EAA Chapter 25

A Community of Aviation Enthusiasts in the Twin Cities

Flying Formation to Sun ‘n Fun

Filed under: Member Stories — admin at 6:53 pm on Monday, July 11, 2005

by Gary Rosch

from On Final July 2005

This journey begins with the restoration of a 1950 Piper Pacer. It was a five and half year project that brought me closer to my Dad. He passed on his mechanical skills and we spent some quality time together.

In the spring of 2002 Dad suggested going to the big aviation event, Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland , Florida. The trip was later cancelled because of his bladder cancer though we did not know about it yet at that time. The Pacer was completed in September and Dad had a couple of flights in it before he passed away the following February. If things had gone my way, Dad would have flown with me to Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, Florida. In the spring of 2005 I decided to go to Sun ‘n Fun; Dad would be with me in spirit.

As I made plans to go to Sun ‘n Fun I met another Piper Pacer owner who was also thinking of flying to Sun ‘n Fun – Scotty, who has the same year (1950) Piper Pacer as mine. The aircraft are both painted in the same colors and from a distance you would have difficulty distinguishing one from the other. Scotty’s aircraft is a perfect restoration. On my aircraft I can point out all the imperfections you would not even see. When people see my aircraft, they always say what a beautiful restoration. Scotty and I would fly together, in formation, down to Florida. This was an unexpected delight of the trip. It was great to have someone to talk to, watch out for me, advise me on where to go, how to get there, where to stop for fuel. This would be a different adventure in that I would have a wingman. Most of my life I’ve gone solo, “I’ve done it my way” as the song goes. It’s an American Male disease.

Scotty led in a quick low pass over a friend’s airstrip. Jim walked out on his deck with a cup of coffee in his hand to wave us off on our great adventure – life. As we took off I could see lighting flashes from the storms moving into the area behind us. I was glad that we had decided to leave two days earlier. We would switch off on who would lead the formation. When I was leading sometimes we would not talk to each other for extended periods of time. But it was always comforting to hear Scotty’s voice, knowing that he was watching out for me. Even when above some clouds and not able to see the ground, with our onboard GPS I could always know where I was. I really liked flying cross-country with a GPS.

Scotty and I had a radio frequency that we could talk to each other on. If I was leading I could not see him, but it was always comforting to hear his voice. Sometimes he would call to give an updated altimeter setting. As we were flying over the clouds I thought of the B-17′s that flew in formation in World War II and their fighter escorts. I’m sure those bombers really appreciated the company of their fighter escorts. Our first fuel stop was in Canton, IL there was a Bible verse on my fuel receipt, “With God all things are possible” Matthew 19:26. I would need that verse later in the day but after several hours I forgot about it.

Our second fuel stop was in Waverly, TN. We sat in a couple of rocking chairs on a beautiful late Sunday afternoon and had a little lunch. We decided to press on for another couple of hours of flying.

After another hour of flying, Scotty suddenly called over the radio that he was getting an airspace warning on his GPS. I checked my GPS and it was giving the same warning. I checked my aeronautical chart and quickly realized we were entering into a restricted area. I had seen it on the map earlier but had forgotten about it as the hour had passed. We quickly changed course and switched to an emergency frequency to see if someone was trying to contact us, but no one was. Checking the back of the aeronautical chart revealed that the restricted air space was not active on Sunday.

We decided to land and spend the night at Talladega, Alabama. As I flew over the airport and racetrack it looked perfect. There were plenty of camping spots; it even looked like there was some activity on the racetrack. We landed and set up our tents just as the sun was setting. Other than strong head winds that had slowed our progress, the weather had been good and we were more than halfway to Florida! We decided to walk over to the local Fixed Base Operator (FBO), which from the airport diagram looked to be about a mile away towards the racetrack. It was a beautiful warm evening as the stars came out and we called in to let our mechanic know the aircraft performed perfectly. We kept walking on but could not find the FBO. Soon we came across a guard shack. We asked the guard about where to get something to eat. He was new and did not know much other than some places too far to walk to, but his supervisor would be back soon.

The supervisor was not much help either other than suggesting heading the other direction for at least a couple of miles. It turned out that this was a test facility for Harley Davidson motorcycles, but no one suggested the use of a bike and we did not ask. So down the road we headed – a dark unlit road. We couldn’t see much; I thought I saw a dead rat on the road. We reached the first main highway, with nothing in sight other than a freeway off in the distance. We walked along the highway for a while, but still not even some lights that might suggest civilization. It looked like dinner was going to be dried turkey jerky and some grapes. Scotty had moreideas than me. He was going to make a non-emergency call to the local police station to see if a squad car might be close by that could give us a lift. No such luck as a couple of squad cars raced down the highway, their lights flashing. They probably never even saw us.

