Florida Fantasy Flight

Well, maybe not really a “fantasy” but the alliteration is hard to resist, especially when Florida is the home to so many locales that fire up the imagination, like the Disney World and Universal Studios parks. On the other hand, some might consider using an airplane the way we did a dream come true. Either way, the name stuck.

We have family and friends in Florida we have not seen in a long, long time. When my wife Janet planned to attend a professional conference in Orlando, we began to see an opportunity to do a little visiting. Fortunately, the distance between visits meant that the most efficient way to do it would be to fly.

Ready to Go!After a number of inquiries, I settled on Air Orlando Aviation at Orlando Executive Airport(KORL) to rent a new Cessna 172 SP. I’m glad I did. I have rented airplanes in many places and, overall, from the initial contact (we did most of the necessary paperwork in advance) to the CFI who handled my checkout to the line crew people who clean the cockpit windows before almost every flight, Air Orlando is the most well-organized and professionally run organization of it’s kind I have come across.

The Thursday morning checkout (while Janet was in class) was standard fare – a series of maneuvers, takeoffs and landings to satisfy my CFI, Chris Cecil, that the pilot certificate in my pocket wasn’t just a big mistake. In the process I learned that a procedure that I though was unique to Centennial, my home base, is shared by ORL. At most Class D airports, once at the runway, ready for takeoff, the pilot radios the Tower. Instead, at Centennial and, as I learned, at Executive, the procedure is to inform Ground Control that you are ready for takeoff. When Ground sends you to Tower, it’s with an instruction to “monitor Tower” – to be still and not speak until you are spoken to. Satisfied, Chris completed my paperwork and I was good to go for the multi-day cross country rental.

Orlando to St Augustine

St AugustineThe first leg of the trip was to visit my college friend Al and his wife Sue. They live near Jacksonville and Al recommended I fly into St Augustine (KSGJ). Departing north from Executive, we flew at 1400 feet until just past Sanford to remain clear of the overlying Class B airspace, and were on our way. Our 84 NM trip took us past greenery and water – a real treat for our semi-arid Colorado eyes. And the amount of power put out by the 180 horsepower 2003 Cessna 172 SP at altitudes that were “underground” where I live? Amazing!

St Augustine airport is home to six “runways”. Three of them are under water to accomodate the sea planes. The geography is beautiful with the juxtaposition of the Atlantic and the Intercostal Waterway. St Augustine itself is the oldest city in the United States and maintains a lovely historic district. One look and it’s easy to see why the Spanish founded it not long after Ponce de Leon explored it in 1513.

The staff at Aero Sport, the fixed base operator (FBO) I used for refueling and overnight parking, were friendly, helpful, and professional. I’d use them again.

St Augustine to Tampa

Crossing the midsectionWhen we think of the Orlando resorts and the Palm Beach – Miami string of beaches, it’s easy to think of Florida as a busy, densely populated area. In fact, even without the swamp lands, much of the state’s interior consists of wilderness areas of one kind or another. And, as pilots know, where there is wilderness there is often a place for our airborne military brethren to practice their craft. A direct flight from St Augustine, just south of Jacksonville to Vandenberg airport (VDF), our next stop, would take us through or near a large wilderness area covered with Special Use Airspace, including two Military Operations Areas (MOA) and three Restricted Areas.

I really didn’t want to fly back toward Orlando before heading west. A flight southwest to Ocala and then turn south would allow us to cover new territory and see new sights. The Florida Sectional chart indicated that much of the Special Use Airspace was “intermittent”, so I prepared for both routes before I called Flight Service for a briefing. The Flight Service Specialist confirmed that the MOAs and R-2906 were “cold” and the Ocala route became the plan.

Although a scant 10 miles from the center of Tampa’s Class B primary airport (it sits on the 10 NM Class B ring) locating Vandenberg was easy. It’s two runways sit just northwest of the intersetion of two Interstate highways and in a complex of small canals. According to my friend John, another college buddy, who met us at the airport, the airport was built by a road contractor who caught On the beachthe flying bug and just happened to own the land. Tuning in the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) I learned that runway 18 was being used, and I navigated east of the airport to return for a 45° downwind entry.

A quick trip back up with John to tour the area, and we were on our way to my childhood friend Miriam’s house, where we stopped just long enough to settle ourselves in the guest room before heading out to Clearwater Beach. I don’t know whether the stretch is typical for Florida’s Gulf coast (it was Janet and my first time there), but the area Miriam selected was reminiscent of places we visited in the Caribbean. And, the beachfront restaurant, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, was superb!!

Tampa to Boca Raton

On Sunday morning, Miriam drove us back to Vandenberg. A final weather check (I had filed our flight plan the night before) and, after paying our bill atLeading Edge Aviation, departed on runway 23 enroute to Boca Raton. This was another route that required a little thought, and with the help of my Florida friends at www.studentpilot.com and the CFIs at Air Orlando, settled on a land based route that would take us near the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It was along the lake that we had our first encounter with cloudiness.

South BayWhether the warmer southern weather or a lake effect or a combination of both, as we approached the southern tip of the lake, scattered clouds began appearing at my 3,500 foot cruise altitude, requiring a descent in order to remain in VFR conditions.

It was during this phase of flight that I was also able to put some good collision avoidance lessons into practice. Although there is a regulatory east-west altitude rule, it only begins to take effect when more than 3,000 feet above the ground (one of the reasons I like to choose those higher altitudes). At my lower altitude, the rule does not exist and encountering conflicting traffic is a real possibility.

Sure enough, as we were flying along, I could see another airplane at 12 o’clock, my altitude, opposite direction. Apparently we both saw each other at the same time. More importantly, it seems we both read the same book because we simultaneous altered our courses to the right as mandated by Section 91.113(e) of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Passing well clear of each other, we tipped our wings in a friendly salute before continuing on our way. The cloudiness continued into the Boca Raton (BCT) where we also found our first significant crosswind for landing.

This part of the trip was especially sweet for us. One of the downsides of our mobile society is the separation of family members as the twists and turns of our lives take us across this great country. Our flight to Boca Raton was a long-awaited chance to visit with very close, but little seen and deeply missed members of my family.

Returning to Orlando

The return trip to Orlando was a treat for me. In Colorado, in part due to the mountains, I rarely fly on an instrument flight plan. Flights into the clouds themselves is even more rare since, in Colorado, clouds usually mean ice or convective activity (thunderstorms and major turbulence). Orlando Executive’s location on the north side of the large international airport would Sea Worldmean careful low altitude maneuvering to remain in the proper airspace. A believer in laziness being the ultimate mother of invention, I decided to take the easy way out and fly this last leg on an instrument flight plan. As an added treat, the 5000 foot altitude I was assigned by Air Traffic Control kept me in the clouds for significant portions of the trip.

Back on the ground in Orlando, a trip to Sea World finished up a great trip.

We have often used an airplane for a three or four day stretch, but it has usually been for the purpose of getting somewhere and tying down. This was the first time we flew every day and used an airplane as an efficient means of travel. From start-up to shut down, every leg of our trip was less than two hours. And we had a chance to see more friends and family in a long weekend than we could have done any other way.

I guess it really was a Florida Fantasy Flight.

Some of the photos were generously contributed, and copyrighted, by Al Kalter and Kevin Schill. All rights reserved. 
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