Florida is growing out of its reputation as a low-rent destination for families and retirees. It is sprouting exclusive luxury resorts. Its cities are growing more sophisticated and European and nestled among its inlets and islands there are hidden oases with quiet beaches and small, discreet hotels. [Read more…] about Things to do in Florida
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.
Written by Alan Hoffler
Early rise even before the alarm, a quick shower and a quick check of weather. IFR all over the place, but forecast to lift starting at 8 am. Plan the trip, file a flight plan, eat breakfast, and watch for the morning crises. Seems we’re low on cereal, and there is a small fight for the funnies section of the paper. Kid #2 notes that the dishes were not done last night and says “somebody’s in trouble”. From inside information, I know that that somebody is him, unless he cut a deal for dishes duty. Later, he is heard arguing that kid #4 was in line for next duty and not he. I leave before that was settled.
Had hoped for wheels up at 8 a.m., but we didn’t get clearance from Family Center until a quarter after, arriving at Bonifay International at 8:30+. Clouds are billowing and low, but we drag the plane out and fuel it up. Added excitement this morning was the crop duster coming in for new loads of fertilizer every 30 minutes. 2800 pounds per trip. Turbine beast has no trouble roaring out with that load. Finally get ready and call for final check of weather. Not happy with result — “VFR not recommended. Tallahassee reporting 100 overcast, and that has been amended to go through 10 a.m.” Bummer. Clint urges departure since the Skipper can’t be at TLH before then and the low layer is just fog. I’m hesitant, but we decide for me to do a few patterns since I still have yet to solo in the Skipper, and he’ll take pictures. Two laps and an astonishing 700 fpm with two centerlines, no bounces or tail strikes, several VERY good pics, and I pull off all smiles. In the 10 minutes it took to get the circuits in, the sky has gone completely clear, and I can’t imagine things could get much better. High fives, and I’m off for my first REAL cross country, complete with a one-way destination, a reason to go, and SOLO. Butterflies give way to the business at hand, and I climb out to 3500 and a GPS direct heading to MAI. Gainesville Flight Service takes my amended flight plan and still tells of VFR horrors at TLH, but advises that it should be easy to get on top. I’m at 3500 and see clouds to the north, but none to speak of east. In a matter of 15 minutes, TLH approach changes advisories from 100 overcast to 5000 few, and I smile and give Clint mental credit for knowing his local weather. Then another crisis pops up. I realize my solo cross country is in danger, as I have a passenger. On the third try, I dispose of the flying pest and even hold altitude, and I am again solo. TLH gives me slight vectors around Class C, and right over Doak field. I am forced to take a picture since my beloved Wolfpack’s recent visit was so successful — I managed to hold myself to 100 photos today between Clint and myself. I discover that N. Florida has perhaps the most desolate stretches of checkpointless terrain you can imagine. Perhaps 50 nm at a clip with nary a power line, pond, or road. The GPS is indeed a modern marvel. Getting 78 kts groundspeed, so trying for TIX in one jump is out of the question, even if the Skipper was burning fuel symmetrically, which it doesn’t. Finally see a straight highway into Perry, I think, which must be 50 miles long, no turns. Nice checkpoint, and I’m IFR the old way. Earlier, JAX center was too busy for flight following, but they squeeze me in. Only other traffic is “Lethal 48” — I don’t want to be near him (or her). Get a scattered layer at 3500 and learn a valuable lesson. When you are at the level of the clouds, they look like they are one cloud deep. You skirt the first to see another. I climb to 5500 and discover my “one cloud deep” is really about 100 nm of scattered, but there are plenty of holes and I’m not worried about being On Top, since I’ve been there every day of the PTAOAL. Nary a ripple in the air all the way to Perry, but I pick the last hole I can see and descend to 3000 for last 50 miles into Gainesville. Right bumpy, and I practice VFR pilotage with many waypoints now available. First time I’ve ever flown to the back of a sectional map — big day.
