Monday, August 13, 2007

Up, Up, And Away In My Beautiful Cessna

After a number of weather- and personnel-related postponements, I was finally able to take to the skies over Washington, DC once again with my (increasingly archaic) digital camera in tow. If you're expecting shots of the White House, the Capitol, or the Washington Monument, prepare for disappointment; private aircraft flying within the district was difficult before 9/11, and all but impossible now. But there are plenty of other sights around the area, and here's just a few that my camera allowed me to capture.

Kudos to my trusty pilot, Brad, who, upon seeing the camera, asked me whether I was a terrorist. (I replied, "It depends on who you ask!")

What the Washington Executive/Hyde Field Airport in Clinton, MD looks like at 5:45 AM. It's hard to see, but if you look real closely in front of the lighted building, there's a helicopter lifting off in the middle of the photo; it belongs to our friends at WUSA-TV Channel 9.

The old reliable Cessna 172.

It was so hot ("How hot was it?!") that day that Brad had me open the window, and the centrifugal force held it open. Here's a shot of the wind rippling through my left arm at 80 knots or so.

Our first call of the day took us up the west side of DC through Virginia up to I-270. En route, we passed over the high-rent community of Potomac, MD.

This is about as close as I'll ever get to Congressional Country Club in Potomac, the same course where Tiger Woods hosted the AT&T National last month. It has hosted the U.S. Open before, and will do so again in 2011. Nearby are the PGA-caliber TPC at Avenel and the mega-exclusive Burning Tree, which doesn't allow women (and near as I can tell, has no web site either).

With nearly a million residents, Montgomery County is the most populous subdivision in Maryland, and the sprawl therein is the stuff that county elections are made of. Or is it banning trans-fats? Anyway, off I-270 and Montrose Road, a bunch of faux brownstones have popped up, and one can be yours for about $700K. Sheesh! I don't think anyone is going to be fooled into thinking that Manhattan brownstones were inspired by this place.

In the middle of this photo is a place with which I was intimately familiar earlier this year: Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. It's surrounded by Montgomery County campuses for the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, as well as numerous biotech companies. Also nearby is the headquarters of the MontCo police department, a place made famous by former chief Charles Moose as he briefed the media on the latest developments in the DC-area snipers case back in 2002. (BTW, the snipers were caught less than 10 miles from my house, in a rest area on I-70 outside of Myersville.)

Many federal agencies call the DC suburbs home, such as the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg.

Amid the sprawl are a couple places to get away from it all. This is Seneca Creek State Park in Germantown. I've hiked around that lake before as part of a volksmarch.

Up near Clarksburg in the northern part of the county is the new MontCo Correctional Facility. I actually got to spend the night there in 2003 . . . as a member of the media. Before it opened, that is. I got to sample the typical food that inmates eat, and slept in a cell where all the bars where inside the doors. The place is hard to get around on purpose, so that the inmates don't quite know where they are. When it was being built, I thought it looked like a new high school.

Privately owned but open to the public, Sugarloaf Mountain arises from seemingly nowhere as it straddles the Montgomery and Frederick County lines. At only 1300 feet high, it still affords some nice hikes and gorgeous vistas to the Potomac River and beyond into Virginia. Sugarloaf was considered a key location in Civil War troop movements through Maryland before the battle of Antietam.

Here's some sprawl: Urbana in Frederick County, which has risen from a one-light town on Rt. 355 to a massive development off I-270. You can hardly get a townhome here for less than $350K, and most single families start in the $500K range. That's the Cessna's tire at the bottom.

A glimpse from Urbana north toward a haze-covered Frederick at the foot of Braddock Mountain.

Two unusual things about the town of Damascus in northenmost MontCo: it's a dry town, and it's quite conservative, as opposed to the liberal tilt of the rest of the county.

North of Damascus, we had to give an update on a house fire that was blocking Rt. 27, the main north-south road between Damascus and I-70 (note the stopped traffic). The fire was pretty much out, but equipment was blocking the road in both directions. When fire departments respond to a more rural area like this, they often pool (literally) their water resources into an improvised tub from which they draw water for the fire. But I think a hydrant may have been available here.

We then made our way into northern Virginia.

Tysons Corner is the gateway to NoVA's tech corridor. Many IT companies and consultants have offices here. It's also home to several swanky hotels and seemingly a hundred car dealerships, and a huge mall. Beyond Tysons on the Dulles Toll Road are Herndon and Reston with many more IT and aerospace firms.

The Beltway (right) regularly jams up here in both rush hours.

Just off I-66 near Manassas is the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge, where many top-name musical acts play during the summer. I understand there is only one road into the place, so getting in and out can be an adventure. I regret that I did not get a picture of Wolf Trap, the performing arts park run by the National Park Service off the Dulles Toll Road.

In stark contrast, on the north side of I-66 sits the Manassas National Battlefield, where two Civil War battles took place: the first and second battles of Manassas (South) or Bull Run (North). The development, and the traffic for the most part, pretty much ends in this area as one heads west toward the Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive.

What looks like Yet Another Office Complex in Fairfax is actually the headquarters of the National Rifle Association. I-66 is actually moving pretty well for that time of the morning behind it.

Finally, we made our way around the Beltway in Maryland.

The WMAL-AM 630 antenna field in Bethesda. BTW, we fly at altitudes between 1400 and 2500 feet. Obviously, we have to clear these towers. The I-270 Spur is behind the field.

The most distinctive architectural feature on the entire Beltway is the Mormon Temple in Kensington. Here, the Inner Loop is crawling, which is par for the course in the afternoon but unusual for the morning. I think the reason was a new traffic light at the bottom of the ramp from the Inner Loop to Georgia Ave. that was backing up vehicles onto the IL. Outer Loop delays often break free past there in the morning.

I've always wondered whether slowdowns on the Beltway occur at the Temple just because of the sight of it. It's even more impressive -- and distracting -- when lit at night.

Not being LDS, this is the only way I've ever seen the entrance to the temple. Those from the DC area affectionately call the Temple "Oz."

In the foreground of this photo on the east side of the Beltway in Prince George's County is the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, built on the site of what was once the Capital Centre/USAir Arena. Now it's a collection of stores and churches, with communities surrounding it. Also there is the AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center 12 movie complex, owned by the former Laker who played a game or two at the Cap Centre. PG County is Maryland's second-most populous subdivision, and one of the most affluent counties with a majority African-American population in the nation.

Dominating the southeast side of the Beltway, but hardly seen at all from ground level, is Andrews Air Force Base. Every so often, we luck out and see Air Force One out on the tarmac to the right. Andrews hosts an annual air show in May.

We have to get clearance from Andrews before we can return to Hyde Field, which is not far away. There's a hill on part of the runway, so you can't see both ends at the same time.

And Brad brings us in for a nice smooth landing. It's downhill to the northern end of the runway.

Thank you for flying Cygnus Airways. Watch your step on the way out. And the spot-a-pot is over there.


bigbro said...

Buh-Bye. Bye. Buh-Bye.

Mom2BJM said...

How you kept all that straight and remembered it while blogging, I'll never know!

Beautiful pics of the temple, too! Love those!

4HisChurch said...

Wow,I didn't know Damascus is a dry, conservative town. I'll have to stop by there some day.

I hear you about housing prices. I honestly don't know how people do it these days. Its about time to step off the merry go round.

Puffy said...

Wonderful, informative photos. Thanks!

4HisChurch said...

Cygnus--I'm praying for a good outcome for your surgery today!