It’s January and time to look South. The Callair is already there, now for the Cub.
When planning for a trip in a Piper Cub that will cover more than your local area, it’s a good idea to look at the weather prognostications for surface depictions and winds. In the case of my wishful trip from North Carolina to Florida, it’s especially nice when the forces of nature come together in such a way that there are possibilities of even the merest of tailwinds … in this case I was fortunate that the weather gurus were forecasting a high pressure area to the west of my route (clockwise motion) and a low pressure area to the east of my route (counter-clockwise motion) … a sure bet for tailwinds for Friday, January 18, 2013.
Oh, would that it were true.
As luck would have it, the rain fairies had drenched my airport in North Carolina (grass runway) in the days leading up to my carefully planned departure, making it akin to a very large lake. The good news there is the grass grows real green and the water usually drains past the beaver dams (protected by beaver-huggers, much to the chagrin of the airport) overnight. Old weather hands also know that the winds behind a cold front can be pretty brisk but that can be a benefit as those winds contribute to the recession of the water on the airport runways. My Friday tailwinds turned into overall headwinds on Saturday but the skies were fair and the usual bumpy air after the passage of a cold front had died down with the predominance of the stable, high-pressure area, so all in all I was pretty happy with the prospects.
Saturday, January 19th, dawned crystal clear. At 27 degrees the grass was frosty but the runway had dried and overnight lows in the 20s also firmed up the part of the Western North Carolina Air Museum runway that I’d be using.
One pull of the prop was all it took to bring the engine to life and I was up and on my way at about 8:45 a.m. Since the trip in the Callair was still fresh in my mind, I elected to use the same fuel stops and the same route I used in late November.
The first stop was Thomson GA – McDuffie County Airport – where I was met by the same lineman as my last trip, Jeremy. This is a local area airport that has some community support as evidenced by the modern Spirit Aviation facility and well-maintained runways and ramps. Fuel is self-service and the price, while high by car driver standards, was about average for Avgas. Flight time was 1:51 and the pause refreshed me quite a bit. The Cub and I were in the air a mere 20 minutes after we landed, which is pretty good. My turnarounds were quick all day and contributed mightily toward my having a nice cushion of daylight at the end of the trip.
My second stop after 1:48 flying time was at Hazelhurst GA where, again, I was met by local resident and airport denizen Ray Smith. Ray is a great guy. He has an antique airplane – an Ercoupe – that he’s restoring and is a former Cub owner himself. After fueling at their self-service island Ray let me settle into my seat before the excitement continued. One pull of the prop and I was on my way. I’m thinking this is a great engine – and a great airport.
Maybe this is a good time to explain something. I’m no daredevil and I don’t take a lot of chances, but there is a stretch of countryside in the Deep South that is universally respected by Southerners possessed of Good Sense and that must be traversed if you’re flying in more or less a straight line from Hazelhurst GA to Lake City FL: The Okeefenokee Swamp. There are legends about the place, stories about people going in and not coming out. Gators and snakes and all manner of creatures that position the unwary and unprepared human a bit lower on the food chain. Airplanes make noises over the Okeefenokee that they usually reserve for night and ocean crossings. I think they enjoy teasing pilots that way.
Having survived the Okeefenokee I made my last fuel/pit stop after a little over an hour and a half of flying at an airport that is greatly under-utilized: Lake City FL. It’s a former military facility, covers a lot of real estate, and its once-thriving aircraft maintenance and modification businesses have largely gone bye-bye. Ed met me (again, the same faces – I’m glad these guys still have a job) and fixed me right up with fuel for the last leg home. While I was there, a gaggle of Beechcraft T-34 airplanes landed and made their way to the ramp, flown by mostly former military pilots after a practice session for the airshow season. Wouldn’t you know it? The engine decided to balk – it took about 10 pulls on the prop while these airshow gods looked on in amusement before the dang thing started. I taxiied out without a second glance at their shiny airplanes and matching outfits, head held high. All they have to do is push a button, I have to develop a Working Relationship with my engine.
On to home and hearth. The last leg is interesting for me; I can see places that I’ve known from ground level and above for nearly 60 years. There are lakes and rivers I’ve fished, woods I’ve hunted and a few secret places where I wished I could run out of gas as a teenager on a date. There are newer features, of course, because one of the operative trends in Florida is “new” … new housing developments, new roads, a reasonably new-ish airport that attracts residents the likes of movie stars and their big airplanes. It’s not the Florida I knew, growing up, but in a paradoxical way, it’s still very much “coming home”.
I found myself at one point directly over the old Silver Springs AirPark (above, photos from 1964 and as it is today) where I used to listen to the tales of pilots from WWII. The airport is gone now, covered by a trailer park. Flying past Lake Weir and Johnson’s Beach, a favorite teen hangout, I could already see “my” lake, south of Mount Dora.
Home Airport: Bob White Field at Zellwood FL. Ignore the reference to Long and Scott Farms, it’s Pete Counsell’s place now and he keeps it up really nicely. The runway is wide and smooth and, of course, grass – just like it should be. The Callair is hangared in the middle of the middle and the Cub is, too. At some point, one of them will be disassembled and trucked to the workshop at home for restoration, which Pete describes as a real “Tar Baby”. If you have to ask why, drop me a note.