Even though today was a beautiful day for a VFR flight, I took the advice of the AIM and filed IFR. The A/FD did not list a clearance or approach frequency for X39 - Tampa North Aeropark. The KTPA entry lists several frequencies depending on which direction you were relative to the airport and I could have departed VFR and requested a clearance once airborne, but the AIM says to ask the local FSS for the procedure for your specific airport. Therefore, when I filed my flight plan, I asked the briefer for the recommended procedure for X39. He gave me the phone number for clearance delivery at St. Petersburg airport (PIE) and said they might just give me a frequency to call after departing VFR.
Bob and family picked us up at my mom's house in his Ford Expedition stretch limo. Mom had to work, so she couldn't drop us at the airport. I guess it must be nice having a limo company - no need to buy an SUV for the family...just use one of the limos.
The sun was shining bright on the tarmac as we drove out to the plane. It sure is nice being able to park the car right next to the airplane! I can only imagine what the folks who were standing out on the deck of the FBO might have thought about these people and their huge limo.
After pre-flighting, I walked into the FBO to see if I owed anything for the overnight stay. Amazingly, they said "no". I think if I saw some guy park a stretch limo in front of a nice new Archer III, I would have asked for twenty bucks just for good measure. Nice folks. I made a point of saying, "Just so you don't think I'm too ostentatious, that's my brother-in-law's limo. He owns a limo company." "Yeah, sure!" the lady from the FBO said.
After checking almost everything and saying our goodbyes, I called the number for clearance delivery. The controller who answered asked me if I wanted clearance now, or if I wanted to depart VFR and get it once airborne. I told her that I had never departed IFR from this airport, so whatever she recommended would be fine with me.
She put me on hold for a few minutes and then told me she had my clearance. Just like a normal clearance, she cleared me as filed to CRG, climb to 2000 expect 5000 in 10 and fly heading 090, squawk 3535 and contact departure on 119.9. She then added clearance void after 17 Zulu. It is now 16:54 zulu. Omigosh! I have 6 minutes to get in the plane, start, runup and depart. This is not exactly what I was expecting. Ok. Let's roll.
One last hug of the kids, goodbyes for Bob and Chrissy and we jumped in the plane. This is where a skyhawk has a tremendous advantage having two doors rather than the single door on the right side. I strapped myself in, helped Maureen with the door latches and grabbed the checklist. The engine started after just a few blades. I checked the guages and all systems were go. It took a minute for the Garming GNS430s to complete their selftest. As soon as they were ready, I checked the area and advanced the throttle to begin our taxi. For some reason, the plane wasn't moving too well. Hmmm. A little more gas. Aha! I had forgotten to remove the wheel chocks from the nose gear! Ok, full up elevator...more power...not too much and there! I'm over the small chocks and we're rolling. Announce my intentions on the CTAF. One plane announced her position 5 miles west and intended to enter the downwind for 32. Sitting at the end of the runway, I did a runup checking the mags, carb heat, alternator, controls, annunciators, etc. Okey doke, off we go. I made my radio call and noted the slight breeze from the left. Throttle to the firewall and we're moving. Climbing out through 500' the incoming plane announced her position and said she had the departing traffic in sight. I couldn't make out what her position was and I couldn't see her. At about 700', I announced that I was making my left crosswind turn and just as I started my bank, I spotted the incoming aircraft! She was already below pattern altitude and had entered the pattern straight into the downwind! Not only was she coming in lower than pattern altitude, but she was making an improper entry into the pattern. Good thing that I saw her, otherwise I would have turned directly into her path! I continued my climb and made my crosswind turn as soon as she passed. I was above and behind her on downwind and continued to climb. I announced that I would be departing the pattern to the east and switched my radio to the departure frequency.
I called departure saying, "Tampa departure, Archer 341 Papa Alpha, out of one thousand five hundred for two thousand departing Xray three niner." Approach responded, "Good afternoon Archer one papa alpha, squawk 3535 and ident" OOPS. Another thing I forgot - turn the transponder to ALT! LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION, SHOWTIME! Stupid!!!
Here's what I learned from this departure: If you are departing from a non-towered airport on an IFR flight plan, don't call for clearance until your engine is started and your are truly ready to depart. There's nothing to be gained by rushing through the runup. I probably didn't make the 17 zulu cutoff, but I may have. Considering that it would have taken me about three minutes to reach 1800 feet, and it probably took me more than that in the start and runup, I think Tampa Approach was probably being generous to me.
The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful. I was eventually cleared direct to the Ocala VOR, and before I reach Ocala, I was cleared direct Craig. I got a few traffic alerts, but only saw one passing aircraft. It was such a nice smooth flight. It was so smooth, that I think Maureen fell asleep for a bit.
Earlier in the morning, we saw a story on TV about the book that Architectural Digest was releasing about celebrity homes. They showed photos of John Travolta's house at Greystone. We passed just east of Greystone, so I pointed out the house to my celebrity watching wife. I even side slipped the plane so she could have a better look. I didn't see his 707 on the ground, though.
As we began to cross the St. Johns River, ATC told me to fly 360 for sequencing. They had already descended me from my cruising altitude of 5000' down to 3000' and my course, if unchanged, would take me directly over NAS Jax. Before we reached NAS, though, the controller instructed me to turn to 060, descend to 2,100 and advise when Craig was in sight. I repeated the instructions and told the controller that Craig was already in sight. He handed me off to Craig tower with a "good day". The Craig tower controller advised me to enter a 2 mile left base for 32, but about the time I was about 3 miles out, she advised me to enter a right base for 5 and announce my entry. I told her I was making the base turn right now and she immediately cleared me to land.
On the ground, I requested taxi clearance and heard nothing. I saw a King Air taxiing to Sky Harbor on Alpha and Bravo 4 (I was on Bravo 4, but had no crossed Alpha). I then heard her clear Archer four niner zulu to the ramp. I didn't hear a response from the aircraft and I didn't see any other planes on taxiways, so I repeated my request. I suspect that the controller called the wrong sign - we used to have an Archer by that sign at Sterling. She quickly cleared me to the ramp.
Apart from the rushed start to the flight, it proceded smoothly. I've learned my lesson about rushing to meet a clearance limit. This flight only took 1.4 hours (compared to 1.7 for the outbound leg. It might have been less if the controller had not vectored me for traffic in the Jacksonville area. Unfortunately, I can't log any actual instrument time as I didn't even see a single cloud, much less fly through one!
Total 1.4 hours of lovely cross-country time!