Sunday, August 3, 2003

Penelope is now a Southern Girl

Hello All,  I know it's been a while since I've jotted anything down in the journal but I figured it was time to get back in to it as my buddy and I have just completed a 1488 mile journey down to Georgia and back. We did this in a Cessna 150 named Penelope. We were on a mission, and we passed with flying colors. My Buddy Mike, and his Wife Sandy, were looking to add to their boat collection and they had found one on the internet that was based in St Simons Island Georgia. The advert matched their requirements and contact was made to schedule an appointment to take the boat on a test drive and complete an inspection. Mike and Sandy already have a yacht, but this new boat would become their fishing platform and could accommodate their needs during overnight excursions.

Since buying Penelope, I'd been dreaming about flying down to Georgia to visit my relatives whom I hadn't seen in a while. Since Mike needed to go that way too, it was a perfect excuse to hop in Penelope and point her down yonder. We began planning our trip and before we knew it, it was time to go. Since Penelope is a little C150, her fuel tanks only hold 26 gallons of gas. Of that, only 22.5 gallons are actually useable so we planned 6 fuel stops (3 each way) during our cross country flight. Penelope, and myself are approved to fly in the clouds using the on board instruments, so unless there were thunderstorms or worse in our route of flight, their wouldn't be a reason to delay the trip for cloud coverage or medium intensity rains.

The night before the flight Mike and Sandy came over and we all sat down and discussed the details of the flight. We went over routings, possible divert scenarios, current and forecasted weather, and general what if scenarios. They had both been flying with me before, but never this far so I wanted to cover the bases so there would be less chance of surprises during the flight. Having completed the pre-flight briefing, it was time to get some shut eye to rest up for our adventure.

Mike showed up the next morning at 5:00 and was ready to roll. I had been watching the weather and would need to file an IFR flight plan to get airborne and enroute from Wings Field in Blue Bell Pennsylvania. Flying IFR is basically a request to fly into the clouds without visual reference to the outside world. This IFR flight plan is required in order to establish a route of flight that will be known both by the pilot and the air traffic controller. Since the pilot cannot see outside the aircraft due to flying in clouds, the air traffic controller is completely responsible for keeping other aircraft away from him/her, and also to ensure that both parties concerned have agreed upon the routing the aircraft will take. Again, surprises in aviation are not generally fun, so we filed our IFR and received our clearance and route of flight from Philadelphia.

After checking out the aircraft we got airborne at 7:00 am EST, IFR enroute to Dinwiddie County Virginia. Dinwiddie wasn't our original first refueling stop, but due to a strong headwind we needed to select a closer airport than we had originally planned. Within 1 minute after getting airborne, we entered the clouds and were "in the soup". Because of other traffic in the area, our initial routing headed West for about 20 miles before turning back to the south. We flew in the clouds for about an hour into the journey until the Washington Center climbed us up to 6000 due to another airplane crossing our path. We broke out of the clouds about 4200 feet with another layer just above us.  

Backing up just a few weeks, Mary and I had taken a trip to England to celebrate her Dad's 80th Birthday. At Heathrow airport I had bought a pair of boxer shorts that had the UK flag on them. I hadn't even opened them until this morning and now I was wearin' 'em. Anyway, shortly after departure (it never fails), I had to, uhm, take a leek bad! I held it for a while and then decided I'd have to either land, or pee in the bottle that I'd brought along for such an airborne emergency. I told Mike he'd have to fly as I had to aim. We were still in the clouds and I gave Mike a quick lesson on what instruments he'd be using to keep us upright. Of course I was still there if he had difficulty in doing so. Anyway, I began to, well, uhm, aim and fire. That's when I noticed that a 12 pound (UK Money) price tag was stuck right on my you know what. I started laughing but somehow managed to keep an eye on the target, never missing. That's when I noticed the artificial horizon begin to roll to the left. Mike did a great job flying on instruments

Breaking Out Of The Clouds

and Penelope was easily rolled back level. At any rate, I was empty and felt MUCH better. Mike and I discussed spatial disorientation for a little bit as we continued Southbound.

Three hours and 30 minutes later it was time to begin our descent into Dinwiddie airport, which is just to the South of Richmond Virginia. I flew a VOR approach in to Dinwiddie and broke out below the clouds right around 1000 feet (above ground) and we landed to refuel. Mike thought that was the neatest thing as he had not experienced IFR flight before in a small airplane, much less from the cockpit. Dinwiddie is a big airport with very little going on. We were only there for 20 minutes, but the weather was improving rapidly as the winds were from the South and pushing all the weather back up towards Pennsylvania. By the way, on this first leg, Penelope averaged 63 knots along the ground just to let you know what kind of head wind we were fighting. The ride however, was absolutely glass smooth with no bumps or rocks. Very Nice! 

