Typically we cover airlines and airliners here at AirlineReporter, but occasionally an opportunity in the non-airline[r] worlds pops up that we just can’t pass on.
So when the Museum of Flight here at our Seattle HQ announced that Doc, one of only two airworthy Boeing B-29 bombers, was planning to visit in mid-May, we jumped at the chance to see her up close. Even better, we got to take a short ride around Seattle.
The airplane arrived earlier this week (May 17). Its Star Wars-esque nose, four engines, and incredibly shiny fuselage made it easy to spot on the horizon. The pilots eased the bird onto the runway and taxied down to the Museum of Flight ramp as a crowd of onlookers gathered to watch.
While the B-29 was originally produced in Seattle, Doc is not a native Pacific Northwesterner. It was one of 1,644 B-29s built at Boeing’s Wichita plant, in Kansas, and rolled off the line in March of 1945. It never saw combat, and went on serve in radar calibration and target-towing until it was decommissioned in 1956.
It continued its service to the United States Air Force even after retirement, but instead of towing targets, it became one. The airplane spent decades soaking in the desert sun, along with the occasional bomb or bullet, on an Air Force bombing range near China Lake, California before being discovered in 1987. Restoration didn’t begin for another decade, in 1998, following a considerable amount of paperwork to pry the plane loose from the US government. Eighteen years and over 450,000 volunteer hours after that, the restoration was complete, and Doc once again took flight in 2016.
Its Seattle visit is the first for Doc, and the first B-29 visit to the area in almost eight years.
The lousy Pacific Northwest early spring weather notwithstanding, I’ve made good progress towards learning both the Garmin G1000 instrumentation and the Diamond DA-40 aircraft. We recently got a decent break in the weather that allowed a flight from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Ellensburg for some basic mountain flying training.
Cruising westbound at 6,500′ over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience – Photo: Katie Bailey
I’ve got about 10 hours in the DA-40 now, all but one of them with Carl, my ever-patient CFI. I finally felt comfortable enough with the plane to take it out on my own last week, even though Carl had deemed me ready to do that about five flight hours previously. I just wanted a bit more time with the plane, as it’s quite a bit different than the Cessna 172, especially in that it’s a lot faster and a bit fussier when it comes to controls, and it’s got a constant-speed propeller (also sometimes referred to as a variable-pitch propeller) that needs tending to via a dedicated control lever.
After a year and a half of concerted effort, I’ve finally completed my initial training and earned my private pilot certificate in early November. It’s a great feeling!
For those who’ve been following along on my adventures at Galvin Flying, it’s been a long process of successes and setbacks, many of which were weather related because I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the local joke says that it only rains once a year it starts raining in late October and stops raining on July 5 (it always seems to rain on July 4).
In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go. Screen capture courtesy FlightRadar24
Anyway, I did several mock checkrides in the weeks leading up to the actual FAA one, and had to complete Galvin’s end-of-course checkride before that. The end-of-course checks are designed to be more difficult than the actual checkride to ensure that pilot candidates are as prepared as possible.
The FAA examiner, also known as a designated pilot examiner or DPE, selects from a long list of information and flight maneuvers for the actual checkride known as the Airman Certification Standards. The check airman who oversees the end-of-course checks runs through the entire list to be sure you’re ready.
Returning to Boeing Field after my first solo cross-country flight to Port Angeles, Wash. That’s the Seattle skyline in the foreground, Bellevue in the middle-right, and the Cascade Mountains in the distance
So, it’s been a while since I’ve written an update, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been making progress.
Since the last installment, I’ve done my three cross-country solo flights – they’re a requirement for the PPL, and consist of several solo flights away from one’s home airport. Cross-country meaning, you know, crossing the countryside and not a transcontinental flight in a small plane, which would take a couple days at best.
Requirements for the cross-country flights are that the each one has to include one leg of at least 50 nautical miles and a full-stop landing. For the long cross-county, the flight has to be a minimum of 150nm and include one leg of at least 50nm and full-stop landings at three airports, including returning to the point of origin.
My first cross-country flight was from Boeing Field to Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles, Wash. -FlightRadar24 screen grab
The second cross-country flight was from Boeing Field to Chehalis, Wash. -FlightRadar24 screen grab
The third (long) cross-country flight was from Boeing Field to Bellingham, Wash., with a stop at Paine Field in Everett on the way home. -FlightRadar24 screen grab
For my flights, the first one was from Boeing Field (BFI) up to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. It was a spectacular day – completely free of turbulence, hardly any other air traffic, and clear as the proverbial bell.
The second one was the following week, from BFI to Chehalis, Washington, a bit south of Olympia. It was far more normal, with usual amounts of air traffic and slightly bumpy/windy conditions.
I did it! I flew an airplane totally by myself over the Labor Day weekend. It was, in absolutely equal parts, terrifying and exhilarating.
Doing this was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Unlike a lot of airplane nerds, I don’t have any close family with ties to aviation. Instead, all of this started for me as a boy – my grandmother would take my brother and me to our little local general aviation (GA) airport in western Massachusetts, where we’d lie on the hood of her ’69 Beetle and watch skydivers while eating ice cream. My interest in planes waxed and waned over the years, but never really went away. There was a time when *gasp* I was afraid of flying – my first-ever flight experience was a very turbulent series of flights down the Atlantic Coast in the height of summer that put me off flying for a long time.
Fast forward to about a decade ago, when my wife got us a helicopter tour of Seattle for my birthday. The desire to fly returned with a vengeance. And the fear had long faded.
That’s me, working through preflight checklists on the Galvin ramp – Photo: Chuyi Chuang
Anyway, at a flight school like Galvin, periodic stage checks ensure students are properly prepared to advance to the next segment of training by having them work with different instructors, who both confirm the students’ competency and verify that the primary instructor has done their work properly. Some find the process cumbersome; for me the rigor is comforting.