I get a call from a friend, Jim. Apparently, he heard a rumor somewhere that Florida was supposed to be
warm and in the dead of winter, a trip to the sunshine might be in order. "Sure", I reply and we make plans
for flights to the Bahamas, the Keys and all sorts of other random acts of aviation. Jim will stay for a week, then I will
fly him back to Fort Worth on Wild Mama. Our plans become threatened early when the prop on Wild Mama started
puking grease on Monday morning. I call Vern and he manages to pull the prop, get it to the shop for reconditioning and repair
and get it back on Wild Mama by Friday morning. Jim is due to arrive on Saturday.
Finally, the day of Jim's arrival finds
Florida in the grip of a lingering cold snap, the likes of which I have never seen. But that day was not so bad. It was the
hard freeze that followed the next couple of mornings that all but shut us down. I will not be sitting on a beach in the Bahamas
in my long johns. We opt for a quick drive to visit Fantasy of Flight on Sunday followed by dinner with fellow aviators Steve and
Late Monday afternoon with temperatures approaching 50, we decide to brave the cold to head across the state to Lantana.
Shortly after we depart the pattern at LaBelle, the 530 (#1 GPS) flags a failure. Normally, this would not be a flight ending
ordeal but knowing that there is a flight to Texas on the horizon, this peaks my concern as the #1 GPS is the
main brains of the whole system and its failure also takes out the autopilot and the MX20 (that magic box with all the
situation awareness built in to it). We meander back to LaBelle and to Vern's hangar. Not only is the data card for the #1
GS corrupted, but so it the data card for the #2 GPS. Vern calls and 2 new cards are coming in from Garmin on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile we "borrow another card" from a friend's airplane so Wild Mama has some brains.
By Tuesday, the weather has finally
gotten warm enough that Wild Mama can fire up and head farther south and away from the freeze. I thought Jim would
like to do a bug smashing lower level scenic flight over the Everglades. You can get quite a great view of the wild life from
1000' although it can be quite bumpy. Of course, I was eventually forced to climb out of the bumpy bug layer to an altitude
of 3500' over the Everglades - I had to watch for a nose bleed because of the high altitude. We continue on our flight
to the Keys for some fresh seafood and flight seeing over the less than calm and less than warm tropical waters. Actually, the day turned out really nice with the breeze finally relenting
and the sunshine giving us a relative smooth sunny day. We made a return trip up the coast line past Everglades City and Naples
before turning back east to LaBelle.
We bring the plane back to Vern for a oil change and a final check-up before the trip. He is still working on the
GPS gremlin and is required to leave the electronic stuff running with the engine shut down. He notices the fans starts to
slow only to discover that the brand new battery, installed 6 months ago, has just failed. He calls for a new battery
under warranty - no worries but the battery will not be in before we leave for Texas. In keeping with
the spirit of "if it can go wrong, it will" for Jim's trip, the weather for the return trip is now looking questionable
for our Friday-Saturday return, requiring us to head back to Texas early. The only good flight day will be Wednesday. Vern
locates another battery to "borrow" for the trip (oddly enough a 2-1/2 year old battery that tested out to more
than 100%) so we are ready for a departure as soon as our brains arrive. (OK, I know some would argue that mine are still
not anywhere to be found.)
Wednesday morning finds us waiting for Federal Express at the airport. We are packed and ready to head out but the brains
are still on the truck. With light winds and clear skies, we take Wild Child up for a little local tour over the
river and surrounding area, arriving back just as FedEx pulls in the gate. Time to blast off.
The winds remain light and the skies remain clear throughout most of the trip. The
planned flight time is 7:15. We make our first stop in Perry-Foley with a quick re-fuel and turn around. This is looking good
as we are hoping to arrive in Fort Worth by 8:00 p.m. local time optimistically. We catch a little tail wind on the next
leg to Quitman. It is good to stop back there to see Linda, the airport manager with whom I always enjoy a chat while we re-fuel.
