When all else fails ... just Go For It!!! 

This day has been a long time in coming. It has been more than 2 years since I purchased Wild Child with the hope of taking aerobatic lessons so I can go out an play. The day has finally arrived. We launch early Thursday morning for a stop in Daytona then on to Greg Koontz in Ashville, AL for 2 days of "flippin' fun"!

What a beautiful day to fly. Our departure was uneventful until we called for our clearance only to find out that they had us filed from Boca to Daytona. Ummmm .... no. ATC was very friendly and worked their magic and got us back on track. As we were flying through Orlando Class B and into Daytona Class C we figured it was just easier to file. By the time we go the clearance, however, there was a solid sea of white below us. All of middle Florida was fogged in. Good move.

The trip to Daytona was good except for the regular headwinds that we always manage to find. We shot the ILS 7L at Daytona and taxied to the ERAU ramp. Daytona is busy - very busy with all of the training from ERAU plus normal service. We got our escort to the ERAU flight central and began our tour. The campus was amazing - every facet and phase of flight training and operations - weather, maintenance, ATC and actual flight - is taught at the university and the technology used is phenomenal. At the conclusion of the tour, I did a quick stint on the 172 simulator with the G1000. Whoa. I am apparently more visual than I realized. It was difficult to get me bearings and I felt a little disoriented with the lack of sensory input from the remainder of my body; but all was good.

We got off early afternoon to head to Alabama and the home of Greg Koontz. We suspected that it would be getting dark really early there as it does in Spencer this time of year so we did not want to waste any time. By now, we figured out that there was a massive problem with the ATC computer system so other than having to talk to approach control to leave Daytona, we had no intention of trying to file and since it was a nice day, there was really no reason. The "heat of the day" build-up was in progress and there were some scattered USD2.jpgclouds that remained above us but neither the bumps nor temperature below were too bad so we stayed relatively low, having to climb up over the foothills of Georgia and clear the ridge to get into Greg's place.

Greg has a grass strip in between 2 small ridge lines. The strip was easy enough to spot as soon as we cleared the taller hills and looked westward. Someone was kind enough to light a fire so we could see the smoke wafting upward along the runway to tell us we had a very mild cross wind. We circled to survey the area and landed to the east, rolling up at the far end where Greg ushered us into the "guest hangar" behind the hangar housing the Decathalon and 2 J-3 Cubs. My kind of place. This is our home for the next 2 nights while I FINALLY get my aerobatic training so I can go out and play with Wild Child. We were welcomed by Greg and wife, Cora into their home.

Greg showed us around the area and kept looking skyward to see the beautiful blues and feel the cool air. "Ya know," he says, "it is just too pretty to be sitting here. Who wants a Cubbie ride?" Well that would be me! He pulled out the same J-3 that he had used in Sparta at the Airshow where I originally saw him and we USD4.jpgclimbed in. We scooted out and eased on around the hills to the west of the airport, looking down through the trees where fall had already fallen. We came back around over the airport. Greg climbed then dove down and did a loop in the Cub. We came circled back to the east over the pond and he touched down with one wheel to ski across the pond. How fun. As the sun began to sink below the hills, we had to come back to earth and hangar the planes for the night.

We brought some lobster that I had caught a while earlier as a little treat. If you are going to be in a airplane with some guy flipping you around, you really want that guy to be happy. Dinner was good, the company was great and the conversation was about, well, duh, airplanes. It does not get USD3.jpgany better. Tomorrow, the fun starts. 

Attitude adjustment. The day started with frost and very cool temperatures. Greg had put the heater on the Decathlon last night so as not to have to make a very cold start this morning. Breakfast and ground school were in order. Greg started at the beginning: “What makes an airplane turn?” Ummm …. ailerons and rudders? I was not off to a good start. He was there to make me re-think everything that I had previously learned – he did not have too far to go, USD6.jpgthank goodness. Greg continued on; not “teaching aerobatics” but teaching about aerodynamics: basic aerodynamics in a very simple way that even I could understand. We spent the next hour discussing yaw, roll, lift and drag. Now we are ready to play.

