Earlier this year, while planning our summer vacation, we thought about flying N65842 out west, stopping in Sedona, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone on the way to Glacier National Park in Montana. While it seemed like an amazing way to show our daughter the expanse of this great nation, with a little ad-hoc homeschooling along the way, the more we thought about it, we realized that none of us, especially our daughter, was particularly interested in spending 40-plus hours in a Cessna 172, even if it was spread out over a month. Dana and I enjoy traveling in our airplanes, but perhaps we’ve softened a bit in the decade since we flew a 1938 Piper Cub all around the country in the summer of 2012. We still love traveling, but we also love being home. Plus, we’ve discovered that Alex is not big fan of thermals and turbulence, and she would much rather be at the controls than lounging in the back seat. So, if the airlines get their act together, we’ll jet out west to see the mountains, maybe even Alaska one day.

Instead, we devised a simpler plan to visit friends and family in Virginia, Maryland and New York. Total flight time would be about 18 hours spread out over about two weeks. Our original planned departure date was Saturday, June 10, but thick smoke throughout the northeast stemming from Canadian wildfires delayed our departure until Monday, June 12. The weather that day was excellent for the first leg of our adventure from Jacksonville to Richmond, VA, with a fuel stop in Florence, SC. Dana went to high school in Richmond, and we were able to meet a few of his old buddies for dinner that night. The next day, we flew to Gaithersburg, MD where I did all my flight training and worked as a CFI for eight years. It was fun getting cleared by Potomac Approach through the Washington, D.C. Class B airspace, just like old times, but morning haze limited our aerial view of downtown. It’s amazing to me how much clearer the air is here in Jacksonville than it was in the DC/Baltimore metro area. After securing the airplane on the ramp, we hitched a Lyft ride to the Shady Grove Metro station and took the subway downtown for a nickel tour of our nation’s capital and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It was Alex’s first train ride and she had a blast. That night, we met up in Rockville, MD with an old college buddy of mine and her family for dinner.

Me and Alex on the ramp at the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, MD (KGAI). I started flight training there in August 2001, and was working as CFII when Dana and I moved to Florida in September 2013 with our newborn daughter. Dana and I met in Maryland in 2010.

Final approach to Rwy 32 at GAI. There’s been quite a bit of construction around the airport since I was last there, and it definitely looked different to me.

On Sunday, June 14, we woke to a raw, rainy, cloudy day in Maryland. We visited with some old friends at nearby Davis Airport (W50), where Dana and I were married in the fall of 2010. After breakfast at the GAI airport cafe with our dear friends Bob and Lois Gawler (Bob retired several years ago as a DPE), we decided to head north toward Glens Falls, NY. The ceilings were high enough and visibility was decent, but pockets of heavy rain along the route proved to be more problematic than anticipated. After less than an hour in the air, we made the wise decision to divert to Lancaster, PA, a familiar airport where I landed on one of my first solo cross country flights as a student pilot. It looked exactly the same as I remembered. We were welcomed warmly by Christina at the Alliance Aviation FBO, who arranged a rental car and reservations at a very cool hotel in nearby historic Lititz. When you travel in a small airplane, especially with a child, it’s always such a stress relief when you are greeted by friendly, competent staff at the FBO who help you take care of basic needs like food, transportation and lodging. We spent the afternoon driving aimlessly through Amish farm country, petting horses and feeding miniature goats. It was a lovely surprise.

Visit to Davis Airport (W50) in Laytonsville, MD. Dana and I instructed students there in this orange Cessna 172. I flew this plane when I was pregnant with Alex. The paint was shiny and brand new at the time, but like us, it’s aged a bit.

A 40-knot tailwind was fantastic while it lasted, but heavy rain and lower ceilings to the north prompted our decision to divert to Lancaster, PA.

On Thursday, June 15 we departed Lancaster for Glens Falls, NY (KGFL). The weather was good VFR but the clouds along the route were scattered right at our minimum terrain clearance altitude, so we climbed to 7,500 feet and cruised in the smooth clear air above them. We always like to remain VFR if at all possible.

Our good friend and fellow pilot Chris Hatin was waiting for us on the ramp as we taxied to the self-serve fuel pump. Chris grew up in the area and was an amazing tour guide, saying hello to all the people he knows in Lake George Village. We spent the afternoon exploring the village, and settled into a cozy walk-up apartment owned by one of Chris’ friends. We turned the heat on in the apartment because our thin Florida blood was frozen with temperatures in the 60s. Dana, Alex and I took turns challenging each other to games of ping-pong, mini golf and skee ball. She won 1,250 tickets at the arcade and scored a plushy Minecraft character to add to her collection. It was good, old fashioned fun.

On Sunday, June 18, we agreed it was time to keep moving forward. Our original plan was to head south along the Hudson to Poughkeepsie, NY and see one of my girlfriends from grade school, and then visit with my aunt and uncle at the Lincoln Park, NJ airport restaurant. However, because it was Father’s Day, they all had other plans. The next planned stop after New York was Block Island, RI and then Ocean City, MD, but we were no longer motivated to hang out near the ocean since the daytime highs were barely in the 70s. Plus, we’d all had our fill of arcade games and ice cream, so it was time to head to Virginia Beach to visit with Dana’s mom.

The weather in Glens Falls that morning was still dreary but forecast to improve, and the airports to the south along the Hudson River all the way to Manhattan were already reporting good VFR. I was really looking forward to enjoying the view of the Hudson valley, where I’ve spent so much time over the years. We bought some sandwiches from the local deli, packed up the airplane, turned in the rental car, and scanned the sky to decide if we could depart VFR or if we’d have to file IFR. At around 11:30 a.m., Glens Falls was reporting visibility 10 miles and a broken ceiling at 1,300 feet. Our personal IFR minimum (which is also our company policy) is not to launch with less than a 1,000 foot ceiling. The reason for this is if the engine should quit immediately after takeoff, we want to be able to visually identify the best landing site. This scenario is part of our AQP For General Aviation training protocol, and was heavily on my mind since we’d just learned that a good friend and fellow pilot recently experienced sudden engine failure immediately after takeoff. We were so thankful that he was able to make it back to the airport with no damage to himself or the airplane.

