Wednesday, December 17th: With the recent passing of Mario,
I had mixed feelings about the approaching holidays. I was excited to be flying and visiting my family and friends while at
the same time, I was still feeling awkward about heading off on a holiday with the back seat empty of Mario. But the morning
was beautiful in Florida and perfect for flying and life has to go on in spite of the loss.
me load up the plane and we were off into beautiful blue skies. We filed IFR as the forecast for Tennessee was overcast and
we figured we would have to shoot the approach at Sparta to get down through the cloud layer. By the time we hit Georgia,
we were in solid soup - that thick, wet,
heavy cloud that tends to envelop the plane. Wild Mama
started singing as all 182's
tend to do when in the clouds; but this time she was quite loud. We continued to watch the forecasts for the Sparta area only
to find that the ceilings remained very low - 200' to 300' - and the visibility was creeping up to 1 mile. We were
not sure if we would get into Sparta or Crossville, our alternate.
A quick 4 hours into the trip
Memphis Center vectored us to the final approach fix and turned us loose to shoot the approach at 4,000' - way too high
again. We radio back that we will fly the full approach to lose altitude and make the procedure turn so we can get down to
the 2600' where we need to be to intercept the glideslope. As we come inbound, we report inbound and lose radio contact
as we are too low for them to receive us over the mountains. Sparta UNICOM radio's that they have activated to rabbit
and that the visual conditions are improving from the 200' and 1/2 mile reported on the AWOS. Vern watches for the runway
as I call out the altitude ready to go missed. I hold her steady on the glideslope as the soup is still amazingly thick and
visibility is quite poor. "1,300'", I call. We only have another 100' and we must go missed as the runway
elevation is right at 1,000'. "I've got the rabbit," Vern hollers "... and the runway." Excellent.
As we cross 1,200' I've got the runway and we squeek in for a landing. *Whew* We are not going anywhere any time soon.
That was ugly out there.
It was good to see our friends - old and new. MIke, the airport manager, was
there to greet us and Eric, the new FBO owner. Jimmy had just gone home but we still had cookies for everyone as was our custom.
They had not yet heard about Mario and I had to break the sad news as I knew Mike would ask. Mike and Mario would sit while
Mario told the "I was a pilot in Cuba" story. In spite of the news, we had a nice visit and talked a lot about the
upcoming race as Sparta is stop #6 for the 2009 ARC.
In short order we were off to visit our other friends and try
to spend a few days relaxing at the cabin. We will be off to NC or MD next, depending on the weather.
Friday, December 19th: So much for relaxation. We
have spent the last 2 days cleaning the cabin as the cleaning crew whom we had to fire) had done nothing and we have guestsrenting
the place for Christmas week. We would like to stay another day but the weather for Saturday is flrecast to be snow in the
mountains and we need to be out ahead of the snow. The windw today are howling, but howling. Fortunately, they are howling
in the proper direction and we should have a tail wind to go to Charlotte, NC to visit my brother, Chris, and family.
study our route carefully as there is a cold layer that we must avoid as the clouds are rolling in, too. The freezing layer
is 12,000' so we are OK flying at 9,000' but with the winds aloft at 65 kts, we are not interested in crossing over
the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell, which is right in our "direct to" path. We opt for a southerly
route taking us over some lower terrain at 4,000', still giving us
a substantial margin over the rocks, even though the flight planner says it will add an additional 20 minutes to our 1 hour
45 minute flight. We depart again IFR to get through the scattered soup and head off to the southeast. We like the speed,
although we have a 20 degree crosswind correction. As we near Chattanooga, we are cruising along at a brisk 195 kts ... and
we have not yet hit the most favorable winds. We round the turn to catch the good stuff and head back to the northeast toward
Charlotte. The GPS shows our ground speed climbing... 200 kts .... 205 kts .... 210 kts .... 215 kts! In level flight - that
is a record for Wild Mama
. This is cool as we are not even in full race speed - this
is normal cruise. We will have to start descending soon and must throttle back. Even at her reduced power setting we hit 220
kts on the downhill and rocket on into Concord Regional Airport like greased lightening with a total flight time of 1:39 -
a full 26 minutes ahead of
schedule; but the surface winds are no picnic either. We are fighting a 25 kt surface wind that is a bit gusty at times but
come in with a halfway decent landing nonetheless. Off to see family and friends.
