October 17-19, 2014 - Fairhope, AL:
It has been a while since I embarked solo on. Long journey, my job keeping me close to home all summer. While this is a very familiar route to me, it is always a fun weekend to see the Emerald Angels 99s and my Mobile friends. The point of this
weekend is to paint a compass rose at Sonny Callahan, Fairhope KCQF in anticipation of the arrival of the Air Race Classic
in June 2015.
A cold front had passed a couple days ago leaving a high pressure system parked over the
whole of my route. The sky was clear, surface winds calm and the cool 56 degree morning made for a Wild Mama raring to fly.
She leapt off the runway immediately on
course. We only climbed to 2300' to stay out of the 15 kt headwind that greeted us almost instantly. The sun was still
sitting low on the horizon and cast its yellow glow onto the pine trees off to my west. For a moment, it appeared as if fall
had overtaken SW FL: the taller trees adopted the yellow hue, giving me a hint of things to come with my upcoming Fall travels.
I cannot wait to see the fall colors in the mountains! But there will be no mountains on this trip, just the emerald green
waters of the Gulf Coast. Oh, darn: another wondrous site to see by air.
For such a stellar morning I was surprised that there was no radio activity. Crossing over Wachula
25 minutes into my journey, I saw a lone plane taxiing out for departure. Lucky dog to be flying today. The visibility was
well in excess of 50 miles. I could see the Tampa Bay area from a long way off, and I could have probably seen the east coast
but for looking directly into the sun.
At 31 minutes into my journey, Plant City Unicom crackled
to life. Why are so few out on such a beautiful day?
Just before the 1 hour mark into my flight,
I broke out over the Gulf. The water looked calm with odd swirls and patterns close to shore. I am not certain of it was a
mld current or coloration variations due to the bottom composition and depth, but it is something I usually do not see. A
lone boat appeared in the channel. Perhaps because it is Friday and folks are still working that the sky and seas remain relatively
vacant. I would play hooky. It is just too nice a day. Well off shore, I spy a few fishing vessels. I am still within sight
of land, but as I look off to the west and ahead of me, it reminds me of the trip to Mexico
years back: 3 hours crossing Big Blue with no sight of land. It was an eerie feeling but what a sense of accomplishment once
it was done!
I made the turn toward the west at HEVVN, once again finding myself between HEVVN
and HLL. I spot land ahead of me and should be "feet dry" by the 2 hour mark. I finally hot 140 kts groundspeed.
The winds have been steady and unrelenting but I am enjoying the country tunes on Sirius XM radio and I really do not care
if I am going slower than normal. This would have been a good day to fly Roxie Red Plane. She will be making this trip in
January and I will hope for similar visibility but more favorable winds!
Well at least our US government
is out to play. Passing through Tyndall MOA I see quite a few fast moving blips on the ADS-B. I turned on all of my lights
so they could see me too and proceeded at a blistering 141 kts groundspeed. Passing Tyndall AFB 6 F-somethings took off, did
a knife edge turn turn off my left and
disappeared into the sunlit sky. Very cool.
I picked up Eglin Approach to make the transition
through the VFR corridor along the coastline. I was happy to discover this as it shaves precious time off the trip and give
me some really great scenery. With only 50 minutes to go, I see my first cloud of the decorative variety off in the distance.
Today is an easy day to "maintain VFR".
I hit the ground running upon my arrival
at Fairhope. The first stop was to meet with the KBFM tower boss to finalize the plans for the tower tour for the "No
Limits" girls on February 7th for career day. Then it was off to lunch at Wintzels with Inger to discuss the plans for
tomorrow and the rest of the program. I needed the energy that lunch provided as it was a quick dash back to Fairhope
Airport to help lay out the 99s compass rose to be painted the next day.
The layout took
just short of 4.5 hours with the 99s and EAA Chapter 1265 working side by side. I make a photo flight with Joe and Amy to
get a few pictures of
the compass rose taped out with masking tape. We circled the airport them headed due west into the sun. The compass rose
lit up and glowed with the sun hitting it just right. It was almost ashamed to paint it!
morning came early. Painting started at 0700 but I met the "No Limits" girls with Inger so we were a bit later to
arrive. By the time we got there, the first coat of white paint was nearly complete. We jumped in to help then waited out
a short drying period
before starting the second coat of white.
It was so cool to see the girls jump in, interacting
with the 99s and EAA guys. They talked about aviation, their plans for the future, shopping and all sorts of things. These
are girls who were quite the opposite 3 years ago. They were quiet and kept to themselves. They have certainly blossomed in
three years! Vanity has already taken college level aviation credits at a local high school. She wants to learn to fly but
is interested in aircraft design .... Inspired by Lisa Brunagraff from Airbus and her presentation in 2011.
Lindsey's husband, Mike was retired ATC from the military. The girls started asking about ATC so Mike was happy
to jump in and
help out. He had a who.e crowd of girls listening to tales of his career, training and the great opportunity for them to
I got the opportunity to give a good compass lesson as the compass rose was marked
with true north and magnetic north. The girls learned how they are part of history by marking the airport and how their work
will help countless pilots. They have become a part of something bigger ... they created something that will be there for
a long time to come.
We had a great day painting, enjoying lunch courtesy of the EAA then departing on another photo flight with Amy. She got some
excellent shots and we were pleased at the results of all of our hard work. With work done, Amy and I headed out for a flight
lesson toward the north. Amy learned about the VFR sight picture, navigation, wind correction and compass navigation. We had
a great lesson then headed back to finish the last details and head to our respective "homes". My home away from
home with with Inger so we had more planning time.
Sunday morning and it was time to head back
to LaBelle. It was another glorious morning to fly. Today, I even had a tailwind. I climbed out to 7,500' and called for flight
following through the VFR corridor that follows the coast line. If you do not call ATC and use the corridor, the trip,is much
longer having to fly around to the north. The morning was still cool so Wild Mama was a happy camper.
Working with the kids and trying to teach them everything I can about aviation, the importance
of the compass rose and flying in general makes me think back to how far I have come. It was just 9 short years ago that I
climbed into a Cessna 172 for the first time, scared of everything, wide eyed and clueless. Today as I wing along the FL coastline
"commuting", I realize how flying is now
second nature. It feels good. I am proud at my own accomplishment and feel a great joy at having the opportunity to share
High in my perch, I approach the Big Bend area of FL and can see the endless coastline
wrapping around from the west and swooping toward the southeast. It is so clear again with still waters and very high cirrus
clouds and while there is activity on the radio (I hung on to flight following) there is not nearly as much radio traffic
for such a beautiful day. But perhaps that means everyone is flying around in stealth mode in their own little world. That
would be nice.
Shortly before 1100 I was cleared through the Tampa B airspace and zipping to LaBelle. This was a short trip but a good one.
I can't wait for January to come!