Log 3- Florida

08/22/08

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March 29
54J- 2J9- 40J
De Funiak Springs to Quincy to Perry, FL

 

Our weekend on the beaches consisted of 36 hours of rain and tornado watches followed by a day of 30 knot winds but we manage to enjoy ourselves anyway. Back at the airport on Tuesday we were met by the editor of the local paper who wanted to do a story on our trip so we spent some time being interviewed and photographed.  When I went to start up for flyby pictures the starter motor would not engage but fortunately a friendly local aviation buff dropped by the airport and was able to help me solve the minor problem.  It turned out he had seen the gyro parked on the ramp over the weekend and had dropped by at just that moment on the off chance of getting to see it fly.  After several touch and go's and flybys for the photographer I took off for Quincy airport about 100 miles away.  The swampy forests underneath kept me flying over the winding roads instead of point to point as the crow and gyro prefer to fly. 

Quincy was a nice asphalt strip bordered by a beautiful grass apron so I elected to land on the grass into the wind, then taxied across the manicured lawn ramp to the gas pumps.   I came in behind a Piper Cherokee and just in front of a Mooney doing touch n go's.  We all landed within a 3 minute period but for the next hour and a half while I enjoyed sitting in the warm Florida sunshine not another aircraft moved anywhere nearby.  

As delightful as it was relaxing in the tropical sun on the porch of the airport building I still had 85 miles to go so I belted in and took off for Perry airport.  Shortly after take-off I was over Tallahassee, Florida's capitol and rather than call the controllers and get clearance to fly through their airspace I decided to enjoy my solitude and radio silence.  I flew a few extra miles to stay clear of their jet approach pathways but did not have to talk to anyone.  Later I played tag with the hawks circling over the trees, but when I entered an area with a dozen or more tall radio towers within a few miles of each other I went back to careful flight over the road identifying each tower before flying past it.   

Perry airport proved to be a wonderful find with 3 long runways forming a gigantic triangle.  As each runway can be used in either direction that gave me 6 options to pick the runway alignment that best faced into the wind.  A gyroplane just like all aircraft takes off and lands facing into the wind.  Crosswinds are a challenge for every airplane but because of a gyro's slow landing speed a crosswind is much more of a factor than it would be for  either a small Cessna or big Boeing 767.  

I fly over the huge airport and after looking at the wind sock I select runway 18, then decide I should do some landing practice so I do several landings and take-offs before taxiing into park.  A crew is working on sprucing up the airport but for the next 12 hours I'm the only airplane moving around here.  The manager is wonderfully friendly offering us water and power for our motorhome and giving us the keys to the office should we need anything else.  He tells me the giant expanse of land inside the triangle of runways is used for growing hay in the summertime. 

March 30
40J-GCG
Perry to Crystal River, FL

In the morning it is dead calm and I have the airport to myself so I take-off and practice 8 landings with 4 of them being simulated engine failures.   I do this by flying near the runway then abruptly reducing the engine to idle.  The procedure is to then turn immediately towards the runway and push the stick forward to lower the nose and maintain 60 knots of airspeed.  The gyro then flys completely normally right down to the runway.  When I am a few feet above the runway I bring the stick back slightly to level out, then as I descend to 12 inches above the runway I pull the stick all the way back and touch down gently as a feather.    After touch down I only roll a few feet.  The only difference between a normal landing and an emergency engine out practice landing is that the angle of descent is steeper with the engine off.   Hopefully this constant practice will have me ready if my engine ever does quit.

From Perry I fly on about 110 miles over the road to Crystal River, Florida.  All the way it is a picture postcard day with sunny blue skies, very little wind and great visibility.  I should be taking pictures but the truth is I'm having just too much fun to bother with the camera. 

Crystal River has a long paved East-West runway and a shorter grass strip running North- South.  The wind is very light so I opt for the grass runway just for the hell of it and drift on down a gentle landing.  As I am tying the aircraft down a Cessna comes in with a student pilot on his first solo cross country.  I help him push his plane to a tie-down and share in his excitement of having accomplished his first real flight.  No matter how long ago it occurred every pilot remembers his first solo cross country. 

I have never been here before but Crystal River is a very special spot for my gyro.  This is where it was built by Terry Eiland who is now a gyro CFI flying his new Sparrowhawk.  Terry and his wonderful wife Linda are kind enough to meet us at the airport and he slides the gyro into its old spot in his hangar so it will be out of the weather for a few days.  Terry looks over the machine and points out a few maintenance items I should watch out for.  He does this on the pretext of giving me some sage advice on gyros but underneath I think he just wants to see his baby is still being cared for properly.     

