Monday, June 29, 2009

42 Years In Florida, But Never A Trip To Key West...UNTIL NOW!

The weak economy caused me to reconsider the long-term prospects of working for a firm that is supported by venture capital with the end result being a job change in April. Consequently, when I married the love of my life on June 14th, I didn't have much vacation time to take to enjoy a real honeymoon. My new boss is an incredibly understanding person and an all-round great guy and he allowed me to take a couple of days off (off the record). So the day after Christy and I got married, we loaded up a nice new Cessna 172 from North Florida Flight Training ( and headed for Key West.

We had some last minute details to take care of before leaving, so we didn't go wheels up until around 1 pm. That time of day in June in Florida generally results in towering cumulous and the occasional cumulonimbus throughout the sky and June 15th was no different. I filed IFR and we flew down at 7000 feet. (As I have noted before in prior blog entries, ATC in Florida handles altitudes a bit differently than the AIM specifies. Flying southward generally results in an odd altitude assignment, so even though my heading was towards the western hemisphere, I filed for and got 7,000 feet. This put us above most of the clouds, but an occasional fluffy one towered above us.

Our route took us from Craig to the Ocala VOR, then Lakeland, then down the west coast until we went off shore somewhere south of Naples. We avoided the class B airspace at Tampa, Orlando and Miami and every so often, ATC changed our course to avoid more severe weather. Nevertheless, we found ourselves popping in and out of clouds, bouncing around and getting rained on. It made the flying that much more interesting and I was never worried.

Christy slept as we got further south and didn't wake up until we were about 20 miles away from land. All that we could see in the hazy conditions was bluegreen ocean and a few clouds in the sky. No land was evident. I used the GPS's NRST function to constantly point us at the closest airport in the unlikely event that our engine would conk out. (Or should that be CONCH out - since we would be in the keys?) At one point, we were 39 nm from the nearest airport...and that was behind us. Eventually the NRST position was Key West NAS, and then the Key West International. About 35 nm out, ATC started us down. It would have been fine with me if they kept me at 7ooo until I reached the airport with no experience over large spans of water other than Lake Okeechobe, I liked having more glide range. Nevertheless, I was able to descend at 700 fpm and enjoyed the increased airspeed that the steady descent gave me.

About 15 miles out, ATC asked if I had the airport in sight. I told him that I could see the NAS, but had never been to Key West and couldn't pick it out just yet. About 10 miles out, I spotted the runway running perpendicular to our path and I told ATC that I saw it. I had previously listened to the ATIS and had set my kollsman to the local barometer setting. ATC handed me off to the tower and I was advised to enter a left base for 9. We dropped down lower and lower and the colors in the water became more apparent. I was amazed at how much development had gone on and how little undeveloped land was there. I lined up with the runway and was cleared to land. We touched down nicely, but I think I have developed a nasty habbit in the G1000 - I tend to look at the TAS rather than IAS. AS a result, my speed was too high and the plane did not want to settle down right away. No matter, the landing was smooth and we landed without a problem. The controller asked me where I wanted to park and I told him the local FBO would be fine. He directed me to turn on Alpha 6 and look for the ground handler.

This was a pretty straight-forward flight. I was excited about going to the Keys and since my AME had recommened the trip, I can't wait to tell him all about it. The flight down was 3.2 hours with about a full hour in the soup. The return was more eventful - we had to return suddenly due to a family situation and our arrival happened to coincide with the arrival of thunderstorms just as we were lining up on final...nothing like a disappearing runway to justify a diversion! More on that later.