Although Linda has some foot surgery since I had last seen her, she is finally out of her cast and doing well. Another quick
stop and we are heading to Panola County, in east TX. It is getting dark and the weather that was forecast to overrun the
area is still holding off to the southwest but the ceiling is coming down. The temperatures are holding on to 40 degrees aloft
so we should not have an icing problem. The night is beautiful: smooth air and lots of light from the ground below make for
nice scenic viewing. All too soon the lights turn to haze and the scenery turns to white with occasional flashes from
the strobe lights and we are in the clouds. We keep an eye on the temperature, the wings and the airspeed. We are given the
DODJE 3 arrival for Fort Worth. Fortunately, we had looked at it before, printed it out and had everything handy. Wild
Mama had brains so the arrival procedure was in the GPS and all of the fancy gadgetry was working as it was supposed
to ... well, except for my push to talk switch which had started intermittent transmissions not long after we departed from LaBelle.
Jim is a pilot as well (retired airline), although he has not flown much general aviation in recent years, so his having to
be the radio man was not an issue. It actually worked out very well, especially for the night portion of the flight into an
area of which he is familiar. We dropped down out of the clouds to a visual arrival at FTW - Meacham Airport. The weather
here was warmer than when we left Florida - so much for that warm vacation in the "Sunshine State".
forecast weather will hold true for rain and generally not good flying conditions between here and home through Sunday so
I will be the Texas tourist and hope to enjoy some free time here.
Heading Home: The Sunday morning journey back to Florida was now upon me but the weather was still
not ready to cooperate. With 1/4 mile visibility and VV at 001, I was going nowhere fast again. Jim and I made our way
to Starbucks for my last Tall skinny dolce cinnamon latte (a/k/a morning coffee). By 1030 local the skies had cleared
and a kicking tailwind was forecast so I was headed high. I blasted off into the clear Texas slies with a great view of the
Fort Worth and Dallas areas below me, being vectored around the south part of town until I cleared the Class B airspace.
All too soon, however, the sights on the ground faded to white. I had perfectly
clear weather VFR on top, relatively smooth air and a relatively good tail wind. I watched as the ground speed climbed past
165 kts. I can live with this. "N614WM, Cleared direct destination" ATC called out over the radio. I can live with
this. As I broke the border of Texas and Louisiana a huge sense of relief well up and I was overcome for a moment. I had been
studying for the past four months and the strain of the study and the worry was finally over. I had passed my check ride and
earned my CFI. I began to contemplate my journey from fledgling to flight instructor and could hardly comprehend how
much I have learned in less than 5 years yet how much more I still have to learn.
Approaching Andalusia it was inevitable that I would be making
an approach. The cloud layer was thick and heavy. My ground speed was now topping out at 183 kts and I had not yet begun my
descent. This should be interesting. I was cleared for the GPS 29 approach and I started my descent out to the southeast of
the airport. As I can around and turned onto the final approach heading, my speed dropped off from significantly and
I made the last bit of the approach at a snails pace. As I broke through the clouds 1500' AGL I felt as if I had
entered another world: the sun, the smooth air, the warmth on my side had all disappeared into a bleak and cold landscape.
Trying to make a quick stop, I shivered as I dragged the fuel hose over to Wild Mama to fill the wings.
The FBO was barren and I was thinking that using the rest facilities might be a rather daunting task until a lady stopped
to say hi and offer me a ride to the nearest convenience store. I gladly accepted, chatted for a bit and blasted off back
into the murky skies.
My climb out was nothing like I had ever seen before - at 500 fpm, I was passing 170 kts over the ground to top out
at a cruising sped of 200 kts in level flight. This reminds of me of the trip to North Caroline last year where we were cruising over 200 kts in level flight. I can live with this. But, alas, all good things must come to an end. As I rounded
the big bend of Florida, the tailwind turned diminished along with my speed. Wild Mama was once again a mere
mortal airplane cruising at her standard 145 kts. I laugh as there have been days that I would have killed to see 145! It is getting late in the afternoon, the sea of white below me transitions to the orange
glow of the setting sun contrasting against the deep blue sky. A lone star gazes at the wet moon above and it grows dark. I finish my trip in the night with the shimmering lights of the
Florida farm communities announcing my arrival. I land with a chirp and step out of the plane. It is warm and in spite
of a string of unfortunate mechanical and weather failures I am home ... and I can live with this, too.