Written by Alan Hoffler
Awakened at 0630 local time to the statement “it’s nice out”. Finally. So I’m up, eat my Raisin Bran, and confirm via Internet that it is indeed nice, and especially cool. Weather forecast is better than 4000 scattered along the entire route, so I’m not going to have to implement Plan C, which is so far below Plans A & B that we don’t even want to have to think about invoking it. It’s a go, and I may even be on time for once.
Get a clearance out of TIX with my “special” squawk code, vector myself over mom & dad’s house (which I can’t find because I’m too busy flying), and I’m up and gone on my way to 4500 at a soaring 750 fpm, departing 0902 local. Enjoying the fact that the sun is behind me, I spot several traffic alerts even before I get them, and also see a 360 degree “rainbow” below me with the plane’s shadow at the center. Camera won’t focus on the blur, unfortunately. Fly right over DAY and the speedway, and I follow the coast north. Seeing no clouds inland, I climb to 6500 and I’m solo, On Top. Jax ATC is by far the most impressive along my route so far. A couple of interchanges are worth sharing:
JAX: N12345, if you don’t have the traffic (same altitude and opposite direction, unconfirmed), suggest you deviate.
N12345: we’ll do that.
JAX: N12345, did you get the type and altitude of the traffic?
N12345: we’re looking… couldn’t tell the type, but he was black and white
and they call me…
JAX: Skipper 1819R, traffic 1 o’clock and two miles, indicates same altitude and direction…
N1819R: looking, no joy
JAX, a few minutes later: Skipper 1819R, traffic appears faster than you and is now no factor
N1819R: Everyone is faster than me.
JAX: Roger that.
One aircraft repeats back 1600 when cleared to 16000, and I fondly recall the first clearance I ever asked for from RDU, for two-five thousand (in a Cessna 152). I thought my CFI would fall out of the plane from laughter. They never corrected me.
I see billows from the flat layer of clouds, and see the power plant causing the ripples below the broken layer. OAT is a cool 50 degrees, a nice break from the weather I’ve had which is most un-Novemberlike. I mistake a rest area for an airport that I spent 90 seconds trying to find on my chart. JAX is broken, but I get a nice sightseeing tour, overflying the Class C at 6500. Even with a rising pressure situation, I decide to deviate to Jekyll Island to do a fly-by of our family’s next vacation destination. I find a hole and just make it through after the TFR at St. Mary’s, turn up the coast at Jekyll and fly up the beach at 1000. A big billow at the end of the island allows me to turn inland and another hole gets me on top at 4500. I am a little nervous that I won’t find one back down, but 8 miles out of JES, I am in the clear and do a 360 to let a Lear get off and have a nice crosswind landing. Call my cousin and he’s at the airport before I clear the unfueling facilities. Back with them and eat lunch, hold their boy (who is the second cutest boy I’ve seen this month), and have a nice visit. Take both flying over their house and quaint Southern genteel town, both are smitten with the flying bug, and I must depart. JES is not what I’d call a high-traffic airport. Guy greets me with great interest in where I’m from. Didn’t appear to be interested in my fine story, and I note he logs me in as “Orlando”. I am the 13th transient traffic for the month of November. Guess they’ll not get much FAA money. But fuel is only a $1.99/gallon, and I top off and get ready to go.
Get off JES at about 2:30 local time, perhaps even a little ahead of schedule. And so begins the toughest stretch of the entire journey with perhaps my worst decisions of the trip(s). First, I decided to skirt a bunch of MOAs to the south, and my route takes me over the Okefenokee Swamp. I realize about 10 minutes out that this may as well be the Sahara desert for lack of landmarks. Makes North Florida look like an urban area. I go for the better part of an hour with no buildings, roads, airports, lakes, rivers, or landmarks of any kind. I spend most of the time praying. If the engine fails here, it’ll be weeks before they find me. I make a mental note not to ever route over such terrain again, especially not with clouds that force me to fly 2500 MSL. JAX center hasn’t had me on radar the whole way, so I really have been out of the loop. Plane runs like a top, though, and when I spot the metropolis of Jasper (FL), I feel like I’m back on planet earth. Finally pick up TLH approach, and I may as well be home. See the geese going south over a lake, and I continue my own migration west. One more hurdle and poor decision to go, however. I’m now in the clear at 4500 with a tailwind giving me 100+ groundspeed, but over Lake Seminole I spot haze at my level I can’t see through. I debate briefly going on top, but weather indicates I might not be able to get back down, and even though I think I can get back to Quincy if need be, I decide to duck down. I go lower… and lower… Down to 1500 and vis would probably be reported at 6 if the MAI AWOS was working, but it’s not. Flying westward at 3:30 pm local in vis6 may as well be IFR. I can hardly see the ground. When I turn around and look behind me, vis is great, but looking ahead, I can see nothing. I am nervous and consider turning back, but recall that if I can make MAI, then I can get back at 1000 (or lower), and I’m only 5 out from MAI. Then the vis starts to improve — moisture off Lake Seminole seemed to be contributing — and even though it’s still poor, I breathe a little easier. Probably wasn’t 5 minutes, but it had me nervous. I’m leaning hard on the GPS and getting there with all 115 horses.
Cairns clears me to 1J0 advisory and cuts me loose, and I finally spot 1J0 just 5 miles out and announce downwind and land. The ground never felt so good. I stop and call my nephew with the plane running and he informs me they’re all gone and en route to me. I do another lap, and see them kicking up dust down airport road as I’m on final. After I grease on my best landing to date, I taxi over and hope Clint can take some video of a takeoff and landing, but he’s already late for kid #1’s dance practice. Sun is now peeking through clouds and spraying color of every imaginable shade my way. I take another lap and end by putting my previous landing into second place, even stopping with no harm to the brakes, tires, or plane at the one (and only) turnoff of Alpha (why do they need to name the 20 foot long and only “taxiway” on the airport?). I must hover over to fill up the gas — life is good, and I’m on cloud nine, even as the clouds are probably closing in around me at about 9 (hundred).
With a spring to my step, I start to clean up the plane, a little sad to see one-eight-one-niner-Romeo go. It’s dusk and I need the lights in the hangar, but can’t find the switch. Guy wandering the airport is no help, but says there is a guy in the other hangar who would know. I wander to find him, he tells me where the lights are, and follows that with “Who are you and why should you care?” I explain and he smiles. Got to go get the truck to get my stuff toted off and I meet the poster child for Bonifay International. A guy in a blaze orange vest walking across the tarmac with a gun slung under his arm. I am only mildly afraid, but the events of the day have prepared me well.
Back at the homestead, I’m the only adult around, so I try to interest kids in games. Kid #5 pulls our her favorite: Candyland, and when I tell her I don’t know how to play, she becomes exasperated and tells me, “you don’t know how to play ANYTHING”. Yeah, but I can fly a plane, and that’s what matters, kid.
Kid #2 forgets the dishes and restriction is moved out to age 25, kid #3 falls asleep in the floor and when he awakes at midnight, he heads for his desk to do schoolwork. I teach sis and Clint lesson one of bridge (cards), and we all hope to learn more at the vacation. In the sack at about 1, and completely wiped. 6.3 in the books.