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!