On April 6, 2002 My friend Jim O'Sullivan and I took off in a Cessna 172 for Lakeland, Florida to go to the 2002 Sun 'n Fun Air show, one of the biggest air shows in the country. This trip involved overnight stays in Needles-California, El Paso-Texas, San Antonio-Texas, New Orleans-Louisiana, Bainbridge-Georgia, Lakeland-Florida, and finally Keywest, Florida. Additionally Del Rio-Texas and San Diego-California on the way home. All of the pictures are now available as well as a trip narrative. We made it home on April 18, 2002 4:45 PM!
Friends Mike Shiflett and Ed Craddock, the organizers of the trip, Flew this trip in their Lancair 290 "The Mosquito".
57.3 Hours of Flying, ~5122 Nautical Miles, ~475 Gallons of 100LL AVGAS (Averaged 8.15 gph), 11,000' Highest Altitude flown, 161 mph highest cruising ground speed, 100 mph lowest cruising ground speed, 460 MB of pictures taken, $2,251.08 Plane Rental, $1,278.07 in Fuel ($2.45 average per gallon), $108.96 in Ramp Fees, $1,358.28 in Hotels
It all started as a suggestion by fellow flying friend Mike Shiflett to join him and his business partner Ed on his annual trip to the Sun ‘n Fun fly-in in Lakeland Florida. After some convincing, we realized the opportunity to fly across the country with two experienced pilots was too good to pass up! We both got our private tickets back in October, and such a trip seemed like a good way to build some practical experience outside the predictable environment of northern California. We had no idea what an understatement that would turn out to be!
The trip was planned to run from Saturday, April 6th through Wednesday, April 17th. Mike and Ed would drag along in their 165-kt Lancair, while we had the cherry of the Nice Air C172 rental fleet – N737CL. Once you got past the duct tape holding parts of the interior paneling together and the bare-bones avionics, it really wasn’t a great plane. It managed to get us there and back though with only a little engine trouble!
The overall plans for the trip were to depart from Reid-Hillview in San Jose on 4/6 and make overnight stops in Laughlin, NV, Austin, TX, New Orleans, LA, and Lakeland, FL. After a few days at the fly-in, the goal was to venture down to Key West and have some Sun ‘n Fun of a different nature!
Mike and Ed had to leave a day later, so we took off on the 6th as planned with the idea of meeting up in Texas the following day. The flight from Reid-Hillview over the Tehachapi Pass was uneventful, with none of the turbulence we were warned about, and we had a beautiful sunset as well. Things got a bit more interesting after we had ventured out into the blackness of the high desert at night and the fuel gauges drifted towards empty. Even though we were okay time wise, the second-guessing set in and the uncertainty had us looking for the nearest airport which turned out to be Needles, CA. And yes, we adjusted our personal minimums for fuel after that. J
The next morning when we fueled up, we had 8 gallons left. So we actually just made the 45 minute reserve requirement, even though the fuel gauges read empty in flight.
For the next three days, weather forced changes to our itinerary: a big front was working its way East across the southern US and holding us up. Day 2 involved flying from Needles, CA to El Paso, TX with a fuel stop in Wilcox, AZ at Cochise Airport. We had a direct crosswind of 12 – 15 kts at Cochise, and winds of 18G35 in El Paso. At Cochise, after landing the wind was skidding the plane sideways and causing the wheels to shimmy, and although the winds were pretty much down the runway in El Paso, taxiing turned out to be rather challenging. At one point while taxiing, a gust started blowing the plane sideways across the taxiway and Jim had to kick it into the wind to avoid something nasty happening. And yes, we adjusted our personal minimums for winds after that. J
Day 3 took us to San Antonio, TX with a fuel stop in the greater metropolitan “Junction, TX” area at Kimble County airport. The previous day’s theme of high winds in general and heavy direct crosswinds at the fuel stop persisted into Day 3. At Kimble County, a gusting direct crosswind gave Paul a nice center line landing but then some gusts came a smooth weathervane ensued followed by a quick trip off the runway and back. San Antonio turned out to be a lot of fun though! Mike arranged a tour of the FlightSafety facility there (A place he is quite fond of now after his Citation training), then off to the River Walk for food and drink.
Day 4 made for a nice trip to New Orleans, LA! Besides a bit of engine choking from carb ice, the flight from San Antonio to New Orleans Lakefront airport by way of Cleveland, TX was smooth. After an excellent dinner at the Gumbo Shop, we headed out to sample the night life. The first stop was a visit to the birthplace of the “hurricane”, Pat O’Brian’s, which Paul seemed develop a fond taste for! Next, we visited some bars, and finally a blues club. Happily, the hotel was just a short stagger home from there. Needless to say, Paul did not feel so hot the next morning forcing Jim to fly the leg to Bainbridge, Georgia.
The weather just kept going downhill from there. Day 5 involved scud running from New Orleans all the way to the bustling metropolis of Bainbridge, Georgia. You are probably wondering why we stayed in Bainbridge, Georgia. The stop was to allow Mike and Ed to investigate a crop dusting business there. The constant light turbulence was particularly hard on Paul, who was still a bit green from the night before. Somewhere over Mississippi, just after flight following had been terminated, a pair of military helicopters blistered across our path about 300’ below, which helped us to stay awake for the rest of the flight!
