Monday, May 16, 2005

The Wetumpka Fly-in

This weekend marked another first for me. I flew to my first fly-in. It was an EAA sponsored event at the Wetumpka, Alabama (08A) airport. Wetumpka airport is about 12 miles straight-line distance from Prattville airport (1A9) which I have visited only once before in my MX. My home base at Fort Deposit (67A) is about 40 miles from Prattville, so we are talking about a 52 mile one-way trip, which is about as far as I've ever flown in one day.

I previously had dropped off a five gallon container of pre-mixed fuel at a strategic place at the Prattville airport so that I could refuel enroute without having to buy 100LL aviation fuel. My friend Don wasn't going to be able to make the trip, but at the last minute his schedule opened up. When I arrived at Fort Deposit about 7:30 AM, he was already there washing his airplane...a Quicksilver Sport II. We briefly went over our planned route and after a thorough preflight inspection and topping off with fuel, we took off for Prattville.

The morning air was crisp and smooth. I can't remember the last time that I flew in such wonderfully smooth air. To make things even nicer, we had a bit of a tailwind. My GPS was reading right around 50 MPH groundspeed. These conditions lasted all the way to Prattville, where we landed without any hitches.

I topped off my fuel, visited the bathroom, and chatted for a bit with one of the FBO owners. After Don and I talked about the next leg a bit, I requested that we go to the north of the City of Prattville so that we could keep far away from the Class D airspace of Maxwell Air Force Base. Technically, there is just a very small corridor that would allow us to pass to the south legally, but I've seen too may C-130s come zooming off the end of the AFB runway at 300 MPH. They usually fly right where we would be flying if we chose to go south of Prattville. We started up, strapped in and headed for Wetumpka.

I only live 5 miles from the Wetumpka airport, even though I drive 45+ miles to Fort Deposit to fly my airplane. I was badly wanting to fly over my house and get some pictures, but I was already a bit nervous because the ground we were flying over was becoming increasingly populated with buildings. It was very interesting flying over areas that I knew so well and seeing buildings from the air that I was very familiar with. I was so concerned about flying over congested areas that I was oblivious to most things on the ground, but I followed Don who used to fly out of Wetumpka on a frequent basis.

When we were about 3-4 miles from the Wetumpka airport, There was an announcement that a group of four Yak 52's were taxiing for takeoff on the runway perpendicular to the one that Don and I were intending to use. I announced our position and intentions immediately afterward but received no acknowledgement. I could clearly see the first pair when it took off as were only about 2 miles out. They made a left turn some distance from the end of the runway, and were heading toward Don as the second two Yaks took to the air. When Don noticed the first two, he started a rapid descent to stay out of the way. As he did, the leader of the flight advised of some ultralight traffic as he passed directly over Don about 500 feet higher. The second two Yaks were closer to me, but also passed safely overhead as I was heading lower. We continued to land without any incidence.

As I was taxiing to the parking space a traffic official was directing me. As I parked, I killed my engine and took off my headset. The official was wearing a radio, so I asked if he had heard me announce. He told me that he had heard, but everything was so busy that he was about to request Air Traffic Control assistance! Obviously, he was joking, but he made his point and I told him that I understood his frustration. A few minutes later after I had extracted myself from the plane, I went over to Don and asked if he had heard the Yak's announcement. He said he didn't, then I asked if he heard my announcement, and he said he did not. He asked me if I had heard other traffic conversations from Prattville which was on the same frequency as Wetumpka. I had heard some, but not all of what he was referring to. This was all very strange to me, but I was content knowing that somebody on the ground had heard me!

We stayed at the fly-in for about 3 hours. Drank some beverages, ate some food, answered questions from drive-in visitors and watched the wind steadily increase the whole time. Don had seen predictions that the winds were supposed to lessen shortly after noon, and they seemed to die down a bit. We decided to leave about 1:00 or so. As we were taxiing for takeoff, the wind gust were causing the sock to stick straight out! After waiting for a Cessna 195 to take off before us on runway 18 and waiting again for a Piper Cherokee to take off on runway 27 and clear runway 18, I announced and took off. We were going to go back to the south of Prattville this time because there didn't appear to be any traffic out of Maxwell on this particular day, but first, I was going to fly over my house and take some pictures.

The wind was terrible and constant corrections were required to keep the plane upright in the desired direction. Because of this, I didn't fly as low over my house as I wanted. I was still about 1000 feet above my house as I snapped a few shots. I then led Don to the south of Prattville, keeping a sharp eye watching the runways at Maxwell AFB which were very visible and unmistakable! I flew near the roads that I drive on a daily basis making my way towards Prattville. I took a few pictures of many of the landmarks so that I can post them. Near the Prattville airport, Don took the lead and I followed him as he flew his approach. Landing was a bit tricky because of the wind and the thermals, but we both made it down safely, even if the landings didn't look pretty!

I refueled in short order, and we were back in the air quickly, headed for Fort Deposit. Until we got within 5 miles of the Fort Deposit airport, things were non-eventful. A few miles previous, I decided to fly a bit lower than Don. The thermals kept taking us closer and closer to the clouds and I was tired of the bumps. I descended to about 1800 feet and continued on toward the airport. I figured Don was following me, but I couldn't see him above me. As we got closer to the airport, I started to look for him. I did a gentle 360 degree circle and I didn't see him. I then did another, tighter 360 and still didn't see him. Since I had plenty of fuel, I decided to back-track the route using my GPS so that I might find Don. Before I had gone a mile, I see Don in the distance to the east of me. I found out later that he had been doing circles looking for me also! We tracked on to the airport where Don landed first. I watched and took pictures at 1000 feet before setting up for my landing. As I was on the downwind leg, Don came on the radio and told me to keep my speed up on landing as there were some crazy wind currents on the approach. I kept my speed up, but kept shoving the stick forward because the thermals were trying to keep me in the air. The landing wasn't too bad considering and I was glad to be home and on the ground.

We had been in the air about 3.2 hours and had flown 105 miles, just short of the Evergreen trip by about 1 mile!


At 12:04 PM, Blogger Buttercup and JOHN-43 said...

nice blog like the photo's :))))


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