By 10 a.m. the frost had dissipated leaving us with a spectacular day – cool and clear and perfect for a first play day. Greg rolled out his shiny new Decathlon with less than 30 hours on the meter. She was a pretty site. My job was to strap her on a take her for a ride – instructor assisted, of course. It took a little doing to get into the harness and the parachute that was draped over the seat. Greg assisted, ratcheting the lap belt tighter and adjusting the shoulder harnesses just enough so as not to leave my dental impressions on   the front of the panel. He climbed in the back, gave me some pre-flight instructions (like if I find myself in the airplane alone, it is time to jump) and we fired the engine.

The Decathlon is a lot like Wild Child on steroids. It was easy for me that I was familiar with the layout of the plane even though she was brand new. Greg also had some new toys including the MVP50 engine monitoring system that I have wanted to install in Wild Mama. I had looked at the USD1.jpgsystem enough to even have a vague familiarity with it. We lined up on the runway and with a burst of power we were off and climbing out over the ridge.

The first move was just to become comfortable with the plane. I climbed out at 80 kts and adjusted the power settings as instructed. We executed some turns and basically got oriented on the north/south running train tracks to the west of the field. We were going to do “Crazy Eights” which were a loose version of wing-overs. The idea is to go almost straight up and as you get to the top, drop the wing in an arc and fall over on the other side. The main purpose of this was to get you accustomed to realizing that looking straight ahead all of the time was of absolutely no value whatsoever. Once you pitched up, all you would see is blue sky and it told you nothing about what you and the airplane were doing. We did several of these until I got the idea of where to look and how to coordinate my actions to take advantage of physics.

Next we were to accomplish rolls. The key element to accomplishing a roll is to find the zero lift angle of attack because at this point – and this USD5.jpgpoint only – no rudder was needed to counteract aileron drag and the airplane would just roll around with no problem. Since we did not have an “angle of attack” meter, our butts had to suffice. Basically, when your butt left the seat you found the zero lift angle of attack so you had to slam the stick full left and roll around. Way cool!

We continued on the rolls with slight variation for the remainder of the hour until the head and stomach said it was time to come home. As much as I enjoy flying upside down and doing this stuff, I have discovered that after a hour of pulling 3-4 G’s and 0 G’s, it is time to come back to earth to let the internal gyros stop tumbling and give them time to spool back up in place again. It was time. We set in an 80 kt descent and approach and dropped her in for landing. I was happy. My first lesson went well. The second lesson – ground school and another flight were to happen after lunch. The next lesson was spins. Forget lunch for me.

Greg need to run to the grocery in town while I recovered so he and Vern headed off for some Mexican food. I wondered how Mexican food and rolls would work for Greg. I knew it would not work at all for me. I stuck with apples, relaxed and studied.

Spin training was something that I was not particularly looking forward to. While a spin is kind-of fun here and there with someone else at the helm, USD23.jpgthe purpose of my spin training was so I could accomplish this feat all by myself. I work very hard in my flying not to get into a situation of stalling a plane to induce a spin. It is something that I really prefer to avoid as the sight of the ground spinning around as it gets bigger and bigger in the windshield is not the prettiest sight in the world - but this is part of aerobatics.

The ground school went well. I learned of all the sorts of ways that one can get in to trouble and accidentally induce a spin; how much altitude can get eaten up in a spin, and, most importantly, how to fly out of a spin. Now it was time to fly.

I was quite tense for this lesson. I could feel that very plainly. I have been in a plane being spun before and after one turn or so it was not so bad. Greg tells me that you really do not get wound up in a spin for at least 3 revolutions so we were really going to get some altitude and get these spins cranking. We did a few rolls to get loosened up and did a small variation where we ended up level at the end of the roll instead of nose low. This was nice. A little more coordination, a little more of a smooth maneuver and it was actually getting to be quite fun. Then we moved to the precursor to the spin.

Greg has me do some stalls and stall recoveries and (once again) I was re-learning old concepts in a new light. We did a series of stalls where we kept hanging stalled and stalling and recovering a wing at a time. While it was not the pretties site the way I klutzed my way through it, Greg said that was the basic of the “falling leaf”. I had seen that done at one air show and though that was a pretty cool trick. While this was not to be one of the tricks that I would try at home alone, it was nice to know that it was something that I probably could accomplish one day.