Land at GNV behind a Dash-8 — they swap active runways less than 10 minutes before I touch down making it a little easier. The FBO literally gives me a red carpet to walk out on. Plane gets fuel and I get a Butterfinger bar. Forgot my water bottle — learning how to survive without water, and it makes for a more comfortable ride. File with GNV FSS and they advise I need a squawk code prior to departure for the newly active Restricted Area 2935 off Cape Canaveral due to the Shuttle (launching Thursday), but a phone call to Daytona Approach reveals the FSS guy didn’t know what he’s talking about — I’ll pick up my code from approach in the air. Can’t rouse FSS so I bag the flight plan. If you can’t find your way VFR in central Florida, you can’t fly. Lakes of every size & shape, rivers, power lines & plants, cities — all distinguishable and it’s easy flying, though choppy. JAX center has a guy who loves to hear himself talk, and he repeats everything twice and cuts everyone off. He tells one VFR pilot “cleared direct somewhere” (literally), which I couldn’t find on the map. Clear a MOA about the time I get my first view of the ocean, and I turn south and pick up Daytona approach at the same time. Get my precious squawk code (5532) and have to go through 4 different DAY controllers on the way south. The third is VERY busy and a little irritated. Two attempts to tell him I’m aboard fail, he finally acknowledges me with a curt “welcome to the frequency”. Tells one poor obviously foreign guy who stepped on an IFR clearance “one-zero-india, let me finish the business I’ve already started, and I’ll get back to you”. Guess he’s still eating leftover turkey. Get a nice view of Daytona International and Speedway, and each airport on the way down. Last approach seems anxious to cut me loose. I verify that my precious 5532 won’t get me shot down, and finally spot TIX from 21 miles out. Also get a nice view of X68 — Space Shuttle landing strip — and the VAB. Now I’m in the old stomping grounds, level at 2500 and bouncing all over the place, miss a bird by no more than 100 feet, and get turned over to the TIX tower for the most unusual directive of the trip. “19Romeo, descend at your discretion and advise when over Walmart and enter left base for runway 9”. I’m busy snapping pictures of my familiar hometown, but respond “I’ll let you know when I’m over Wally World”. She responds a little later with a reminder about “wally”, and my final call on the slow frequency is “attention shoppers, watch for falling prices — one-niner-Romeo is over wally turning inbound to runway 9.” Do get a Mooney inbound, cleared for number two, they announce traffic (me) in sight and request a 360 for spacing. I spot them just off my right wing VERY close as the tower asks me to swing wide and let them pass. Unable, but offer a right 270. She seems appreciative and I get another 5 minutes and a nice steep turn practice in the process. Hometown folks are friendly and we joke all the way to the FBO.
Gateway Aviation must be the R-22 helicopter capital of the world. There are at least 10 airborne and probably another 15 on the ground. But the FBO doesn’t have the line guys I’ve become used to meeting me, and I have to park myself. Guy on the inside asks me if I come here a lot, and I laugh and say it’s my first time, but the plane comes a lot. Mom pulls up 30 seconds after I get settled, and we get home lickety split. She promptly takes care of the dirty laundry I’ve brought along (and must have done or it’s double duty time tomorrow) and breaks out the cookie mix. Ah, it’s good to be home. I download today’s pics and am really glad Clint takes 40 of my taking off and landing. At least a dozen are great. Dad comes home and we go out for Dixie Crossroads and Rock Shrimp like nowhere else. Back home for the PTAOAL entry and a weather check. Forecast is for fog to lift by 9 am, so I’ll likely make JES and back to 1J0 tomorrow and avoid Plan C which is an auto trade with Clint and I drive home for transfer Wed to PNS and on back to RDU. Might be able to swing some Arrow time early Wednesday on the way to PNS. That would be sweet icing to an already delicious cake this week. I find myself over and over saying that I don’t know how I could have any more fun than I’ve had this week. And the experience is truly the PTAOAL.
Doubt I’ll get a ton of sleep tonite — these old folks like to stay up — but the 4.4 behind the yoke today in bright sunshine has my eyes aching and my setter sore. If I can talk dad into a haircut, the day would truly be complete.
Written by Alan Hoffler
Took a relaxing morning to get some sleep and shoot the breeze. Had a decision whether to press on to TIX after church or do more local training. Several factors, including my stress testing the airframe landings, led me to scrub the long mission in favor of a TBD one. Church ran long and we ran longer, but I survived kid #1’s driving home to make it back for delicious steaks on the grill.
By this time, we had decided to pursue Jesup as a destination, but after discovering our intended party to visit wasn’t there, we changed to attempt long cross country day and night. 1J0-MAI-MGM and back. The kids were especially contentious, and the bargaining began. I don’t know all the details of the auction block discipline that transpired, but at least 4 of the five kids were in a huff on our departure. Clint has confided the plane is a very peaceful place. Preflight was easier since I made one of my own checklists that I’m familiar with for the plane last night. Weather was forecast as 6000 scattered at MGM, and partly cloudy in the local area. Did see several cumulous buildups, but the wind was dead calm — a nice change from yesterday. Departed runway 19 at 1J0 and scared the cows on the 27 nm trip to MAI. Checked out the three landmarks useful for navigation: the dairy, the highway, and the prison. Saw a beautiful rainbow and circled for pictures that didn’t turn out very well. Landing at MAI was my best yet. Full stop and VOR check, and we’re off to MGM. Familiar controller didn’t even ask what a Skipper was. We asked for 6500 and it only took us 20+ minutes to get there, weaving between the scattered layers. At one point, we spot a shower, and Clint has us head for it to wash the windshield. I learn about updrafts and had the best climb performance of the day. After climb, it wasn’t long before we saw a broken layer, well below, but it quickly became overcast and rising. We had at least two excursions around cumulous heads, and I had already settled in my mind the required approach that I assumed would be IFR into MGM. Probably wouldn’t be able to get this classified as VFR CC. Did get to see a pretty sunset over the clouds. ATIS reported MGM clear, and sure enough, 25 nm out, the clouds disappeared more quickly than they started, and we had a gorgeous dusk descent and a SHORT field landing to accommodate the plane flying up our T-tail.
