Landing Logan

Some of the blog isn’t going to be in the order it happened. Darn.

It was a long trip across the country to the east coast, and even though it was exciting and exhilarating, I was exhausted by the time I flew the last two hours twenty minutes solo from Maryland up to my sister’s place in Rhode Island. That was a Friday, August 3. It was a great arrival, because my sister, Brett, and her husband, Dave, weren’t sure I was going to make it. (I told them that it was possible that weather would force me down in New Jersey and that meant I would just spend the night in the city.) So they told my niece, Willa, and nephew, Jasper, that they were just going to the airport to watch the planes. Willa and Jasper are seven and four, when disappointment is a little more acute.

It was a Friday evening. The FBO and terminal were closed at the tiny North Central State airport (KSFZ), so they had to stand outside the chain link peering in. At seven thirty on a Friday there weren’t a lot of planes coming in. Maybe none. Then they thought they saw one, flying past the airport. So they waited. Finally a little white plane taxied out from behind the building. They didn’t get to see it land, but there it was. It shut down and a guy climbed out. Brett called over, “Can we come look at your plane, sir?” The pilot in a baseball cap and sunglasses said, “Sure,” and wandered over to the gate. Willa and Jasper kept staring at the plane and it was only when the pilot kneeled down in front of them that they realized it was their uncle!

I took them up (minus Dave) for a quick trip around the pattern. I wanted to fly them over their house, which was probably only five minutes away, but I was too tired to feel safe. Jasper sat in the right seat and held the control stick a little, but mostly he was overwhelmed by the experience of even being up close to a little plane.

I chocked and locked the plane. I was happy to be in the passenger seat while Dave drove us back to their place in Providence, stopping to order a pizza. I felt like I had at the end of long cross country drives: dazed and stunned that I had made the transition from one coast to another, pushing through thousands of miles between. I talked to Nell a couple times. She was in the Jetblue terminal in Long Beach getting ready to get on a red eye to Boston with the boys. I told her how to call the FBO at Logan, and where I would meet them to fly them up to Concord, New Hampshire. She convinced me that I didn’t need to be there when they landed (6am), but that they would just collapse in the quiet rooms at the FBO (Signature) and see me when I got there a little after 8am. (We couldn’t land in Concord, NH before 9am because the car rental was not available until then.)

I slept the sleep of the dead on the third floor of Brett and Dave’s house and early the next morning Dave drove me back to the field, stopping at a great bakery to get some early morning fuel for the West coasters. The FBO at KSFZ is where JFK Jr. learned to fly: fame, or perhaps infamy. They were really helpful and friendly about getting the plane fueled and the fact that I had parked it in totally the wrong spot the night before when no one was there.

It is thirty-five nautical miles to Boston’s Logan airport. Sixteen minutes of flight time. I took off around 7:45am and it took me about double that time since I was vectored around a little, even as I entered the airspace from the west. The controller probably regularly dealt with little planes off of SFZ attempting to transition through the airspace to get out to Martha’s Vineyard and the other beach islands off the Massachusetts coast.

Logan is a busy airport. They have over eleven hundred operations per day. An operation is either a takeoff or a landing. So they are pounding planes onto the runways and slinging them back off. During a busy time there are planes lined up over the Atlantic, all space two miles apart, sliding down to hit the parallel runways of two-two-left and two-two-right. Since they don’t operate much at night, they are probably landing and launching a plane every ninety seconds.

The controller said, “N971RD, radar identified and cleared into the Class Bravo. Say destination.” Landing Logan. “Diamondstar one romeo delta, did you say you were landing Logan?” Affirmative, and we have delta. (That’s the automated weather observation, which I’ve now listened to on another frequency.) “One romeo delta, roger. Continue this heading for now, what’s your type?” One romeo delta is a delta-alpha-four-zero slant golf. (Tiny plane but has at least GPS for navigation. “Roger, ah, you probably will be more comfortable if we don’t send you out over the water, correct?” Affirmative. “Okay, standby for a series of vectors, we’ll bring you in over the land.”

