Monday, July 30, 2007

My First Casualty...of sorts

Saturday started out as a beautiful day in North Florida. There were blue skies with few clouds light breezes and enough heat to cook an egg on the sidewalk. Typical July weather for us.

When I arrived at the airport, the jet was on the tarmac ready to load up. There was a group of teenage girls taking a charter to the Bahamas and their parents were there to give them a nice send off. After the jet departed, they towed the KingAir B200 into position. Mike Smithers, the chief instructor and KingAir pilot offered to give me a quick tour of the plane. There was also a young boy about 9 or 10 hanging around, so I told him to come on up, too. It's a very nice piece of equipment. The dash is so high and loaded with gauges, it would be difficult to see out the front window to land, I think.

The boy was there because he was dropping off his sister for the Bahamas trip. I'm sure he felt a little left out if his big sister gets to go on a private jet to the islands and he has to stay behind.

I caught up with his parents who were talking with the air charter's owner, Hayden. I offered to take the family up for a sightseeing tour and after asking their son if he was interested, they quickly accepted the offer.

I introduced myself as I preflighted the plane and learned that my passengers would be Brian (dad), Alissa (mom) and Gage (son). Since mom and dad were in good shape and weren't very tall, I did some quick calculations and found that I could have Gage sit in front and not have a problem with weight and balance. As we boarded, Alissa asked if she should get a bag in case Gage got sick. "No need." I responded. "I've got two right her in my flight bag." And I handed one to her and put one in the pouch where Gage would be sitting. I mentioned that the wind was calm, so we shouldn't have too much trouble.

I listened to the ATIS and got taxi clearance for 23 at foxtrot. I did the runup while explaining everything that I did. I then called for takeoff clearance and we were airborn in no time.

The climbout was smooth and I made a southerly turn that followed highway 9A. The family told me that they lived on the river in Fleming Island, so I pointed the plane in that general direction. Dad could see our location on the moving map display and pointed out Julington Creek to his son and told him to look for Clark's fishcamp. We circled Clark's and then headed across the river to circle their house.

I asked Gage if he wanted to take the controls and he immediately shook his head no. I then explained that it was like a video game - pull back to go up, push forward to go down, etc. That was enough and he took the controls and did a nice job of handling the plane. He had a tendency to pull on the yoke and we climbed a bit, but he was able to point us a black creek with no trouble.

There was quite a bit of traffic flying very low - two or three planes that were clearly below 1000' AGL. I stayed at 2000' to avoid them and kept one eye on the traffic monitor and one outside. We found their house and I circled it to the right several times so they could get a good look.

When I asked Gage where he went to school, I learned that he was at my alma mater, St. Johns Country Day School. Ok, next stop SJCDS. I pointed the plane across Doctor's Lake and headed for the school. They are very close to the NAS JAX and Cecil Field class D airspace, so I made a tight turn to avoid it.

As we left the area of the school, I decided it was time for some negative G maneuvers, so I warned my passengers and said we would try this one time. If they wanted to do it again, we could. I then pulled back on the yoke to put us in climb, then pushed the nose over rapidly in order to generate a weightless feeling. No problem so far...but no calls for "Do it again!"

Next, we headed across the river and flew over the World Golf Village with Gage at the controls. He seemed to be doing fine. Then we arrived at the ocean and flew North for a short distance. Gage then asked what time it was and I should have taken that as a subtle hint that he wasn't feeling well.

Since it was about time to head back, I demonstrated the GPS direct function and we pointed the nose directly at Craig field. I was instructed by ATC to enter a left base for runway 5 - the controller must have recognized my call sign. They were landing other planes on 32, but runway 5 would give me the shortest taxi distance. I really appreciate it when the controllers watch out for us like that.

As we descended, it became much warmer in the plane. There were a few bumps on final, but the landing was nice and smooth - Alissa even commented on it. I braked hard to make the first turnoff. We were cleared to taxi to Sterling and off I went. As we taxied, I saw Gage grab the barf bag and opened it up. Just as I said, "you won't be needing that, will you?" he answered my question with a yaaaak. Poor fellow.

So, that was my first casualty. In 400 hours of flying, I never had a passenger get ill. And technically, we were already on the ground, so I don't count that.

In spite of the passenger difficulty, this was a fun flight and my passengers were very appreciative. This one was just 1.0 hours in pure VFR.

David West

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