 

April 1, 2005
GCG- VDF- SRQ
Crystal River to Vandenberg to Sarasota, Florida

Before leaving for Sarasota Terry teaches me how to make several adjustments to make the gyro fly smoother.  I then taxi back to the grass strip and pour the power on for takeoff.  In a few minutes I'm again following a road through the trees.   I had hoped to fly along the coast but it looks low and swampy and there is a good headwind.  To further urge me on the weather forecast is for deteriorating weather.  I wanted to fly direct to Sarasota but half way along the headwind has me slowed to 45-50 knots so I drop in for a quick gas top off at Vandenberg before resuming my flight south.  Sarasota is a big International airport.  The largest airports in the country such as New York, LA, Dallas, Denver, Boston, etc. are class B airports.  The next level airports including Sarasota are Class C and even these airports can have high levels of airline traffic.  Sharing the runway with a 727 is always an exciting moment.  I contact approach and they gladly clear me towards the airport.  When the approach controller transfers me to the tower frequency I get a few questions about the gyro but the tower operator smoothly fits me in with the fast moving jet traffic and even thanks me when I land right at the taxiway and am off the runway in seconds.   The line guy parks me alongside a row of Robinson helicopters and behind a dozen corporate jets on the ramp.  Putting the covers on the gyro is a difficult task in the 20 knot gusts but I soon have it covered and head into the FBO to await friends who are meeting me here.

April 4, 2005
SRQ- CHN
Sarasota to Wauchula for the Benson Days Gyro fly-in

The friendly tower operator from a few days ago is gone and has been replaced by one who is very condescending about my tiny gyro when I first call up for a departure clearance.  He tries to embarrass me by reading me my clearance as fast as he can say it but fortunately I am ready with pen in hand and I copy the clearance and read it back as fast as he had said it.  He had hoped I would have showed my incompetence by asking him to repeat it and I actually hear the disappointment in his voice when he says that my "read back" was correct.  He clears me to taxi and then follows up with the 727 taxing behind me.  After the 727 Captain finishes his own read back he says 'that sure is a nice looking gyro."  His compliment coupled with my quick read back seems to have changed the tower operator's attitude and from then on his tone is friendly and conversational as he clears me for take-off.  I get rolling as fast as possible so I don't delay the multiple jets lined up behind me.   My takeoff is speedy and I climb out steeply and turn away from the jet wash of the plane that launched in front of me.  

The flight to Wauchula is a delight.  For the first time in days I am over open fields instead of forests.  In an emergency I could land almost anywhere and the fields allow me to drop down to 50 feet off the grass and race my shadow across the landscape. 

Arriving in  Wauchula is wonderful as I see a dozen or more gyros already here for the fly-in.  That afternoon I take several friends up for scenic flights and they love their first ever views of the world from a few hundred feet with no doors or windows separating them from the scenery below.

April 4-10, 2005
Benson Days Gyro fly in, Wauchula, Florida

The next week is a blur of swapping stories with other gyro pilots, taking friends for rides, looking over the more than 60 gyros that show up and enjoying the company of new friends and old.  A few of the pilots have flown out on the airlines from the West coast, one has trailered his gyro over 1,500 miles from Texas and nearly every state in the SE is represented.  Except for myself and one gyro based 25 miles away all the other gyros arrived by trailer and the rigs these guys have made are as interesting as the gyros themselves.  I was having too much fun flying to take pictures but there are lots of photos on this website:  www.rotaryforum.com 

Several days Dee and I would join other pilots for the short flight to Sebring airport for breakfast or lunch.  The airport is next to Sebring raceway and has a terrific restaurant.  We also visited Arcadia and other local airports including the private grass runway of a gyro pilot who runs a cattle ranch.  Wauchula was hard hit by hurricanes this year and many houses still have only a blue tarp for a roof.  Fields everywhere are littered with debris, trees everywhere are torn from the ground and piles of splintered wood are all that's left of barns and outbuildings. 

After so much solo flying I delight in flying loose formations with up to 7 gyros.  Many of the pilots like to play near the airport but my friend Pat McNear and I are cross-country guys and we go off exploring the swamps for alligators and deer. 