Sunday, December 21st: Other than getting to spend more time
with the family - which is always the best - another benefit of getting her early is that we can hop over to the North Carolina
Aviation Museum at Douglas Airport in Charlotte. We like to catch the small local museums and this one looked pretty interesting. For
the plaian aircraft displays there wasa F-4 Phantom; F-14 Tomcat; UH1H Huey; several older Sikorskies; and other miscellaneous
displays. Then, the best part, there was a flyable DC-3 that we could tour. It was an old Piedmont Airlines aircraft and was
restored to its former Piedmont Airlines livery. There was a cockpit from a KC97 Strato-tanker. Now THAT was cool. I assumed
the pilots position and Vern jumped into the flight engineer seat - looks to me like he had the greater workload by far!
departure from the museum, we got to see Santa and his sleigh being pulled by an old jet fighter at the National Guard
base. With the wind whipping around, Santa was having quite a time holding on for dear life. Continuing with the Christmas
theme, we finished the evening with some Christma light displays.
Monday, December 22nd: The weather this morning is bitter cold in Charlotte but crystal
clear, as it is in Baltimore, MD. I had wanted to fly us and surprise my 91 year old Mother for the holoidays with a short
"hello" but it is so difficult to plan with northeast weather in the winter that I always tell her not to expect
me as the weather is too bad. If I can get in then bonus; otherwise there is not an unrealized exectation. Chris accompanied
Vern and I up to Maryland so Chris could see his eldest son, Riggs, who will not make the family gathering this year. We also
got a call from Eric, Chris, older brother (my step-brother) wondering if we could stop in Dover to see him as well since
I had not seen Eric for 30 years! We managed another windy day - cross winds the whole way but making the Friday winds look
tame. Westminster, MD wa forecast at 20-25 kts gusting to 45 kts out of the west. This shold be intesting. We must pick our
runways carefully to be sure we do not exceed the demonstrated cross-windabilities of Wild
Dover was a cake-walk with the winds zooming straight down the runway. Of course, we made
our approach at 40 kts ground speed with a realtively high power setting. We made a brief visit with Eric and wife, Elaine,
and were off to do battle with the winds once again. The next sopt was Martin State to drop Chris and on to Westminster to
see Mother. The winds had settled enough and were turning slightly to the northwest so the runway orientation of NW was not
nearly as bad as it might have been. We wobbled and bobbled our way in to very gusty landings, made our visit with Mother
then headed for Frederick to meet with the chair for the 2010 ARC terminus.
I had wanted to meet with
Amandafor quite some time but all the previous attempts to get there had been thwarted by bad timeing or bad weather. This
time - 25 kt winds and 11 degree temperatures, we managed to meet in front of the Landmark FBO fireplace. We had a great chat
about the race and about the things that Frederick needs to do to prepare for our arrival in 2010. They have lots of time
and lots of energy as this is a young chapter. ARC had never before been to Maryland as a stop nor a terminus so this will
be a historic visit.
We finished our business, said our good-byes, then Verna dn I were off again into
the bitter cold winds. We were to head back to Martin State for the night to stay with Chris so we could depart in the morning
before the forecast freezing rains were to arrive. The trip tat took us 40 minutes this afternoon, took us 16 minutes this
Tuesday, December 23rd: With family visitation
behind us, we were off to NC again to complete our ouwn Christmas preparations. The winds had shifted and all that great tailwind
n which we had languished was all gone and we were left with 35 kt headwinds aloft at 4,500'. We remained around 1,000'
AGL until we got throught the Washington DC Class B airspace then tried to move up but the winds cut our chariot seed to a
paultry 114 kts over the ground, so back downit was. It was much better to endure the bumps at 135 kts than it was was have
a smooth ride at 114 kts. We made an uneventful trip home ahead of the freezing rain that blanketed the area only hours behind
Friday, December 26th: An aviators play day today. We took off to beautiful
skies and a killer tailwind at 5,500'; zipping along at 175 kts on our way to First Flight at Kitty Hawk to see the Wright
Brothers monument and museum. As we neared Raleigh, however, we saw the looming clouds and rain straight in our path.
Knowing we could not get down over Raleigh and really not wanting to talk to anyone today, we nosed over and veered off to
the right to skirt the Class C airspace and duck beneath the rain clouds only to find that our killer tailwind was, effectively,
killed. We still sported a not-so-shabby 140 kts; but it was just not quite the same.
As we neared
Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hill, we could understand why this was a spot chosen by the
Wright Brothers. The wind waws whipping around in an otherwise fairly benign area. We bumped and bobbled our way to a landing
and headed off to the monument, feeling the cold chill of the 20 kt wind stinging our faces and ears. The monument was quite
impressive. I did not realize that it had been dedicated in the 1930's and was ever more surprised to see how well preserved
it remained. The marks of the beginning and terminus of the first flight lay next to the museum. It seemed so strange that
such a short time ago (in relative terms, of course) that flight was such an elusive creature, yet only 66 years after the
first powered flight, man was in outer space.
