Written by Alan Hoffler
The day started early, with one basic sound: drip, drip. Turns out it’s the toilet. Everywhere I go those things leak. Still suffering from time warp into CST, I was awake before the kids, even, at 6:30 local time. Pity. Get on DUATS to check weather. Overcast 1100, winds 15g25. Another drip, drip sound becomes evident, and the Weather channel confirms with solid green and pockets of yellow. Ate my Apple Jacks and by the time I was done, we had crisis #1 — running low on milk. Clint brokered a deal and we headed that off at the pass. Crisis #2 — Bo (the dog) is missing or at least out roaming in the rain. Crisis #3: kids don’t want to start school. We decide to turn attention to aviation.
We plan an IFR flight to Marianna (MAI), Montgomery (MGM), Dothan (DHN) and back to Tri-County (1J0). Decide to change to westward location when Weather Channel shows a little clearing. Hastily change plans to go to Mobile Downtown (BFM) and file a flight plan. They say it’s marginal for departure and to call back. In the drizzle, we get ready to go. Crisis #umpteen: child reports septic overflow. Hasty fix and we’re off.
20 minute ride to the airport for aviation lesson #1: a plane won’t start without the key. One hour lost. Road time in near IFR conditions, call and reschedule flight plan. Back to airport. They say things look nice in Pensacola and may be OK by departure. Preflight Skipper (BE77, N1819R) and get ready.
Worth mentioning is the top-notch facility I’m training at (“there isn’t a finer pilot training place in the nation”). Only accessible by dirt road. 5 hangar spots. 5 more planes under the lean-tos. 3 on the field, including a Dromedary (I believe manufactured in Johnston County, NC). The grain bins and rotting Grumman Tiger add a nice touch. Upon return, a local was happy to show us the doe he shot. Interesting folk, here.
Back taxi on 19 at 1J0 and we’re off. The Skipper flies quite differently from the high-wing Cessnas that have compromised all of my 135+ hours to this point. Its nose points down in level flight. It yaws left much more pronounced than a 152. Visibility is great compared to the 1×2. The instruments in 1819R actually work. All things I’m not used to. Thankful for ground effect, we do manage to take off. I don’t know why they waste the paint for a centerline when I’m flying. We break into IMC at about 1100 feet, and break out at about 2400 feet. 270 seconds into my first flight in this aircraft is also my first IMC experience. Quite interesting, and glad to have BIL/CFII along. Then we’re “ON TOP”, and dodging the boomers. Wonderful feeling, and I set in getting the beast trimmed. No problems, except that dry mouth promotes sipping the Big 32, which promotes tank control that has no selection lever. 100 nm is a long way to fly in a Skipper (95 kts cruise) with a full bladder. Especially with a 20 kt headwind. After about 15 minutes ON TOP, we’re scattered, then few, then clear by Crestview. The last hour was VACU. Wonderful flying. Get set into Mobile Downtown — right off the bay — and set up to land. At 1000 AGL, in downwind to 14, and abeam the tower, the controller says “still don’t have you in sight, but you’re cleared to land, one-four”. On departure, he told another guy the same thing. Only place I’ve ever been with a blind controller — I could have spit and splattered his tower. All he did was tell people to come on in and land. Landing was tolerable. Only time in taxiing I’ve ever had a view of a 747 in my windscreen. We park, get a car, and enjoy the culinary pleasures of “Gone Fishin'”, a local catfish restaurant. Shrimps were good. Come back VFR the whole way, albeit with lowering ceilings and increasing haze. Never see another plane. Desolate land, here. Were it not for GPS, it’d be tough to fly VFR — unless you count cows and hay bales as landmarks, there isn’t a whole lot to look at. Have had to deal with “good ol’ boy” controllers. Every time we switch over, we have to explain three times that we’re headed to 1J0, and yes, it really should be in the system. Not a prime destination, evidently. Cairns Approach finally clears us to “Bonifay International Airport”, we buzz the homestead with a 720 fly-by, land in the dark, do a go around and another landing: my first night flight in over a year. Total, 3.9 cross country, 0.3 night. 3 landings. No crashes. Longest consecutive string of holding my altitude. Learn the GPS.
Back at the homestead, we revel in the success of getting some time in a day that didn’t look all that great. Clint is bolstered by the news of Colorado’s football upset (his Gators still have a chance). We eat at the burrito buffet (might not be good to stretch the cross country tomorrow), and at the kids’ request settle in for a night of family cards. We make it three games before blatant accusations of cheating erupt complete with fits and yelling, and the kids got upset, too. Kid #5 has a crisis because she can’t remember the name of “that lady I’m married to”, but we survive, make it halfway through a movie before that woman calls, and we all claim exhaustion and head to bed. Tomorrow: Tallahassee so Clint can settle some rivalry goading with the folks in the FBO there, perhaps we’ll even make it to a camera store (not in Bonifay). Weather is still iffy — long cross country is now pushed at least until Sunday.
I am as wiped out as I could imagine. Typing at 9:01p CST, I am about to fall into the keyboard. It’s off to bed, and I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.