Remember our Featured Flyer Katherine who flew to Bessie’s on her solo trip from Alaska? Well, we have another cross-country pilot. Meet Douglas from Virginia! He’s a regular visitor of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, and a friend recommended he fly into JVL and try Bessie’s during his journey, much to our delight. Read more about Douglas’ adventures over his last 40 years as a pilot and aeronautical engineer.
What is your “home” airport?
I am based in Leesburg, VA, (KJYO) just inside the Washington D.C Special Flight Rules Airspace.
How did you get into aviation and flying?
I have been doing this since the late 1970s. My undergraduate degree was in Aeronautical Engineering – long before it became Aerospace Engineering. I was formerly an Air Traffic controller and Naval Flight Officer and went on to add FAA Instrument/Commercial Pilot rating/certificates. Back then, there was no money on the front end of a career as a pilot, so I stayed the path as an engineer. I tell my young engineers that as impressive as my career path has been, much of it is because I am old and have had more time to do things. I have been a Mission Controller flying satellites for government organizations, a Shuttle Launch Controller at Kennedy Space Center, Launch Operations Manager (Lockheed-Martin at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan), Senior Systems Engineer for the Hubble Space Telescope (during the last repair mission SM-4) and in the twilight of my career, I am doing interesting work for an interesting organization.
How many years have you been flying?
I have been flying for over 40 years and have enjoyed almost every minute (discounting a few “Oh Crap” moments). As satisfying as solo flight is, I prefer the comradery of crew flights. I am sad that I often fly with empty seats, not for a lack of trying to make them available. People must have a lot going on to pass the opportunity to aviate. When I hear people say, “I flew here or I flew there,”’ I (tongue in cheek) remind them that they really rode here or there.
Tell us a little bit about your plane:
I belong to a flying club that has a stable of Cirrus aircraft. This allows me to pick an airplane based upon the mission I am going to fly. I can fly a newer TAA at a fraction of the cost I would need to front on a $500-$1.2M airplane. When people hear the cost of a new airplane, they often say they could buy a house for that. True, but you can’t fly a house somewhere, and you could sleep in an airplane.
What is AirVenture? How long have you been going?
I have been going to EAA AirVenture for 10 years. It is the largest fly-in in the world. Over 10,000 airplanes fly into Oshkosh, WI, (OSH) in July, to spend a week immersed in all things aviation/space. It gives us a chance to demonstrate our superior airmanship by flying within a gaggle of other superior airmen (generic gender). Imagine rush hour traffic, everyone is assigned 100+ MPH, lacks the ability to stop and has to thread a gap for landing (miss the airplane in front, knowing another is coming up right behind and the same situation is happening on the parallel landing area). I thrive on it.
Can you tell us a little about the journey when to AirVenture from Virginia?
I fly in with my co-pilot, Jay Farr. We could make it in one leg, but prefer a more leisurely pace. We stop in Jackson, MI, where they also have an airport restaurant. This allows us to cross the lake with a full load of fuel and not regret drinking that large soda before leaving Virginia.
What’s it like flying over Lake Michigan during your pilgrimage?
Crossing Lake Michigan has always been the topic of contention among pilots going to OSH. There are those who believe they are unsafe in a single engine airplane over water. They opt to go the southerly route around Chicago. Depending upon winds aloft, we generally are out of glide range to land for only 45 minutes, in the event of engine failure. We hedge our bets by having life jackets, personal locator beacons, etc. and by thinking it is not as big as Lake Superior (pilot humor). We plot the position of any watercraft we see during transit in the event of a potential aquatic event, so we could glide back to the vessel, hoping for the best. Of course we fly high, giving us a greater glide range and are on an IFR flight plan, so we are in constant contact.
Any tips/advice for pilots wanting to make the flight to Bessie’s Diner?
In the early days, we’d land at Madison (MSN), stay the night and go into OSH first thing in the morning, when we were fresh. We have gone in directly after flying for six hours and found it less satisfying. Now that Janesville (JVL) has a restaurant (Bessie’s) and some new hotels, I will be opting to fly into JVL rather than MSN.
What Bessie’s items did you have?
I am a great Eggs Benny fan, so obviously I picked that. The menu was really varied, so there are options for the tried and true diner patron, as well as the new discerning palette of younger pilots.
What did you enjoy most about flying to and eating at Bessie’s Diner?
The aviation motif is a real draw for me. The food was outstanding (a positive for diners).