Then I spotted a sign. “All things are possible.” There was that verse that I had seen on my fuel slip earlier in the day. Just then a white vehicle came out from the Harley Davidson Test facility. I flagged the car down, hoping to ask the driver if he knew of a place to eat. Ted was a test engineer for Harley-Davidson on temporary assignment who said he’d give us a ride since he was looking for a place to eat as well.

The next morning we were up with the sunrise and quickly fueled the aircraft and skipped breakfast to get in the air and on our way to Florida. Once on our way southward as I was checking something inside the aircraft, my aircraft was turning ninety degrees to the right, heading out toward the Gulf of Mexico. Soon Scotty was calling out over the radio asking where I was heading. How similar to our life’s journey. Sometimes we drift off course – so subtle that we hardly notice. Before you know it you are way off course and lost.

Later on this leg of the journey, I was looking for a good refueling spot. Then Scotty calls over the radio about an airfield about one hundred miles ahead that might be good. I asked him how he found it and he replied that he had a look-ahead feature on his GPS. Boy, I like that GPS.

After refueling at Perry, Florida we headed out on the last leg of our journey to Sun ‘n Fun at Lakeland. After landing, it was a long taxi to the antique aircraft parking area, but we had arrived! Once we parked our aircraft we met Lou, a pilot from Fed-Ex who had a modified Piper Super Cub. Lou suggested we camp in a wooded area near our aircraft. It would be a welcome relief from the sun, wind and dust during the next few days.

The Journey Continues

I had a great time at Sun ‘n Fun meeting new friends, looking at all the aircraft and watching the air show every afternoon. I missed my Dad; he would have loved the time there. After several days it was time to think about the journey back home. Scotty would be flying back to Cincinnati, Ohio. I was planning to visit some friends along the way.

But first I felt I needed to find a place that would be by the ocean where I could relax for a day or two. I asked for God’s help in finding some spot. When I looked on my aeronautical chart it seemed to pop out from the map – Cedar Key, Florida. It was about one hundred miles northwest, an easy one-hour flight. Some friends had recommended this as a nice place to get away. The approach into Cedar Key confirmed it ­ this would be the perfect get-away.

After tying down my aircraft the Checker taxi showed up to give me a ride into town. Checking into my motel room, I then walked into town to get some lunch, relax, and check out the town. I walked around town and even rented a bike to explore more of the key. As the afternoon rolled on the wind began to increase and I figured it was typical sea breezes. Towards evening I started to get lonely. I was missing all my new friends and the evenings when we would get together for a social hour.

I called several friends and relatives that I might possibly visit on the way back and it sounded like some of them would be around. I also called my wife’s friend, Claire, from Tallahassee, Florida who had visited us several years back. Her son, James had been very interested in aircraft and they had taken a look at my aircraft when it was being restored in our garage. She has home and James was still very interested in aircraft and he would love to fly in my aircraft. It was set; I would leave Cedar Key in the morning for Tallahassee.

Now you need to know that I’m the kind of person who needs all my ducks in order. I want to know the plan ahead of time. I struggle sometimes with being spontaneous like calling one of my wife Pam’s friends out of the blue. But Claire said it was a God thing, her calendar, which is usually full, was empty for Friday. As evening approached though, the wind did not die down. I checked the weather channel and there was a tropical storm brewing off in the Atlantic and the winds were forecast to remain strong all day Friday, too strong to fly such a small aircraft as mine. I was getting nervous. James would be very disappointed if I could not make it; people were depending on me. But I prayed that God would calm the winds and give me courage and wisdom on whether to fly the next day.

The next morning I woke up early, the winds had died down and when I checked with the Flight Service Station the wind was supposed to pick up around 11 and blow until about 3. That would be ok to fly in the morning to Tallahassee and then take James, Claire and Emily up after school. It was a beautiful flight up to Tallahassee, but the field I had picked looked rather short with trees on both ends. After checking with the airport people they said just look out for the trees and power lines at the approach end of the runway.

Every thing went fine on the approach into Tallahassee Commercial airport. The little terminal building looked as it probably did back in the 50′s when a little airline flew out of there. Claire picked me up for lunch and later we picked the kids up from school before heading back out to the airport. The winds blew, but not so much that we could not go flying for little while.

To be continued next month…

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>