Our stay at Kill Devil Hill was informative but brief
as we wanted to hit a few other spots today while we had the time and the favorable weather to make the coastal trip from
Charlotte. Our next stop was Dare County Airport a short 7 minte flight to the south. We had hardly lifted off when it was
time to set down again! Dare County had a small museum full of interesting artifacts - unifoms, clipping, etc. for the Civil
Air Patrol, plus some history of some of the more famous local folks as they related to aviation. We
wandered throught that exhibit fairly quickly and made our way over to the aquarium, sitting right next to the airport (thanks
Adventure Pilot!). The aquarium was unique in that it had exhibits showing fresh water, brackish water and salt water, their
interactions and the creatures that inhabit all 3 aquatic environments. In addition to the usual fish exhibits, there were
several with otters, turtles, alligators and several with some rare varieties of frogs. I enjoyed the tomato frogs that looked
just like a tomato.
Heading back to the west we past much marsh land, crop fields and an occasional farming town. It was obviously
all low lands and we wondered how they fared in the hurricanes that frequented the area as in Florida. By 1530 hrs we were
starving and ready to head to Pik-n-Pig Barbecue http://www.pik-n-pig.com/piknpig.html
We had checked out the web site and were quite intrigued by some of the menu selections ... that plus the fact that
the restaurant was on the field made it the only choice for dining for
the day. I ordered the "Barbecue Sundae" only because it sounded so interesting. It was pulled barbecued pork, baked
beans, and cole slaw all piled one on top of the other in a sundae dish. The waitress was kind enough to bring me a plate,
although I think the local frown on the usage of a plate for the Sundae. I spread everything out like a normal meal then mixed
most of it together int he end to eat. Still very yummy; but I was way too stuffed to try the 'Nanner Puddin'. (Sorry
By the time we left the restaurnat it was nearing 1700 hours, was starting to get dark and a
very low ceiling was descending upon us. We climbed out to 1,700' and could really go no higher; but still sporting a
tailwind - first time in history that we had a tailwind in both directions - we opted to stay low and go VFR on to Concord
Regional. Then came the rains. We headed straight in to one of the 50% chance of showers but some got quite heavy and visibility
barely remained VFR. The ceiling never dropped in spite of AWOS reports to the contrary. We planned on asking for a special
VRF as we approached Concord; but the ceiling remained high enough that we arrived in perfectly clear visibility with a cloud
deck remaining at 2,000' msl.
Rest now, Wild Mama as we will look to heading home on Sunday.
Saturday, December 27th: With the fog the customary pea soup in the Charlotte area, we opted
for a drive to Winston-Salem this morning to check out the old town. It seemed strange to drive but with the conditions not
firecast to improve, we really had no choice. Besides, it was only a hour dive. We could handle that. The old town was quite quaint with lots of artisen-type of exhibits. It was interesting
that the towm remained a mix of current residences housed in old buildings, and old building used as exhibits. We enjoyed
all of the exhibits that were open for the day and ate at the Tavern Restaurant, greatly enjoying the pumpkin muffins, especially. The local bakery was filled with goodies as well. We spied the apple spice cake for our dessert.
We spent the entire day there and returned back
to Charlotte by late afternoon ready to pack and head off to Florida in the morning. It has been a good trip but I am ready
to come home. Travel is easier but empty without Mario now.
28th: Homeward bound at last! While I have enjoyed the visit and the hospitaity of the family I am ready
to be home. Vern suggests that Monday will be better but I will not hear of it. Today is the usual Charlotte fog. I laugh when Chris tells me theyhave 300
sunny days a year. That is ONLY because we are gone; so to remain another day would serve to punish the residents of Charlotte
with yet another dreary day.
We depart IFR to 700' ceiling of sludge on the standard Hugo
8 Departure and climb out to 4,000'. The winds were forecast to be headwinds. What Mother Nature giveth she teketh away...a
whopping 98 kts ground speed. We start discussing where we will stop to refuel. We cannot make it at that speed on one tank.
By the time we pass Columbia, SC, the skies have cleared so we cancel our IFR and drop down to gain more favorable winds,picking
up speed to about 130 kts. Not good, but much better, and we remain thatway all the way through our landing in LaBelle.
It was a great trip but we are glad to be home. We meet Susan Carastro in LaBelle for lunch and a little G-1000 flying
as she was on her way from Alabama passing overhead. We unload Wild Mama and hop in the car for the last leg home.
The house is empty and still feels strange, but we are home.