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Short Trips: Bob's 85th Birthday Trip

I had a pretty cool experience a few weeks ago, and I thought I'd share it here. Julie's cousin Doug called one day (We keep in pretty close touch) and asked if I'd take his father-in-law for a ride for his 85th birthday. The old boy had been a pilot 40 years earlier and had decided after we'd met back on Christmas Eve that he'd like to go for a trip around the patch. I was so honored that I couldn't have dreamed of saying no. Plus, Doug uttered the magic words that clear schedules and take precidence: "I'll pay for everything.".

Let's go flyin'!

I made arrangements to rent a brand new Cessna 172R with a fixed pitch climbing prop. This is my favorite plane to fly, and it only has a couple hundred hours on it. I wasn't sure how this was going to go, so I wanted confidence levels high when the entire Thullbery clan showed up to inspect and cheer on. We really like these guys and do a lot of things with them. We'd met Bob at their house on Christmas Eve the year before, and I had swapped a couple stories with him, but that's about all I knew about him.

As it turned out, he was an OK guy. He was very sharp at 85 years old, and since I didn't know exactly how old he was at the time, I thought he must have just turned 80. Here's how it went:

I got to Peter O' Knight (KTPF) at 7:15, because we moved further away from there and I can't seem to get the timing down yet. Anyway, I still got there in plenty of time to get simultaneously pissed off at and also aroused by the runners who think that they own the island that Peter O' sits on. I really wouldn't mind them running ten abreast down the middle of the small, two lane road before dawn. But when they come into the little airport who only has one person keeping it sparkling clean and also running all the line duties and talking to pilots on the Unicom and just trash the bathrooms and thoroughly abuse the place, that's just too pompous for me. That chaps my ass. On the other hand, some of those runners are hot!

I guess it's a local Mecca for runners to train, so I mind my manners. At the same time, the Men's Room at the local airport is there for a purpose. I like to think of it as the final part of a pre-flight - if I'm lucky. I even call this event "the Weight and Balance", because it could actually change your calculations!


Now, I'm only 42, but I can appreciate flying in comfort, and for some reason, I get very relaxed during the pre-flight inspection. HEY! I MAKE NO EXCUSES FOR WHAT I DID IN THERE!!!

I'm a man, damn-it, and in some villages I'd be elected Chief after a dump like that.

Isn't it amazing how you can't really smell just how bad your own crap smells like while you're taking the dump? I mean, you know it's bad, but bad enough to gag a runner? Well, the runners like to use about a half a roll of toilet paper all wadded up, to blot off in the rest rooms. Then they just drop it on the floor and walk out. They do it right in front of the FBO staff, but they all have good manners and don't make a fuss.

Needless to say, I was a local hero that morning when that 0% body-fat , perfectly-tuned-body running guru trotted in already leaning into the direction the roll would be located in. He came up short just in time to avoid hitting the closed stall door (there's only one), and then he got that first good, "been runnin' for an hour or more", heavy-breathing smell of the Double Beefy Burrito I had just cast into the porcilin abyss, he made an audible sound and retreated without trashing the place.

Two minutes of fan noise is way better than ten minutes of picking up soggy toilet paper with strangers' sweat on it. Don't trifle with me, or I shall crap again!

OK, I set out to tell you about Bob's flight, and so I better get back to it.

When I came out from the bathroom festivities, the gang was just arriving. We said our hello's and the whole bunch of us headed out to the plane. Bob wore hearing aids on both ears, so he had to do a little experimenting with the headset. Eventually, he opted to take them both out, and use the volume control of the headset. I showed him our intended route and briefed him, then we were ready to roll.

We waived goodbye to Heather and Doug and Jake on the apron, then taxied out to the end of 03 for our run-up. All went well as we took off over the Port of Tampa, and headed southeast along the edge of the Bay and passed over Apollo Beach, where Bob had friends.

We continued along at 1,000' on around the Bay and passed over Ruskin, and then passed between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key, over the Skyway Bridge and then North along the coast of DeSoto State Park.

It was early in the morning, and the air was silky smooth. Bob was having a great time, and had commented on how surprised he was at how much of his pilot training was coming back to him after all this time. I had already noticed his feet on the floor of the plane, moving like they were pressing rudder pedals. See, Bob is very tall, and every time I'd be applying left rudder his left leg would bump my knee. Pretty cool.

