In this post, I’m going to use some bad words, and you’re just going to have to deal with that. Nicole did her long solo cross country this weekend. She’s awesome. In order to show some solidarity, I wanted to do one too. This weekend I decided to take an airplane and fly from Chesapeake, VA (CPK) to New Castle, PA (UCP). I have this to say, FUCK THAT PLACE!
That felt good. Now let me add some clarification. I can’t ever hate New Castle, PA. I really want to, but I just can’t. I mean Pizza Joe’s is there. Yeah there is family there too, and they’re nice an all that. And the airport is actually a neat little place. It’s got two smallish runways, lights, the asphalt is in good condition. The airport itself is okay. The FBO fucking blows big monkey balls. I have landed at dirt patches in the middle of battlefield deserts and have gotten better reception (from the enemy) and better service (from Marines). Don’t ever go to New Castle or use their non-existent services. You want to land there and go get some Pizza Joe’s, do it. But don’t expect ANYTHING from them and don’t stay overnight.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
The weather was okay. Around Chesapeake it was awesome. It was 70 degrees and sunny. In New Castle it was cold and going to snow. In retrospect, I can see now that taking this trip was a bad idea based on temperature alone.There was high level turbulence but I wasn’t going high, an overcast deck north of the Appalachian Mountains around 10-12 thousand feet and a 20 knot headwind in my face the entire time. VFR conditions, but not perfect. I was also on a timer, it was going to get bad in New Castle, low ceilings and low visibility, around 3 in the afternoon so if I didn’t get in by then, it wasn’t going to happen. All told, it was going to take me 3.5 hours to get there. I call up New Castle. Do you have fuel? Yes. Do you have tie downs? Yes. Do you have space in the hangar for the night? Yes. Are there any fees? No. Do I need to bring anything other than my credit card? No. Everything I have come to expect from flying. Not bad.
Once I’d leveled off at 6500 feet over Norfolk it was beautiful. Clear and calm and awesome. I could see the mountains from Norfolk, that’s like 100 miles of visibility. Once I got to the mountains, the shit got real. The 20 knot headwind was actually a 40 knot headwind and it included continuous moderate turbulence, all unreported. Thankfully I was right on the top of it and climbed up to 8500 to some clear air. After the climb, I really needed to piss. I mean, really. I was contemplating opening the door and peeing out the door, landing at the next airport just to pee, something, anything! I started looking for a bottle to pee in. I had a full bottle of iced tea and no empty bottle. Should I empty the bottle out the window just to pee in the empty bottle? What the hell, I’m only like an hour and a half into this flight, why do I have to pee so bad? Is it the altitude? Then I saw the fuel strainer bottle. Glorious and empty.
Yeah, I filled it with pee.
By the time I got to Latrobe the ceiling and visibility were coming down. I had to descend all the way down to 3000 AGL to stay under the clouds. Also, I was running low on time and fuel so going all the way around the Class B airspace of Pittsburgh was just not as cool as it was when I planned this flight. I called up Pittsburgh Approach and said that I wanted to traverse the entirety of the Class B, fly directly over the city even, at 3000 feet. Is that okay? To my shock and surprise the dude says, its cool. I flew right over Pitt University. When I flew over the Monongahela River I hit what I can only assume was wake turbulence. The clouds were only 500 feet above me and I guess an airliner flew over me in the clouds and the wake descended down and i flew threw it. Let’s just say that it damn near knocked me out. I mean, I banged my head off the ceiling and my headset came flying off. It hurt.
Oh yeah, the pee cup was now in my lap… overturned. Empty. Yes, you are correct. My shirt is now dripping with my own urine. I engage the autopilot and change. In the airplane. At 3000 feet over Pittsburgh. It was a bit awkward, but by the time New Castle was in sight, I had a new shirt on.
I call up New Castle to let them know I was about ten minutes out. No answer. I try again. No answer. I start to think I might have the wrong frequency. I enter the pattern and land. I want to ask them where to park, but no one is answering me. I taxi up to the hangar and the FBO and I don’t see any tie downs. I also don’t see any aircraft. Is this place even open? I park the aircraft and go inside. There is a girl at the desk and she is re-stocking FAA publications. Ten seconds into the conversation, I realize that she is a moron.
Me: Hey, is the radio not working? I called in but no one answered.
Her: Oh, we heard you.
Me: Why didn’t you answer?
Her: We can do that?
Her: Can I help you?
Me: Yeah, I was looking for fuel and parking for the night.
Me: Where’s the fuel? Where do I park?
Me: Perhaps you could be a bit more specific.
Her: I don’t really know.
Me: Is there someone who does really know?
Her: My boss.
Me: Can we call him?
Her: Oh, he’s here. That’s his office over there.
Me: (entering the office) Hello, I’m Chris, I’m transient looking for some information and some help.
Him: Uh huh.
Me: Where do I park, do you want me to put the plane in the hangar for the night or do your people do that. I’m new here, looking for some help…
Him: Park anywhere.
Me: There’s no ropes to tiedown.
Him: We don’t have any tie down ropes and there is no room in the hangar.
Me: That would have been nice to know. I called yesterday and was told that I could get my plane in the hangar for the evening to avoid the snow and when I asked about tie downs she didn’t say anything about bringing your own ropes.
Him: That didn’t happen.
Me: Excuse me?
Him: No one here would say those things, that didn’t happen.
Me: A new customer walks in, and the first thing you do, instead of introduce yourself, is call him a liar.
Him: Now wait a sec–
Me: Go fuck yourself.
I walk out, intent on getting back in the plane and flying to a REAL airport that really actually cares about the customers and has actual service. I had intended to put a few hundred bucks into this place in fuel alone, now this guy will be lucky I don’t take a shit on the front door before I go. When I get outside, it’s snowing. The visibility is about a mile. It’s no longer flying weather. Fuck. This. Place. I’m stuck here.
My sister is there to pick me up and we go to my Dad’s place and take some rope from his garage. I go back to the airport and tie the plane down. It sits there overnight getting covered with snow. I have Pizza Joe’s for lunch. And dinner. It’s so good. All told, this pizza will cost me about $800. Worth every penny. The next morning, the plane has about a half an inch of snow and ice on it. Definitely not capable of flight. My Dad and I take brooms and brush it off as best as we can. We were going to fly to Salem Airpark (38D) to get breakfast. They have a great little restaurant on the field and an actual FBO that cares and knows what it’s doing. None of that is happening now.
Luckily the sun is up and the rays are enough to melt the ice and free the airplane. The problem is, it takes 5 hours to do that. Instead of going to get breakfast at 8am, I fly home at 1pm. Grrr. Apparently the Gods knew how pissed I was and kept that 40 knots of wind. In this direction, it was all tail wind. On the way up, I barely made 80mph. Now I was cruising back to Chesapeake at 145 knots. Hells yes. When I land back at Horizon, there was someone to meet me. They drove a fuel truck right out to me. Inside, the manager greets me with a smile and a drink. Welcome back, how was your flight, is there anything we can do to help you? You know… running a business that cares about it’s customers. I decided that I really only have two options, (1) realize that Horizon is an aberration and finding this level of awesome anywhere else is rare, or (2) only fly at places that have that level of awesome. I’m strongly leaning towards #2. Mostly because I already did #1 in the airplane. (get it? #1…)
So, lessons learned:
1. Bring an empty bottle with a screw top (or a piddle pack)
2. Anything you could ever need is in my father’s garage
3. Avoid turbulence like the plague
4. Pizza Joe’s is still awesome
5. Flying from warm to snow is just plain dumb
6. FUCK NEW CASTLE’S AIRPORT