Dinwiddie County Airport

We departed Dinwiddie VFR and flew towards Goose Creek North Carolina at 1000' above the ground. Unlike IFR flight, VFR flight allows the pilot to fly almost anywhere they want to at altitudes below 17,500 feet. There are exceptions of course to where one can fly, but for simplicity, VFR flight is when the pilot is able to see outside the airplane and navigate using ground references. Under VFR flight, a pilot cannot intentionally fly into clouds which would require an IFR clearance. Again, IFR and VFR is more complex than this, but for the purpose within this journal, we'll keep it simple.

Our ground speed improved a little and was now 75 knots. We flew over some really pretty countryside that included huge lakes and reservoir's with huge mansions along the shoreline. We landed VFR at Goose Creek and the fella there (a young 30 year old, ex DC-8 pilot) refueled us and

volunteered to drive us in to town for lunch. "You drive, I'll buy" I told him and away we went. During lunch, we learned that he had been flying since age 16 and flew for 5 years for a cargo company operating in South America. The maintenance history and age of the aircraft got to bothering him and he elected to get out of the cargo business. Two weeks later, a DC8 (that he normally flew) crashed on departure at Miami killing all aboard. "

Goose Creek is a neat little airport. The runway is narrow and could be considered short in some circles. It's about 2500 feet long. Lunch was great, and now that Penelope was full (of gas) and we were full of Subs, we took off and headed towards our overnight destination, Thomaston Georgia's Upson County Airport. 

The journey to Upson County was uneventful for the most part until the last 30 miles. The ride remained very smooth and Penelope, Mike and I continued our double digit shuffle South bound. Thirty miles from Upson County Airport, low level clouds, heavy rain and a lightning began to show up on the horizon. Atlanta approach had just been struck by lightning and the sector that we were flying in didn't have radio's. We were VFR and pretty much on our own as no one else could hear my radio transmissions, apparently. We circumnavigated the heavier rain's and trucked right through the light to medium, still maintaining VFR flight. Lightning flashed about 10 miles to our East, never closer. Upson County soon came in to view and we were glad. It was very hot and humid down on the deck at a 1000 feet where we were flying. We'd worked for that beer that we were looking forward to upon landing. "..

Goose Creek Runway

30 Miles Northeast of Upson County Airport

During the flight, Mike had been watching the map and keeping us updated as to what lay ahead. Railroad tracks and power lines, airports, and highways came into view just about the time he predicted each one of them. In less than 700 miles, Mike had become an expert at reading navigational charts. He's obviously fluent with charts used for sea navigation so it was a smooth transition to the charts that are used for flight. He was then known as the Map Master for the rest of the ride. Although the boat that we were going to look at was still 200 miles away, we had planned on staying in Thomaston Georgia with my relatives for the night.

Shortly after landing at Upson County, one of my Aunt's (Aunt Deb, hey Shugah) arrived and wanted to see Penelope. I asked her if she'd like to go for a spin and with a big grin she said REALLY?! I said sure and her and I jumped in for a quick spin.

Just prior to departure my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ken showed up and watched us taxi out. We took off and flew about 5 miles West to circle her house and the area that I had played at as a child. I had wanted to overfly this area for so long and I was now doing it. So many memories flew through my mind as we banked around their home. Aunt Deb hadn't stopped squealing the whole ride. Well once she did when I asked her if she wanted to "drive". I thought she was going to faint, hehe. We flew for about 10 minutes and headed back into Upson County. After refueling Penelope and securing her for the night, we headed off to eat Southern-Fried Catfish.

On the journey down, I had told Mike, whom had never been down South, that we'd be having fried chicken lips and BBQ'd pigs feet. He had already prepared to eat ice chips until returning home. I told him if he didn't like any of that, I could probably get him a bowl of grits if he wanted. He asked for more ice.

Berry Hill

Just Behind Aunt Mary & Uncle Ken's House

Dinner was no doubt delicious and we were joined by my Uncle David, three of my cousins Stacey, Jennifer, and Marcie, and Marcie's daughter Laurie. After dinner we all headed back to Aunt Mary & Uncle Ken's house. The fella's stopped by to get that beer I was telling your about. We sat around laughing and cutting up past dark. We Southerner's were teaching Mike Southern expressions and a proper accent. He's working on it.

The next morning, we departed out of Upson County IFR with a 300 foot ceiling with no precip. Again, we had to file an IFR flight plan because of the clouds we'd have to fly through enroute. We broke out on top of the clouds as we climbed through 2200 feet and it was a glorious morning. The clouds were so thick, we didn't have much heads up that we were reaching the top of the cell, we just all the sudden broke out. It was beautiful up top as there were no clouds above us and the sun shone brightly. East bound now, our ground speed picked up to 101 knots and we were on the way. Destination, St Simons Island along the Georgia coast.