FBOs are nicer everywhere we go than I’m used to. Get a snickers bar and leave a few messages, and check weather. Briefer was a little confused at conflicting reports — forecast was for marginal VFR, but all reporting stations were clear and calm. We’re now fully dark and ready to go. As always, the Class D’s are a little more slack than the class C’s, and MGM is no different. They can’t give us a VFR clearance, but tell us to taxi and they’ll work on it. We hold short for landing traffic, and they clear us for takeoff and heading. We depart. About 5 minutes out, we get “cleared direct to the Miami (MIA) airport”. Thanks, but we’ll plan to stop at Marianna (MAI). Dyslexia and ATC don’t mix. The line of traffic coming up I-65 into Montgomery must have been bump and roll for 20 miles — glad we were at 3000 feet and not in THAT. Worse than marginal VFR conditions. Night is clear, and we spot checkpoint after checkpoint and have several philosophical discussions about airplanes. Cairns approach seems to have trouble with everyone who checks in — but these appear to be confused pilots for the most part. One guy is VFR “level at 8”. One guy asks for an IFR descent into an airport without an approach procedure. But 1819R rolls on at 87 knots groundspeed. Pass Dothan and begin to hear of folks who are in the soup. We’re in the clear but visibility is noticeably less. Cairns clears us for a descent we don’t ask for, but we soon see a cloud over top we suspect he steered us clear from it. These guys are the best in the area. We have a 3-second stint in a cloud, and ask for more descent. This particular Cairns controller is back from his holiday, and asks us (unprompted) if we’ll land at MAI or continue on to Bonifay International. Pretty sharp. We finally spot MAI, now flying in class G airspace just above the deck, and go to advisory. Clouds are easily visible above. Grease one on with a tailwind at MAI, and since we flew low over from Bonifay, I’m confident in the same approach in reverse, albeit at night. The low altitude and prevailing southern winds allow another sense to take in a skunk/chicken house/pulp plant for the trip home. Also on the way MAI-1J0, Clint renews his acquaintance with the Cairns guy, who informs us his recent visit to Bonifay International left him a little short of his expectations. While he was impressed with 1819R in the hangar, he was a little miffed that he drove his Caddy instead of his pickup since the airport road is red clay and mud. Foggy landing on the wet runway is probably not 15 minutes (or even seconds) before the fog settles, and we are glad we didn’t shoot the breeze in MGM any more than we did. No way I’ve have made this one solo, or without an IFR pilot. My confidence has ballooned since my landings no longer do, and I’m pumped with another 4+ in the logbook, and my commercial 2+ >100 nm day AND night complete, and another 101 digital pics taken (263 total now).
Kids are now on restriction until each one turns 21, with kid #2 having to secure sound legal advice to avoid life confinement in his room. Kid #3 is upset that we bought ice cream (Moose Tracks, of course!) on the way home and ate it after he went to bed, which violated the Adult Sweet Treaty of the Dirty Sock Conference held earlier in the week. He commutes the sentence when it is noticed that he is violating curfew to investigate and report the offenders. We are forced to use salad spoons and paper plates to even be in violation since the week change went unnoticed and whomever had kitchen duty left it in disarray. Kid #5 waddles in with her flannel PJs to join my nightly conversation with my spouse, quantity=one, type=female. Kid #5 now even knows her name. Bo (the dog) probably had the best day of all, as he got steak scraps instead of dry food to eat today, and he played at least two holes of golf this morning before joining the family portrait prior to church.
Tomorrow the fog will need to burn off, but weather is forecast scattered at 6 with light winds, so I’ll be off as soon as practical to TIX, then back to 1J0 via JES on Tuesday, and the PTAOAL will end Wednesday at noon. My eyes are sore from the sun and constant vigilance, the sleeper couch has bruised my hipbone, my ears are deaf from the din of five kids, I miss my boy and girl terribly, but will be sorry to see it all end.
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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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.
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.