Packing up the airplane on Father’s Day morning in Glens Falls, NY.

I recently completed an IPC with one of our staff instructors and felt comfortable flying in IMC, but I never want to be forced into a situation where I have to stay in the clouds. If I choose to launch into IMC, which is rare, I need to be sure that I can get out of the clouds quickly and safely without any difficulty. I opened up my ForeFlight and filed an IFR flight plan from KGFL to KMIV, direct at 4,000 feet. The obstacle departure procedure (ODP) calls for a climbing right turn to 2,100 feet on a heading of 192 degrees after departing Runway 1, which is the longest runway available there (5,000 feet) and was most favorable given the prevailing wind at the time. I confirmed the ODP would keep us clear of the hills to the west, and planned to start my climbing right turn as soon as practical. Since KGFL is a non-towered airport with no ground frequency available for clearance delivery, I called the phone number listed in ForeFlight for Albany Approach and received the following clearance: DNY LAAYK LVZ V29 ENO direct, climb and maintain 5,000 expect 6,000 feet. This route clearance took us well west of the Hudson valley, so we thought we’d climb above the clouds and then cancel once we got to VFR conditions. Well, we took off and climbed to 6,000 feet and were just barely skimming the tops. We asked for a climb to 8,000 so we could get a better view of where the holes were. I was only in IMC for about 15 minutes but that was enough for me. Once we leveled off above the clouds at 8,000, I told approach that I wanted to amend our destination to KPOU which was reporting VFR and we could see lots of holes in the clouds off to our left, to the southeast. The controller cleared us via ATHOS V123 TRESA then direct. Dana flew the airplane while I sorted out the new clearance. We flew for another 10 miles or so and then had a clear visual of the Hudson River, so we canceled IFR and descended down to 2,500 feet. The controller asked if we wanted to continue to KMIV with flight following and we gladly accepted.

The Hudson valley was as beautiful as I remembered. We flew right past West Point and saw some of our favorite hiking trails in Cold Spring and Nyack. I saw a Metro North train carrying tourists from New York City for a day in the country. Air traffic was light and we were cleared through the New York Class Bravo at 2,000 feet to continue southbound along the Hudson right past downtown Manhattan all the way to the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. From there, we crossed the Raritan Bay in New Jersey and had a smooth ride to our fuel stop in Millville, NJ.

Approaching the George Washington Bridge flying southbound along the Hudson River, with Manhattan visible in the distance.

Midtown Manhattan near the Jacob Javitz Center and Times Square.

We spent about an hour in the pilot lounge at the Millville airport eating our sandwiches, returning phone calls and watching the end of My Cousin Vinny on the TV. At around 4 p.m. we departed for Norfolk, VA (KORF). The only thing in our way was a POTUS TFR covering much of the Delaware shoreline, but ATC was able to get us through the outer ring and on our way without any drama. It was super hazy over the Chesapeake Bay but we landed uneventfully in Norfolk at around 5:30 p.m.

View of the Virginia Beach north shore approaching a right downwind to land Runway 5 at KORF. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is under the wing strut.

We spent Sunday evening and most of the day Monday visiting with Dana’s mom. On Tuesday morning, we looked out the window of our hotel room near the Norfolk airport and saw low, stormy looking clouds. The radar imagery was downright ugly all the way to Jacksonville, and prog charts didn’t show any sign of improvement until at least Sunday. We decided that the safest, most sensible thing to do would be to leave the airplane in Norfolk and drive home. So we did.

Driving home to Jacksonville from Virginia Beach on Tuesday, June 20.

A few lessons from this trip for pilots thinking of traveling in a small airplane:

  • Keep your itinerary flexible. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure they understand that you might not get to all your stops, but that you will find fun along the way, wherever you end up.
  • Avoid purchasing tickets for anything or making reservations for anything in advance, unless you can cancel at the last minute without paying a penalty.
  • Be prepared to find an alternate way of getting back home if the weather or a maintenance issue makes it unsafe to fly your airplane.
  • If you have to leave your airplane behind and return home via an alternate mode of transportation, make sure the airplane is in a hangar or tied down in a safe location. Take your headsets and other valuables, and the airplane keys, with you.
  • Always land at your fuel stop with at least an hour’s worth of fuel in the tanks, especially when landing after hours at a non-towered airport with self-serve fuel. What if the pump is broken or there is no fuel available? You want to have plenty of extra fuel in your tanks to make it to another airport with fuel. It’s always best to call ahead to the FBO to confirm fuel availability.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks with you. Never assume that food or refreshments will be available when you land.
  • Remember that it’s about the journey, not the destination!

Trip Stats:

  • Total round trip flight time: 18 hours (all VMC with 0.3 IMC)
  • Total expenses for our family of three including hotel, rental car and ground transportation, fuel, meals and entertainment: $4,500
  • Additional expenses incurred for parking airplane at KORF for 5 days and retrieving it: $500


Dana arrived back at Craig with N65842 on Sunday, June 25 at approximately 5:15 p.m. He’d purchased a one-way ticket on American Airlines from KJAX to KORF leaving at 6:30 a.m. that was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 a.m., but after half a dozen changes that resulted in the flight being delayed half a day with an alternate destination 50 miles from Norfolk, we were able to cancel the ticket for a full refund. Instead, Dana got a ride from a fellow pilot and good friend of ours.