Written by Alan Hoffler
About the time I became conscious of daylight, the knock at the door came with the announcement “the weather is nice”. “Let’s fly!”, says I. Hasty breakfast of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, no shower, quick formal check of weather, and we’re off.
After yesterday’s full tank episode, I decided to begin this trip with my own void time behind the hangar doors. Can’t do that at RDU (well, if the truth be told…).
Get ground training on fueling the plane and the hangar ops, and we decide to go VFR to Tallahassee. Take off into mostly clear skies. Several reporting stations said 1900 overcast, but we were on our way. At 2k, we are easily above the scattered layers, but they quickly become broken, and within 30 minutes, we’re VFR on top. Manage to get to TLH via MAI, with the by-now-expected and requisite query from Cairns approach, “1819R, what type of Beech did you say you were?” Seems the Skipper is not the most popular bird on the block, and we have been called “Duchess” as much as we’ve been called “Skipper”. I think our ground speed of 75 kts gives us away pretty quick, though. The TLH approach controller didn’t like Clint’s request for a “local clearance”, and I am learning all the time about the dialects of regional controllers and systems and how folks have been taught. He didn’t take too kindly to our request to go direct to the FAF, either. We finally get him to agree to an IFR clearance with the promise of a Snickers bar upon landing and take his vectors to the ILS for Rwy 36, TLH. We decide the Thanksgiving-holiday controllers are the second string and they’re all grumpy. Cairns approach (mostly retired ATC men) is better than TLH, but only marginally. TLH was reporting 400 overcast, which would make for one great approach, but we see only scattered on the way down, and my glide slope was the first I’ve done in real life that didn’t have a bust. My landing was in honor of our armed forces in the Middle East, though my tailhook didn’t grab and I had to do a ground loop (not really, but almost) to make Foxtrot exit. Taxi instructions at TLH (Class C) are a little more lax than I’m used to, but Clint knew the way and we got out at Flightline Aviation, which has to be the nicest FBO I’ve been to, even if it is in the heart of Seminole country. We got their VW Beetle crew car and directions and headed to the mall to look for a filter for our camera. The nice lady at the desk wasn’t able to tell me where the N.C.State paraphernalia shop was, even when I asked. I catch my first whiff of myself and rue the decision to skip the shower.
We found our filter, grabbed some food (Clint believed the ads and ate more Chicken, Alan opted for the Jamaicanmecrazy slurpy flavor and a dark Milky Way). 1.5 hours away and we manage to get back to the airport. I have a poignant and heart-warming reminder of the pride of this daddy — J.W. — that I’ve left behind for this adventure. The sewage plant is right beside the airport and smells just like a dirty diaper. I miss you, ‘Dub (you, too, ‘B’, and Pepper, and Maddie…, in no particular order).
Quick weather check shows low clouds but the wind is what makes me nervous. TLH reporting 170@16 and we can’t keep the doors on the plane open because of it. We get clearance for VFR departure even with scattered at 1900, and depart into the breeze and turn westward. We find a hole and go VFR on top again. This time, the clouds are a lot thicker and with much more texture. Pretty soon we’re weaving through the billows. With max performance climb, it only takes us 20 minutes to get to 4500 feet, and we have a ball chasing the clouds. Find a hole and slip back down to scare the cows. The lack of towers, hills, or anything that resembles natural terrain is obvious. Three cheers for GPS and I-10. We get back to 1J0 and try landings. Try being the key operative. Nothing broke, and given the stresses involved, that is either good design by Beech or the grace of God, or both. The Skipper does not handle flare the way the high-wing Cessnas do, and it is a hard to break a habit that my 250+ landings in the high-wing have given me. Clint either needs a break or a laugh, so he suggests we head to Enterprise, AL (EDN) and off we go. I don’t think we’ve heard more than 3 planes at uncontrolled airports all day, and EDN is empty. Airport advisory says winds are 140@12g16. Runways are 5/23. Could be interesting. We clear the power lines fine (finally figured out how to hold the approach) and I see the most crowned field I’ve ever been to. Midfield must be 75 feet higher than the ends. The uphill landing coupled with the highest crosswind I’ve ever had yields what I begged Clint to let me log as three landings, but we’ll put it down for just one really bad one. Again, kudos to the Beech designers. We were to have rented the Arrow at EDN for my first trip up in a complex, but trying to learn the difference between manifold pressure, gear handles, manual flaps, and my first Piper led to a wise scrub. We did a walk-through of the plane with 30 minutes ground school.
Back into the air and to 1J0, and we are getting a ride Walt Disney would be proud of. The heat, even during this “cool” part of the year, makes me glad again to live in NC, glad I skipped lunch, and glad that a hot water shower awaits me at home. Go straight in to 1J0 and my 5 mile approach is perhaps my best yet. Followed by my first return to terra firma that could really be classified as a landing and not controlled flight into terrain. We decide to end on a good note and check for loose bolts and come back for night landings.
Refuel and back home where Clint has dinner duty for the rugrats. I am happy to hear that he’s brokered a deal with sis to swap tonite’s Fish menu for one of my favorites — Jambalaya. “I’ll talk you out of fish tomorrow night”, says he. I take kid #3 to the store in the old Toyota that I blew the engine out of 10 years ago, and see battery and brake annunciators. Learn later that’s normal. Ah, back to the land of broken instruments that I’m familiar with. Lady at the gas station informs me there are tornados in Dothan (45 minutes) and headed our way. I mentally scrub the night flying today. News reports Haleyville, AL has been nearly destroyed — I hope that’s not figurative.
I eat a ton of Jambalaya. 2 hours later, it feels like I drank jet fuel. The kids will slop toilets for the promise of ice cream, but kid #5 still lags on her broccoli. “I eat slow — I have a small mouth!” was her explanation. Kid #2 cornered and caught a mole, which they wanted to use for skeet practice with the shotgun. Kid #1’s friend had decided to make points by helping Clint paint, and had his name painted in the window when we drove up. Clint’s prediction the outside light would stay on all day came true, but the kids had mostly done their chores and save for the usual arguments over who would sit on the couch to watch TV (seems I mess up their normal routine, and no one asks me to sit on the floor), the night is smooth, even with mom out to work for the day.
With the Gators back in the hunt for the national championship thanks to Big 12 upsets, Clint is happy. With a shower, I, too, am happy.
We’ll worship tomorrow morning — there is much to reflect and be thankful for:
• a loving family awaiting my return
• a God who loves, protects, provides, and doesn’t laugh at my landings (or maybe He does)
• hot water for a shower
• heavy duty landing gear
Then we’ll see if weather permits the long haul to TIX and see mom & dad, fresh off their own 10-day adventure in Panama and other Caribbean regions. Probably stay local and wait for Monday. I’ll sleep well again tonite: 4.3 on the Hobbs, 6 returns to earth — 1 that can be called a landing. Only three more (sniff) days. It truly is the PTAOAL.