Upson County Airport, Thomaston Georgia

Two hours later as we reached St Simons and we knew we were at a vacation spot. Beautiful Beaches, lot's of huge hotels, flip flops & bikini's along the shore. The airport is huge with a 100 foot control tower adjacent to the terminals. The tower hadn't been in use for 25 years, but at first, I thought I had came in without talking to them (not knowing it wasn't in use). The line folks were great. We were being refueled even before I was out of the airplane. Steven, who was the owner of the boat we'd come to see met us there and drove us to his boat, this thing is GORGEOUS. I figured Mike had already made up his mind to buy it when he saw it, but I kept my non-knowing-nothing-about-a-boat mouth closed. We took it out into the ocean and then up the intercoastal waterway for about 1.5 hours. That boat flew, 42 knots through the water! I even got to pet a wild dolphin! Honest Abe. We stopped out in the bay where the dolphins have gotten used to being fed by fisherman on the way back in. The fella driving the boat splashed his hand in the water and a huge dolphin just emerged. I nearly shat a wildcat when he came up in front of me. I didn't know what I was about to see and when it surfaced, all I saw was jaws! Mike and Steven negotiated and we headed back to the airport with Mike now owning a beautiful huge new boat. I'd tell you what it was called if I had a clue. Trust me, it's big and fast and purrrrrrrrrrrty.

Mike and Sandy's New Boat

We left St Simons Island about 1:30 pm and headed North just off shore toward Elizabethtown NC. The leg was 250 NM but traveling now at a ground speed of 114 knots, we were moving right along. We climbed on top of a scattered layer of clouds and leveled at 3500. I wanted that extra altitude in case I had to glide back towards land. The air traffic control center called out traffic 12 o'clock opposite direction fast moving at 2500 feet. Searching and searching and we still didn't see it, just a few seconds later Mike calls a visual on a humongous C17 that screamed by underneath us, and the scattered layer of clouds. Penelope must have looked like a bug to those pilots. Continuing on, we passed Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and several other nice areas along the way. We landed up in Elizabethtown and enjoyed a quick walk around and stretch. Again, the line crew were awesome!

Leaving Elizabethtown and now heading for Crisfield Maryland. We climbed up to 2500 and had to weave our way around storms heading north. Believe it or not, and I have it on video, our ground speed was now 122 knots (140 mph) and we were cruisin'! Lightning off both sides kept our interest although it was atleast 5 miles away. We went through several rain showers and Penelope never missed a beat. We made it up to Crisfield in record time but noticed that the airport was completely vacated. Steven King Vacant! That's when we noticed why. Pranced in the center of it's web was a spider that could easily, cover the top of a soda can - and that was her body alone. She was honestly 3 inches long and at least 2 inches wide. She must have eaten the town. We didn't notice her at first and as I was using the service phone to get a hold of the airport manager, Maxwell McCreedy, I saw her out of the corner of my eye. I almost gave birth to a Puma. Mike ran over, told me get down off the top of the aircraft hanger (where I was hiding from it) and got his camera's and videoed this heifer to provide proof as to just how large she was. Maxwell told us that just days before this beast had invited her male spider friend over. The two must have gotten in an argument cause she ate him up like a chicken wing. Max made it over to the airport within minutes began filling up Penelope with fuel. Afterwards, he asked if we'd like to go in to town for a crab cake. OK, he advised us that we'd have to go as he didn't want us leaving without tasting the local crabcakes. We did and they were excellent. If you find yourself near Crisfield, definitely stop by for the best crab cakes you'll probably ever eat.

All those storms that we passed enroute to Crisfield caught up with us as we were sitting in the restaurant. The lightning that stretches out like a spider lit up the entire (now dark) night sky. We finished our dinner and headed back to the airport. I checked the radar and although there were no low layers, I filed IFR in case I inadvertently ran into a thick rain shower and lost visual contact with the ground. Anyway, we got airborne just as the night lit up again and we were on our way. Still, the ride remained smooth as glass. We leveled out at 2000 feet, but for only a moment and then up to 3000' to cross the Delaware Bay.

Patuxant had also been hit by lighting and were just getting back on line so the frequency was quite busy with other aircraft checking in to talk to the controllers. It was such a great feeling of accomplishment when we were sent over to Philly Approach because we had been in the air for over 1400 miles at this point and ready to get home.

Sabre Toothed Spider at Crisfield Maryland

Philly has weather radar and reported clear skies ahead of us and we were almost home. They took us over the top of the Veteran stadium at 2000' and we touched down just about 10:40 pm. All in all, just about 1488 miles traveled in 18 hours of flying. 

gcmapI'd do it again today! 

The link below was our refueling stops. The route was direct when able, except for our initial departure routing that initially headed West for a bit. Still the ride was GREAT. 

Happy Flying to ya'll, and congratulations to Mike and Sandy for their newest addition to their fleet.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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