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Short Trips: Crystal River

Crystal River

Saturday was a great day for flying in Florida. I had reserved the new G1000 equipped glass-panel, 172SP down at Peter O’ Knight (ktpf) and went down and picked it up at about 8:00 am. I flew up to Zephyrhills airport (kzph) and picked Julie up at about 9:00am, and then we headed up to Crystal River. They have a nice paved runway (09-27) and a grass runway (18-36) that sits right next to a Dairy Queen. I know it seems kind of stupid to fly all the way to Crystal River for an ice cream, but that’s really not the point, is it? It’s just a destination for a nice cross-country flight that allows us to stretch our legs a little once we get there, before turning around and heading back.

Anyway, Crystal River is right on the Gulf Coast, and coming across from ZPH provides a spectacular view of open terrain, developments, shoreline and tidal flats all in the same trip. Although ZPH has a 5,000’ runway, many pilots avoid it because it gets kind of hectic and is uncontrolled. On my way in on Saturday, there was an ultra-light approaching from the North as I approached from the West (not much to worry about there since I was so much faster and ahead of him), a couple GA aircraft taking off and doing touch-and-goes, and parachutes at 10,000’ in two minutes as I entered the pattern. I always try to give the “meat-bombs” a wide berth. There are also gliders operating from the field and helicopters in the area.

Anyway, I landed smoothly and picked Julie up with all of our beach stuff in tow. We took off fourth in line and headed North-West toward Hernando County Airport, then continued on to Crystal River. We really liked the G1000, with it’s traffic alert system and a fantastic GPS unit, etc. It’s a little intimidating at first, but once you get used to it, I think it’s actually a little easier to use than the old steam gauges I am so familiar with.

The sky was very clear, and we had a slight headwind of about 8k all the way there. This makes for very smooth flying, and we made pretty good time. We saw a small spring-fed river we’d never noticed before, and could see right down through the perfectly clear water to the sandy bottom. Every bend in the little river had kayaks and canoes on it. We saw several places like this on the way, but none as clear as that spring-fed run. We’ll have to go back there on the ground at some point and get some pictures.

At one point, our traffic system announced that traffic info was unavailable. I looked down and saw two new, huge radar dishes pointed straight up, and figured this was the reason for the blackout. Never saw those before either.

When we got close to Crystal River, I called their Unicom and asked for a wind advisory. They told us to use 27. This made sense to us, as we could see from the wind on the lakes below that the wind was coming right down the runway. But when we announced our intentions, we immediately got a call back from another plane in the opposite pattern doing touch-and goes. They didn’t seem willing to change directions, so I peeled off and re-entered for 09 on the downwind after them. The runway is nice and long (over 3,000’) and the wind was negligible at ground level, so we just kept a little throttle in and landed long and a little fast.

Crystal River airport is a very pretty place, with big pine trees and picnic tables by the FBO. They are usually jerks to those who are not regulars, but today was an exception. Maybe because we rolled in in a brand new airplane, etc. Whatever, we enjoyed their courtesy for a change.

At any rate, the DQ was closed, and we were running late anyway, so we grabbed a couple sodas inside and headed back toward Peter O’. By now we had a tailwind of about 16k, but it was still a pretty good ride. Clouds were beginning to form over the Gulf and start their march inland, and as we worked our way around and under them, we encountered the kind of thermals and turbulence that is common in these parts. Julie is getting much better at dealing with this, which can be a little un-nerving to the uninitiated, to say the least. As the sun heats up the ground and water below, columns of air rise up and carry you higher and higher. This is what makes it such a great place for gliders. With the tail winds behind us, we were able to make a ground speed of about 120k. I could see by the time we crossed over Tampa North that we would be about 5 minutes late returning to Peter O’, so I called ahead and told them. I don’t have to do this, but I am a considerate renter and know how I’d feel if I was sitting there waiting.

We always notice that there is no chatter on the box when we get to an area around a GA airport, but as soon as I announce our intentions to transition through, several other pilots will jump on the horn and do the same thing. This baffles me, because it is so easy to do, and makes for a safer transition through a potentially dangerous area. You don’t have to sound cool – you just have to be understood. It really hacks me off to hear some chuckle-head trying to mumble away like an airline captain, when he’s clearly in over his head with his radio work. JUST TALK!

All in all, it was a great flight, and we approached Peter O’ exactly 5 minutes later than we were scheduled to. The next renter wasn’t even there yet, so that was great too.

The only unexpected event we encountered was a sudden, vicious cross-wind right as we touched down at Peter O’ that made me set one main down before the other, but we never left the center line and rolled out just fine anyway.

After the flight, we packed all our gear in the Xterra and headed down to Anna Maria Island for grouper sandwiches at the Rod-N-Real Peer and a day at the beach. The water was absolutely spectacular. This was probably the last cool weather we’ll see for the rest of the summer. We ended up staying until about 5:00pm, then heading back to Z-hills.

What a great day we had! If you’re thinking about coming to the Gulf area for some flying and excitement, I highly recommend it. I think we’ll start flying the G1000 equipped 182 in a few weeks, so we can cover more ground faster. But if you’re not in a hurry (like us on Saturday), the 172 SP is still a great choice.

Fair winds and blue skies,



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