With all the preliminary stuff out of the way, we got to the spins. We spun left, and left again; we spun right; then left on a cross-controlled departure stall then right then left again. OK, enough. My head was now spinning. Time to quit. New lesson learned: 5 multi-rotational spins in a row is my limit. I gathered my bearings, made a roll or two on the way back to the airport and plunked in for another landing. I thought I would never say that it was good to be back on the ground. I am glad that part is over. One spin was not so bad but many in a row are a bit too much for my head.

A new student arrives tonight and we sit around with more airplane tales and talk. I am tired today and ready to sleep. Tomorrow I get loopy!


Straight and not so level. Day two of the aerobatic adventure started with more ground school. I was happy there was a new student as I got a review and I got to see that my answers the day before were not so off base as to what the standard pilot had learned to date – many of our responses were virtually identical. I felt better. While Alan was heading to rolls this morning, my mission was loops.

Time to play came around and I was ready for the challenge. My head was completely cleared from the day before and I realized that I had not tightened my abdominal muscles to keep the blood in my head during higher G maneuvers. I will be more conscientious about that today.USD21.jpg

We started with a review of yesterday and a few rolls, again trying to make them smoother and prettier. Lead in with a touch of rudder and forget that “L” movement of the stick – go with a smooth arc; throw the stick over when the “butt-meter” gives the signal and hold the roll all the way through; leading with left rudder with ¼ turn left and pull back on the stick. Whoa – that felt goooooood. Next were the loops. The trick here, again, is knowing where to look and limiting your head movements. Once you start up, you see nothing but big blue which is not very helpful to orient you so you have to look down the wing to get oriented. Once you reach the top of the loop, look up (down) to catch your reference line and complete the loop straight. This concept was pretty easy and the execution was not bad either.

We continued the next hour doing loops with some variations: a loop followed by a roll; a ½ loop with a roll out on top. All too soon it was time to come home. Bummer. Today was much better. My head was clear and breakfast was still in the proper place. We dropped in for a perfect landing and it was Alan’s turn to go play.

After lunch it was time for our last ground school to learn about hammer heads. A hammer head is a flight straight up, then pivoting on the wing tip and coming back straight down. It would have never occurred to me before that one could fly a plane straight up unless you were some sort of over-powered experimental or and F-16 or similar. We were going to do this in a 180 hp Decathlon. OK, I am game. It all goes back to that zero lift angle of attack. Who knew?

I strapped the airplane on for my last flight. I was excited but disappointed all at the same time because I knew that there was only one hour of play time left. Again, we started easy with the wing overs to remind me to look at the wing for orientation. We did a roll or two and a loop to get the body and mind in tune then we headed for the hammer heads. Airspeed 140: we dive down to gain speed the level off and pull up – straight up. Just about the time we are out of momentum, kick the left rudder and right aileron with some slight forward stick and, like magic, we become a yard dart heading straight for the ground. We pull back after a piece and level out. Now THAT was fun. We do more until they start looking and feeling better.

USD22.jpgAll too soon the hour is over and it is time to head back to the airport. Greg says that we will do one last air show over the airport. We play with a falling leaf; then he tells me the choreography as we go along: “Do a loop …. now roll …. Gather speed and do a hammer head so we can change direction; now another loop with a ½ roll out on top …” When I am finished Greg takes the plane for some real fun and he does his thing: more loops, rolls, hammer heads with a combination or twists and turns along the way. He finished flying up-side-down along the runway before pulling out and turning back around to slip in for a landing. My training is done.

This was an absolutely incredible experience. I came to learn about aerobatics and learned much more about flying, aerodynamics and about my own abilities. What a confidence builder. I was wondering if I would be able to go out and do these moves by myself. I know I can ... with altitude. I called a friend who owns a Citabria when I finished and I told him that he needs to call Greg. My friend is a bit afraid of the plane yet - as I once was. He said I sounded as if I had an ephphany. I did. Even if aerobatics is not your thing, the training is well worth it. www.gkairshows.com Thanks, Greg. I will be back for another education.

Step back in time. The schedule of aerobatics training was no accident as it was meant to be the first stop in a week long outing with part two to come. My sister, Michelle, booked us a week at Williamsburg at the Powhatan Resort to celebrate the holidays and her 65th birthday.

