I just got back from Sun-n-Fun at Lakeland Linder airport in Lakeland, Florida. Like last year, this was quite an experience. The aircraft ranged from raggedy Piper Cubs and cub-clones to the F-22 Raptor. I'm tired and sunburned, but my smile goes from ear to ear.
This year I had reserved a Piper Archer III for the trip. I had wanted to get the Skyhawk that has been spoiling me for the past few months with its Bendix-King GPS stack, its two-axis auto pilot and its smooth running fuel-injected 180 HP engine, but someone beat me to the reservation.
This Archer has just over 2000 hours on the Hobbs and almost 1800 on the tach, so it will be due for an overhaul in the not too distant future. It's got a very nice Garmin GPS setup with dual nav/com radios built in to the GPS, but the number 1 Com was giving us lots of noise and no amount of squelch adjustment would get rid of it. Fortunately Com 2 was fine.
A friend of one of my former flight instructors called me a week ago to see if I had room for the trip. He is a commercially certificated pilot, but had never flown in to Sun-n-Fun. I really wanted another set of eyes and having someone to share the cost of the trip (about $400) made a nice difference.
I had reserved an IFR arrival slot for an 11 AM arrival which meant that we should be wheels up by 9:21 based on the winds and I think we just barely made it. Back before I had my instrument rating, I had so many situations where I had to navigate around clouds, stay on the ground, etc. Now that I have the rating, I seem to get nothing but clear skies. I'd at least like a few clouds. Nothing doing, though. We saw some whispy cirrus, but not even a hint of a cumulus cloud anywhere. Nevertheless, I prefer to fly in the system, so I always file IFR for cross country flights and today was no exception.
I had filed for the T-211 RNAV route from CRG to OCF, but I just don't think that the controllers in NE Florida know that this route has been published. This route takes you around the MOAs and restricted areas south of Jacksonville and puts you on course for Ocala. I didn't want to fly through the very busy Orlando airspace, so I planned to fly to the west of the Orlando Class B. We had to wait a while for our takeoff clearance, and once we were cleared, I was told to head 280. That was 90 degrees right of the course for T-211! It was clear from all the radio traffic that there were lots of flights in the air, so I didn't argue and toughed it out through our climb. As we passed through 4000' the controller cleared me direct to OCF - which took T-211 out of the picture. We were well above the NAS JAX airspace, too. We were getting headwinds at our assigned altitute of 5000', but I had expecte them. Our groundspeed was showing between 107 and 109 knots while our airspeed indicator was showing 120.
A word about the IFR altitudes as they relate to the airplane's course: Lately, ATC seems to be assigning altitudes that are contrary to the AIM. When the course is 0 to 179, the altitude for IFR should be an odd thousand. Otherwise it is an even thousand. Our on course heading was 220 and the AIM says we should fly an even thousand. I was assigned 5000'. I don't know if this is something ATC is doing to help them separate controlled aircraft from non-controlled planes, but I'd sure like to know. Coming back, they did the same thing. Course was about 010, but we were given 4000'.
Anyway, we heard lots of radio traffic and had conflicting traffic called out to us by ATC several times, but we never saw it.
About 30 miles out from LAL, Tampa approach told us to descend to 3000 and reminded me that we would need to cancel IFR for the Lake Parker VFR arrival. He also asked if I was familiar with the special procedures. I explained that I had flown the arrival last year, had the current NOTAM with me and had thoroughly read it and would comply. A little time went by and I could see Lake Parker in the distance. At about 20 miles, ATC vectored me towards Lake Parker and I canceled IFR.
We then tuned and listened to the arrival ATIS and then tuned to the approach freq. They were holding planes at Lake Parker. This means that planes must circle the lake in single file around and around until the controller on the ground starts pulling them off for the final approach. I descended to the published pattern altitude of 1200 feet as this would make the other traffic that was presumably at the correct pattern altitude easier to see. I turned the plane so I would arrive East of the power plant and adjusted my speed down to the 100 knots specified in the notam. As we closed on Lake Parker, I could see many planes in the holding pattern. What a mess! I saw the line of planes all nose to tail and picked my spot at the end of the line. ATC called for a yellow high wing to continue westward and follow the procedure. He then pulled a Mooney out of the hold. This was the plane directly in front of me. ATC then said, "Blue, low-wing following the Mooney, rock your wings. I rocked them with gusto and was pleased to hear, "Continue westward behind the Mooney. You're number three to land!" Timing is everything!
I followed the Mooney who was following the Cub. Neither aircraft was following the publishe procedure that called for following I-4 after crossing Lake Parker. They were going due west until they saw the towers, turned left and headed to the airport. The Cub was lost. Not only could he not maintain the specified 100 knots, he didn't even make his downwind turn when ATC told him to. The Mooney started out about 300 feet above pattern altitude and then descended well below patter. We were both having a hard time following the Cub. He was too slow and I had to put out two notches of flaps to be slow enough not to overtake him. Even so, I needed to make S turns to keep from overtaking the Mooney.
This time they were landing planes to the west - the opposite of last years pattern. I followed the Mooney who turned downwind when instructed. The cub continued to the runway. I was told to follow the Mooney.
As I made my base turn, ATC had managed to route the CUB into my path again, but this time he was behind the Mooney. The Cub was instructed to land on the Green dot, but this yahoo clearly had not read the NOTAM. He was going to land well before, but ATC caught him and he managed to make a decent landing. I was told to land on the Orange dot - about 1000' closer than the Green dot. No problem, greased another landing!
The departure was another interesting situation. More about that in my next post.