First LightHawk Mission: High Tides on the Bay

The wind picked up white tips on the wave tops below, little cirrus wisps on a teal-blue field.

Turning south to parallel the Atlantic coast down from Rehoboth Beach, we made good on a promise I’d made myself 4 years ago when we first flew with LightHawk for a story for Flying magazine.

With the pivot to our own business this spring, I saw clearly the gift of time we could now dedicate to volunteering for several aviation organizations near to my heart: the Recreational Aviation Foundation, the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and LightHawk. I could spend meaningful time with each, and give purpose to my flying as well as collaborate with some of my favorite folks in the aviation family.

I went through the process to become a LightHawk volunteer pilot (VP), a series of interviews and reflection on my experience, as well as recommendations from key folks I’d flown with the in past. They set a minimum total time of 1,000 hours PIC for a reason: The flights typically involve carrying non-aviation passengers and photographers. The flights may also follow routing at low level and/or in congested airspace, or in varying terrain for the sake of capturing a broad breadth of the natural resources we collectively seek to protect.

Our first mission would just involve Stephen and I, capturing a couple hours’ worth of video of the high tide at the end of June along Maryland’s Atlantic coast and around the Delmarva Peninsula into the Chesapeake Bay. LightHawk will add the reels to their archives, and use them to compare to similar footage to be collected during the King Tides in September. We’d fly our friend Bobbie’s Cessna 182, the perfect steed for this, and test out a couple of new GoPro mounts along the way. It was an ideal one to start for us.

But it wasn’t without its complications. We’d need good VFR weather—no low coastal clouds, and no convection down low bumping us around. We’d also need to navigate the special use airspace peppering the Bay and the southern tip of the peninsula. The length of the mission would stretch our legs (but not the 182’s, with its nearly 6 hours endurance), and the afternoon timing meant we would be flying in the hottest part of the day.

We chose our day: Saturday, June 29. We had to wait for the weather to clear off on the peninsula, and some last-minute fiddling with the tiedown-ring mount on the wing meant we got off a little later than hoped. We’d still make the coast by a few minutes after the high tide mark, but we’d be an hour past that by the time we got to the bay side. C’est la vie! We’d capture what we could and take lessons learned for the next time.

However, we completely lucked out when it came to airspace: the summer weekend with the DC and Delaware areas quiet as far as VIP movements (read TFRs) nixed the one centered on KILG that would have affected the northern part of our route. And, the closed tower at Wallops and cold restricted areas throughout the bay meant we could fly out straight over Aberdeen, down the coast past Chincoteague, cut across the tip as needed, and back up the other side.

We even managed a Class B clearance just north of BWI on the return, giving us a clear view of the Key Bridge (or its remnants) and our best shot at making it back to KHGR before the thunderstorms came over the mountains from the west. Many thanks to those nameless folks at Potomac, Dover, and Patuxent Approach for your help and creative suggestions.

The remote control on the wing mount worked, as we found coming over KGED, and a glareshield mounted GoPro as a backup worked well too. Stephen ran video on his iPhone for triple redundancy. We’re now in the tedious process of uploading all of the footage to LightHawk for their review and consideration.

Regardless of that outcome, we’re calling the mission a success. We clocked 4.1 hours on the Hobbs, and got the airplane back in the hangar before the rain began at the surface.

I figure we managed to generate all four of the “happy chemicals” a person needs to lift their spirits: dopamine (achieving a goal); serotonin (being above nature); oxytocin (helping others); and endorphin (being creative).

LightHawk is in the midst of its #50in50Challenge to launch 50 flights in the 50 days starting from June 15. If you’re interested in becoming a LightHawk VP, check it out here.