Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sun n Fun n Fun n More Fun

Well, I'm back in town, if only for a little while. I drove back from Florida on Sunday and Monday - did you know that Lakeland, FL, to Lakewood, OH, is over 1000 miles and more than 18 hours of driving time? Yikes. I was so ready to get out of that car!

I was returning from the Sun n Fun Fly-in, also known as "Spring Break for Pilots." I first went to this airshow (founded in 1974) two years ago which I blogged about - mostly about Arty's journey there - and also about the folks I got to meet there. That's always the best part of this event, getting to know people that I have met and/or stay in touch with only via cyberspace. Though the Lakeland Airport is open year round, the most activity at this airport is definitely seen during the Fly-in taking place in either March or April.

Although I could barely afford the time or the money to attend the event, I was urged by several people behind the scenes that I should go to reconnect with folks I don't touch base with at Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) in Wisconsin. Like Dave Allen, or @DaveFlys on twitter. Dave terms himself "The most underutilized guy in aviation social media," but I just think of him as one of the most helpful and knowledgeable guy about aviation, [being] social, and media. He urged me to come on down months ago, and then as circumstances were conspiring against me, convinced me again. As I tweeted a few days before the show: "I think the gods are telling me to take off my calendar." Dave tweeted back "@ Well I'm telling you to leave it there. That is all."

I was in Alabama training for my CFI - Certified Flight Instructor - and hoped that I could knock it out before SnF. Weather, however, was not cooperating. I didn't get to fly as much as hoped and it soon became clear that I would need to return, either after SnF or even later in the month. Additionally, my 13 year old car was making this odd noise. It almost sounded as though I needed to shift but I drive an automatic. It was some noise that increased in pitch as I accelerated, though I was at a loss to know what it was. Luckily, the friends doing my flight training also knew a reliable mechanic, who agreed to bring my car in and check it out. His determination, the right front wheel bearings. He worked on it til 7pm the night before I'd hoped to leave. Third, the friend I was going to stay with in Tampa, not far from Lakeland, received orders to deploy to Bahrain. Sigh. But then Dave offered his spare tent. Problems solved!

Unfortunately, the day that I was driving the 600mi/12 hr trip from Jasper, AL, to SnF was the day that Lakeland was hit by a tornado. According to this article, "Tornado sweeps through Sun 'n Fun and leaves destruction in its wake" on, battering the exhibition site and causing damage to around 70 aircraft - many of which were written off.

A Cessna 172 dumped on top of a Beech Bonanza by the tornado.
Anything loose was whipped in to the air, tie-downs were largely ineffectual, the sandy soil moistened - about 6in of rain fell in several hours. Flooding occurred in some parts, with hail and torrential precipitation hitting the area.

Aircraft large and small were affected. A Cessna Grand Caravan was dumped on its back, a Douglas DC-3 moved about 30m (100ft), Lockwoods and Rans display exhibitions were annihilated, and had there been more visiting aircraft on the field, the devastation would have been far worse. 

On that day I had stopped about four hours out and called Dave, who assured me the weather would clear up by the time I got there. But as I got closer I saw storm damage, it was still raining, and frankly, it was starting to get dark. I was not looking forward to stumbling around in the mud trying to set up a tent (frankly, I was a little grumpy after a 4am wakeup). Thankfully, the next hotel I saw was a Hampton Inn. And they had rooms! So I got a good night's sleep in preparation for going in early for the cleanup.

But alas, my car had other plans. Now, whatever was making the noise in my car was not fixed by the mechanic. He repacked the wheel bearings but the sound was still there. I took comfort in the fact that he searched high and low to find the source and couldn't. So I reasonably sure I was safe. Then, as I was departing the hotel in the early morning hours I heard that screeching noise your brakes make when the pads are gone. Just in case, I got out and looked around the car to see if, I don't know, I was dragging a piece of aluminum siding. Nope. So at the next light, the sound stopped as I braked. Then it came back. And went away. Finally, it didn't go away and I started contemplating the damage I could be doing to my car as I practiced the "denial method" of car repair. Warped rotors, maybe fire, etc. I looked to my right and saw a Midas offering free brake inspections. Four hours and four hundred dollars later I was back on my way to SnF. Boy, was I thankful this hadn't happened on all of those back country roads I had been on the last couple of weeks!

So Dave marshaled me in to the camping area, where I got to meet his wife, Heather, and their four beautiful children. A woman in the campsite next to them looked at my GWW t-shirt and said, "hey, I just bought something for my granddaughter with that logo!" So I got to pitch the company to a bunch of folks there, showing off the Penelope Pilot book and other offerings from the Pilot Shop. One of the first people I hooked up with on the airshow grounds was Rob Riggen, owner of Flying High Coffee, who is donating a portion of his profits to the Girls With Wings Scholarship.

I spent a lot of time at Sun n Fun Radio, hanging with @SnFRadioDave, who interviews a variety of interesting pilots, builders, aviation enthusiasts, and SUN 'n FUN exhibitors, sponsors & advertisers, as well as weather updates, traffic reports and major news stories, streamed live on Also there, Rod Rakic of myTransponder, which makes aviation more social: "Join the community and connect with fellow pilots, aircrews, maintainers, controllers, instructors, owners, and enthusiasts."

Plus, I spent time with @Juliewillfly, @TwiliteFlyer, @PilotDamon, @SASadvantage, @Holdridge, @Pilot2b, @AceAirSpeed, @efha_president, @larryoverstreet, @davidfieldsNWA and more (please forgive me if I've neglected to mention you personally)!  Everything from the morning balloon launch from the nighttime airshow as seen from the announcer's stand (thank you, Walt!) was just top notch. I am so glad I was talked into going. What an amazing trip.

And of course, all of this originated with a presentation I did in Mobile, AL, which will be the terminus of this year's AirRace Classic. The picture here is two girls who chose to do their collage with the photo from the AOPA article on Girls With Wings taking center stage (the logo is in the lower left and Penelope is in the lower right!). Terry Carbonell, the organizer of a series of events for the Girls Club of Mobile leading up to the AirRace, has done an incredible job educating these girls about flying. I am proud to take part in her efforts.

Clearly, at the end of this 3000 mile trip, I am exhausted and overwhelmed with unanswered emails and snail mail. My main priority has to be getting back into the air so I can finish my rating. Problem is, I live in Cleveland. Did I really think the weather was going to be any more cooperative here?!?

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