We continued North along the coast and Bob started talking up a storm. I don't know how well he heard me, but I could hear him just fine and I was able to point out lots of little details that he picked right up on. I guess he must've been able to hear me well enough to get by.

He pointed out some little islands that his other daughter had taken him to in her family's boat club outing. He said the ride this morning was infinitely smoother. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the air was almost never this smooth along here. We checked out the causway, and the beaches. We saw boats on the dark green water, and jet skis blasting their white paths across the inlet. He pointed out various hotels and commented on how different everything looked. I bet it does!

During the trip, Bob talked about learning to fly in a Luscomb, and how his instructor would hold his knees on each side of the stick, then use them to keep a student from making a sudden, stupid move. Bob was great company.

We went all the way up the coast to Anklote Key, then turn due East to travel inland along the Hernando County line. I pointed out Pilot Country (K), which has been closed because a developer bought it. I tuned into each airport we passed that day, as I always do, but this was also to give Bob a chance to hear the chatter again. He ate it like candy. I followed Hwy 52 east until we got to Tampa North (KX39) and I-75, then turned South toward Peter O' again.

We covered the last stretch along I-75, past Vandenburg (VDF) and over Brandon.

I flew him over one more air field then. This one is special. It's longest runway is 500', and I often wonder if it's even that long. It's a perfectly miniature airport for R/C airplanes and belongs to Brandon Model Flyers, where I'm a member. I wagged the wings at some friends who were flying their R/C airplanes as we went over at about 1,000'. They waved back and we started to set up for the pattern.

I called in to Peter O' for a wind advisory, and they said it was calm. There was a Mooney getting ready to take 21, but we were still 8 miles out so we decided to wait for the Mooney, then enter a downwind for 03. It may be calm right now, but this time of year at this airport, at this time of day, the wind usually comes from about 060. It can come up out of nowhere, and this is an island, so I knew from experience that if it didn't matter anyway, I'd better be safer than sorry.

Well, the Mooney dilly-dallied around long enough that we decided to depart the pattern and circle around over the new cross-town project before re-entering the pattern for 03. As we came around for final, sure enough there was a little breeze and I was glad I had opted for this runway. We dropped in just past the numbers and taxied off at the first exit.

Bob was in a great mood and had been excellent company. We had been gone about an hour and a half. This would go a long way toward Heather feeling comfortable with Doug and/or Jake flying with me.

When we got back to the tie-down area, Jake, Heather and Lizzy were there to greet Grampa. They all chattered excitedly while I tied down the plane and got things ready to return it to the FBO. Doug had pressed $160.00 into my hand when no-one was watching. The actual flight was a little more than that, but I was so touched that he made good on his offer (I'd never ask anyone to do so. You either do or you don't), that I gladly (and subtly) paid the difference.

I heard Bob telling Heather that it had been the smoothest flight he'd ever been on, in the background.

We parted ways in great spirits, and I loaded my junk in the X-terra and headed back to Z-hills. We saw Heather and Doug again several weeks later when we flew up to Cedar Key (KCDK), and they told us he'd had a really great time. She's also OK with Doug and Jake flying with me now that Bob gave me the nod. So, it turned out to be a fantastic experience.

My favorite trip (we call it the "Beach Patrol" locally) never fails to impress, and Bob turned out to be great company. To top it all off, I greased the landing and I think the positioning of the runway on the island and the psychological affect coming in over the water and all that industrial Port stuff gave Bob lots to take in, as well.

Since this may have very well been Bob's last flight, or at least among his last, it was extremely important to me as well. I was relieved and pleased that it had gone so well. I'd fly again with Bob if the chance arose, too. I bet he's got a couple good stories to tell this Christmas, too.


Fair winds and blue skies,




Whew! I gotta tell ya, nothin' says appreciation like footin' the bill! If you regularly fly with someone else who rents a plane, and you are not paying for any of it, don't be too surprised if you start getting invited less and less.

If you agree in advance to pay half and don't, you'll probably need to find another pilot next time. Flying is expensive and most of us aren't wealthy people. If you really want to make a great impression and get moved straight to the top of the waiting list, offer to pay for an entire flight. This'll cost you about $125.00 for the plane, worst case scenario. What is more likely to happen, is that the pilot will be duely impressed with your sincerity, and offer to split the flight with you. After all, you will both be enjoying the trip. Now everybody's happy, all customs have been observed, and you both appreciate what the other brings to the table.


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