We did a quick weather check before leaving AL to see a rather large rain making system approaching. We knew we had to get out and up to TN as jgg1.jpgquickly as possible Saturday afternoon. We left in beautiful VFR weather with a monster on our heels and spent the night in the cabin in Spencer. We were surprised to see nearly all of the leaves gone from the trees – fall fell and the dead of winter was creeping across the mountains.

The Sunday trip over to Williamsburg was looking to be a nice flight although we were not certain that we would see jgg2.jpgany blue skies after that for a while. We decided to stop and see Mother while we were so close; so we detoured to Westminster, MD. Our early morning departure went well: light winds and no clouds ahead of us for a while although that monstrous rain-maker was still at our tail. We stayed low across the mountain tops to stay out of the headwinds aloft until the low lying ribbons of fog began to lift into our path. Wild Mama climbed out to 5,500’ to stay above the now solid layer below.

By the time we hit Martinsburg, WV the clouds had scattered to open up the northeast haze layer for our descent into jgg3.jpgWestminster. The visit with Mother was brief and we were soon on our way to Williamsburg through the ADIZ. Vern had never been through so we filed to go over top of BWI then on to eastern VA. A cloud layer was forming around 3,500’ so we broke through and made a visual approach into JGG where my sister and brother-in-law were waiting.






Days of Drizzle.  Although we did not get the heavy rains that pounded AL and NC enroute to the east, we were left with low ceilings, dense for andjgg5.jpg a constant drizzle for the first 2 days of our stay in Williamsburg. The forecast for the end of the week was better so we opted for more indoor activities to start. For Michelle, indoors means “shopping”. We hit the Yankee Candle Shops, the General Store, Christmas Mouse, some Kitchen gadgets stores and a few other small places to help churn the economy.



For the guys, jgg6.jpgwe drove on down to Hampton Roads Naval Museum to see the USS Wisconsin and the Nauticus Museum with an exhibit on real pirates and the Waydah. http://www.hrnm.navy.mil/. For Vern, even the trip down there was an adventure as he had never been through an underwater tunnell before, and our path took us on one of the many tunnells beneath the Chesapeak Bay.

The rains prevented us from a full and complete tour of the battleship as most of the hatches and walkways were closed to the public but what we did see of the ship was interesting. The Naval History museum was fascinating: we learned the origin of the “head”; saw a clip of the first flight from a ship to shore in a Curtis Pusher by a fellow named Ely and poured over displays of all sorts of models of naval vessels from the early days through the present. We even found the ghostly figure in the U-352 shell casing on display! (See if you can find the jgg4.jpgman's image in the casing.)

We are hoping for brighter days now through the remainder of the week. Jamestown will be our next stop before our holiday feast.

jt1.jpgThe First Settlement. The year was 1607 and the first English settlers came to this part of town. That was the jt4.jpgbeginning of the film that educated us on this historic area. The area was already inhabited by the Powhatan Indian tribes so the stage was set for an integration of the new arrivals and the early inhabitants. 

The Jamestown Settlement Museum details the history of the arrival of the new adventurers from the Virginia Company; their struggles and the first real mix of American society – the Europeans, the Native Americans and the Africans brought over in the slave trades. The museum is very well done with the building laid out along the long hallway in time periods that chronicle some of the major events in the early settlement times.

After going through the museum, we headed to the outdoor exhibits – replicas of the early sailing vessels, outdoor demonstrations of the typical village and the life therein. Then on to the first landing spot in the historic town of Jamestown.  The old church, the remnants of the footers of original buildings; James Fort wall structures, all laid out along the James River. The day remained cold and overcast and as we walked along the jt3.jpgriverfront through the Village. We read the signs that gave us a glimpse into the life as it was back in the 1600’s. The last building was the Archearium where artifacts from the excavations were stored including the bones of “JR” and young man who died in the early 1600’s, perhaps from a gunshot wound to the leg, the pellet of which remained imbedded in his shin bone.

Our day ended at the glass blowing house, a replica of the 1608 structure that burned and was rebuilt many times over. jt2.jpgThere was a demonstration and amply shopping opportunities. I picked up a candlestick holder for the tapers that I had hand dipped earlier for the complete historic souvenir!

