Friday, September 05, 2008

Up the Beach

We weigh and load our few belongings, verify the weather and take off with only a few wild swerves on the runway. If anyone asks, I'll pretend Lite Flyer was at the controls. Once airborne the airplane is stable and easy to control. Lite Flyer flies for a bit. We trade back and forth. She finds the low cloud and indistinct horizon disorienting, and besides, she's paying me to fly this airplane, she's entitled to sit back and watch me do it. She must also be tired from her flight earlier and our warm-up adventure. The less flying experience you have, the more fatiguing it is to fly.

The Florida coastline is sort of double: drive east and you reach swamp, then a thin strip of water, and then another long strip of land with spectacular white beaches. I suppose it's as if there were one long sandy island running parallel to the swampy coast. We're flying at 1500', under northeast Florida's ubiquitous summer clouds, just inland from the strip of water, because in this area Cape Canaveral and its restricted airspace (been there!) occupies the outboard strip of land. I call the tower at TIX, the "Space Coast" airport and they give us permission to transit through at our altitude.

The aircraft "radio" is a handheld, zip-tied to a little plate on the left hand side of the airplane. I'm flying from the right, so Lite Flyer, who has never used a radio before, has the task of tuning frequencies. We each have a push-to-talk in the end of the control stick--yes, full dual controls: the radio itself is the only thing I can't reach. I make calls prefixing our callsign with "Aventura" and "Ultralight" until a controller addresses us as "Experimental" and I realize that is the correct nomenclature for an aircraft type that doesn't fit the mould.

Approaching Daytona Beach, a large airport with a few satellite airports, I call for clearance and and they direct me to fly heading 040. I roll right and look at the panel. Heh. Up to now I've been flying by looking out the window where I want to go. This aircraft is equipped with a float compass, a little hard to read straight and level in the constant turbulence, and completely inaccurate in a turn. I estimate the heading, and roll out at 060. I know that six seconds at rate one will take me to 040, but now I have to estimate rate one. The airplane doesn't have an attitude indicator or a turn coordinator, just a little skid-slip ball in a curved tube below the airspeed indicator. I know a formula, though. At 70 mph airspeed, that should be 70/10 + 5 = 12: a twelve degree bank. I look out the front window, estimate twelve degrees and count to six. Before the compass has settled to tell me how I did, the controller calls back and amends the heading to 020. I punch a couple of buttons on the GPS and bring up a magnetic compass overlay for the moving map. It too is an imperfect heading indicator, because there's a refresh delay of about ten or fifteen degrees during a turn.

The heading, however imperfect, takes us around Daytona Beach and Smyrna Beach to the actual beach beach, and then we turn north to parallel it. How cool is this? The surf is rolling in to our left and the Atlantic Ocean stretches out endlessly to the right. If I had a fishing rod I could probably catch fish.

The airplane has a roof and doors, but the doors are stowed in the back right now. There's a huge open space beside me. There is a colour moving map display in the panel, but I never like to depend on electrical things for my safety, so I also have paper charts. I've been juggling the Florida chart for a while before it occurs to me that as there's no frigging door, everything should be blowing away. But my chart is unruffled and the miscellaneous pages of our nav log do not blow out the door. Nicely designed. Like a high end sports car.

We continue up the coast and eventually land at St. Augustine. We'd been hoping for St. Marys, Georgia, just to get out of Florida but this is far enough. After a bone-crunching landing (mine: sorry Lite Flyer) we taxi to the Galaxy FBO where we are marshalled into parking. Just before we shut down the marshaller realizes that this flying boat can't be towed with his truck, so after a brief discussion, we are directed to park in a back corner where there are tie-downs. It's opposite the former passenger terminal of the short-lived airline Skybus. This was their "Jacksonville" base.

Our bird drinks MOGAS (i.e. automobile fuel) not aviation fuel but that's hard to find at airports. It's not for sale here. The guys at the FBO apologize that they are not legally permitted to assist in fuelling from cans, but they do find some gas cans and drive Lite Flyer to the gas station to fill them. We put ten gallons in after our two hour flight.

We're told that St. Augustine is a wonderful town, but we don't see much. We stay at a musty-smelling hotel within walking distance of Barnacle Bills, a seafood restaurant, and set the alarm clock for an hour before sunrise.

I apologize for not giving an advance itinerary or calling people in the area where we land. The winds and weather affect the airplane so much that we rarely end a leg where we planned, and it is taking us sixteen hours out of the day to get six or seven hours of airtime out of the airplane, so even if we knew where we would be, we wouldn't be good guests.


nec Timide said...

There is an old ribald song about Barnacle Bill I learned while miss spending my youth :)

Your experiences with the plane sound very similar to my introduction to the PA-17. Swerving etc. I'm sure by the time you get it home you will have mastered it. Though fully enclosed it had a sliding window with a bottomless appetite for charts, logs, hats etc.

Sounds like Lite Flyer made a good choice.

Callsign Echo said...

Hi Aviatrix! You're in my neck of the woods right now. In fact, you probably flew right over my house on your way in! Wave to KDAB when you depart :D

St. Aug is beeeeeeautiful, it's a shame you won't get to walk the historic distric...

Chris Prosser said...

I'm planning my wedding right now (getting married next weekend) so I've had to postpone all my training. I'm a student pilot learning in a Piper Cub so your story is pretty much what I dream of doing. The Cub also has a zip tied radio ;).

Getting up in the morning, drinking coffee, reading your saga, and then writing vows is a nice day.

I look forward to tomorrows post.


Kevin said...

Although the plane prefers Mogas, you should find in the POH that you can quite happily use Avgas. Certainly for the trip up to Canada, you should be just fine.

The only difference (apart from the octane rating) is the presence of lead. Since you don't intend to run the plane on Avgas forever, you should be fine. I recommend Avgas to get you to Canada, and then run a few tanks of Mogas through it with a few hits of AVBlend to clean off any residual lead deposits.

Just don't run it on Avgas forever.

Hope this helps!