Sun'n Fun 1999


Doug, Gail, Gary and Russ's Excellent Adventure

Erbman, Official Trip Historian

Originally published May - September 1999


My part in this great adventure started on an otherwise normal January 1999 day at TPS. For some reason that I no longer recall, I walked into the room where Gary Aldrich and Doug Dodson's cubes were. As I approached, I noticed that Gary and Doug were in their somewhat usual position of talking to each other across the aisle. The first words I heard were Gary saying "...such as Russ!"

Now I'm trained from many years of experience to realize when I hear words like that it means one of two things—I've just been roped into something, usually work, or Gary's trying to make me think that I have been. I know this, because I do the same thing frequently.

To understand what was really happening, we need to back up some. Based on Prezident Aldrich's column in the August 1998 Leading Edge, Gary and I had discussed considering a trip in the VC-180 Fighting Skywagon to AirVenture '99, but that's about as far as the planning had gone. Later on, Doug had proposed a trip in the Fighting Skywagon to Sun'n Fun '99. It seems Doug had an offer too good to refuse: Free Lodging for the entire trip. Those plans changed after Gail Nusz and Doug bought a M20C Strike Mooney. Now the discussions had changed to Doug and Gail flying the Mooney to Florida along with Gary flying the Skywagon. Doug was concerned that Gary's expenses had just doubled since he wouldn't be splitting the cost with anyone. Gary was telling him not to worry, as he was sure he could find someone interested in flying with him "...such as Russ!" Ah, this is where I came in.

After plenty of deliberation (maybe 3.81 seconds), I declared "2's in" and we were on our way to a great adventure. When I asked Gary about the Oshkosh trip, he said that he would probably only make one big trip this year, so if we went to Sun'n Fun we wouldn't go to Oshkosh. That was fine with me, especially since Sun'n Fun fit better with other family plans than, AirVenture, did.

How exciting! An Ultra-Long Range Project Police Patrol, one that in the future would probably only be matched, not exceeded. Also, this would be my first trip to either AirVenture or Sun'n Fun. Prior to this, the largest fly-in I had attended was Copperstate.

I figured I would take on one task that I was qualified for—navigation. I ordered up a whole mess of sectionals to draw lines on. As the plan was further refined, I ended up with two lines on the chart. If you want your course line to really stand out, mark them in black ink, then go over them with a fluorescent pink highlighter. The color shows up and doesn't exist elsewhere on the chart. I also found it helpful to highlight the "North" or "South" on the outside of the chart as appropriate to tell me which side the course line is drawn on. This, of course, is more of an issue with East-West courses than North-South.

The Adventure Begins

With as much planning done as we could stand, I arrived at Hangar 702, William J. Fox Airfield at approximately 0530, 9 April 1999. I could tell this was going to be interesting when I looked up at the street light and saw snow coming down. Gary was already there preflighting the Fighting Skywagon. We loaded the necessary gear into the appropriate places, made sure the charts were actually in the airplane, did a detailed Weight & Balance ("You think that's okay?" "Yea, that should do.") and pushed the airplane out of the hangar. Not wanting the hangar to be totally empty, we parked our respective Project Police Ground Assault Vehicles in the hangar, closed and locked the door.

We contacted our wingman via the Project Police Strategic Communication Device (PPSCD), aka cell phone to cell phone. Doug confirmed that they were ready to go at Rosamond Skypark and would rejoin with us over Fox. Gary and I climbed in the Skywagon, strapped in, fired it up, and the PPSCD rang. Seems the Strike Mooney was taxiing out to the runway without the electrical system charging. Doug returned to the hangar, to pull up in front and see what he could do to fix the problem. We decided to go ahead and taxi out to the end of the runway and await further news.

As Doug pulled in, the gremlins figured they'd had enough fun, and the generator started charging. Of course, the space in front of Gail and Doug's hangar is so small that he had to shut down, get out, and manually turn the airplane around. They got back in, fired it up, and all systems were go. Another call on the PPSCD told us that they were on their way.

We monitored the tower frequency (Fox tower wasn't open yet), and soon 43Q called in inbound for Fox. We took the runway, and as Gary pushed up the throttle, he captured the moment, saying "And the adventure begins."

Double Hecto-Knot Speed Demons

Of course, the first task was to rejoin the formation. Upon request, Doug reported his position as "3 miles south of Fox." Now we knew Mooneys were fast, but how did he already pass Fox, and why? Before Gary and I could fully process these questions, Gail pointed out Doug's error and he reported his real position "3 miles NORTH of Fox." He had the mega-humongoid landing light on (the one that draws about 137% of the generator's output capacity) and we quickly picked him up in the dawn sky.

Doug rejoined on the right side, and we continued our climb up to 9500 feet. We checked in with Joshua Approach, and soon Doug had figured out an appropriate throttle setting to stay in formation with the Skywagon.

We settled into the routine, cruising across familiar California deserts, which continued pretty much without incident until after passing Prescott AZ. About this time we came upon a front that we had expected. The bottoms of the clouds kept descending, pushing our altitude down. Even though we were flying at many thousands of feet, the terrain in Arizona is also at many thousands of feet. East of Prescott we came upon a rather large sucker hole (it would have kept P.T. Barnum busy for a few months at least). More like a cloud canyon. Looking up at what seemed to be tops only about 2000 feet up, Gary asked Doug "You think we can climb on top of that?" Doug thought we could, so forward went mixture, prop, and throttle (already forward) and up we went. There wasn't enough room to just climb in a straight line in this long but not as wide sucker hole, so we climbed in a pattern somewhere between a racetrack and a furball. As we were climbing, the controller at ZAB (Albuquerque Center) got confused and called "Six Niner One Flight, did you find something interesting to look at out there?" We told him that we were just climbing through a hole to get above some clouds. This was also the time that we determined that the Skywagon could out-climb the Mooney, even though the Mooney could out-run the Skywagon. This would cause us to modify procedures later.

The clouds finally topped out around (uh-hmm) 15,000 feet, at which time the Skywagon was still climbing at over 1000 feet/minute. Perhaps an updraft that had something to do with the hole being there. At this point, we were through the front and able to quickly get back down to 11,500 feet.

The best part of this leg was that thanks to the front, we had some serious tailwinds! We frequently saw over 200 knots ground speed on the old GPS, and I seem to remember seeing at least 220 knots at one point. With a calculated true airspeed of about 131 knots, that was quite an accomplishment! It didn't do much for Gail's sanity, as Doug would yell in excitement every time he saw over 200 knots on the GPS. Over Arizona at altitude is not a good place to have a heart attack (as if there is a good place).

Howling Gales (Not Gail)

Soon we were screaming up on our first planned stop at St Johns Industrial (SJN). This is a great place to stop because they have cheap avgas (if you can call $1.67/gallon cheap, but it's a relative thing). The GPS told us it was time to start our descent, and we did. As expected, about the time we descended below the cloud bases, the turbulence began. About the time we were down to 10,000 feet, Gary called inbound for landing to St Johns UNICOM for airport advisories. The response came back something like "Uh, you may not want to do that. Winds right now are right down the runway at 40 knots gusting to 60." Yikes! We could probably land in that, and might even be able to hover taxi, but normal taxiing was out of the question.

We quickly abandoned any ideas of landing there and set out for the next possible stop. Looking at the chart, the next opportunity to land was in Albuquerque, 122 miles away! This realization spawned emergency procedures in Mooney 43Q, whose crew had been timing their beverages expecting to land at St Johns. Now we had to go another 122 miles! Fortunately, with the tailwinds we had, it wouldn't take as long as it normally would.

Climbing back up to 11,500 feet we still weren't out of the turbulence. Looking at the ETE to Albuquerque, I did some quick mental calculations and determined that we could climb above 12,500 feet and would start our descent in less than 30 minutes. Sounded good, so we climbed up and got above the turbulence at least for a little while.

Crossing into New Mexico, we watched as one hour zipped by in an instant as we entered MDT (Arizona stays on MST, which is the same as PDT). We started the let down at the appropriate time and set up to land at Double Eagle (AEG) where the winds were only like 25 knots. Ah, just like home.

Route of Flight: WJF (L00) – HEC – EED – DRK – SJN – AEG. Flight time: 4.2 hours.

We parked and requested fuel. I walked away from the airplanes to set up the photo shoot. After taking the picture, the wind snatched the flight plan for the next leg out of Doug's hand and took it flying across the ramp. Doug took off after it, and as I figured I had a better angle on it, I took off on a converging intercept. The paper blew between two hangars, and flew until it was caught in the vortex at the back corner of one of the hangars. I picked it up, and after the excitement diminished, my lungs rudely informed me that we were now at an elevation of 5834 feet, not the 2302 feet I was used to.

Going inside, I noticed copies of Pacific Flyer, which I showed the Project Police article to Gail, who had not seen it yet. After a rest room stop, we were paying for the fuel when we mentioned that we were on our way to Sun'n Fun. They were so impressed they gave us a discount on the fuel. Figuring this was a good thing, we decided to go for broke by informing them that we were the world-famous Project Police, and showed them our pictures in the Pacific Flyer. They were duly impressed, but didn't give us any bigger discount. We told them that this trip would eventually be written up and on our web site. Page, the lady who took our money, wanted us to be sure to mention her name. We said we would, and we just did.

Double Eagle had a cool setup on UNICOM that we hadn't seen before. Key the mike 3 times and you would get automated airport advisories over the UNICOM frequency. Kewl!

Getting' in the groove

After passing the bag o' bagels around (since we weren't eating lunch until Lubbock), we strapped in, checked in, and taxied to the runway. We managed to avert the Double Eagle trap—each runway has a separate taxiway from the ramp, and they only meet at the ramp, and then at opposite ends. Doug picked the correct taxiway and we were off to the runway. In light of our flight test data on relative climb rates, we changed the plan slightly for the Mooney to lead the takeoff and climbout. This worked much better and would remain the standard procedure for the remainder of the mission.

Double Eagle sits right outside the Albuquerque International (ABQ) Class C airspace. Our proposed route of flight to the east would have required climbing to miss Sandia Crest (Pk = 1 if you hit it), and that climb would have taken us through the Class C. Prior to takeoff, we contacted Albuquerque Approach since we were already within 20 miles. They directed us to climb to the south toward the ABQ VOR. The takeoff reminded us why density altitude is important, even though the winds offset some of the effects. After we had gained sufficient altitude, he turned us east and we flew directly over the ABQ airport.

Heading east, we flew toward the only VOR named for a character in the movie "Airplane" and headed out into the marvelous desolation that is New Mexico. We swapped the Skywagon into the lead and settled into the groove cruisin' and watchin' the tailwinds.

As we neared Texas, we properly identified Cannon AFB at Clovis NM, and Gary told me the story of the time he flew Kent Crenshaw's Sundowner into Clovis Muni on the other side of town for a TPS TDY. We kept a sharp eye out for F-111s flying out of Cannon but didn't see any. Perhaps because the Air Force retired all of the F-111s several years ago. We didn't see any of the currently assigned aircraft either.

Crossing into Texas, we watched as another hour zipped by in no time, crossing into CDT. If nothing else, this would let us miss the lunch rush and still eat at a time not unreasonable for us.

Coming up was one of the larger navigational challenges of the trip. V62 from Texico (TXO) to Lubbock (LBB) crosses onto the south side of the Albuquerque sectional just long enough to cut the corner off, about 2.5 inches worth. Thus I had both sides of the Albuquerque sectional and the Dallas-Fort Worth section all out trying to keep track of where we were. Of course, NOAA couldn't make it easy by giving us a reasonable amount of overlap.

As we approached Lubbock International (LBB) we started our descent and did what all pilots do at this point—start looking for the airport. Following our faithful GPS, we noticed a large, international-sized airport off to the right of our course. Was this the airport? It was big enough, but two things were wrong. It wasn't where the GPS said it should be, and it had two large parallel runways. The airport diagram said there should be two runways in a T-configuration. Using our combined knowledge of the Lubbock area, Gary and I determined it must be the closed Reese AFB. Checking the charts, it was in the right place to be Reese. This was no easy task, since LBB only shows up on the Dallas-Fort Worth sectional, but Reese, only 12 miles away, only shows up on the Albuquerque sectional, and then only as a closed airport with no runway diagram. How many other pilots have fallen into this trap?

At this point in the mission, we still weren't comfortable calling in for landing as a flight. As we were descending, Doug volunteered to go on ahead and land first, since the Mooney would pick up speed in a dive faster than the Skywagon. It seemed reasonable at the time, so Gary cleared him off to land first.

However, this introduced an unforeseen problem. Doug, being a good wingman, had just been following lead around the sky and therefore only had a passing acquaintance with his location (...uh, somewhere over Texas...). Add to this that the LBB VOR is located about 5 nm from the LBB airport. We saw him accelerate and pass under us, now on a ground track about 30 degrees to the right of ours. After a short period we realized that he must be headed to Reese, thinking it was Lubbock. Gail noticed the error about the same time Gary called on mission freq to ask if he was heading to Reese. With a turn to the left, gross buffoonery was averted.

Landing at Lubbock was a preview of things to come. The tower actually let us land before the Mooney was clear of the runway. Of course, the runway is 11,500 feet long and Doug was at least 5000 feet ahead of us, so it actually seemed the reasonable thing to do. We kept our speed up because someone else was landing behind us.

Route of Flight: AEG – ABQ – OTO – ACH – TXO - LBB. Flight time: 2.2 hours.

Lubbock International has several FBOs and several places listed on the airport diagram for General Aviation parking. With nothing better to go on, we just followed Doug over to Lubbock Aero and tied down. After the requisite plumbing check, Gail got the keys to the courtesy car, which we were told was a gray Taurus. Out in the parking lot, we found two Tauruses (Tauri?) parked next to each other. One was bluish-gray, and the other was silvery-gray. Which gray Taurus did we want? While we discussed various chromatic analysis methods to determine the answer, Gail tried the other method—try the key in the door. Hmmm, didn't work. Try the other Taurus. Success! We piled in and headed to town to answer one of life's eternal questions—what do we have for lunch? We found a Pancake House that was reasonably uncrowded, not surprisingly as it was about 1430 local time.

VFR on Instruments

After eating our fill, and thus recomputing our Weight and Balance, we headed back to the airport to resume the flight. After another plumbing check, we paid for the fuel using the AOPA discount. Strap in, fire up, check in on mission, and taxi down for the run-up. We probably confused a Commanche who thought he would use some nose position to try to squeeze in between us, but we both taxied out when Tower cleared us as a flight.

On climbout, Gary offered me control of the aerospace vehicle. I accepted, and started my best attempt to fly formation with the Mooney. We were on his right wing, and I was in the right seat. Eventually I noticed that I would tend to drift into a position where the lead airplane was positioned such that one eye could see lead but the other eye was blocked by the compass. As my eyes are not programmed to focus at such disparate distances separately, my processing kept registering faults as I tried to move lead out of the compass.

After reaching our cruising altitude and having enough of that, we took the lead and I continued to fly toward Waco, our destination for the day. It was interesting trying to keep the airplane going in the right direction. Out west here or in Colorado it is clear enough (usually) that you can pick a point on the horizon and fly toward it. This helps keep you at least close to the correct heading. This system breaks down when you run into haze. There was still plenty of visibility to be legal VFR, but no horizon per se. As you looked off into the distance, your vision just sort of terminated in white muck.

Therefore, the only heading references were inside the airplane. The mag compass would oscillate ±10 to 20 degrees, and the directional gyro was "way over there" with plenty of parallax. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Besides, Doug didn't seem to mind. He said that all of the little heading corrections gave him something to do as wingman.

Being out of practice, it was taking most of my available processing staying (close to) on altitude and (close to) on heading. The longer I flew, the less clue I had as to where I was. We passed over Abilene, correctly identifying Dyess AFB and a whole mess of B-1s and Abilene Regional Airport. Heading toward Waco, we opted not to follow the airway, but proceeded direct to the airport. Somewhere in here the general color of the Earth started to change from brown to green.

I kept going the direction the GPS told me to, and eventually Gary decided to pull up the chart and try his hand at some of this navigating stuff. The GPS told us it was time to descend, so we did, still having no idea where in the haze the airport was. I also hadn't even looked at anything to get a clue how to find the airport. Eventually I started to break out a large lake. Figuring that would be a significant landmark, I asked Gary where the airport was relative to the lake. Turns out the airport is right on the shore of the lake. "Waco Approach, Six-Niner-One Flight has the airport in sight."

I turned the aviating duties back to Gary, and, feeling a bit more confident, he called in for landing as a flight. We were cleared for landing, and Doug dropped back for spacing. After the Skywagon landed, Doug called the tower to confirm that he was cleared to land. Tower answered back in a scolding tone that when he cleared the flight to land, that was good for everyone in the flight! Ouch! We won't make that mistake again...

Route of Flight: LBB – ABI - ACT. Flight time: 2.2 hours.

Taxiing in, Gary called Texas Aero, the local FBO, for instructions on where to park for overnight tiedowns. We were directed to the appropriate place, then noticed that Doug had pulled up right in front of the FBO, and there was a marshaller directing us over there. Figuring Doug must know something and not wanting to ignore the marshaller, we taxied back over there. Once we got there and shut down, the "line guy" figured out we were staying the night, and told us we were right to begin with. Fire it back up, taxi back over to where we started.

Climb out, tie it down, pull out the stuff needed for the night. Then we were greeted by...Doug Dodson. Except this time it was Doug Dodson Sr, who had come to take us home and put us up for the night.

Buzzard Billy's

That night we had dinner at Buzzard Billy's, a restaurant built into an old warehouse. Here Doug introduced us to the concept of "You're not waiting unless you're waiting on a beer." This restaurant is known for Cajun food, even though it's still a good distance from Louisiana. We tried the "Alligator Fingers" appetizer, but it didn't live up to our expectations. The rest of the meal was excellent, and good times were had by all. Project Police endorsed.

"Hey Redbird, This is Toucan"

Saturday morning, 0430, with the big "O," came very early. We arose, reconfigured the room back to its normal configuration, and were greeted by a wonderful pancake and sausage breakfast. After happily consuming breakfast, we piled back into the truck and headed out to the airport.

Preflight was by flashlight, as the sun had not been so nice as to awaken yet. Checking the weather on the computer indicated that we shouldn't have any problems completing the days flying VFR. Checking the weather the old fashioned way (looking up to the sky) seemed to indicate through the moonlight and early dawn that the cloud cover was light and quite a few thousand feet up.

Load up, get in, strap in, fire it up, and check in. We called tower and received permission to taxi. As the sun started coming up, we took off opposite direction to the day before, so we were climbing out over the lake. A turn to the left and we were off to Natchez, MS.

Execution of the plan rapidly became off-nominal, as at about 1500 MSL (1000 AGL), 43Q, in the lead at this point, started to disappear into the clouds. Apparently the height of the cloud base was inversely proportional to the height of the sun. The sun comes up, the clouds come down. Gary called for Doug to come back down where we could maintain visual contact. Looking ahead, it didn't look like it was going to get any better. Since both Gary and Doug were instrument rated, there was no good reason to stay down in the bumps scud running. The clouds were fairly bright, so they probably weren't all that thick.

Gary called Waco Approach, explained the situation, and requested an IFR climb direct Natchez. Approach directed Doug to turn 30 degrees left for separation and gave him a separate squawk. We were then cleared to climb on heading to 7500 feet. Heading up, we broke out VFR at 3000 feet. We reported this to Approach, and Doug, currently climbing in the soup, was happy to hear it. At this point, we requested to cancel IFR and continue VFR on top, direct Natchez. By now Doug had broken out and, separated by about 4 to 5 miles, requested a rejoin. The approach controller obliged, and gave him a vector to rejoin. Either the controller thought Doug was in a T-38 or just made a mistake, because the heading he gave him was more than 90 degrees off of our heading.

An ongoing theme of this trip was the importance of communications. Flying formation is immensely easier if a mission frequency is used for air-to-air communication separate from the ATC frequency. ATC would appreciate you not clogging up their frequency if they knew that you were actively not clogging it up. Here's a good reason to have two radios in your airplane.

Realizing that we were actually unjoining instead of rejoining, Doug put into action our self-rejoin plan. At least it would be a plan if we had actually discussed it. Even so, it worked pretty well. All it requires is a GPS or similar type navigation equipment in each cockpit. Doug asked us on mission freq what bearing we were showing to Natchez (HEZ). He then flew until he intercepted the same bearing on his GPS. He then asked us for our distance-to-go to Natchez. Based on this, we could determine who was out in front. In this case, Doug was behind us, so he pushed the throttle up and slowly started gaining on us. Of course, it's best to have some altitude separation while doing this until the wingman has visual contact with lead. For a five minute separation to climb through the clouds, Doug finally came aboard about an hour later. Of course, we could have orbited over a designated point and rejoined quicker, but since we were only about halfway through the leg when we rejoined, this technique resulted in no lost time.

Of course, the down side to using a mission frequency is that you're not the only one who has figured out the utility of an air-to-air frequency. As a result, it can sometimes be challenging to find a clear frequency that isn't being used by UNICOM, CTAF, ATC, or somebody else. The affected area can be rather large at altitude. Over Louisiana we heard an airliner report to his dispatcher that he was on approach into Cancun! Probably the 3-sigma radio call.

Even so, you can run into yahoos a lot closer. While we tried to keep air-to-air transmissions limited to those items necessary to accomplish the mission, there are those who think the aircraft radio is just another telephone. They'll run on and on in conversation, usually on topics that could wait until after landing. I remember one discussion where one yahoo was giving his buddy updates on his current airspeed about every five seconds.

But by far the most memorable yahoo was Toucan. We heard on the radio (imagine this in your best Texas redneck voice) "Hey, Redbird! This is Toucan. Redbird, can you hear Toucan?" No response. Okay, nothing out of the ordinary. Until three minutes later when we heard it again. And three minutes after that. And three minutes after that. And three minutes after that. And three minutes after that. And three min...well, you get the idea. Never any response. We were debating responding either as "Hey Toucan, Redbird called. He won't be up today" or "Hey Toucan, why don't you try the telephone?!" Being the good citizen we are, though, we did nothing, knowing eventually we'd be out of range. Even so, ol' Toucan was a hot topic of discussion when we got to Natchez.

Eventually, we crossed the Mississippi River, and the clouds had broken up sufficiently to descend VFR into Natchez. We landed separately, parked, and ordered up fuel.

Route of Flight: ACT - HEZ. Flight time: 2.3 hours.

As the aerospace vehicles were being serviced, we did the requisite plumbing check. Finding everything in order, I pressed on to investigate the rest of the terminal which looked like it had been transported straight out of "Gone With The Wind." I climbed the spiral staircase upstairs where I found a Coke® machine, a small dining area, access to the roof, and a nice window overlooking the ramp. Turning to leave, I saw "LV's Restaurant," which consisted of a kitchen roughly the size of a typical household bathroom (qualitatively: small). No one was there, as we would find out it was only open Monday through Friday. The menu was posted, and feeling I needed some mental exercise to stimulate my brain, I set about memorizing it. I still remember it perfectly: you could get a hamburger, a cheeseburger, and french fries. It had an interesting charm to it, and the locals said the food was excellent. We noted that for the return trip.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Using the DTN terminal provided, we rechecked the weather along our route of flight. We also spread out the sectionals and reviewed. This leg was the most non-direct of all of the legs. This was to thread our way between the plethora of MOAs and restricted areas operated by Pensacola NAS, Eglin AFB, Cairns AAF, Tyndall AFB, Moody AFB, and who knows what other military bases.

We returned to the aircraft, did all of the usual stuff, and departed the airport. Just to be different, Gary decided to leave Doug in the navigation lead for this leg. This worked out well, since Doug's primary navigation means was by VOR, and this leg was going to require flying from VOR to VOR.

As we threaded our way down through all of the MOAs, we started to hear other aircraft checking in with ATC, all of whom seemed to be going to Lakeland.

As we flew past Eglin AFB, I was able to convince myself that I was seeing several of the various ranges where I had conducted missions from 1985 to 1989.

We had been getting really good service out of ATC up to this point, with each facility handing us off to the next. Somewhere around Marianna FL we were informed "Radar service terminated. Squawk VFR. Tallahassee Approach is not providing VFR advisories." Later we would figure out (from other pilots calling Tallahassee approach that hadn't gotten the word) that Tallahassee Approach was full up handling the IFR traffic into Lakeland.

We continued on, identifying Tallahassee Commercial, which was little more than a runway cut out of the trees. We noted this for our return trip, not knowing then that this little piece of intelligence wouldn't be of much use.

Cross City Gaggle

During our initial flight planning phase, Doug had originally proposed Tallahassee as our final fuel stop before wading into the fray at Lakeland. However, I found in the Hot Line section of the March 1999 Sport Aviation a short blurb saying "Cross City, Florida – EAA Chapter 98 is offering a hospitality stop for persons flying or driving to Lakeland for Sun 'n Fun 1999 at the Cross City, FL Airport (CTY), located approximately 115 nm NW of Lakeland. Refreshments, fuel, camping, showers, meals at an on-airport restaurant and local transportation to motels will be provided throughout the fly-in dates...." Well, we figured that anyone with the guts to openly invite the Project Police in through a national magazine was certainly worth a visit. We would later find out that this was a good move.

Tallahassee pretty much completed our trek eastward as we turned more southward toward Cross City. We tuned up the Cross City UNICOM to try to get an idea of what was going on. This turned out to be less useful than we had hoped. It seems that at least six or more airports were on this frequency from mid-Georgia to mid-Florida, and they were all busy. Since this part of the country is pretty flat, there was no terrain to block the transmissions from airports over 100 miles away.

As we got closer to the airport, we started to pull out of the radio traffic who was really in the pattern or departing the field. This encouraged us to scan the skies for traffic even more than when we fly in R-2515. Rather than confuse the issue with arriving as a flight at a congested airport (the other folks were probably already confused, why make it worse?), Doug took the lead and called his pattern entry. We planned to pull in right behind him, but out of nowhere appeared another airplane to the right on extended downwind, aiming for the same time and space we were. Rather than fight over it, we did an S-turn away from traffic to pull in behind this aircraft that was trying to cut us off. Little did we know that this was just practice for the Lakeland arrival.

Cross City is set up with two large runways in a T configuration, and the active runway was the stem of the T. Where we wanted to go was at the top of the T. Going around the pattern, we noticed that the departing traffic was so backed up on the taxiway that pulling off the runway like you would on any normal day would certainly put you beak-to-beak with some guy anxious to get to Lakeland. The obvious solution was simply to roll all of the way to the end of the runway, where it intersected the other runway and continued across to another taxiway. This is what we did, and it was a preview of things to come with multiple arriving aircraft on the same runway at the same time.

Route of Flight: HEZ – MCB – LBY – PICAN – GCV – (unnamed intersection of V11 and V241) – CEW – MAI – SZW - CTY. Flight time: 2.3 hours.

As promised, EAA Chapter 98 was there to marshal us in, greeted us warmly, took our fuel order, and showed us to the restaurant. They took care of the grunt work of servicing the airplanes while we made the requisite plumbing check and then sat down for lunch. The restaurant was quite busy with all of the Sun’n Fun travelers, but the service was good, and the food would probably have ranked highly on the Project Police Airport Restaurant Food Rating Scale (details yet to be published). I can't make a definitive statement on this because of a curious omission from the restaurant menu. It was impossible to order a cheeseburger, the standard of comparison of airport restaurant food. As such, all ratings were estimated/extrapolated from the fare available.

Into the Target Area

As we were sampling the local fare, the fine folks from Chapter 98 refueled the airplanes and brought the tickets into the restaurant. Between the calls of "Who had the turkey sandwich" were the calls of "Who has the Skywagon 61691?" After paying for lunch, we went out and paid for the fuel. We thanked the folks from Chapter 98 and presented them with some of the coveted EAA Chapter 1000 business cards.

We taxied out, narrowly clearing a Piper Cub, and joined the long in-trail formation taxiing to the end of the runway. We reviewed the Sun’n Fun arrival procedures. We put Doug in the lead for this leg since he had actually been there before.

Eventually Doug was able to call for a flight takeoff and we moved onto the runway. After a normal takeoff and turn to the south, we set our course for the power plant at Lake Parker that was the IAF for the Sun’n Fun arrival. Using this waypoint instead of direct to Lakeland (LAL) put us on a course to just miss the Tampa Class B airspace.

Departing Cross City, we changed back to the approach frequency, even if they wouldn't talk to us. Thus we left the Cross City gaggle behind us. After a while, we changed over to the Sun’n Fun arrival frequency. Much to our surprise, the ATIS was directing us to announce our arrival at Lake Parker instead of just monitoring as directed in the NOTAM. Okay, we can be flexible...

Of course, the result of this change was that now we started hearing radio calls from all sorts of airplanes, most of them with the stealth switch in the ON position. It wasn’t bad early on, but by the time we had visually identified Lake Parker and were starting to identify the power plant, at least I was starting to get a little nervous that I was looking right where these airplanes should be and couldn’t see any of them.

We made the turn at the power plant, and Doug did such a good job of making his radio call that we validated the requirement to circle the lake a few thousand times. We were in trail formation at 100 KIAS and a comfortable distance on altitude (per the arrival procedures) when the fur ball began. One airplane flew directly under us, and I doubt he ever even saw us. Gary started to slow to about 80 KIAS to get some spacing on this inconsiderate line-cutter, when we heard the Cessna 170 behind us call the controller at Lake Parker whining that "I can’t go that slow, can I pass him?" A Cessna 170 that can’t fly at 80 knots? Yea, right. So Mr. Whiner passed us, further compounding the spacing problem.

We finally got sufficient spacing that we felt comfortable, and turned south at the "Orange Ball Water Tank" and followed the strobes toward the field. About the time we got to the point that everyone else turned downwind, we heard "High wing turn downwind." So we did. Wait a minute…where’d that high wing airplane at 9 o’clock come from? Apparently he was following us and thought the radio call was for him. Having already shown a high level of dooficity, he continued unaware of what was going on and moved up in front of us.

So now we’ve progressed from being right behind Doug to having three airplanes between us. We flew downwind, base, and onto final. As we were lining up, we got a call from the tower, something like "White high wing Cessna, be careful of this guy in front of you. We have no idea what he’s going to do." Okay…so we were directed to land on the second circle, where we actually did touch down and rolled out to the end.

Route of Flight: CTY - LAL. Flight time and LAL taxi time: 1.4 hours.

We followed the parade down the taxiways, and noted the Super Cyclone prototype (kit built Cessna 185 clone) as we taxied by. We taxied pretty much the full length of the airport, dutifully showing our "GAP" parking sign (that’s General Aviation Parking, not a clothing store, although we might have parked there if it was closer) to anyone who cared to see it, and almost got some Ground Marshaller (that’s a pun) to take home when one cut right in front of our prop on his little motor scooter. We eventually came to one marshaller at an intersection holding up a sign asking if we wanted parking or one-night camping. We held up the "GAP" again, expecting to go over where Doug had just gone. Not so fast, Moosebreath. He sent us the other way. Doug claimed to have shown the same sign (it was identical—I printed them both from the same page of the same file), and got sent where he did. Apparently the marshaller was just asking the question for fun and then sending you wherever he felt like.

Well, finally, we got to pull the big red knob to idle cut-off for the last time and declare "Victory!" At least "victory" as in we had made it to Sun’n Fun. We then started the fly-in litany of twisting the tie-downs into the ground and securing the airplane, pulling out the baggage, getting oriented, etc. Doug and Gail walked the several hundred feet over to where we were, and then the mobile registration mini-van came over and exchanged our money for stylish armbands and lovely printed programs.

With everything in order, we proceeded over to meet the remainder of our party, Nathan Davis and Chuck Rider who had flown Nathan’s Piper Aerostar (twin-engined twin-turbocharged mid-wing go-fast aerial contrivance) down from Indiana. After brief greetings all around, Doug’s mom, Patty Parillo pulled up in a mini-van that almost had enough room for all of us. We tossed the stuff in, crammed ourselves in, and set out for the house.

"You’re Not Waiting Unless You’re Waiting On A Beer"

After settling in and linking up with Ron Parillo, we headed out to Hops, an appropriately named restaurant. Like every other place in Lakeland that week, they had the big sign out front welcoming Sun’n Fun attendees, and from the crowd that greeted us, you might think they’d all come.

Hops’ claim to fame is that they have a brewery on the premises and brew their own brand of beer, ale, and other beverages. Stepping up to the bar, we met Hal Mandley, a Glasair III builder who was named Grand Champion at Sun’n Fun 1998. Here Doug re-introduced us to the concept that "You’re not waiting unless you’re waiting on a beer." A couple of trays of samples came by to tantalize us while we were waiting. When they finally came to seat us, I almost wanted to ask if they would wait until we had been able to sample everything on the menu.

We were finally seated, and Hal joined us. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal. I had the specialty of the house, the "Brewmaster Steak" and can highly recommend it. I’m one of those guys who likes his meat dead, i.e. well done, and this was one of the best steaks I had eaten in years. It’s not easy to cook a steak well done without burning it, so I figure that if they can do that, they can do it however you like it.

Onward Into The Fray

Sunday morning came and almost went. The collective masses finally arose from groggy slumber brought on by one or two days of semi-intense aviating somewhere around 1000. Doug fired up his laptop to check his e-mail (some guys just can't let go) and we milled around waiting for someone to take command. Gary and I iced and filled our respective Camelbak® Hydration Systems. Each of us collected our vast array of personal electronic devices, programs, plans, taskings, etc. We were ready to take on Kosovo, at least if they were having a fly-in.

After a while, someone took command and rallied the troops toward the Ground Assault Vehicles. Needing to further fuel up for the assault, we pulled in to the Golden Corral to sample the breakfast buffet. Okay, so we did a little more than "sample." Everyone lumbered away from the table after a USAFA standard "full and satisfying meal."

The first challenge for this Project Police low level penetration was the traffic. Apparantly everyone else in town had heard we were coming and wanted to get in on the action too. Of course, Sunday being the first day of the festivities and on the weekend, attendance is very high. We finally crawled into the parking lot and then increased our ground speed by parking and walking. Project Police Tactical Communication Devices (PPTCD) were distributed, tuned, and locked to the correct frequency. Call signs were Kommandant, Webmeister, Opie, Gail, and Waterboy (Chuck), who had programmed his fancy-schmancy ham radio handheld to work with the PPTCDs. After a short training session on the ring feature, we set out toward the main event with communications somewhat assured.

Doug and Gail stopped to pick up a way-cool admission armband for Patty, while Gary and I proceeded unescorted into the fray, mumbling something about Guilio Douhet and the bomber would always get through.

Coming in the main entrance of Sun’n Fun first takes you through all of the forum tents. You can stop here and get initial training on just about any skill you need to build an airplane. We found the fabric covering booth and poked our heads in to see if PPO Jon Goldenbaum was present. Not only was he present, but he was in the process of waxing eloquently to the assembled masses about the Poly Fiber system and the importance of following Ray Stits' Three Commandments (1. Read the Manual. 2. Don't substitute materials. 3. Do it right the first time.) We stood ominously behind the assembled throng, waiting for him to look up far enough to notice our presence. He finally did, and now we knew that he knew that the supporting contingent of the Project Police Tactical Assault Force were in town. Jon was wearing his standard red Poly Fiber uniform shirt, but has since finally been supplied with his own black PPTAF uniform shirt which he can wear for demonstrations at future fly-ins. Should look really cool (and be really HOT!) with his big black hat.

Continuing on in to the fly-in in search of a prototype Bearhawk, we next started to pass through the sea of vendors. We saw the shop giving out with the official EAA stuff, from shirts to patches to whatever else they trucked in from Oshkosh. This was only of noted interest until we caught a glimpse of the cashier, who was none other than honorary PPO and Vice Grand Poobah for Chapter Stuff Bob Mackey. Was this the EAA headquarters equivalent of washing dishes to pay for your supper, or just a clever way to meet and talk to EAAers? We didn't find out, but we did stop by to assure him that his supporting PPTAF was present.

It’s tough to miss the Van’s display area, since it’s very popular. We saw an interesting solution to the big problem with bubble canopies, namely solar heating. I took this picture of a sunshade for Paul Rosales. when I asked him if he had ever seen one, his reply was that he had one in a box awaiting installation.

Proceeding on following vague directions, we continued in search of a Bearhawk. As we moved into to homebuilt area, we stopped by the Super Cyclone to do a quick comparison with the Fighting Skywagon. Gary was able to quickly identify many similarities, such as the float and ski attach points, strengthening doublers, and the gull wing door option. We found out from the vendor that the motivation behind this Cessna 185 clone was the same as that for the Superior Air Parts XO-360 engine. In this case, they were already making so many replacement parts for the Cessna 180/185 market that somebody noticed they were almost building the entire plane. So they decided "Why not make the last few parts and market the whole thing as a kit?" You can find out more about it in the May 1999 issue of Kitplanes.

We worked our way down the homebuilts section, seeing lots of stuff we'd seen before. We even noticed a Boredom Fighter. Finally we saw in the distance a very familiar airframe. Yes, they had parked the Bearhawk about as far away as possible without being in the next fly-in. We made our way over there, where I dropped on my knees and started bowing profusely in front of the tire, crying "We're Not Worthy! We're Not Worthy!" Well, okay, maybe not, but I did think about how funny and silly it would look if I had done that. In reality, I introduced myself and Gary to Mike Meador, who was currently minding the airplane. I had known Mike by e-mail and phone for about three years, and finally got to meet him face-to-face. Then again, I had bought the plans for the Bearhawk three years ago and had been building since then without having ever seen the prototype.

Mike then proceeded to show us around the Bearhawk, first putting me in the driver's seat, which was an interesting feat without an auxiliary step. Gary tried out the copilot's seat and found it to be Level I. We did notice that the width of the cabin was a little less than the Fighting Skywagon, but still well on the adequate side. Next I tried the cabin exit procedure, which could border on a falling out procedure while gaining experience. I also tried out the back seat, which is surprisingly far back from the front seats. It's not that odd once you realize that most of the rear seat legroom is horizontal, not vertical. The rear seat was also very nice, as I probably spent half an hour there asking Mike questions, reviewing the new book of fuselage construction pictures, and taking my own pictures.

I finally got out a little before 1330 and started taking more pictures. Mike then informed us that around 1330 the fly-in staff would start clearing everybody out of the homebuilt area for the 1400 airshow. It seems the homebuilt parking is on the wrong side of the airshow deadline.

Fortunately, after 3 years of studying the plans and building the airplane, I found nothing really surprising about the Bearhawk. Everything was pretty much as I expected it to be, so I knew I could continue building and end up with an airplane I would be happy with.

Since it was time to leave, Mike asked me if I had bought my rod ends yet. Realize that the Bearhawk uses 10 rod end bearings as the hinges for the flaps and ailerons. These are a hot topic of discussion amongst the builders, because the price new in the Aircraft Spruce & Specialty catalog is $49.95, or a total of $500 for the set. Not much different in anyone else’s catalog. Mike told me he had seen some available (used) for much less, and would show me where they were. As we headed out, we met up with Bob Barrows, the Bearhawk designer, who said that he had just seen some NEW rod end bearings for $12.95 a piece. Needless to say, this got my attention. Bob took me to the location of the bearings, and I snatched 10 of them up, thinking I had just beat the system. After all, if the designer of your airplane tells you that this is what you need, it must be right, right? We won’t go into how upon returning to California I found out that the shanks were 0.553", not 0.625", and all of the modifications I had to make to the holders to compensate for this difference. It’s not that they won’t work, it’s just that it took some redesign effort.

After completing this purchase, we were right outside of Exhibit Hall B, so Gary and I wandered in there. After passing through there, we decided to go back to the beginning and start with Exhibit Hall A. Here, amongst other things, we found why Bob Mackey called it the old pilots building. On one aisle was Bob Hoover signing copies of his book. One aisle over was Paul Poberezny signing copies of his book. Completing Exhibit Hall A, we moved on over toward Exhibit Hall C.

Just outside of Hall C was a distributor demonstrating and selling the Henrob 2000 welding torch. This is the pistol grip torch (formerly Dillon torch from Australia) that you’ve probably seen in ads in your favorite homebuilding magazines. This caught my attention, since I was planning to order one of these as soon as I got back. I stopped to ask what the show price on the torch was and a few other questions. Of course, any question to a vendor launches him into his prepared sales pitch, or in this case demonstration. I figured the demonstration would be a good review, so I didn’t stop him. Later, though, I found out just how difficult it can be to get a salesman to stop trying to sell you a product long enough to actually buy it.

While I was purchasing the torch, we had our first ops check of the PPTCDs. Doug made an all hands page to meet at the Glasair booth for departure around 1700. I heard it and responded. Communications like this are great when the group is spread out over many, many acres. Gary did not respond, and later claimed he had never heard the page. As best we can determine, he was inside Exhibit Hall C at this time, having wandered away from the welding demonstration, and the steel building cut off his reception.

I finally roamed into Exhibit Hall C to see the Aircraft Spruce booth prominently shown in front of the door. Also saw the computer displays that JP Instruments were selling for cockpit use. I called on the PPTCD inside the building and was able to rejoin with the Kommandant. We couldn’t help noticing the temperatures inside the building, which were hovering somewhere near the 90s. We decided that we were glad that we weren’t vendors stuck in the building all day in that heat. Of course, we had our Camelbak® Hydration Systems to combat the heat.

At the appointed time, we congregated back at the appointed site and made our way toward the exit. Remember all of those folks who had heard when we were arriving and got in line ahead of us? Well, it seems they told all of their friends about it and everyone got in line ahead of us for the departure. It took us about two hours to get out of the parking lot, and a fraction of that to make it back to the house. At one point Doug and Gail got out of the van to do an impromptu Port-a-Potty functional check, walked to the front of the line of cars to see what was going on, and came back to the van, during which time we had moved exactly 0.0000 feet (0.0000 meters, or 0.0000 metres). By the time we finally made it back to the house, we decided to just order pizza in for the night.

Photos, Photos, Who’s Got the Photos?

We arose Monday morning, went through the usual routine of waiting to go until we realized that everyone was ready to go, and went for breakfast at Fat Jack’s Delicatessen. Another excellent eatery and highly recommended during your trips to the Lakeland area, albeit a confusing name (+10 points for properly using the word "albeit" in a sentence). It appeared to look more like a restaurant than what I think of as a Delicatessen, but it didn’t matter as the food was excellent.

The multitudes had had their fun on Sunday, so we got into the parking lot much quicker this time. In an effort to beat the system, this time we tried parking at the back of the lot so that we could make a faster escape.

We arrived after or during the completion of the Sun 100 race, so things were pretty much back to normal at that point.

Gary and I first went over to the Van’s area because he had expressed an interest in evaluating the rear seat room of the RV-8. He tried it on and found it to be much more roomy than the RV-4 he once flew in.

I then proceeded to the prototype Bearhawk and went through the process of exposing many, many rolls of photographic emulsion, in support of producing a Bearhawk reference CD, which I plan to do if I can ever finish writing this report(!).

The remainder of the day was spent roaming through the airplanes and the exhibit halls asking the same questions over and over again (What’s your show price on a II Morrow SL-40? What about a Lightspeed 20K headset?), and seeming to get the same answer over and over again.

It’s truly amazing what you can find at some of these vendors. If you were in the market for a GPS, you’d probably look for Garmin or Apollo or some name brand like that. Gary and I walked around the corner of an exhibit building to stumble up on a vendor selling generic GPS in a can (slightly dented). It was the most amazing thing.

We congregated about 1600-1630 for departure, earlier this day because we had to make it to the...

Glasair Hooters Gig

This is an annual event for Glasair builders started several years ago when two threads on Compuserve AVSIG collided, one talking about templates for measuring the accuracy of leading edges and another claiming that Hooters had the best buffalo wings (You’ll have to figure out the connection yourself—we ain’t gonna spell it out for you—after all, this is a family-friendly newsletter). Doug had challenged other Glasair builders attending Sun’n Fun to bring their leading edge templates and join him at the Lakeland Hooters on Monday night during the show (see June 1996 The Leading Edge).

Of course, this was now seen as an official Project Police event, so all of us so equipped wore our black PPTAF uniforms. I was surprised and pleased when the girl at the door of Hooters didn’t close the door in the face of these nefarious characters (Ref: Pacific Flyer) and ask us to leave. They actually seemed to welcome us in.

Of course, the presence of the shirts eventually evoked the question from the assembled Glasair builders (Gary and I were still welcomed as honorary Glasair builders, or friends of Glasair builders, or just as the Project Police, who are, of course, welcome everywhere. You know why.) as to what is the PPTAF. Taking a cue from two days of dealing with vendors, I started whipping out Chapter 1000 business cards and launched into my un-rehearsed spiel about the Project Police. At this point, Nathan couldn’t stand not being one anymore and whipped out his $20 to sign up. He then turned on Ron Cox, who was known to have possession of a PPTAF black uniform shirt but not a legitimizing EAA Chapter 1000 membership card. Fortunately Ron had been smart enough not to show up in the shirt, or else we would have fined him $20 dues on the spot. Ron saw that discretion was the better part of valor and pulled out his $20 to join up and thus legitimize his possession of the shirt.

Project Policing on a Grand Scale

Tuesday was designated as Project Police uniform day, since we already had them out from the night before. We started out with another pass through Fat Jack’s Deli for breakfast and then headed out to the airport.

My first reaction as we moved into the homebuilt area was "Where'd they all go?" It seems that the two big days at Sun’n Fun (and you may want to take notes here) are Sunday and Monday. After that about half of the homebuilts disappear to go home. Remember this if you’re planning a trip yourself.

We started our Project Policing at the Glasair booth, where we checked the leading edge of the high-altitude research Glasair III for accuracy. Happily, the template fit.

Doug mentioned that he needed to see the Bearhawk since he had never seen one and so he would know what I had been talking about. Based on this, we moved our Project Policing there. Additionally, since it was at the end of the area, it would allow us to work our way back to the rest of the show. Doug tried the Glasair template, and it didn’t fit.

Nathan was impressed with the Bearhawk, thinking that it looked something like an oversized Piper Cub. As such, he declared it the "Bubba Cub."

After the Bearhawk, we took up inspection of the Boredom Fighter "Gigi" and gathered some pictures and information as requested by Jim Piavis. This particular airplane was featured in the August 1997 Experimenter, and strictly speaking is not a Boredom Fighter. The major difference is that the builder decided to design his own steel tube fuselage instead of the original wood fuselage. Otherwise it is standard Boredom Fighter. We particularly enjoyed the additions of the wing-mounted machine gun and the underwing bombs. We did not determine if the bombs were releasable in flight. The Glasair template did not fit.

As we were critiquing the Boredom Fighter, our intense concentration would be periodically interrupted by the sounds of Mustangs overhead. No, not P-51s, but the Stewart S-51 and the Thunder Mustang screaming around the warbird pattern. When we first saw them, the S-51 was out in front. A little while later, the Thunder Mustang was out in front. Then they seemed to be on opposite sides of the pattern, then back again as the Thunder Mustang lapped the S-51. The S-51 gets the nod for accuracy of replication, as it is built of aluminum like the original P-51. If we can assume that both airplanes were flying the same pattern, then the Thunder Mustang gets the nod for speed and accuracy of 12-cylinder sound reproduction, even if it is a plastic airplane. Each time the Thunder Mustang went overhead, Doug and Nathan were salivating madly. No mention of any other bodily functions. Doug tried to convince Gail that he "needed" a Thunder Mustang for his "emotional well-being." Gail didn’t seem convinced.

Next we cruised over to the KIS Cruiser, but PPOs Vance Jaqua and Rich Trickel were away from their posts. I had talked with both of them the previous day and assured them that the airfield was in the good hands of the PPTAF (now we’re doing insurance ads?) The Glasair template did not fit.

Close by was the Polen Special, which was a long time favorite of Nathan’s when first mentioned in Sport Aviation many, many moons ago. Nathan said that he had tried to redraw it many times as a two-seat airplane, but could never get it quite right. Comments were made about it being the Thunder Mustang of a previous age, except, of course, no plans were ever sold. The Glasair template did not fit.

By this time, the Thunder Mustang had landed and was awaiting refueling. We hurried over there to seize the chance to photograph the PPTAF with this studmuffin of an airplane. Nathan was dehydrating from the salivation. Once again, the Glasair template did not fit. It seems that only a Glasair could be the princess in this Cinderella story.

We now broke up to do some serious money spending before the Sun 60 race briefing. Paul Rosales had asked me to find the best deal available on a II Morrow SL-40 radio which he was ready to install right away in his RV-6A. I had also decided that I wanted to purchase one Lightspeed Technologies 20K ANR headset. I had used one of Doug’s on a flight prior to coming to Sun’n Fun and was very impressed with it. I justified it to myself as I would probably use it far more flying in the C-12 at work than I would in fun flying (Note: No governmental monies were used in this purchase, unless of course you consider my paycheck that way…). I had spent the previous two days collecting prices at various dealers for these two items, and came to the conclusion that they were not allowed to discount them any more than anyone else did, because I always seemed to come up with the same price.

With no clear price break, I ended up going to Pacific Coast Avionics, who was advertising no sales tax and no shipping charges if you placed an order for an item instead of picking it up there. I did this for Paul’s radio and had it shipped to my house. The other nice part of this was that I didn’t have to carry it around and it was a few less pounds on the Skywagon weight and balance. As I planned to use the headset on the way home, I picked that up there and just paid the sales tax.

Redbird Found

It was getting close to time for the Sun 60 pre-race briefing, so we met up with Doug and Gail where they were eating lunch near the FAA building. We then proceeded upstairs for the briefing, where we all crammed into a room too small for the purpose.

The organizers were trying hard to be professional and get out the information, but it wasn’t easy. Part of the confusion arose because the direction we would run the course would depend on which runway was in use, which depended on which way the wind was blowing. Since they didn’t know "Which Way The Wind Blows" (2nd Chapter of Acts, *with footnotes, Myrrh Records, 1974), they had to brief both possibilities. The confusion wasn’t helped by the fact that the Weather Guesser came in and gave a very detailed briefing of the weather as it was currently! Someone finally told him "The race is tomorrow morning. What will the weather be tomorrow morning?" Of course, he had misunderstood his purpose for being there and didn’t have that information with him. So he fell back on the old standby "Probably a lot like this morning was." Well, DUH! I could have told you that…

We were informed that for the first time in the history of the races an airplane had made a forced landing off field during the Sun 100 race (no fatalities). They requested that if anyone saw someone go down, to pull up and circle the downed airplane and notify the tower using the code phrase "Redbird down off-site." The thought flashed through my mind "THAT’S WHERE REDBIRD IS! THAT GOOD-OL’-BOY IN TEXAS WAS LOOKING IN THE WRONG STATE!" We were assured that anyone pressed into Rescue CAP service would receive an appropriate trophy, although we all hoped this would not be an issue.

Finally, the race numbers were assigned in the order of takeoffs. As always, the Aerostar was Race 1. The Strike Mooney would be Race 18, and the Fighting Skywagon would be Race 20. Way-cool hats were also passed out to all of the participants.

As we left the briefing, Gary was approached by Charles Stites, a writer for Private Pilot magazine, who had a Navion in the race. Based on the declared speeds, the Fighting Skywagon was the closest to his airplane, so he asked us about whipping up some mock rivalry for the race so that he could write a story about it. This would be the first race for both crews. We agreed to his request, probably still flushed with the recent exposure (pun?) received by the Project Police in Pacific Flyer.

As we took the Sun’n Fun tram out to the airplanes to apply our race numbers, we saw an example of why twin engine aircraft are so useful at fly-ins. The prop tips make excellent tie-down points for a clothesline. Try that in your single-engine go-fast contrivance. We also saw a DC-3 with a hammock stretched between the spinners.

Close by we saw the results of what happens when someone has too much time on their hands and is looking for publicity. It causes a mind to do strange things, such as put a 150 HP turboprop in a Luscombe. Hey, it was Don’s Idea. We’d tell you more about it, but you’ve probably read it yourself in the June 1999 Sport Aviation.

Doug handed us some of his fancy Reno Mach tape and we proceeded to the Fighting Skywagon to apply our race number. The left side of the vertical fin was easy enough, but transitioning to the right side of the fin, we started doing the exact same thing, until I noticed the negative transfer of learning. While we had a somewhat stylized version of a "20" on the left side, we were about to apply a similarly stylized version of "02" on the right side. Fortunately, we were able to correct this back to a "20."

Meanwhile, Doug and Gail were being chased down by the Lakeland Police. It seems the left wing and tail of the Mooney were on the wrong side of the airshow deadline, while the right wing tip and nose were on the right side of the line. Thus, to apply the race number required going back to the vertical fin, which was in the forbidden zone.

What to do now? Doug thought about pulling the airplane forward but decided that was too much work. Instead, he used the time-honored technique that most kids use when doing something they shouldn’t—just do it when nobody’s looking! Thus, Doug took on the persona of Mr Phelps as the strains of the "Mission Impossible" theme ran through his head. Gail and Patty stood in the "approved" zone cutting strips of tape and Doug would dash in, apply the tape, and dash back out. Gary and I arrived to watch this comedy going on, and then decided to help out. We went opposite directions down the dead line with our PPTCDs to warn of any approaching authority figures. I started to feel like it was high school again and we were out TP’ing somebody’s house.

We finally completed that task and took the tape over to Nathan’s airplane. He pulled off one strip, stuck it on the fuselage. He pulled off another strip and stuck it on the other side. "Done!" he declared. We were all jealous. That was way too easy—but then again, we can’t all be Race 1.

Following this, we headed back to the vendor’s area again (a good place to be when you’ve already seen the airshow), and Gary acted upon his direction from Dave Lazerson to buy Dave a parachute.

Since it worked so well the day before, we left again around 1600-1630 and got out fairly quickly. On the way out we stopped by the Poly Fiber tent in our splendid PPTAF uniforms and talked to PPO Goldenbaum again, this time with the whole contingent.

That night we had dinner at a seafood restaurant that I would highly recommend but none of us have a clue what its name was.

Early Morning Goes, Just Like TPS

Race day dawned early, with actual alarms set for awakening. We arrived on-site before the sun even bothered to show up. We had breakfast at the on-site feeding station, and then went over to the final pre-race briefing. There they announce that we would be taking off to the east, flying the course clockwise. We were dismissed to our aircraft to reposition on the taxiway for the start.

As Gary did the pre-flight, I pulled up the tie down stakes. We had to do this because we wouldn’t be coming back to the same spot. We then taxied down the busy taxiways to our appointed spot, where we shut down, got out, and engaged in the time-honored Project Police activities of taking pictures of ourselves. After getting our pictures and "Race 18"s pictures, we strolled over to "Race 1" where we took more pictures.

Doolittle Raid Revisited

Soon the call went out to move into position on the runway. Nathan led the way, with the rest of us behind him. We lined up 3 abreast on the runway, where we sat, engines idling, for a few minutes. We looked around and felt like we were sitting in a B-25 on the deck of the Hornet ready to follow Lt Col Doolittle to Tokyo. We suspect it was a this time that the CO detector in the cockpit started to darken.

Since we were Race 20, I had wondered how far Nathan would be around the course by the time we started. I would soon get my answer. We moved up to the start line and were waved off. Within two seconds of brake release, we heard on the radio "Race 1, Turn 1," signifying that Nathan was at the first turn point.

Turn Point Buffoonery

We took off, flew straight ahead past the end of the runway (as briefed) and set about heading south to the first turn point.

Now, probably the best advice I could give to first-time participants in one of these races is to get out before the race and visually identify the turn points. We thought we had it made because the race organizers were nice enough to pass out airborne pictures of the turn points during the pre-race briefing. The second turn point was an airport, which was easy enough to identify. However, the first turn point was a road intersection that was shown on the sectional. I very carefully pulled the coordinates of the road and put them in the GPS. As we were screaming southward, I found the intersection that was shown in the picture and called for the turn. It looked like where everybody else was turning. However, the GPS was still showing a mile or two to go. I passed it off to coordinate errors and was ready to keep going. Gary called "Race 20, Turn1" and as we finished the turn, we heard a call "High wing Cessna, why don’t you come back here and go around the pylon?" Huh? We wifferdilled our way back around, found the next intersection down the road with a truck and a pylon judge at it, and proceeded to the next turn point. Before we got too far, I verified to no doubt in my mind that the picture was of the WRONG intersection! The turn point was a "T" intersection, and the one in the picture was a "+" intersection. Additionally, the picture was confusing because it showed water on the ground that wasn’t there any more. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Lesson Learned: The way to positively identify the turn point is to find the pylon judge and his truck.

We continued screaming westward and were highly successful at identifying the airport turn point. Then it was a northwest run back to the airport, or at least where we thought the airport was. Seems it was now obscured by haze. We finally identified the airport just before time to turn final and scream down the finish line. I made sure we weren’t in the pattern and we weren’t behind the judges stand so that our finish could be recorded. We then entered the "Warbird Recovery" which was basically just a big rectangular pattern for landing.

Our actual time on the course was 25:37, for an official speed of 126.48 knots (145.64 mph).

Once back on the ground, it was just like day one as we taxied around waiting for someone to tell us "Park it here." We screwed the tie-downs back in, secured the aircraft, and met up with Doug and Gail to head back in. Our total time on the Hobbs for the race was 1.4 hours, of which maybe 0.5 or 0.6 were actual flight time.

We proceeded to roam around the exhibits and asking questions until the appointed hour (about 1200) when we congregated at the judging tower for the reading of the results of the race. Nathan had already packed up and departed the fix by this time. You can see the results for yourself on page 39 of the June 1999 Sport Aviation.

Charles Stites beat us in his Navion, but he probably didn’t buffoon the turn point. After the reading of the results, he interviewed Gary and me, asking questions about both the race and our trip out. Doug beeped the PPTCD from about 15 feet away. We gave it the attention it was due—we ignored him.

Gail Buys a Nose Hose

Gail had been considering buying an oxygen set, thinking it might help with the headaches she was getting at altitude (it did). She had pretty much made up her mind on the size she wanted, so we went over and she finished the deal.

By this point, we had pretty much seen what there was to be seen, so even though it was only about 1300 or so, we decided to depart. Oddly enough, we noticed that we had been at the airport for about the same amount of time that we had been the previous three days.

We returned to Hops to sample their lunch menu, which was also found to be excellent. This time, I found out that besides beer and ale, they also brewed their own root beer. I had some of it and was excellent as well.

We retreated to the house to rest up, look over our new toys, and prep for our departure the next morning. By acclamation we voted to just order pizza in rather than go out again.

Which Waypoint Are You On?

Thursday dawned and it was time to reverse our course back to California. We awoke and checked out the aviation forecast (i.e. The Weather Channel), noting that we should have some exciting frontal activity just west of Tallahassee, but becoming VMC to the west.

After breakfast at one of the Project Police’s favorite hang-outs (BK), we proceeded to the airport and through "Patty’s Gate" out to the airplanes. We loaded up and got the initial gouge from the marshalling crew on how to get to the runway. We followed them to the runway and expected to contact the tower. Much to our surprise, the marshaller at the runway had been empowered to wave us on directly for takeoff.

Doug and Gail were off first, with the Skywagon behind them, but far enough apart that we lost sight of each other. Doug was heading for Lake Parker to get the straight shot at Cross City to miss the Tampa Class B airspace, while we were taking the more northerly route to turn the corner. Once again, we put our self-rejoin procedures into effect. Doug asked for our bearing and distance to Cross City, and we told him. His distance to go was larger than ours, so we concluded that he must be behind us. So Doug kept the speed up to catch us. However, as we both started reporting the radial and distance as basically the same number, we were confused because we couldn’t see each other. Other geo-refs didn’t make sense. Doug asked if we could see "the power plant." We said that we did. This went on for a while, until Doug asked us if we were talking about Cross City Airport or Cross City VOR. We were on the VOR, since we had no intention of stopping at the Cross City Airport. Doug was giving bearing and distance from Cross City Airport. What’s the problem? Just that you get to the VOR about 3.7 miles before the airport. We had thought that Doug was behind the Skywagon. When we both started using the same reference point, he was really in front and we were separating. We had been looking at two different power plants. Once this was straightened out, we finally got back together.

As we approached Tallahassee Commercial, it became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to get in VFR. We requested an IFR approach, and once again were split up to go IFR. Doug went first, and we both bounced around in the clouds for a while. Doug broke out right over the VOR and was able to complete the approach visually.

I digress a moment to mention that Tallahassee Commercial is basically a runway in a swath cut through the woods. Much like many Florida highways, as you go down the runway you are looking at trees all around you. There is no horizon, other than the tree tops. Remember also that there is a front approaching with its requisite winds. Quickie quiz question: What happens in a big cut through the woods when the wind is blowing? You guessed it…

Gary and I also broke out above the VOR, and through either miscommunication or misunderstanding attempted a landing in the opposite direction that Doug had just landed. Between the wind that was more "tail" than "head" and the turbulence from the surrounding trees, the approach started to get real ugly real fast. Desiring to use superior judgement instead of superior skill, we pushed the throttle up and did a go-around. Doug saw this and his first thought was that we had given up on the airport and were going somewhere else.

We proceeded to turn around under the clouds and made a successful landing the other direction.

Route of Flight: LAL – CTY – 68J. Flight time: 1.9 hours.

We taxied up to the fuel pits, or was it the fuel truck? Imagine a semi tanker truck with the pump right on the trailer. While I had been very impressed with the FBOs at Albuquerque and Lubbock, this one was definitely at the other end of the scale. We had come here thinking we could get cheap gas. On the contrary, it was the most expensive gas of the whole trip, even more than at Lakeland.

Frontal Assault

It was becoming rapidly apparent that the next leg was going to have to be IFR. Of course just to make things worse, this leg had the most complex routing to weave between the MOAs and restricted areas. We each filed by phone, then went to the aircraft to pull out all of the necessary pubs.

We called Tallahassee approach while we were still on the ground to request an IFR release, since the clouds were just above pattern altitude. Gary stood by, awaiting the mad dash to copy down a long, convoluted routing via radio. The sweetest words of the day were when the controller said "cleared as filed."

The Fighting Skywagon was off first with an assigned altitude of 8000 feet. The Strike Mooney called right after us for a release, but was told he would have to wait, possibly to let us clear out far enough. Eventually the controller asked Doug if he could launch VFR to pick up IFR in a few minutes. Doug opted for that, and eventually was cleared IFR at 6000 feet.

Today was the day we saw coming when we were screaming along at 200 knots ground speed. Now we were crawling along at 85 to 95 knots ground speed. This was with a calculated 140 knots true airspeed, so the headwinds in the frontal passage were about 45 to 55 knots. Gary asked Doug how the ride was where he was, to which he replied "Smooth in between, bumpy inside." That is, it was smooth unless you went into a cloud, where it got bumpy.

Somewhere around Mobile the clouds started to break up. As we were passing Greene County VOR, Gary asked me if we could just go direct to Natchez without hitting any restricted areas. I had him continue on course a few minutes more until I was sure we would miss R-4401. We then canceled IFR and requested direct VFR to Natchez. This cut a few miles off of the distance so that we wouldn’t be too far behind the Strike Mooney which had already passed us.

We finally arrived back at Natchez about 10 to 15 minutes after the Strike Mooney. We landed on Runway 31, which seemed the best lined up with the wind.

Route of Flight: 68J – MAI – CEW – (unnamed intersection of V11 and V241) – GCV – PICAN – LBY – MCB – HEZ (GCV – HEZ). Flight time: 4.2 hours. (Note: It was only 2.3 hours all the way to Cross City the other direction!)

At least on the local clock it didn’t look that bad, since we had left Eastern Daylight Time behind just west of Tallahassee. We went up to LV’s restaurant, and after much deliberation, settled on the cheeseburger and fries. For drinks you could have anything you wanted as long as it was in the vending machine. The food was most excellent, and we got the idea that she had such a reputation that pilots would fly in just for lunch and people from town would come out to the airport for lunch. Take note if you’re flying this way: She’s only open Monday through Friday.

We Knew You Were Coming So We Did It Right…

Fueled up and ready to go, we taxied out expecting to depart on Runway 31 that we had landed on. However, the airport advisories were calling runway 36 in use. We figured that maybe the wind had changed. It turned out that we probably should have used 31. All of us have made multiple "landings" for one approach, but this time the crosswinds and the turbulence (again from the surrounding trees) were so bad that we made multiple takeoffs on a single run.

We quickly rejoined and were VFR again at 6500 feet. We had decided on this leg to go GPS direct to Waco. The good part of this was that we missed restricted area R-3801. If we had taken airways, the airway abruptly stops at one side of R-3801 and picks up on the other side with no way to get through. The bad part of this was that Doug’s hand-held Garmin 55 GPS (remember those?) had been only semi-reliable, and he normally preferred to stick close to the VORs. Prior to departure, he told Gary "Don't you lose me!"

The rest of the flight was nominal, at least until we checked in with Waco Approach. As was our procedure, after each frequency change, Gary would call on the ATC frequency "six-niner-one flight check." Doug would then answer with "2." That way we knew that we both made it through the frequency change, and then we would talk to ATC. Well, apparently Waco Approach hears this a lot with the various military training flights coming through there, because this time after Doug replied "2" we heard very clearly and distinctly "3." Gary and I looked at each other puzzled, as did Gail and Doug. After thinking "That was odd" and "Did we add another wingman?" we decided to just press on and Gary made his usual radio call to Waco Approach. Things started to get clearer when the voice that answered back sounded strangely like the same one that said "3."

Shortly thereafter the controller couldn’t stand it anymore and called "Skywagon six-one-six-niner-one, understand you have a MOONEY with you?!" Gary answered in his most non-chalant tone "Yea, he’s got it pulled way back for me." To which Doug then chimed in with "Yea, that’s me, Mr. Peabody and the Wayback Machine!"

We continued in toward Waco Regional, while positively identifying TSTC Waco as the wrong airport, even if there was a C-17 or C-141 doing low approaches there. We spotted the lake, found the airport, and called for landing as a flight. We were cleared to land as a flight, and by golly, we weren’t going to embarrass ourselves again by asking if that meant both of us. Well, apparently we weren’t the only ones who remembered our stop about a week prior. Gary called Texas Aero on the UNICOM requesting overnight tie downs. The response was something like "Welcome back. The line guy will go to the tie down line this time."

Route of Flight: HEZ – ACT. Flight time: 3.0 hours.

Doug Dodson Sr was there again to meet us. This evening we patronized another fine restaurant in Waco near Buzzard Billy’s. This one was named "Crickets" and its claim to fame is having 100 different types of beer on tap. One huge wall of taps. We discussed what the plumbing must be like behind that wall, and wondered if it was just a big keg of Budweiser feeding all of the taps.

Crossing the Continental Color Divide

We arose early on the morning of Friday with the intention of flying from where the land is mostly green to our more familiar brown tones. After another fine breakfast, we headed out to the airport. A weather check indicated winds out of the North to North-East. At least they weren’t direct headwinds today, and possibly a hint of tailwinds.

Heading out of Waco, we climbed to 8500 feet, which was above the bases of the scattered cumulo-puffies. As expected, this gave us a relatively smooth ride. If only someone had been there to say "Enjoy it now! For later….

At least today we were getting better ground speed than yesterday. As we approached Lubbock, the scattered clouds became more organized as an overcast at about 9000 feet. We came in under that, still in VMC. Yes Southern Californians, it is possible to be in VMC even with clouds in the sky.

The Lubbock airport goes out of its way to be accommodating. When we were traveling south through Lubbock, we landed to the south and took off to the south. Now that we were traveling north, they shifted the wind for us so that we could land to the north and takeoff to the north. How nice of them!

Route of Flight: ACT – ABI – LBB. Flight time: 2.5 hours.

Land of the Sharp Edged Gusts

This was a much shorter stop than our previous stop at Lubbock. We checked the weather as the line folks gassed up the aircraft.

We launched north on our VFR route via the Corona VOR. It is important to mention this to ATC, especially since the direct route from Lubbock to St Johns would drive you right through R-5107, the restricted area for the White Sands Missile Range. Going to the Corona and Socorro VORs will get you past the restricted area, and ATC in this area is very interested in making sure you know that.

For starters we climbed back up to 8500 feet where we had been before. We deviated somewhat from our planned course to go around a sizeable cell that was brewing just northwest of Lubbock.

As we continued, the clouds started thickening up below us. So we did what any formation would do in the face of thickening cumulo-puffies below—we tightened up the formation and took pictures!

Farther on, the clouds started to break up, which was good. However, the cloud bases started increasing in altitude, which is bad. With two soaring CFIs in the formation and one budding glider guider, we knew that cumulus clouds sit on the top of rising air. If the bases were coming up, so was the turbulence. Therefore we made a slow climb from 8500 feet to 10,500 feet. Not to be outdone, the cloud bases continued to climb to our altitude and on up to what appeared to be greater than 12,500 feet.

Now it was time for a decision. The winds favored flying at a lower altitude, while the turbulence favored flying at a higher alititude. We decided to take our lumps and headed back down to 8500 feet. And thus we entered into "the washing machine."

Eventually all of the clouds disappeared, leaving no clue as to where the turbulence stopped. Turbulence was the hot (pun?) topic on the ATC frequency, and it seems the passengers in First Class up in the Flight Levels were having severe hot coffee spillage alerts.

As we bounced our way along, Gail noticed an interesting sight to the south. We were passing the Very Large Array (VLA), which is a whole bunch of radio telescopes (i.e. BIG antennas) on tracks where they can be moved around into different configurations. They sit on a plain that is ringed by mountains, which help to block radio noise from line-of-sight signals. This is where, amongst other things, numerous enthusiasts argue over which long distance service to use to phone E.T. You can see it on the Albuquerque sectional just to the west of White Sands (about N34° 05' W107° 37').

Besides being in the land of brown landscapes, we also found ourselves in the land where airports hide. Following our trusty GPS, we continued to bore in toward St Johns Industrial, but could not successfully break out the airport from the surrounding optical clutter of the town. Gary identified it before I did, and was setting up on base for the traffic pattern when I finally identified the runways, now huge and obvious. I guess the airport manager finally turned the stealth switch off.

This time the winds were a much more familiar and acceptable 340/11 with landing on runway 32. Since no one was even within VOR range of the runway other than us, we set up for our first and only overhead pattern of the trip. We flew down the runway at pattern altitude, "breaking" to downwind at about a 5 to 10 second interval, then following the pattern around to landings.

Route of Flight: LBB – CNX – ONM – SJN. Flight time: 3.4 hours.

St Johns Industrial turned out to be just what we expected. They did indeed have inexpensive gas, which is one of the selling points they use to get people to visit there. They even have auto gas on the field for those of you who can use that sort of fuel. We were handed the keys to the AMC Eagle courtesy car, which was in reasonable shape compared to most courtesy cars. I was summarily elected as the driver (I didn’t get a chance to vote, although it would not have mattered), and I started having flashbacks to driving my 1974 AMC Gremlin around the country. (Say what you want about its unusual appearance—the car lasted 17 years and something like 200,000 to 300,000 miles for me. Unfortunately, the speedometer drive gear only lasted for about the first 100,000 miles.)

We proceeded to Corky’s for lunch, as directed by everyone at the airport. It was barbecue day, so we took them up on it. If you have reason to go to St Johns, ask them how to get to Corky’s.

"Put another quarter in"

With fear and trepidation of revisiting what we had just seen at Corky’s (once was good, twice is not), we climbed back into our aerial contrivances and headed back up into the washing machine. We headed up to 10,500 feet. Just think, some folks pay big money at Disneyland to get bounced around like this for just a couple of minutes. We get to "enjoy" it for hours!

Eventually the turbulence came to an end, yet we hardly noticed in the brain-numbed state we had been beaten into. Eventually Doug realize what had happened and called on the mission frequency "Hey, the washing machine stopped! Somebody put another quarter in!" Mission Kommander Aldrich vetoed that suggestion, saying "No, I’m enjoying the ride."

As we approached Prescott, the terrain started looking familiar again. We continued on, looking at things we had seen before. Eventually we were handed off to Joshua Approach, our home ATC provider, and Doug responded to the flight check-in with the most enthusiastic "Two!" we had heard in the past week.

Passing the southwest corner of Rosamond Dry Lake, we broke up the formation as Doug gave us a big wing flash pulling away toward Rosamond Skypark. It looked just like all of those Ultimate Flights episodes, only much cooler.

The Fighting Skywagon followed the time honored procedures for returning home from a deployment (sound good on the radios, look good on final). With one final landing worthy of the Project Police, we taxied up to the fuel pumps one last time.

Route of Flight: SJN – DRK – EED – HEC – WJF. Flight time: 3.4 hours.

In the final action of the trip, we taxied the Fighting Skywagon back to the hangar, unloaded all of the stuff and goodies, and the Sun’n Fun 1999 Project Police Tactical Assault Force dispersed back into the population at large.


As compiled for the VC-180 Fighting Skywagon:

Total Flight Hours: 35.20
Total Air Miles: 3882.22 nm (Does not include Sun 60 mileage)
Total Fuel Used: 421.7 gal (Fighting Skywagon), 250 gal (Strike Mooney)
Total Fuel Cost: $877.47
Average Fuel Cost: $2.08/gal
Average MPG: 9.22 (not much worse than the Bubba-truck...)
Average Fuel Cost/nm: $0.23/nm
Average Fuel Cost/hour: $24.93/hour
Average Fuel Flow: 11.98 gal/hour
Average Groundspeed: 111.82 KGS (Includes Sun 60)

Lessons Learned

This being my first trip to a major fly-in (Sun’n Fun or AirVenture) and my first ultra-long range cross country, there are a few things that I noticed that I thought I would pass along:


In general, ATC was very good throughout our trip. We used VFR Flight Advisories (sometimes referred to as flight following) whenever they were available. We felt this was much better insurance of someone knowing where we were shouldst we go down than a VFR Flight Plan, which might take hours to raise the question.

Using ATC for long periods of time can give your airplane an identity crisis, however. Even though we always reported as "Skywagon six-one-six-niner-one flight," at various times during the trip we were referred to as a Skywagon, a Skylane, a 206, a Bonanza, a Cardinal, a Caravan, and a 182. Figure that one out.

Instrument Rating

If you ever intend to make cross country trips in your airplane, you owe it to yourself to get an instrument rating (assuming your aircraft is appropriately equipped). At least twice on this trip we would have been sitting on the ground waiting for weather that was easily flyable IFR.

Smooth Air above the clouds—but don't get trapped

Thermals don’t go up to infinity. Eventually they stop, and if there’s enough moisture a cumulus cloud will form. If there are scattered cumulous clouds in the area and you can get above their bases, you’ll probably find smooth air. However, don’t fly along merrily on your way and let the scattered clouds become broken or undercast below you, leaving you no way to get down (unless, of course, you are qualified to shoot an instrument approach).

Take your AOPA directory

If you’re flying outside of your extended local area, take your AOPA Airport Directory with you (you do have one, don’t you?) Approach books don't have all the airports you might go into or all of the information you might want. Airport Guides are nice, but they don’t cover the entire country (unless you buy a whole bunch of them). The AOPA Airport Directory is a good, concise reference when you’re that far away from the home ‘drome.

Formation Procedures

Finding a good mission frequency can be a challenge, and may need to change as you go across the country. Use it for necessary communications in the air, and keep the general BS conversations on the ground.

With GPS or VOR/DME you can rejoin a formation without external help using the procedures described earlier. Just make sure everyone is working on the same waypoint.

Airshow Time—Where's the Dead Line?

If you’re at a fly-in with an airshow, there are certain areas that the FAA insists be free of people under the performers. It’s a good idea and for your safety. The boundary of this area is referred to as the dead line, which has nothing to do with getting your newsletter articles in on time. It’s to your benefit to know where this line is, because some exhibits or airplanes may be in the area where you can’t be during the airshow. If your aircraft is one of these, you’ll need to make plans such that you don’t have to be at your airplane during the airshow.

Manufacturers vs Dealers

One of the things that I learned at the fly-in was that the manufacturers booth in general is set up to educate you about their product and convince you that you just have to have it. When you’re ready to buy, though, then they will send you to one of their dealers, and there may be many of them represented at the fly-in.

Depending on agreements invisible to you, you may find a difference of price on a product between dealers. You can shop for the best price, or if you like a particular dealer for some other reason, use the other guy’s price to try to get your favorite dealer to lower his price. However, some companies may direct their dealers not to discount their price. Every dealer (5 to 10) I asked about the Lightspeed 20K headset quoted me the exact same price. I can’t believe that was coincidence.

Realize the guy in the booth has his sales pitch prepared and is eager and ready to use it. Any question you ask may launch him into his sales pitch, whether or not it actually answers your question.

Look for any deals like no sales tax and free shipping if you order an item instead of picking it up there. If you can wait for the item, it’s a good way to save a few bucks and a few pounds of gross weight on the way home.

I found it entertaining to eavesdrop on some salesmen as they tried to explain to visitors from other countries why they had to pay sales tax on items purchased at the show regardless of where they’re from.


The Project Police Tactical Communication Devices (PPTCD), more commonly known as Family Radio Service radios, were very successful. They were great for coordinating schedules, locating fellow PPOs, and generally reducing stress levels. Because of the large number of channels and tone squelch settings, it is easy to filter out all of the folks you don’t want to hear and only listen to those that you want to.

Use of the PPTCD is not limited to just fly-ins. Buy a pair and convince your wife next time you’re at the mall to let you go check the PPSNTK files maintained in the Craftsman Department at Sears while she shops for clothes in Harris. She’ll still be able to contact you when it’s time to go. They are also useful when driving multiple cars in loose formation, and somewhat nicer than CBs because you can filter the other folks out.

We used a model marketed by Kenwood (also by ICOM) in Project Police stealth black. The same model is also available in high visibility survival yellow. There are other manufacturers out there too, such a Motorola. I bought mine at Best Buy for around $130 a piece. I expect the prices will continue to come down. You’ll want one with all 14 channels and all 38 tone squelch settings. There are cheaper models available, but those typically don’t have the tone squelch settings, or worse yet, only have one channel. I’ve also seen the radios advertised at Radio Shack®. They were also at all of the avionics dealers at Sun'n Fun, so you could check places like Pacific Coast Avionics.

Know Your Project

Be sure you’ve fully studied your project for parts you might be able to pick up at the fly-in. It’s tough to buy rod end bearings when you don’t know what size you need. While there, keep your mind open to items that might be useful. You may be able to get something at a discounted price at the show. As Charleen Beam has told us, vendors are usually more interested in selling you something than in packing it and hauling it back.

If nothing else, pick up catalogs from various dealers. It’s a lot easier than ordering them all by mail.

And for all of this stuff you’ll probably buy, be sure to take plenty of extra money or an unencumbered credit card. And bring an extra bag to put all of the stuff in.

Camelbak Hydration System

For many years I would come home from one day visits to fly-ins feeling tired, light-headed, and with a headache. It appears that the problem was mostly that I was dehydrating. Many people have said that soft drinks like Coke do not rehydrate you, and may actually dehydrate you by making you do more Port-a-Potty inspections. Straight water is the best rehydrator. Someday you may convince yourself of this.

In service to the Chapter, during Sun’n Fun and the flights to and from, the Kommandant and Webmeister did extensive tests of the Camelbak® Hydration System, first introduced into Project Police service by Brian Martinez and Ed Dutreaux. The Camelbak is basically a water bladder in a backpack case with a long tube coming out. On the end of the tube is a valve which is normally closed, but is opened by biting it. Sucking on the tube like a straw brings in the water.

We found the Camelbak to be SATISFACTORY and Level I in mission suitability for fly-in hydration. It was extremely convenient, as it was always there, instead of chasing down a cup. There were no cups to carry or keep up with. Other than inserting the tube in your mouth, it was a hands-free operation. Insulation in the carrier keeps the water colder longer. Certain models have additional storage space for small items in the backpack.

I have not see Camelbaks available in local retail stores (haven’t looked too hard either). You can order one from either REI ( or CampMor ( As a side benefit for ordering, you’ll be inundated with catalogs in the mail for the next decade.

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Contents of The Leading Edge and these web pages are the viewpoints of the authors. No claim is made and no liability is assumed, expressed or implied as to the technical accuracy or safety of the material presented. The viewpoints expressed are not necessarily those of Chapter 1000 or the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Revised -- 24 November 1999