was going through for at least week in Maryland.  On the ground though, there are areas that are beautiful, and don't happen to smell like chicken crap.  On a very windy day, the photographer and I took this opportunity to explore a bit.  We were staying in Cambridge MD, the place where Harriet Tubman grew up, and there is a large wildlife preserve. 

Maryland Blue Crab

We had to take a break, so why not land on the beach?

Cambridge is a nice little place, but not much to it.  We also stayed in nearby Salisbury MD, the home and headquarters of Purdue chicken.  Like I said, a lot of chicken farms.

We moved from MD to Lancaster PA, home of the Amish!  I was really hoping to see a horse-drawn carriage, but I never ran across one.  Lancaster struck me as a nice place to live, based on no evidence at all, but we were only in Lancaster for a few days, then back to Frederick MD.  In Frederick, there is a flight school called Advanced Helicopters, where I had an opportunity to see my first R22 Alpha.  I didn't even know these existed anymore, not only that, it is an instrument trainer!

While I was in Frederick, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to have Kristina come and visit for Memorial Day weekend.  I was not planning on seeing her until August, so it was a very nice surprise.  I still had to work a lot, but we made the most of it.  She came into Baltimore on Friday night, and I went and picked her up from Frederick at 11 PM.  Saturday night, we explored downtown Frederick, which was surprisingly nice, but also really expensive.  There is not a single restaurant downtown that has plates less than $25.  We found a nice Italian restaurant, and made the best of it with a long night of great conversation.  We also saw an all electric sports car called a Tesla outside of a restaurant called Volt! By the way, this car is over $100,000, there are only 1,000 in existence, and it can do 0-60 in 3.7

Sunday night we went to Washington DC, and got a chance to see a Memorial Day concert at the base of the Capitol Building.  Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, the National Symphony Orchestra, Lionel Richie, Brad Paisley, etc. provided a great night in DC.

French food for dinner, and before I knew it, the night was already over.  On Kristina's last day in Frederick, after a long day of work, we had a chance to explore Catoctin Mountain Park and Frederick Municipal Forest. 

While exploring we happened upon this abandoned house that look as though it was built in the Late 1800s and hasn't been liven in for about 50 years.  There were broken out windows, decaying stone walls, and overgrown weeds.  We decided to take a closer look, and as we pulled the car behind the house, we saw the backdoor was wide open.  This house rubbed me the wrong way, it was creepy even in braod daylight, but it really had the feeling some kind of crackhead was living inside and was about to spring out and attack us.  Apparently I was the only one that felt this way, as Kristina walked right up to the backdoor and wanted to go inside.  Take a look for yourself, would you want to go rooting around in there?

Ok, it doesn't look that creepy in the pictures, but trust me on this one.  I decided there was no way I could let my girlfriend out-brave me, so I carefully and silently worked my way inside, peered around a few corners, and promptly got the hell out of there. 

Strangely enough, a few days later, while taking pictures the photographer was having stomach problems so we landed in a field in the middle of nowhere, and happened upon another house is disrepair.  This one looked even older, and was tangled in a wooded area, which would seem even more creepy than the house Kristina and I explored, but no.  This house did not creep me out at all!

Anyway, we continued driving in Catocti, and found a reservoir, which was a perfect place to take jumping pictures!

 And then it was over.  I am really glad Kristina got a chance to come out and visit, I only wish she could have been here longer.  It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it!  Thanks babe!


Better late than never

Since my last post was May 6th, I am going to try and pick up from there, I just hope my memory is good enough.  I have been very busy since the last post.  The days are getting longer, so we have been flying longer each day.  7-8 hours on the hobbs is pretty common, so I don't get back to the hotel with much more time than it takes to get and cook dinner, talk to a few people on the phone, and go to sleep.  After my DC trip, I ferried the helicopter to Elizabeth City NC.  Elizabeth City is just south of Virginia Beach near the Currituck sound. On the ferry flight, I had to fly across the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel.  If you don't know, this is a partial bridge and partial tunnel, ducking under and rising out of the water as you go across.  From the air, this looks amazing.

If you look really close in the top left part of the picture, the bridge actually dips under the water:

Once I got past the bridge/tunnel, the military activity at Norfolk forced me down to 300' along the coast, which turned out to be quite a scenic little flyby of Virginia Beach

Taking pictures in Elizabeth City was great, the weather was nice and the area is beautiful.  One of the best things about being based in Elizabeth City was the service we received from a woman attendant at the FBO.  Having been to dozens of FBOs since this trip began, I have begun to really appreciate good service, and dread the places that refuse to help us.  She was so nice and helpful, I decided to call her manager and let him know just how good of a job she was doing.  The airport itself is a base of operations for the coast guard, and it is right off the water:

We got to see all kinds of Coast Guard helicopters, which was interesting but made the R22 look a bit small.

We spent a lot of time taking pictures up north in Virginia, at times near a navy practice airport called Fentress Naval Air Landing Field.  I have never seen anything like this place, it is not a controlled airspace, but there are navy jets, helicopters, and even a crazy looking spy plane called a Hawkeye doing patterns and practice landings there

There is no information on any chart letting you know of this activity, nor is there a frequency you should contact, however, my handy dandy Garmin let me know of a controlling frequency, and I am glad I contacted them.  We were going to get back on station after getting fuel, flying from west to east and we told the controlling agency that we were going to cross over the top of Fentress.  They assigned us an altitude, and as I continued toward Fentress I saw 3 Super Hornets doing the fastest patterns I have ever seen any plane do.  I figured the altitude they gave me must be high enough to cross over the top and not interfere with their pattern, but as we got within about a mile, the jets were getting a bit too close for comfort.  As we are just about to cross over the top, the controller came on frequency and frantically told us we were interfering with the pattern and we needed to turn east bound.  Since we were heading westbound, this would require us to turn around and cross over the top of the jets again.  I questioned the controller, and a different guy came on and told me to continue westbound.  I thought it was a bit silly, it seemed to me that the military and civilian controllers had a bit of mis-communication, no big deal, but I thought the photographer was going to pass out from an anxiety attack.  He had a mini freak-out, but it always pays to stay calm in the air.  At least we got to see a frighteningly close up look at a super hornet in the air!

Here are some more pictures from Elizabeth City and Norfolk/Virginia Beach