 

 

April 10, 2005
CHN- SPG
Wauchula to Albert Whited airport, St. Petersburg, Florida

Our last morning is typical of what this fringe sport is all about.  Four other gyro pilots who have machines similar to mine spend their morning teaching me how to trim my blades and provide extensive advice on rigging my machine.   They have all built their gyros so they know them intimately while,  I bought mine pre-built so my understanding of its systems is limited.  My great thanks go out to Terry, Jim, Duane and Rudy for their assistance.

After lots of goodbyes we hook Dee up with the motorhome and Jeep and she heads off.  Minutes later I'm airborne and for a change I do not follow any roads but can fly over the open fields.  The direct flight to St Petersburg is across Tampa Bay but I don't like flying over so much open water so I take a circuitous route first flying North around Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport's airspace, then heading West over Clearwater airport, then avoiding St. Pete airport and finally turning South East towards downtown St. Pete.  This route is about 4 or 5 times farther but much safer.

Coming into Albert Whited is like a homecoming for me as I had flown out of this airport while training for my airplane instrument rating in 2001.  I'm met at the airport by old friends and they each get a ride to see their hometown and house from the air.  One friend is an ex Chinook helicopter pilot and within seconds of taking the controls he handles the gyro like a pro.  After we are on the ground he tells me it's been 26 years since he last flew a helicopter- he certainly has not lost his touch!  

Whited airport is right in the heart of St. Petersburg on prime waterfront property less than a mile from downtown.  Many similarly located airports have fallen prey to developers who get the airport condemned then build high rise condos on the property. When this was attempted here last year the public outcry was huge and the airport was saved.  The vote was nearly 3 to 1 in favor of the airport and now instead of it disappearing money has been raised for a brand new terminal building and other expansion. Chalk up one for the good guys!

April 13, 2005
SPG- LAL
St Petersburg to Lakeland, FL for Sun N Fun Airshow

Flying to Sun n Fun I again take the long trip North then East then back South to skirt Tampa Bay.  As I pass Plant City Airport I see two other gyros in the air and when I fly closer I see it is my friends' Duane and Jim in their RAF's giving demo rides. 

I'm quite nervous about flying into Sun n Fun.  They expect about 12,000 airplanes, over 700,000 people and there are all sorts of special procedures with dozens of airplanes landing each minute.  Precise entry patterns, altitudes, speed and spot landing are required.  In addition looking for other traffic is a major consideration.   I skirt the airport and then fly towards it from the Southeast as required. Once inbound I'm too busy watching for traffic to be nervous.    As I head into Choppertown, the section for rotorcraft, there are at least 6 helicopters inbound or outbound.  The landing area is maybe 150 feet wide by 500 feet long and there are helicopters parked on both sides.  It looks plenty large enough, then I'm cleared in to land on the right half of it which means someone else will be landing on the left half, and as soon as we are near touchdown two helicopters are taking off right behind us.  The second my wheels touch down the tower tells me to look for a guy in a red hat who will direct me to parking and 15 seconds later I'm off the runway and two more helicopters are inbound.   As I wait for the rotor blades to spin down it hits me -- I'm here! And I've flown in here without making any mistakes- relief mixes with excitement. 

After I park the gyro I'm on the phone to Dee trying to direct her to the camping area by the rotorcraft parking.  I get her directions and hope that they are correct as turning the motorhome around in this mass of traffic would really be a nightmare.  Fortunately after several tense phone calls I see her coming around the bend and heading my way.  We halt traffic for a moment while we unhook the Jeep from the motorhome, then with a bit of help we squeeze the motorhome into a camping spot alongside the Choppertown fence.  Our entire 48 state itinerary was constructed around only 2 fixed dates, the fly-ins at Sun n Fun and Oshkosh in Wisconsin and now we've really arrived at Sun n Fun- we're here! 

Again it strikes me how lucky I am to be able to make my dreams come true!

Sun N Fun

Sun N Fun proves to be a wonderful week of immersion in all things aviation.  We enjoy everything from looking at Ultralights  to climbing into the cockpits of Beech Jets.  Especially intriguing are the new small business jets designed to be flown by owner pilots.  The daily Airshows are a mind boggling profusion of rolls, spins, hammerheads, Cuban 8's, wing walkers and formation flying.  After 6 days of watching non-stop aerobatics one begins to think that a plane flying straight and level is the oddest sight in the world.  But just when one seems numb to more fancy aerobatics the Military Jets take-off and blast the senses with their under 2 minute climbs to 10,000 feet and high speed passes that take your breath away.  Suddenly every head snaps back around to watch the show.  And then when you think you have seen it all there is the night airshow with the AeroShell team flying formation aerobatics with their planes 20' apart in the blackness and all 4 of them shooting pyrotechnics and smoke through the sky.  This is followed by planes that feature flames and sparks shooting 100 feet behind them as they spin and flip through the sky all timed to music.

