Capital to Capitol

Canadian Parliament Buildings

U.S. Capitol

I flew from Ottawa, ON to Washington, DC (400 nm) today, with a few pilot firsts:

  • First time flying south of the Mason-Dixon line.
  • First time flying outside the 40-49 degree north latitude band as PIC.
  • First time flying into the Washington, DC ADIZ.
  • First time dealing with turbulence, icing, IMC, thunderstorms, and extensive routing changes in unfamiliar airspace all at the same time (with no autopilot).

What a difference 45 minutes makes …

Over central Pennsylvania: cruising in smooth air, under clear skies, watching the Susquehanna River wind back and forth across my flight path, eating a bagel and thinking “it doesn’t get better than this.”

Over Maryland: in cloud in the weather that was supposed to stay south over the Carolinas, rain pounding on the windscreen, checking the Stormscope every few seconds, and trying keep the LO chart (and my head) still enough in the turbulence to find VORs I’ve never heard of for my new routing, while staying roughly on course, at altitude, and level. No bagels involved.


The ADIZ is no big deal if you’re IFR — it’s exactly the same as any IFR flight, except that you have to turn around and exit instead of continuing to your destination if you have a transponder or comm failure. It was no different than flying IFR into, say, Philadelphia or Montreal.


Washington/Dulles is surprisingly GA-friendly for a big airport — there’s an $8.00 landing fee, a bit over $18.00/night for parking, and that’s it (they waive the $28 handling fee if you buy gas). The FBO is right beside the main terminal, closer than you’ll usually be on an airliner (where you have to take the @#$#@ people movers from a satellite terminal).

I was flying ridiculously slowly (80kt) at full throttle into a brutal headwind, but both Potomoc approach and Dulles tower were very accommodating, vectoring me parallel to the localizer until about six miles back, then giving me an easy intercept. I had no delay to speak of, even though I was sharing the approach with much faster jet airliner traffic. They gave me the runway I requested (close to Signature), and even gave me step-by-step taxi instructions (which I didn’t ask for, but appreciated after a long flight).

Still better than the airlines

I think it’s great that I can fly from the Canadian to the U.S. capital on 38 U.S. gallons of avgas, in about the same amount of time as it would take on the airlines (when you include having to be at the airport early for security, etc.). Last time I took the airlines, the trip was actually longer than it would have been in my Cherokee, since the flight was delayed.

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9 Responses to Capital to Capitol

  1. Dave Starr says:

    Great writeup, David. The media and so many with casual aviation intrests have never been told just how useful “little” airplanes cna be, even on relatively long trips that don’t sound at all like “little airplane” trips.

    When I was young (no, biplanes were pretty much out of use then LoL) it was very common for a small businessman to buy an airplane and increase his productivity as a consequence. Today, those who don’t actively ‘hate’ small aircraft think only of the hugely expensive Gulfstreams or the senseless Google “Party Jet” set. The backbone of small business is hundreds of thousands of small companies, doing their job and making business happen.

    Airlines are focused on the ‘cattle car’ mode of hauling people to popular destinations at the time conveni\ent to the airline. If you are flying from say. Colorado Springs to Orlando, better take the cattle car flight, the airlines charge peanuts … but if you have business in, say, Minot ND, the airline price, and flught availability, will curl your hair … it would be cheaper by far to even rent a Warrior or a Skylane for one person, let alone several … and it wouldn’t have to be a three or four day trip.

  2. Great to have you in the DC Area! I was interested to read your post on flying into Dulles. My husband and I have tried to fly into IAD once or twice (even flying to outside the ADIZ and back in), but the controllers know our tail number as local (we park over at JYO) and have basically told us to go home when we’ve tried (we thought the experience of flying there with a flight instructor would prep us for other big airports that we might fly to alone).

    I’m really glad you had a good experience! We were also out and about flying this weekend– down to NC and back on Sunday, and had mostly really good experiences with the controllers. They seemed particularly helpful.

  3. david says:

    Head in the Clouds: sorry to hear about your experience with Dulles. Maybe the difference was that I was IFR, so they had they had to deal with me. What if you flew away to, say, Harrisburg, then filed a DVFR flight plan into Dulles?

    I thought about JYO, but it looked like it would be more expensive to get into DC by ground, and the airport/FBO fees are already pretty low at Dulles (though I’m not looking forward to my gas bill).

  4. Blake says:


    Im sure you know.. but you can take a look at the flight you took here:

    It includes a snapshot of the weather too.

  5. JYO is a great option if you’re planning to rent a car… but not if you’re dependent on public transport. Another benefit for IAD– you can get free transport to the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum (if you live here, you have to pay $10 for parking).

    The times we’ve tried flying into Dulles, we did go IFR (we were with our instructor). I think we flew out to Frederick or Manassas and then asked to come back in. I’ve wondered about the regulations and when controllers are allowed to turn aircraft away. Though we were just wanting the experience of landing there (and we were going to go check out the general aviation terminal, etc.), how did they know that we didn’t have a “legitimate” need to land there. We did try to pick a less busy time– I think it was around 9pm on a Saturday or Sunday night– to raise our chances. I guess I have some homework on this!

  6. david says:

    Blake: FlightAware’s great, but you can see (for example) where the radar failed today when I was coming into Binghamton, NY this morning (the next flight in the list). I’m thinking of getting Spot, which would track my flights online without relying on ATC radar.

    Head in the clouds: you might want to try filing an IFR flight plan in advance with flight services. Fly to (say) Martinsburg or Harrisburg, land, and, and then call ground (or clearance delivery) and ask for your clearance to Dulles. Once you’re in the system (unlike a pop-up clearance request), they can’t refuse you without a very good reason. ATC might give you a long routing or a hold, but that’s the worst they can do, and you can just think of it as more practice. Normally, it’s in their interest to get you onto the ground ASAP, because as long as you’re in the air you’re their problem.

  7. Viennatech says:

    David, are you signed up for this year’s COPA AGM? It appears that they are giving away the SPOT transmitter for free to all who pre register and they are offering a deal. you need to pay the first $99 service but they are tossing in the $49 tracking portion for free.

    More info here.

    I’d love to go but I don’t know haw easy it would be to get to St. Thomas without wings….

  8. david says:

    Viennatech: I heard about the Spot offer when I was at the OFC Grass Roots day — unfortunately, I don’t think I can make the flight, and you have to actually show up to get the Spot (not just register).

  9. Blake says:

    I have a SPOT and been using it for 6 months now. Let me know if you have any questions about it.

    As for the tracking.. its ok, but not great.

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