Monday, April 25, 2005

Sun 'N Fun 2005 - The flight home

After the aerial demonstrations, Justin and I decided to grab a bite at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville which occupied a hanger on the airfield. Although it would have been nice to enjoy a beer after such a long day, we couldn't since we would both be at the controls.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach and this caused me to order shrimp, rice, a cheeseburger, a coke, fries, and vegetables. Not the best thing to do right before a flight.

Following dinner, we made the long walk across the airport back to the airplane. One of the requirements of Sun 'n Fun is that all planes must have tie-downs. Since I didn't have any, they will gladly provide three screw anchors and cheap nylon rope for $25 - and you get $10 back at the end of the day if you can find a volunteer to return the lines to. When we saw an old codger on a golfcart with a tie-down sign on the back, Justin flagged him down and hoped to hitch a ride in the cart. The old guy just wasn't in the mood or wasn't smart enough to realize Justin's intentions, and denied him the ride--just rode behind him as we walked to the plane.

By now my stomach was angry with me for filling it with all that food and I had to bolt for the portajohn.

Meanwhile, Justin preflighted the plane and got things ready to depart. I emerged from the privy in better shape than when I entered and I double checked the preflight.

Since it was still well before 7pm, we could not make use of our instrument plan that I had filed for 7:30. This meant that we needed to join the line of planes waiting to take off and make our way to the far end of the runway.

The ground controllers were very efficient and moved us along straight to the departure runway. This time, they were using 9 Right--the real runway, but they were staggering us two abreast on the runway. Instead of having tower controllers, we watched the hand signals of red-shirted controllers on the ground and monitored the departure frequency. These guys were good.

We were held short as another aircraft landed and then instructed to position and hold on the far left side of the runway. The radio crackled with the voice of the head ATC guy telling the guys on the ground to "let 'em go!" and the red shirt waved us on.

I really have to hand it to those guys--they really did an excellent job of moving the traffic.

Once airborne, Justin plugged CRG into the GPS and we plotted a direct course home. This kept us out of Orlando's class B, but only by a mile or two. It also took us directly over restricted areas and we didn't know if they were active or not. I mentioned this to him and he said we would find out when we got closer.

We got flight following on the climbout and things were shaping up for a nice flight.

As we neared the restricted area, I turned left to avoid it and made my course 010. Shortly thereafter, ATC called asking about my intentions. You could tell from the sound of his voice that he thought we were getting close to the restricted areas. I told him we were making for 010 to avoid the restricted areas and that satisfied him.

Shortly after that, we were handed off from Orlando Approach Control to Jacksonville Approach and the woman on the radio advised us that the restricted areas were cold. By that time, we were almost clear of them, so I maintained my course. This was a course that I was familiar with and the VOR at CRG would provide us with additional guidance if the GPS went down.

We cruised along at 5,500 feet until we crossed the St. Johns at which point, I advised ATC that I was beginning my descent. We were handed off to Craig tower and advised to keep our squawk code in our transponder. By now it was dark and spotting the beacon at CRG was rather difficult in all of the lights on the ground. Justin spotted it easily, though--what a difference 20 years makes!

We were instructed to enter a right base for runway 5 and relying on the GPS and the VOR, I made my way towards CRG. The lights on the runway seemed dimmer than usual and maybe that's why I didn't spot them to quickly. The first thing I saw were the REIL at the far end of 5.

I greased the landing and regretted not doing two touch and goes to reinstate my night currency.

All told, this was an excellent flying day! Good challenges with the traffic, the wind and the night were met with calm determination and we got to enjoy the fruits of our labors. What a great day!

Sun 'n Fun 2005

It has been a while since my last post. My job has me bouncing all over the place and I took a short 10 day vacation. In less than a month, I've been in 10 countries--several of them more than once.

Anyway, following a business trip to Canada, I reserved a very nice Piper Archer to go to Sun 'N Fun at Lakeland Linder Airport. This event is the second largest fly-in airshow behind the Oshkosh AirVenture. Since I knew that there would be quite a bit of traffic, I wanted to have an extra set of eyes, so I asked my instrument instructor to go with me. He had not been to this show, although he has been to Oshkosh.

The forecast called for some pretty stiff winds from the north northeast for most of the day with the peak wind around 7 or 8 pm. The skies were clear, though. We met at the airport at 8am and briefed the flight and the 27 page NOTAM that described all of the special procedures for the fly-in and listed all of the frequencies.

I had filed an instrument flight plan and had an arrival slot, although all of the departure slots for that day were already taken. This only meant that we would not be able to leave on an instrument plan until after 6:59pm. We could fly under VFR at our discretion.

We were wheels up right around 9AM as I had planned and the flight was off to a good start. I discovered one mistake very quickly during the pre-flight. Sterling has two Archers--both are rather new and are almost identical. However, one has an autopilot and the other does not. I got the non-auto plane. Oh well, no big deal.

The winds were in the 12 knot range on the surface and over 30 knots at altitude. We were cleared for 4000 feet although I had requested 6000. This put us right at the altitude of a layer of thin clouds--and that usually spells a bumpy ride. The wind bounced us a bit and I started to regret getting the plane without the auto-pilot.

Our first waypoint was Ocala and we reached that in a short while. We then turned southward and made a beeline for Lakeland. This course kept us clear of the Class B airspace at Tampa and Orlando. No sense dodging jets if you don't have to.

As we drew closer to Lakeland, we started to spot formations of aircraft going the opposite direction. Then ATC vectored us to the Lake Parker approach entry point. Based on the radio traffic, I could tell that there were quite a few planes in the area and at least three were in line behind us. ATC asked me to let him know when I had the powerplant at Lake Parker in sight at which point he canceled our instrument plan and handed us off to local traffic.

The approach procedure called for us to approach the powerplant at Lake Parker from the Northeast and fit in with other traffic. We were coming in from the Northwest, so I decided to turn East until passing the plant, then make a right turn to join the pattern. This gave me time to survey the entire area and watch out for other traffic.

We saw a gap in the traffic and turned to join the flow. The NOTAM said that the pattern speed was to be 100 knots, but there were some slow pokes ahead and we had to keep it down to around 85 to maintain separation. As I passed over the plant, ATC radioed, "Blue and white low-wing, rock your wings". That was me, so I did. He said we were fine and to follow the other aircraft single file. In the space in front of me that would normally be occupied by 1 aircraft, I counted 9 planes!

Just to add to the challenge, the wind was coming out of the North at about 10 knots, but all arriving aircraft were landing on runway 9 left. 9 Left is actually a 75' wide taxiway! Although the taxiway runs parallel to the main runway and is about 8000' long, we were instructed to land about 5000' down the taxiway to minimize the amount of taxi time. They had painted an orange dot on the taxiway and ATC instructed me to land on the dot. The Mooney in front of me had dropped in too early and had to add power to make it as far as the dot. Keeping an eye on him, my altitude and my airspeed while simultaneously maintaining a crab angle that kept me over the centerline was a challenge...but a task that I executed perfectly. Those are my tire marks directly on the orange dot - I nailed the landing.

We then taxied to the General Aviation Parking area and had to wait behind the Mooney that shut down his engine while still on the ramp--who knows why!

The show was great. There were aircraft of every vintage and type. The aerial demonstrations were excellent. The event culminated with a formation of a P51-Mustang, P38-Lightning, F4-Phantom and an F/A18 (I may have been an F16, I'll have to take a look at the pictures I took.

The flight home...