Monday, April 25, 2005

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...

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