So, although a little surprised, they were being helpful. That was a relief. It was hazy that early in the morning, and I was glad they were giving me headings to steer rather than trusting that I knew where the “gas tank” was, or the “Blue Hills Observatory” (both are VFR reporting points on the Terminal Area Chart for Logan and if you are flying in the area you are expected to be familiar with them. “Familiar with” and “able to pick them out of the haze” were two different things. Even with the airport only two miles away and the size of a small town I had trouble spotting the runway I was meant to land on (two-two-left). “Diamondstar one romeo delta is there something wrong with the visibility from your altitude or do you have the field in sight?” Oh, oh, there it is. It was so huge it was disorienting. I was also painfully aware that I was in the space belonging to huge planes in a big hurry, so I didn’t want to somehow turn my downwind approach leg right in a spot that would make it hard for a commercial airliner to get onto, or off of, the ground. I flew downwind on the west side of the airport, turned base for two-two-left and flew across two-two-right’s approach.

Lonely on the Ramp

Lonely on the Ramp

I landed fast (so that I could get out of the way of whatever larger plane needed the tarmac next) and turned off neatly where the controller directed me. That put me on the ten thousand foot long runway three-three left which they were using as a taxiway that morning. I rolled to the general aviation area, served by the single FBO on the field, Signature Flight Service. I parked among all of the huge business jets (and took a photo). These were almost all charters awaiting their well-heeled clients, to fly out to the Vineyard, down to Miami or over to the Hamptons. As far as I could tell, N971RD was the only single-engine plane on the entire airfield. (The statistics bear that out, since only eight per cent of Logan’s traffic is general aviation and it’s certainly almost all charter jets.)

Once I was parked I re-sorted the luggage so that the approach plates I needed for flying across the country were stowed way in the rear of the extended baggage compartment (with the spare park plugs, extra blankets, maintenance log…). I walked into the luxurious lounge of the FBO and checked in. They said that Nell and the boys were asleep in the quiet rooms. (For charter jets the pilots often have to bring the plane in late at night and spend the night. Or they have to bring it in early in the morning and spend the day waiting.) The FBO can’t offer accommodations because then they would be a hotel. Instead, they have quiet rooms. They put in a recliner which folds flat and let you darken the room. They give you a nice soft blanket. Dexter, months later, still talked about “that nice place we slept when we first got to Boston.” I don’t think Nell was quite as comfortable, but they had fresh coffee for her to sip while I got their luggage packed into the plane.

The boys were thrilled to be traveling. They gobbled their chocolate croissants and cinnamon twists and happily packed up into the back seat. We fired up and talked to Logan clearance. They gave us simple VFR instructions for getting out of the airspace and told us to “monitor ground.” That means you are meant to just tune in to the frequency and wait for them to call you. We waited ten minutes with the engine turning, so I called clearance again and asked if I should check in on ground and they poked the ground controller, who asked us to taxi out on kilo, hold short at november. I read back the instructions and started us out.

Nell asked if it was scary landing at the big airport and how the flight was. Just as I was saying it as pretty much a regular airport we stopped at our intersection and around the corner came a huge American Airlines 747 Jumbo Jet. For a moment we were nose to nose with them, and then they turned right and swept past us toward the departure end of the runway. Nell laughed. Then another huge plane came around the corner, a British Airways jet. The ground controller asked, “British Airways five-one-four, can you hold for the prop plane at november?” Affirmative. So the huge commercial, probably cross-Atlantic flight stopped short while I advanced the throttle a little and goosed us into the intersection for a left turn. Nell said it sounded like the controller gave the word “prop” a little twist so it seemed like we weren’t a real plane at all.

We joined the “conga line,” the procession of large passenger jets that wiggled along the taxiways of the airport until the departure end of their runway. I did my run up twisted to the side while the American Airlines flight thundered forward and up into the sky. I made one of my only mistakes at the airport when I asked if I was cleared for two-two-left and the controller said impatiently, “Two-two-right, one romeo delta.”

As we turned out on the centerline Nell looked ahead and said, “Is there enough runway for you?” It seemed like a lot (It’s over a mile and a half long), but the truth was that it was twenty-two hundred feet shorter than the runway I had landed on. We were in the air before we reached the thousand foot markers, but I dutifully flew the runway heading until we were a thousand feet off the departure end and turned to my assigned heading.

It was a glorious sunrise view of the Boston skyline. And then we flew over Cambridge, so Nell could look down and say, “I can see my dorm from here!” I looked into the back seat and the boys were also enjoying the view. It had been a long trip to get here, but now we were really on vacation, using the plane to hop around New England, with the first stop being New Hampshire and a week on Pleasant Lake.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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