A Historical Perspective. The sun was brilliant and the air was cooler when we got up this morning to head into Colonial Williamsburg. The cold front passed last night with a cw1.jpgthunderous roar ushering in the cooler temperatures that were forecast for the remainder of the vacation; but it was not until later in the day that the bitter cold took hold.

We entered the visitors center at Colonial Williamsburg to see The Patriot film, the longest continuously running film since 1957. It gave a short story idea of life here in the middle 1700's. We continued on to the governors palace tour and on to the square. The streets were filled with folks in colonial clothing, horse and buggy rides and no cars, making the visit seem more authentic. The houses and public building were decorated as they might have been in colonial times - no bright flashing lights: just simple wreaths made with fruit and pine branches and ribbons. They were both creative and very beautiful. 

Meandering through the crowds, we finally spied the Chowning Tavern and ducked in for lunch just in time to avoid the down pour of rain and howling winds. It was  good to be inside as the bitter cold air was being driven by the gusty winds that swept through the streets. We sipped hot cider and feasted on warm soups before darting out between the rain showers.

We had purchased tickets to the Busch Gardens Christmas Towne for tonight so we had only a limited amount of time today to see the craftsman and other exhibits in Willaimsburg. We made our way to the printing and binding office, post office, bakery - the ginger cakes are a favorite - and on to the coffee house tour before catching the bus back to the visitors center. The rains were unrelenting now and many visitors were taking cover in the exhibits packing them to the point that seeing anything was next to impossible. In the streets, all cw3.jpgoutdoor overhangs and awnings were utilized to try to stay dry where no public buildings were available. The bus arrived shortly - just as the rains stopped and the sun came out for good.

Busch Gardens was packed. This was the first year that such a Christmas display had been attempted so we are told. A portion of the park was opened and was decorated with lights and festive decorations for each of the several European Countries depicted. Michelle and Howard opted for the shows and I made cw2.jpga beeline for the roller coaster (with Vern in tow). We hit as many of the rides and outdoor displays as possible in the short time we had there in lieu of spending hours in line for the shows. The old steam train circled the park and gave us a nice view of the Christmas lights ... and the crowds. Still suffering from the cold, we found Wassail (hot cider) and a small variety of "local" dishes to warm us. We ate at the Irish grill - I had the Brunswick Stew in a baked potato - I think Vern ate most of it as it was THE BIGGEST potato hat I had ever seen and it was all but impossible to finish much more than the skin. It was now bitter cold and the heat pots were as interesting as some of the other exhibits! As the park was closing around 9 p.m. we shivered our way to the exit to head home - we were "busched" and ready for bed.   


From old to new.  As we come to the end of our vacation, we finished with a long day at Colonial Williamsburg. Finally, we got a beautiful sunny cw31.jpgday for the entire day. Even though it was bitter cold, it was a good day to meander in and out of the old buildings, see the artisans and sample the local fare. We started with a tour of the capitol building and the courthouse, learning about the colonial justice system.

The cobbler, miller, baker, blacksmith, apothicary, silversmith and the tavern were the highlights. I was quite surprised to learn the tavern was the local inn – I had thought it to be a bar. We saw the public room where up to 30 men might spend the night all together. I can say that my bedroom at home is larger than the public sleeping room. . . . and with the “local hygiene” being not so desirable, one could only imagine that that night not be the most pleasant. The fife cw38.jpgand drum corps came parading through the town looking like the pide piper with a host of children and other visitors in tow.

We finished the day at the local wine and cheese shop and the candle shop so we could make our contribution to the “Black Friday” weekend. We are ready to head home to our modern conveniences after a great week back in the old times.


Homeward Bound. Today was the prettiest day we have had since we left over a week ago. The visibility was endless although we managed a headwind again. Departing from JGG we climbed out over the James River. We cwhb4.jpgstarted to follow the river for a ways but there was no need because we could see everything we needed to see – the Jamestown Settlement, the ferries crossing the river – everything.

The remainder of the trip all the way to St Petersburg, FL was the same. We saw the Crystal River power plant a full 40 miles out, as soon as it came into view on the horizon. We thought we could almost see coast to coast from the central part of the state.

Our last stop was in SPG to pick up a Mooney for Vern to annual. We shot some photoscwhb1.jpg as the paint job is fantastic. This was a slow but uneventful flight just enjoying the views!