It felt great to be back at the controls of 10Z. It had been over a month since I’d flown. However, I haven’t done a cross country flight over 51nm since prior to my checkride in March. I hadn’t talked to ATC and landed at a towered airport since my training either. My plan was to fly over to Athens (KAHN) to get a feel for flying into that airport, since we might be making the flight over for some football games this fall. I toyed with the idea of just staying local, but the weather was gorgeous and I didn’t have any other plans, so I stuck with my Athens trip. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about flying through some fairly congested airspace, talking to ATC and landing at a towered airport I’d never flown to before. Afterwords, I realized (all over again) that I had nothing to worry about. The flight was great and talking to ATC was a breeze. As for landing at Athens, that may be my new favorite airport.
Departing out of West Georgia (KCTJ) in a gusting crosswind was the hairiest part of the flight. The takeoff was not that pretty, but it did the trick. I planned to use the flyway north of the Atlanta Class B airspace to fly to Athens, which is 93nm away. There was a slight headwind on the way over, but staying below the bravo helped with the wind some too. As soon as I was northeast of West Georgia I made a radio call to Atlanta approach to pickup flight following. They helped me with traffic avoidance a few times, handed me off to other controllers a few times and next thing I know I’m in Athens. It really was much easier than I remember during my training.
Flying through Atlanta was pretty incredible. I flew right between downtown and the Buckhead area north of the city. Just after passing through Atlanta, I flew by Stone Mountain. After passing Stone Mountain there wasn’t a whole lot along my route until nearing Athens. About 15 miles out ATC verified that I had the field in sight and handed me off to Athens tower. Tower cleared me for the straight in approach on runway 9. I am very used to entering a standard pattern. This was only the second straight in approach I’ve ever made. The great thing about landing on runway 9 is that the final approach takes you directly over Sanford Stadium, home of my Georgia Bulldogs. I was in awe as I passed over, having to remind myself to focus on landing the airplane. The wind was straight on the nose at 10 knots and the runway has a one degree upward slope, helping to make for a very soft landing, albeit just slightly off of the centerline. After monitoring ground and taxiing to the ramp, I hopped out to stretch my legs.
The FBO at Athens Ben Epps Airport is very nice and the staff was polite and helpful. My plan was to grab a courtesy car and run pick up some dinner from Raising Cane’s, one of my boys’ favorite choices for tailgate chicken when we go to the football games. After asking about a car, I filled out the one-page form and was handed the keys. The Athens-Clarke County Crown Victoria was mine for an hour. It only took me about 10 minutes to get to Cane’s, giving me plenty of time to grab some tenders for dinner and get back to the airport. It was so nice to be in Athens. I just love that town. Not having to drive 2 hours made it even nicer.
After returning to the airport and handing in the keys, I went and stowed the takeout in the baggage compartment, which only slightly helped keep the smell out of the cockpit, making me hungry all the way home. I figured I would make a quick restroom stop before making the one hour flight back home. On the way back across the ramp a guy stopped me and asked if I was flying a Colt. I told him it was a Tripacer and we began talking planes, hangars, training, etc. The cool thing was he was flying a Texan for the Navy that was parked next to me on the ramp. We chatted for about 15 minutes, he introduced me to his copilot and showed me around their aircraft before we both got ready to depart. Donovan and Mike were preparing to fly the Texan back to Pensacola and I was headed back to Carrollton – both trips would be one hour flights! They were the nicest guys and I really enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk flying with them. Another of the many reasons I was glad I chose to make the flight after all.
The late afternoon flight home was just as beautiful and uneventful as the flight over. There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic and the sun was lower in the sky, making for some incredible views passing through Atlanta once again. On this day I went from being a little apprehensive about the flight to remembering why I love flying so much. I would say that made it a great day to be a pilot!