Lee Airport accidents not linked

-- May 9--When Joseph Kelly's Beechcraft Bonanza hit a tree along Warehouse Creek a few hundred yards short of the runway at Lee Airport in February, he became the latest addition to a sad statistic for the Edgewater airfield. More...

A new information system, Super AWOS, allows pilots to get wind speed and direction, altimeter and other data by clicking on their cockpit microphone. Previously they would get weather conditions from BWI or other locations, not a precise report of local conditions at Lee. "That's better than the old windsock. They don't have to pass over the airport to find out, and don't have to pass over houses, too," Lee said.

The airport also is in the process of installing a PAPI, Precision Approach Path Indicator, a visual aid system that provides guidance information to help a pilot acquire and maintain the correct angle of approach and direction when landing.

With the help of Cutcher and others, a new visual touch-down system has been installed on the runway.

Large yellow triangles painted one third of the way down the runway tell pilots that if they don't have wheels down by that point, they need to do a go-around and try again.

"Through this initiative started at Lee we are trying to get the FAA to standardize it for all small airports," Cutcher said. "No matter where a pilot goes he will see the same touch-down marker."

He was headed to Long Island this weekend to push the notion to pilots and airports there.

With the Internet adding capabilities every day, informing pilots unfamiliar with Lee is getting easier.

Pilots are supposed to thoroughly research destination airports before setting out on any flight, especially if they have not landed there previously.

Lee Airport is in the process of beefing up the information available to pilots, though what is currently posted should suffice for a careful pilot.

Cutcher says he encourages pilots to use Google Earth.

"I can go to an unfamiliar airport, see the surroundings, look at the hazards. I can even do a simulating landing, so when I come out of the clouds it's as if I've been there before."

More improvements

Lee Airport, with the assistance of the Maryland Aviation Administration, had a hazard survey done of the airport four years ago.

Since then some trees have been removed from the end of the runway. A pit of soft gravel was installed at the Route 2 end to stop planes that might roll too far, much like a runaway truck lane off a steep grade on the highway.

Earlier improvements came out of a 1987 agreement with surrounding neighborhoods. That document also set the total number of planes that can be stored at Lee, including transients, at 140. And it restricted the hours of operation, most notably closing at 10 p.m.

Pilots can activate runway lights by clicking their microphone five times, and can make them brighter or dimmer by continuing to click.

But after 10, that's it. Lee said he does make some exceptions, say for a half hour or so if he knows a particular pilot is running late.

Check, recheck

Regulations also keep pilots and their planes in order.

A pilot must get a fairly grueling physical every two years, every three for those under age 40. They must fly a certain numbers of hours to keep their certificates and ratings current.

The aircraft have to undergo an annual inspection, and be reinspected if any major work is done to them.

In addition to serving general aviation pilots, The Annapolis Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol is headquartered at Lee Airport.

And the Naval Academy sends midshipmen considering flight school to Lee, as well as other local airports, for their first flight training. It's where some of the world's best pilots got their first flying lessons, where future Top Gun jockeys first take to the skies.

The academy has sent about 150 midshipmen to the Annapolis Flight Center at Lee since 2003, and has not had any safety or other issues at the airport.

Van Lee is so confident in the safety operations at the airport that he just finished building his family's house off the end of the runway along Beards Creek.

"I'll die on Route 97 or somewhere on the road long before something with an airplane," he said.

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