It has been far too long since I took to the skies. My current absence has been the longest since I soloed many years ago. While my lack of flying has caused me some distress, I have been spending my time with my family and that has been worthwhile.
About a month ago, I saw something on the AOPA website about the fly-in brunch at Jumbolair (FL17), the airport where John Travolta and Kelly Preston live. The brunch, like me, has been absent for a while. I registered on the Jumbolair website and was pleased to receive an invitation for today's fly-in. The brunch was priced at $40 per person and after stuffing myself on filet mignon, numerous casseroles, delicious desserts, I'd say it was worth it. The food was terrific and abundant. We wound up arriving at the same time as a 67 member party from "The Villages Convertible Club", so the table service was initially lacking, but there was plenty of room and plenty of food. The atmosphere was friendly and the room was brightly lit with beautiful chandeliers. The building was a part of the Vanderbilt estate (geez, how many houses did these people have?!) although it was nothing like the Biltmore. We were in horse country, so there were plenty of them wandering the fields. They also arranged for free horse-drawn carriage rides from "Country Carriage Rides". After dining, Christy and I took advantage of the ride and we were ferried on a nice loop around the property. The location is shaded by ancient oak trees and is quite beautiful. After our ride, we found a swing hung beneath one of those old oaks where we sat and enjoyed the lovely spring day for a while.
About the flying...Ocala is only about a 40 minute flight from Jacksonville (at a C-172's 120 knot cruising speed). The weather was expected to be VFR, so for the first time since I got my IFR rating, I decided to fly a VFR cross-country flight. The winds at Craig (KCRG) were 060 at 15 gusting to 22, which wasn't bad. We would depart runway 5 and expect somewhat of a tailwind down to Ocala. The clouds were listed as scattered at 5,500 feet, but that's not where they turned out to be. After a very careful pre-flight and run-up, I was cleared for takeoff on 5 and we began our trip. Due to the gusts, I held the plane on the runway a bit longer, then we lept into the air and began a relatively rapid ascent. We turned right and proceeded direct to Jumbolair (aka Greystone). I leveled off at 4,500 feet and within 5 minutes, it became clear that we had plenty of company of the cumulous sort. I descended to 2,500 feet where the air was a bit bumpier, but not bad. There weren't any clouds, but there was quite a bit of VFR traffic. I quietly thanked God that we had the TIS to help us spot traffic. I made a slight deviation to the South to avoid the Camp Blanding restricted area. I suppose I could have called ATC to find out if it was active, but the diversion let us get a peek at a different part of Florida...and maybe spot a property that we might want to investigate. Soon we were entering the Jumbolair area. Since I was so low, I was unable to get the AWOS at Ocala, so I used the NEXRAD on the MFD to get the altimiter and winds. I zoomed the MFD's map to the 1.5 mile range to make traffic separation easiset as I descended to pattern altitude which I assumed would be 1,100 feet (1,000 AGL). There were no fewer than five aircraft in various stages of landing and taking off on runway 36. I began listening to the local frequency (122.7) about 15 miles out and started making position reports about 10 miles out. While I approached, a Mooney departed, something else taxied back to the parking area at the south end, and I followed a Duchess and a Diamond DA40 on landing. Both the Duchess and the Diamond made extremely long downwind legs...more than 2 miles out, something that I just couldn't understand. No traffic departed between the Duchess and the Diamond, so I don't understand why the Diamond made such a long downwind. It seemed that every call I made on the radio had the last part blocked by the Diamond. Of course, when he made his first call, he asked "is there anyone in the pattern" when he was 10 miles out. I thought he was rather stupid as if he had simply listened for 60 seconds, he could have had a good picture of what was going on. Also, since the Diamond is equiped with a TIS, he could have seen the airborn traffic just as I did. As I approached, it became apparent that the best entry would be to the left crosswind for 36 since the Diamond was approaching from the south and was making a turn into the downwind. By using a crosswind and avoiding the traffic that had already departed and was now to the North of me, I would avoid a conflict with the Diamond. I radioed that I was on final for 36 behind the Diamond. In fact, every call I made in the pattern included "behind the Diamond". Yet inexplicably, when the Diamond touched down, he announced that he would now be taxiing back on 36 in spite of the presence of the Duchess waiting patiently on the West side of the runway. Before I could say "wait a minute, Buster", the Duchess pilot reminded him that there was traffic on short final. So the Diamond took his place in line behind the Duchess and I was able to avoid a go-around. The rest of the flight was uneventful. I landed with a bit of a drop on to the numbers and could have turned my plane around in front of the Duchess and the Diamond, but I took my place and the Duchess led our procession to parking.
Since there were quite a few more clouds and I simply had having to go around them, I decided to file IFR for the return trip. In spite of a head wind, we made the trip quickly and even had a chance to chat with a controller who was interested in the brunch.
This was a great first day back in the air after much too long of an absence. Christy and I enjoyed a beautiful day, with good food, nice scenery and good flying.
1.7 hours total with about .3 in the clouds on the return.