Waypoints: Three-hour circle--tested

October 1, 2008

Thomas B. Haines owns a Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

Last month, I hypothesized about the three-hour circle—all the places you can go in a GA airplane within three hours of your home airport (“ Waypoints: The Places You Can Go,” September AOPA Pilot). In August I had the chance to make one of those three-hour tours, exploring a place that I almost assuredly would never visit were it not for access to a winged time machine.

My wife is the tour director at our house, dreaming up fun and interesting places for us to go. I just drive—or fly, as the case may be. In this case, she decided on Jekyll Island, Georgia. I’ve flown over it dozens of times going to and from Florida, but I never knew what was there and didn’t even know that she knew where it was. She, of course, had done the research and pointed out there’s lot to do on the historic little island and so, on a Friday morning we were headed south.

Less than 3.5 hours later (we had a headwind), we touched down at Brunswick, Georgia’s Malcolm McKinnon Airport, ordered fuel, and picked up our rental car. There’s a beautiful little airport on Jekyll Island, but there is no fuel there and no rental cars. However, you can rent overgrown electric golf carts (Red Bugs, they call them) at the airport for getting around the small island. In the name of logistics, we opted to land at Brunswick for fuel and the car.

Weather moved in that afternoon, with thunderstorms around the island. As we walked along the nearly deserted driftwood-strewn beaches, we could see distant lightning strikes and roiling clouds. A spectacular wall cloud foretold of a heavy downpour that occurred while we were eating dinner.

The weather Saturday and Sunday was spectacular—at least in Georgia. As I looked at forecasts for the mid-Atlantic, I knew we would be facing some possible thunderstorms upon our arrival home Sunday afternoon. We debated Sunday morning about whether to stay in Georgia until Monday (you always have to be flexible when traveling by GA) or to head for home and see how far we could get. We chose the latter. The weather all the way to Richmond, Virginia, was forecast to be good, so we knew we had lots of options.

This is the sort of trip where the Stormscope and the XM satellite weather playing on the Garmin GNS 530 pay for themselves. All the way up the coast, I watched the showers over West Virginia intensify and slowly begin moving eastward. It became a race—would we reach our Maryland destination before the storms?

A nice tailwind helped, with us doing more than 180 knots at 11,000 feet most of the afternoon. As we neared Roanoke, Virginia, I could tell that our usual route up the west side of the Washington metroplex wouldn’t work, so I asked Washington Center for a routing to the Brooke VOR and then north to Frederick, our destination—sending us up between Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports. He at first told me to wait until I was talking to Potomac Approach, but agreed to “look into it.” A few minutes later I was headed to Brooke.

By the time we passed between Dulles and National, the Nexrad was showing areas of green penetrating our route. It was mostly virga and we were VFR the whole way. A large red blob percolated just north of Frederick, but didn’t seem to be moving. We dashed into the airport and were just stepping out of the airplane when a few sprinkles began to fall—although the bases were still high and visibility a dozen miles.

In two and a half days we had traversed more than 1,000 miles, visiting a place that is a near impossibility to visit in any other way for a long weekend if you live in Maryland. Oh, the places you can go....

Thinking of buying an airplane so you can enjoy the benefits of GA travel? Join me at AOPA Expo in San Jose, California, for my seminar, “Buying Your First Airplane.” We’ll look at all the possibilities starting at 3 p.m. Friday, November 7, in Rooms J1 and J4.

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.