Tangier Island Trip

September 09, 2018 11:41 AM | Lucja Kot (Administrator)

Last week, I made a fun trip to Tangier Island, in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. The trip also completed my experience requirements for my commercial pilot certificate, counting as my long solo cross-country. (I had flown plenty of much longer cross-countries but all with my non-pilot husband as a passenger, so they did not count).

Tangier Island is a remote and beautiful island in Chesapeake Bay, with a small airport. I originally found out about it a few years ago, from a helicopter pilot that I met by chance at Beaufort Airport in North Carolina. He mentioned that it was a worthwhile destination to visit, and it had been on my list ever since then.

Tangier was a good destination for my commercial solo cross-country because it was interesting and at the right distance to meet the requirements. From Binghamton - where my trip would be starting - to Tangier is 263nm, which meets the 250nm requirement. Since no fuel is sold on the island, a third stop at the nearby Accomack County Airport would provide me with the required third point of landing in a natural way.

I also wanted to fly to Tangier because it would challenge me with a shorter runway; the runway there is just under 2500 feet. This is obviously not extremely short, but in a Mooney it is more challenging than in a Skyhawk. Therefore, I saved this cross-country until relatively late in my commercial training, to give me time to practice short-field landings in the Mooney to a high standard.

Other than honing my short-field skills, planning the trip was relatively easy. The main concern would be the significant amount of restricted airspace over the Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva Peninsula. Tangier Island is itself under a restricted area, but the floor of that area starts at 3500 feet, giving me plenty of room to fly under it. Before the trip, I also reviewed the required course for flying VFR within 60nm of the DCA VOR.

On the day of the trip, the weather was good VFR if extremely hot and humid. I brought plenty of water to drink and wore light-colored clothing. I also brought a life jacket since a portion of my flight would be over water.

The flight down was uneventful, a standard VFR flight with some standard hiccups such as Harrisburg Approach dropping my flight following and forcing me to request it again from a relatively busy Philadelphia Approach. Also, for some reason my Stratus decided to display the entire 60nm ring around DC as a TFR, even though - according to a phone weather briefing I got - no such TFR was in place. To be safe though, I diverted around that 60nm circle anyway.

Although it was a hot and hazy day, the views of Chesapeake Bay were spectacular and it was easy to spot Tangier Island. Winds favored landing to the north, so I entered a right downwind for runway 2 - the right-hand pattern is to avoid another restricted area west of the island. The runway at Tangier used to be longer, so landing to the north I benefited from an "extra" strip of decaying concrete that gave me a long underrun area. I came in low over the underrun and landed on the numbers, with plenty of runway to stop safely.

After that, I went into town for some excellent soft shell crab sandwiches at Lorraine's restaurant. My husband is a huge fan of soft shell crabs and was disappointed that he couldn't come with me on the trip. So, I bought a second sandwich to go, and brought it back for him in an insulated lunch bag with ice packs.

Walking around Tangier, I could see that it is a very beautiful place with a small and close-knit community. I wished I could spend more time on the island, but I was concerned about thunderstorms building in the afternoon, so I paid the $10 landing fee at Tangier using the honesty box and was en route off the island to Melfa, VA (KMFV).

This was a short leg of just 16nm, so I made sure not to accelerate the Mooney to cruise speed. I could already see cumulonimbus clouds building up to the east on the coast proper.

Accomack County Airport turned out to be a very nice airport with an air-conditioned terminal building and a friendly attendant who helped me fuel the plane. I called a briefer for updates on weather and TFRs, and took off just as rain showers were beginning over the airport.

I diverted to the west over the Bay to stay well clear of the weather. The flight back was also relatively routine. The only annoyance was that a broken layer of cumulus-going-on-cumulonimbus had built up, forcing me to complete the whole flight at low altitudes of 3000 or 3500ft. This meant it was less comfortable due to heat and turbulence, but the alternatives were worse. Doing the flight above that altitude would have meant a zigzag course between the clouds, and picking up an IFR clearance - to avoid the zigzag - would have restricted my ability to deviate around potential-thunderstorm cloud buildups. So, I soldiered on down below, diverting around a few storm cells en route. 

Thankfully the actual storms were few and far between and they were not moving, so they were easy to spot visually and divert around. The one in the photo below is near Hazleton airport, which you can see just behind my wing. Note the mini-rainbow.

Finally, I made it back to Binghamton and landed safely. The whole trip took 5.1 hours, and on the way home I passed the 500-hour total time mark.

The trip was a wonderful way to finish off my first 500 hours of flying. It was also a great bookend to my JFK flight, representing in many ways the other extreme of flying challenges. The two destinations, although both coastal airports, could not be further apart in terms of size, infrastructure or location. The runway I landed on at JFK was almost six times (!!!) as long as at TGI. Both landings required special techniques, with an accelerated approach at JFK and a short-field landing at TGI. Both flights were completely or mostly VMC, but the JFK trip was IFR with very positive ATC control. The Tangier trip was VFR with occasional pauses in flight following. I had to navigate restricted airspace and dodge weather and non-radio-talking VFR traffic on my own.

I would highly recommend Tangier Island as a destination for anybody; it is a great day trip from our area. By the way, the soft shell crab sandwich I brought back made it in great condition, and my husband was very happy. We'll be back, together this time!

A few additional photos from the trip are available on my Flickr site here.

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