This brings up a point about flight following. We were using it for the entire trip which was very helpful and made up for not filing flight plans. It was not feasible to file a flight plan for the daily flying we were doing because we had so many legs, unscheduled stops, weather and terrain detours, and we didn’t want to be rushed. Not to mention we probably would have forgot to close the flight plans far too often. Flight following was also useful for navigating through the different airspaces and restricted areas along the way. You really don’t have to think about them too much then. For the most part, ATC would hand us off to the next station, but in some cases there were gaps in radar coverage and we’d have to go off flight following for 10-20 miles and then contact someone else. The above incident occurred during one of those 10-20 mile areas.
The folks at the Bainbridge airport were exceptionally friendly, generously sharing their politically-incorrect views on certain colored minority groups and loaning us a pickup truck for the night.
On Day 6 we finally reached Lakeland, FL! A low ceiling at Bainbridge forced us to switch crew around and go IFR in both planes, but the flight into Lakeland was otherwise a breeze. It was interesting though to have two planes on final for the same runway, a converted taxiway in this case, with both having different touchdown spots. Sun ‘n Fun was fascinating. Besides air shows involving current military planes (F16, F117) and old warbirds (F86 and P51), as well as numerous acrobatic shows, there were static displays of a broad spectrum of GA. Some of the more modern airframes were particularly intriguing such as the Lancairs and the Cirrus planes. If you wanted to buy or research anything to do with aviation, it was there.
Finally, the high point and turning point of the trip; Key West! The flight from Lakeland to Key West was fun, but a bit bumpy ‘till we made it to the gulf coast of Florida and out onto the water. Flying over the water and the Florida Keys was a lot of fun with plenty of nice scenery. It was especially nice to be instructed by Navy approach to fly under 500’ 3 miles off the coast through there airspace. Key West was a delight. We rented scooters for the three days we were there, which made getting around easy and fun! The weather was nice, the food was great; especially the Key Lime pie, seafood, and Cuban food.
Departure day turned out to be one of the more eventful flying days. We departed Key West and decided to take the scenic route up the Florida east coast and flew at 500 feet just off the beach for much of the way – right up the Keys, past Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. We turned inland just after Palm Beach on course for our first fuel stop near Tampa. That plan changed however when approaching Lake Okeechobee we noticed black spots on the windshield and streaks of oil on the cowling, along with dropping oil pressure. I just love that NRST button on the Garmin 195! It took us to Pahokee about 8 minutes away. About 2 ½ hours later we were on our way, after the mechanics fixed a leaking case bolt. The weather got worse later on that day, with scattered thunderstorms, clouds, and poor visibility. There’s nothing like flying over water at night in unfamiliar territory with poor visibility in a duct-taped, leaking rental 172! New Orleans; however, once again greeted us warmly that night.
The next day was fun, flying from New Orleans to Del Rio Texas. After more scud running from New Orleans to Galveston TX, we had to take a long southerly detour to avoid a monster 65 mile wide thunderstorm which topped out at 55,000 feet. Reports said it was throwing baseball sized hail in San Antonio. The thing looked like a giant nuclear explosion went off; a perfect example of the text book “anvil.” We ended up making it around the T-storm at 4500’ way south of it. From that point on, the turbulence became increasingly fun. Del Rio, TX was no special place to be at, but a necessary stop.
The following day was the longest of the trip, with 10.7 hours on the Hobbs. Mike and Ed parted ways at this point and flew all the way back to Reid-Hillview. We picked San Diego for an overnight stop. We flew from Del Rio to San Diego’s Lindbergh field with fuel stops in Las Cruces NM, Marana AZ, and Imperial County CA. The flight into San Diego International was not exactly relaxing, due to the numerous clouds and layers that seemed to congregate at our assigned altitudes. SoCal approach was real helpful and granted requests for lower. Lindbergh tower had us do 4 left 360’s for sequencing and managed to slip us in between a couple of passenger jets. The turbulence this day was exceptionally strong over the dessert and high terrain. Mike and Ed actually told us it was so bad for them that they landed in Phoenix to inspect their plane. Also, note for future trips, JimsAir, the only GA FBO at Lindbergh field, was horribly snotty and unhelpful. Don’t bother “paying” them a visit. I guess if you don't have a jet that takes a bazillion gallons of fuel, then you are not worthy of being at a Class Bravo airport.
Of course, for the last flight home the following day, the weather just wouldn’t let go: we had to battle 30 knot headwinds and light-to-moderate turbulence for the entire inland portion. The slow nature of the trip up California, forced one fuel stop in Paso Robles.
Overall it was a fantastic trip. We learned more flying in two weeks (particularly dealing with weather) than we would in two years in Sunny California. Although, flying a rental rattletrap 172 probably wasn’t the safest or fastest way to go, it definitely added a good measure of adventure. Riding a turtle across the US once is enough though; the next long trip will involve something a bit faster and better equipped. And many thanks to Mike Shiflett for acting as both “Julie the Cruise Director” and den mother on occasion!
Jim O'Sullivan & Paul