Even though there are dozens and dozens of planes airborne at any given moment it is all carefully choreographed and controlled.  I even get into the act flying rotorcraft demonstrations on two of the days.  I'm nervous about screwing up here but my friend Peter takes me under his wing literally and figuratively and I follow him around the pattern and over the main runway and announce booth for an hour each day while the announcer describes each gyro or helicopter for the crowd. 

 

 

April 19, 2005
LAL- X47- CRG|
Lakeland to Flagler County to Jacksonville, FL

Wow- my best day of flying so far! 
The day gets off to a nice start as I help Dee hook up the motorhome and get her on the road.  I have a long taxi from the Choppertown section to the regular East-West runway then I take-off and thank the tower operators for such a great week.  I head for Flagler County airport on the coast.  My route takes me over quite a few swampy areas and as always emergency landing spots are on my mind.  Often I fly out of my way to stay over roads but today for some reason I feel confident in flying over the swamps and so I stay on the direct route.  Odd that nothing has changed but today I feel if not invincible at least unconcerned about being over the watery areas. 

I make a slight detour to skirt some restricted military airspace and also a 1,502 antenna.   Towers and wires are the biggest dangers for helicopters and low flying gyroplanes. Each time I see these monster antennas I spot them from miles away and watch carefully as I approach.  I know I am plenty far enough away but nevertheless as I pass by I feel a lurch in the pit of my stomach.  It is as if an involuntary hand has just grabbed and squeezed my stomach and it happens at nearly each of the hundreds of towers I have passed.  Who climbs these things I wonder?  I have been a mountain climber since I was young and it never bothers me to be clinging to a rock face with hundreds of feet of space beneath me.  I've climbed the 55' mast of my sailboat countless times yet the thought of climbing a tower like this fills me with dread.

My first destination is Flagler County airport which holds fond memories for me as I had received my seaplane training here in a Piper Cub 4 years ago.  After a gyroplane, sea planes are the most fun you can have in the air.  I listen to the weather reports from several airports I pass so I can keep tabs on the wind direction and speed which remains light and from the East.  There are 4 planes and one helicopter approaching Flagler at the same time as I am and since this is a non-towered airport we just announce our intentions to each other.  The planes get in the usual left hand landing pattern but I hear the helicopter announce she will enter from the right side as is sometimes done to keep rotorcraft separate.  I announce I'll enter from the right which I think may be the normal procedure here and which is convenient for me from where I am South of the airport.   As soon as I announce  my intentions one of the locals informs me that the pattern is left traffic here so properly chastened I say I'll circle away from the airport and come in on the left.  A few minutes later I turn in on a left base approach and drop down to land directly adjacent to the taxiway.  Before I taxi to a parking spot 3 locals are at my side complimenting me on my landing and asking questions.   Flagler has a terrific restaurant that attracts business people from the city and I join them to enjoy a wonderful lunch in the sunshine.  After lunch I re-connect with my sea-plane instructor.  He is still busy teaching sea plane pilots but I am saddened to hear that he sold the Cub when business was slow after September 11th. 

My next leg North is possibly the most fun I've had so far.  For 55 miles I fly 100' over the water just off the beach waving continuously to the beach goers.  In several areas the houses are magnificent and I climb and circle for a second look.  I worry that people might be disturbed by my noisy gyro but in fact I get no dirty looks and most everyone waves, especially the kids.  At one point I pass a 12 story building under construction and I look UP to the workers on the roof and wave to them.  I have a huge grin on my face and it is returned by most of the people I pass.  I decide that tomorrow we will delay moving on so I can treat Dee to this grand beach flying. 

As I come into Jacksonville I see it is another big airport full of business jets.  The tower controller asks me to land on the taxiway so a jet can use the runway at the same time.  He further instructs me to land past a tractor mowing the grass by the taxiway.  I comply and enjoy demonstrating my proficiency with a spot landing and speedy exit to the parking ramp.

 
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Copyright Rob Dubin 2005