Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Bear's Odyssey, Episode 5: The Bear Goes Over the Top

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
15 Jun 2011 N21481 FMY (Fort Myers, FL) - CTY (Cross City, FL) -
PXE (Perry, GA) - RYY (Kennesaw, GA)
5.2 949.4

One week after departing New York, it was time to head north once again.  The folks at Page Field's Aviation Center were terrific and allowed my father-in-law to drive his CRV directly to the airplane for easy transfer of baggage.  A couple of line guys wandered over to check on us and we chatted for a moment.  I commented on meeting the girl from Rochester, NY at the Marathon Airport and one of them indicated that he was from a small town in Upstate New York near Oneonta.  Is anyone actually born in Florida or are they all transplants from Michigan and New York?

The plan for the day was to fly north past Tampa, turn northwest and land at Cross City, Florida (CTY) for fuel ($4.98/gal).  Cross City is quite close to Perry-Foley (40J), dubbed the "Stinky Place with the Dead Frog" on our last journey because, well, it was stinky and there was a dead frog in the terminal.  Kristy was quite adamant that she did not want to see any dead frogs on this trip.  From there, we planned to turn northward to Perry, Georgia for lunch with Ed, a fellow pilot and aviation enthusiast who has been a long time reader of this blog going back about four years to the days when it was a hand-coded conventional website.  Finally, we would stop for the night in Kennesaw, Georgia at the McCollum-Cobb County Airport (RYY).  There, we would meet Gary for dinner, the best man from our wedding whom we had not seen since our 2005 aeronautical adventure through Georgia.

We had a long day ahead of us and it was made slightly longer by delaying the flight for visibility in northern Florida to improve.  We launched from Page Field around 9:00 am and climbed to the top of the haze layer.

As we flew east of Tampa, the clouds below acquired a dirty amber tint and we could smell a faint trace of smoke.  Something was burning below (better there than in the cockpit).  The smoke accentuated the haze, dropping visibility to five-ish miles.  A Cessna bound for Alabama tracked behind us for a long time at the same altitude and heading.  We were a few miles apart, but it took us a while to see each other (though, in my defense, the other aircraft was in my blind spot directly aft for much of that time).  Tampa Approach kept good tabs on us.

Cross City was mostly deserted when we landed, we only saw one person.  He fueled Warrior 481 from the self-service pump, commenting that we were the first aircraft to land that day.  The FBO building was nice and, mercifully, well air conditioned.  As I paid the fuel bill, I noticed an autographed photo of Aaron Tippin on the counter.  I am not into country music, but my old friend Greg is a fan of Tippin and actually met him once in a Detroit area Gold's Gym years ago.  I asked about the photo and was shown a bunch of other pictures of the line guy posing with Tippin.  Cross City is a popular fuel stop for aircraft inbound to Sun 'n' Fun each April and Tippin had stopped there the previous year.

The Bear was not interested in having her picture taken as we departed Cross City.  It was hot and close to lunchtime and she was just not going to have anything to do with posing.  So, instead, here's a picture of my wife with three legs.

But I was able to get a picture of her along with her tired Mommy once we were all back in the airplane!

En route to Georgia, I commented to Kristy, "look out the left window, do you know what that is?"

"Um, a kite?" asked Kristy.

"Perry-Foley Airport!" I enthused over the intercom.  "Your favorite place!"

"Ug."  Kristy was not impressed.  "The last place was nicer.  No dead frogs."

After six years, I was surprised at how vehemently negative she remained about her encounter with the dessicated amphibian at Perry-Foley.  What I remembered from Perry-Foley was reasonable fuel prices and a hangar full of demilitarized Cobras.  For me, Perry-Foley was a highly rated stop!

Georgia met all expectations established on our first summer foray through the state: it was hot and hazy.  Much of the landscape rolling under our wings was either green (i.e., heavily irrigated) or dry.  The bulls eye above shows some of the red soil characteristic of the area.

The agricultural morphology of the landscape was quite varied: circles, striped circles, and even...

...polka dots!

We landed at Perry-Houston (pronounced "how-stun") Airport (PXE) in light wind.  Ed and his wife, Joan, were waiting for us and kindly treated us to lunch.  After so many years of corresponding with Ed, it was a pleasure to finally meet him.  Joan was happy that Ed had someone to talk airplanes with, even if it was just for the afternoon.

We returned to the airport, where Ed introduced me to Patsy, the airport manager.  Seeing The Bear, she waxed nostalgic about her days flying a Cessna 150 with an infant seat in back.  She seemed like a nice lady, so I didn't have the heart to tell her that they were all pronouncing "Houston" incorrectly.

In checking the weather radar, there were some thunderstorm cells developing west of our final destination.  We would likely make it with time to spare, but dawdling was not a good idea.

Photo by Ed

Preparing to depart Perry-Houston, the Bear was in full-on silly mode.  This evidently spread to all the womenfolk traveling in Warrior 481.  If the above picture had a caption contest associated with it, my submission would be: "I wanna rock!"

