Aug 17-18-19, 2002
Ferrying My New Plane
It's a lo-o-o-ng story about how I ended up buying an Aventura, but suffice it to say that this plane has several attributes I find attractive. The one I bought was in Panama City, Florida, and I had to get it back to Houston. Needless to say, it wasn't just a trip, it was an adventure! (Ok, that was pretty corny. But, if I was really corny, I suppose I'd have called this "My Adventure in My Aventura", but I didn't, so there!)
The original plan: Drive to Panama City, somehow, and fly the plane directly back in one day. It didn't quite work out that way.
Although I've been a dedicated ultralight pilot, I did not yet have my private pilots license (PPL). And since the Aventura was an N-numbered, registered aircraft, I needed someone with a PPL to help me fly it back. That someone was Steve Croy, a co-worker who's been flying, well, forever, practically. He also has a tail-wheel airplane so the taildragger experience was helpful.
My brother, Jim, earned his "above and beyond" award simply by volunteering to drive us to Panama City on Saturday. Since he needed to be back at work on Monday, he would then have to turn around the next morning and drive all the way back. The things he did on the way back earned him a much higher award, for which there is no name.
I think Steve didn't know what he was getting himself into! But he was a trooper and earned my gratitude.
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Saturday morning, early, we three climbed into Jim's Acura and headed East along Interstate-10. A mere 12 hours later, we pulled into Panama City, Florida, tired but ready to see the plane. We found our way to the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise pier in Panama City Beach. This is where we were to meet Andy Redmond, the current owner of the Aventura. He runs a family-oriented pirate cruise with this fantastic ship. It was fun to watch it slowly approach, with the sounds of cannon fire, pirates saying "ARRRRRRRR", and the laughter and happy squeals of the little kids. Soon enough, all the guests had disembarked, and we headed over to the Panama City International Airport.
This is where I get my first good look. We spent about an hour going over every inch of the plane, while Andy explained the workings. After our preview, we head off to eat at a local steak house, and then to the motel and a good nights sleep. It would be another long day on Sunday.
Sunday morning I woke up early enough to go over all the things I'm taking along on the trip. After 15 minutes of arranging and rearranging, I slowly became aware that I had left my camera in the restaurant... oh NO! My longest trip just ahead of me, and no way to document it! And, of course, the restaurant didn't open until noon. Ugh.
Well, I didn't even have time to moan and groan about it, we were due at the airport.
Jim forced me to pause long enough for a quick photo of the proud new owner, and then Steve and Andy take off for a familiarization flight. It doesn't take long before they are back, and we make some final plans using the sectional. Andy goes over, again, the critical information such as take off speed, cruise speed, techniques for landing, etc. We finally get the paperwork done -- the ownership is transferred -- and we stand together for one final group photo.
The first leg of the trip was supposed to take us along the coast, past Destin, to a small airport called Roy E. Ray, south of Mobile, Alabama. We flew along the coast, enjoying the blue-green water and white sand beaches, but we also noticed the growing clouds all around. Just as we we were about to pass up Destin, a wall of clouds decided to plop down in front of us.
Behind us it was still okay, but when we looked to the right (toward the north) we could see rain clouds. Luckily, we could also see the runway at Destin Airport. We did a quick 270-degree turn, announced our intentions and did a straight-in landing, south-to-north. On the very northern end of that very long runway, it was raining. Where we landed, it was still dry, but not for long. We taxi'd the plane to the tie-down area and, only a minute after we shut down the engine, the skies opened up.
We ran for the terminal building, and didn't get too wet. Once there, though, I realized the interior was getting wet... we hadn't had time to fasten the cover! So, I ran back out to the plane in the downpour, managed to seek some shelter under the wing, all the while pulling out the cover and covering the doors. By the time I finished, and ran back to the terminal, I was soaked.
Being wet was the humiliating twist to having our trip cut short so soon after it began. I sat in the terminal waiting area, in a blue funk. The pilots lounge had a weather terminal, so every 15 minutess I'd hop up and see what the status was. There were times it wasn't even raining, but we could see from the radar screen -- and by looking down the runway -- that we were still boxed in.
When we landed, I had called Jim and he wasn't too far away, so he decided to join us in Destin. While waiting on the weather, we jumped in his car and made a quick run down to a diner and got something to eat. Thank goodness he was there! (And I must mention that he took all these pictures, too!)
Although tempted to just throw in the towel for the day, I decided to stick close and wait for an opening. After almost 3 hours, we finally decided to head directly north, away from the coast. It seemed the clouds and rain were concentrated along the water, and we could see from the radar that there was a nice, clear corridor due north of the airport. So, off we went!
At this point, I'm going to have to rely on maps to tell some of the story. Take a gander at this map of the area just north of Destin. You'd have to be blind not to see the huge Eglin Air Force base! The sectional was very specific about communications protocol, and how to get guidance through this area. Thankfully it was a Sunday. The place was totally devoid of any visible activity, but that didn't alter the surge of adrenelin we got as we flew directly over the airfield! We could see several fighter jets, large transport planes, and other various military hardware, scattered among the hangars. That was quite a sight!
We were vectored to Crestview, but we cut the corner a bit since we had pretty much cleared the weather. Occasionally, we had to steer to the north a bit due to a questionable cloud. On a few occasions we got a few raindrops on the windshield, but for the most part we stayed well clear of anything even remotely resembling a thunderhead.
If I expand the map a bit, you can see the entire 2nd leg of our trip. After clearing the weather around Destin, we headed north, then west, making a large, slight curve around the Mobile area. We were constantly checking the sectional and the GPS for the closest airport, ready to divert on a moments notice. Steve was nervous about the amount of fuel, but I could easily see the fuel level in the tank, and I was familiar with the consumption rate on Rotax engines.
