June 20, 2019
And the trip westbound begins…
We woke up in the morning, I pulled out my laptop, and pulled up the weather. Immediately I knew that my plans for the northern route home were going to have to change. There were already storms right across our path along the Appalachian Mountains. The leg from Williamsburg to Farmington in the picture below would have been the second leg of the day.
Always be flexible when flying cross country in a small plane. I pulled up fuel prices and planned to make the first leg from Smithfield to Daniel Field in Augusta, Georgia (cheapest 100LL Avgas in the area). The second leg would hopefully be to Meridian, Mississippi if the weather would permit. Once on the ground in Augusta we would re-evaluate any changes to the weather.
We ate breakfast at the hotel and drove to the airport. It was supposed to be open, but for some reason wasn’t, so we walked around the side to the walk-through gate and headed out to the plane. It wouldn’t have been a problem that the FBO wasn’t open yet, except for the small fact there there is no self-serve fuel at the airport, and we weren’t going to get very far with the 10 gallons that were in the plane… We finished loading up the plane and went through the pre-flight, then I walked back over to the terminal building. Thankfully, they had finally just arrived. The man there apologized for opening late and explained that the two people that were supposed to open had called in sick. I told him it was no problem at all and he came right out and fueled up the plane.
We departed to the Southwest and climbed between clouds to 4,500′, slowly plodding along against a 40 mph headwind with ground speeds in the 105-115 mph range… After about 45 minutes I told ATC (Air Traffic Control) that we were going to go down to 2,500′ to see if the winds were more favorable. We ended up at 1,800′ because the broken layer went from about 2,000-3,000′. My hope was that below the broken cloud layer the winds would not be as strong. I was wrong, they were. The only difference was that it was warmer and bumpier… At this point the layer was thick enough that there weren’t big enough holes for us to go back up through, so we labored along, painfully slow, but enjoying the views.
Northeast of Columbia, South Carolina, ATC asked if we were familiar with restricted area 6001. I took a look at the chart and confirmed that I knew where it was and that we would pass north and west of it. A short time later while talking to Columbia Approach they vectored us over the airport for a departing commercial flight and we got to watch it taking off directly below us.
Finally, after what seemed like a flight that wouldn’t end (it was actually only 2 1/2 hours), we had Daniel field in sight and ATC told us to squawk VFR and gave us the frequency change. There was another plane on a straight in approach for 23 so we joined in behind him. As we were on about a 3 mile final I looked off the right wing and realized we were flying right past Augusta National where the Masters is played. Three miles out is not the place for the pilot to be taking pictures, but I hit Austin on the leg and told him to get some on his phone. We continued the approach with the winds coming from 210 at 9 knots and gusting to 20 knots. The winds weren’t too far off runway heading but with the 11 knot gust factor it was a little sporting. A line guy from the FBO directed us to parking, we shut down, he chocked the plane, we asked him to top off both tanks, and then headed inside for a restroom break and to relax a moment and plan the next leg. I also took a look at the few pictures my son managed to get of Augusta National, they were not very good…
The FBO there at Daniel is everything you would expect from the closest airport to Augusta National. It was the nicest FBO we had been in so far on the trip. I sat down at the long table in the lounge in one of the nice leather chairs and pulled out my laptop to see where we would be able to get to on the next leg. The Convective Outlook (possibility of thunderstorms) stretched along our route all the way past New Orleans. However, the Convective Sigmets (good chance of thunderstorms) from earlier in the morning that were across our route had been updated. There were now only two Convective Sigmets (good chance of thunderstorms) along our route. One stretched along the coast and the other was just to the west of Atlanta. It looked like would would probably be able to go between them north of Montgomery. The decision was made to try and get to Meridian, and if necessary we would divert to somewhere else.
We paid for the fuel and headed back out to the plane. After checking the fuel levels, sumping the tanks, and a walk around we loaded up and taxied down to 23, performed a run-up, and announced that we would be making a right crosswind departure to the west. As we lifted off and started our climb I heard an awful, but familiar sound in the radios. I had heard it once before when Austin and I took off with the door not completely latched… (The wind whistling through the slightly open door makes a high pitched kind of sound as it is picked up by the mic of whoever is sitting in the right seat.) Looking over I saw that while the latch in the middle of the door was latched the one at the top/center was not and there was a small gap there. I announced on the radio that we would be remaining in the pattern and making left traffic for 23. I also told my son this was apparently his second chance to get some pictures of Augusta National.
We came back around for another gusty landing, taxied clear of the runway, made sure both latches on the door were secured, and again departed 23. This time all was well, and we turned to the west and began a climb to 2,500′. It would have been nice to go higher into the cooler air, but there were some storms beginning to build and the clouds were from about 3,500′ to well over 10,000′ in some places. It was better to bounce around in the sweaty, humid 82-84°F air with options to divert and get on the ground than end up stuck above a cloud layer with buildups all around.
We were able to find our way between a few decent size storms, and although it was hot, humid, and slow (115-125mph ground speeds) we eventually made it to Meridian about three hours after taking off. We called up the tower and were given a straight in approach to runway 22. After landing we exited at charlie and took bravo to parking at the FBO. There were five T-45’s on the ramp along with a T-38 that had NASA markings on it. Four of the T-45’s and the T-38 were talking with Ground and getting ready to depart. The line crew directed us to taxi and park right next to the last T-45 that was sitting with its canopy open. As we shut down and climbed out the crew of the last T-45 came out so we stuck around to watch them start up and taxi out before heading inside.
The FBO at Key Field in Meridian was great. When I checked in I told them we would be staying overnight. They asked if I had arrangements yet and when I replied that I did not they told me that I could get their corporate rate at the Holiday Inn or Drury Inn. They also asked if we needed transportation. I told them if they had something to drive we would appreciate it. After giving them my information they handed us the keys to one of the late model Ford Explorers they had parked outside and we were on our way. We checked in at the Holiday Inn and used the FBO’s corporate rate for about a 30% discount and then grabbed some dinner at Chick-Fil-A.
Back at the hotel we relaxed for the rest of the day and I pulled out my laptop to make plans for the next day. Although it was bumpy, slow, hot, and humid, what would have been about an 11 hour drive, taking up most of the day, was done in roughly 5 1/2 hours and we got to see some beautiful country.