Chris and Ed, photo by Kristy

I shook hands with Ed and we returned to the hot, bumpy Georgia atmosphere.  Unfortunately, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) was directly between us and our destination at McCollum Field (RYY).  As even the most casual air travelers know, Hartsfield is a busy place: AirNav shows 2656 operations per day.  Bravo airspace protectively surrounds the airport up to 12,500 feet.  I planned to circumnavigate the airspace on flight following at 6,500 feet under one of the outer rings.

Once two way communication with Atlanta Approach was achieved, the controller called out, "Warrior 481, how would you like to fly direct over the top to McCollum?"

Over the top?  I was not sure what that meant.  Surely he did not mean over Hartsfield's Bravo airspace at 12,500 feet?  That was higher than I had ever flown Warrior 481 and I had my doubts that we could get there in a timely manner on such a hot day.  I asked for clarification.

"Warrior 481, I would have you descend to 4,500 feet and provide vectors directly over Hartsfield."

To paraphrase The Bear on Jekyll Island, that would be "so cool".  I accepted the invitation.

"Warrior 481, descend to 4,500 and fly heading 350.  You are cleared into the Bravo."


A few minutes later, we penetrated the inner sanctum, the core Bravo airspace directly over Hartsfield.  I have received Bravo clearances before, but only in the outlying portions of airspace around Detroit or Pittsburgh.  For a guy who spends most of his time flying in and out of untowered airports, who once could not talk to a controller to save his own life, the thought of going straight through the middle of the Bravo made me positively giddy.

In our brief time flying over Hartsfield, we saw more landing and take off operations than Le Roy gets in a week.  It was amazing.

"Look at that, Little Bear.  That's one of the busiest airports in the world."

The Bear turned to Kristy, her voice pitched higher than usual with excitement.  "Momma, Momma!  That's THE busiest airport in the WORLD!"

And that is how The Flying Bear went over the top.

Once past Hartsfield, the approach controller adjusted our trajectory slightly to the west.  Downtown Atlanta emerged from the haze to our right.  We were well positioned for a left base entry to the pattern for runway 27 at McCollum.

The first thing I noticed about McCollum Field was the big freaking hole...I mean, quarry...on the north side of the runway.  As we lined up on final approach, it looked like that hole must go all the way through the planet.  I will be honest, it freaked me out a little.

The next thing we noticed was that, in contrast with all other controllers we heard on the trip, the McCollum tower controller actually had a southern drawl.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it was a bit of a surprise after listening to the non-regional accents of the Atlanta Center controllers.

We landed lightly on the main gear and were marshaled to parking at the Atlanta Executive Jet Center.  We shut the engine down at 4:45 pm that afternoon.

We had booked a room at the nearby Wingate Hotel, which advertised a free shuttle service within a five mile radius.  While a great idea in theory, a practical problem emerged: the hotel staff did not quite know where to find us.  The first person I talked to at the hotel was completely unaware that there was an airport two miles away.  We waited over 1.5 hours for our ride and, during that time, the mother of all thunderstorms rolled over the field.

Fearing that the storm would frighten The Bear, I made a game out of pointing out lighting bolts in the sky.  We made a big deal about the big ones as though we were watching a fireworks show.  This worked for a time and we were well entertained.  Then the rain started.

Rain fell in sideways sheets and water sluiced off of rooftops with incredible velocity.  A car parked close to where we took cover was badly positioned - the rainwater sprayed from a rooftop valley and hit the car with an intensity reminiscent of a fire hose.  When our luggage started getting wet, we retreated to a breezeway between buildings, an enclosed tunnel with openings at each end.  Unfortunately, the tunnel began to flood.  As water began to run across the floor, so too did a menagerie of fleeing insects.  We fled again, this time to the cover provided by the entrance of the Elevation Chophouse.  I took a moment to photograph the ramp (Warrior 481 is visible between the pillars at frame left).  This photo does not do the storm justice.  It was awe inspiring.

And then the hail began to fall.

I watched helplessly as chunks of ice dropped from the sky across the ramp, imagining each piece boring into the thin aluminum skin of Warrior 481's wings and control surfaces. There was nothing I could do.

It was nearly 7:00 pm when the hotel driver located us.  He and I were both soaked from carrying our luggage to the van.  On the one hand, I was sympathetic.  On the other hand, I had a wet, frightened, and hungry four year old with me who waited one and half hours for a two mile van ride.  She deserved a better evening than the one she got.  We dragged ourselves into the hotel lobby, soaked and bedraggled.  From a couch in the middle of the lobby, Gary grinned at us and snapped a photo.  Thanks, buddy.

By 8:00, we were eating dinner at an Outback Steakhouse.  The Bear was well behaved and let us get caught up with Gary.

That night, I had difficulty sleeping.  What condition would I find Warrior 481 in when we returned to McCollum Field the next day?

GPS ground track for Day 5

1 comment:

  1. Very, very cool to fly directly over top ATL. As a loyal Delta guy (well I was a loyal NW guy, then there was that dang merger, but I digress...) I've spent far too much time there. Definitely a much better perspective from a Cherokee a few thousand feet overhead!