There were a few rough spots where we encountered some heavy turbulence -- right after Bay Minette -- and we considered turning toward the Bay Minette airport, but we pressed on, and crossed the entire width of the state of Alabama, and cruised on in to Mississippi. We finally decided on landing at the Griffin Memorial Airport at Wiggins.
The Airport/Facility Directory said we needed to call ahead to get fuel at Griffin, but as we announced our presence and intentions on the radio, we received an unsolicited reply that there would be someone there to refuel us. Now, that's hospitality!
The landing Steve had made at Destin was a little off, but not bad at all. Griffin was a different beast, though. The runway seemed to be on the crest of a hill. So, the northern part was uphill, and just after the halfway point, it was downhill. Pretty strange stuff for flatlanders like us! That configuration made you think the runway was closer than it was. You could see the far end sloping away, so it was easy to think the touchdown point would also be going downhill, and thus had to be higher than it was.
Well, enough of the explanations. Steve hit kind of hard, but no damage was done. I'm not complaining... he was doing a splendid job considering the newness of the plane and the oddness of the runway!
The gents that met us at the fuel pump were as friendly as they come. Like most people who see the Aventura, they were definitely curious. The small shack that was the pilots lounge was air conditioned -- it was very hot that day, for some reason -- and they had candy bars and soft drinks. We stayed long enough to enjoy both, as well as a little hangar flying in the cool air.
Soon enough, we were topped off and on our way. Again, we were playing it by ear, not really sure how far we'd get. In general, we kept to about the same lattitude and just kept heading west. Before long, we crossed the Pearl River and into Louisiana. We wanted to angle to the southwest, but the large cloud banks in the distance to the south kept us heading west.
By now the air seemed to have calmed down a bit and we were simply enjoying the flight. There was very little in the way of cities or airports, so there wasn't much to watch out for. As we approached Baton Rouge, we made a decision to press on for the west side, and finally settled on False River. Skirting the very northern edge of the Baton Rouge Class B airspace, we passed near a nuclear power plant right on the Mississippi River, and spotted False River Airport as the sky fell to dusk.
When we were at Wiggins, Miss., I had called Jim and told him we were going to try to make it to Acadiana International Airport, near Lafayette. However, since we couldn't angle our route to the southwest, it became pretty clear as we flew along toward Baton Rouge that we weren't going to make that destination. As soon as we landed at False River, I called him. He was already most of the way to Lafayette, when means he was way past us.
I told him to go on home, but he wouldn't hear of it. He turned around, headed north and ended up getting lost on some of the backwoods roads, surrounded by sugarcane so high he couldn't see any landmarks. What's worse, his GPS stopped working so he made several wrong turns before he finally made it to False River to collect us.
It was late when he finally arrived, and we had been told that the resturants in the area had shut down. It was, after all, a Sunday night! But we drove into New Roads and found a small bar/casino that had a tiny resturant in the back. They were open, thank goodness! After a quick but hearty meal, we got directions to a local motel and turned in.
The next morning, we woke before dawn and Jim got us to the airport. I uncovered the Aventura to prepare it for flight, and then did my usual pre-flight check. Even before the sun was over the horizon, we were in the air. It was a stunning sight, to see the mighty Mississippi River from the air, so early in the morning. The air was cool and humid, the colors from the dawn reflected in the ripples on the water, and a light fog settled in the dales and burrows of the countryside. It was a sight to remember for a lifetime.
The weather was better, so we started to angle down toward Lake Charles. We crossed the great Atchafalaya River, then passed Opelousas and overflew the airport there, and pressed on. Although we could have easily made Beaumont, we were still playing it conservative and landed at Southland Field, on the southwest side of Lake Charles.
The folks at Southland not only were helpful, but they were gracious enough to loan us a car. We quickly made a couple of stops to get something quick to eat, then headed back. It's yet another airport I can highly recommend for it's hospitality and services.
I called my brother to let him know we were doing just great, and I insisted he head on home. He'd already gone way above and beyond...!
We were now closer to the coast than we had been since we left Destin, and the clouds were again starting to form. We picked our way around the larger formations, spent quite a bit of time over some inland waterways and lots of marshland, and passed so close to one rainshower I felt like I could have put my hand out and it would have gotten wet!
We were helped through the Port Arthur area with some flight-following, and made that final westerly turn toward Houston. Soon we were in an area I had flown in before, so my comfort level was definitely improving. The air had become very buffeting, however, so my comfort level quickly returned to "normal." Plus we were about to "fly the corridor" between Houston Intercontinental and Houston Hobby. This would be my first time.
It's not difficult to fly the corridor, but you simply have to keep a keen eye on your altitude, heading, other traffic, and try to fly the plane in turbulent conditions, and, oh yeah, enjoy the scenery, too! All I can say is: it was awesome!
Before I knew it, I could see my neighborhood in the distance, and West Houston Airport was straight in front of us. After a quick announcement on the radio, we made our approach and we were on the ground at our destination! After a quick taxi, I see -- true to form -- my brother is awaiting us! We pull up to the T-cover and he's waiting to take our picture. Not exactly conquering heros returning from war, but it just felt like it!
We left so early that morning, that a quick glance at my watch shows it's only noon! I carefully tie her down and "put her to bed" then head home for a long nap.
Here's the overall map, again.
Approximately: 10 hours of flight time, and about 662 statute miles covered.
And, to read other exciting stories of my flights around Texas, go to: