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Short Trips: Sightseeing over Lake Wales with Dad

This weekend’s trip was really special. I took my Dad flying for the first time. This was actually the first time I’ve ever taken anyone in my family for a flight. I never really thought he was interested before, so I just never pushed it.

Anyway, I had called him on his birthday the week before, and he had asked when I was going to take him up, so I figured I’d strike while the iron was hot. Julie had to work that Saturday, so I had the plane reserved and no plans or people to fly with. I checked the weather and saw that it would be pretty nice, so I called the old man and told him I’d pick him up around 8:30 or 9:00 on Saturday.

Saturday arrived with ground fog and low clouds, but was going to clear up nicely around 9:00 or so, so I went ahead and set a course for Lake Wales from Peter O’Knight in Tampa. I could tell as soon as I lifted off that it was considerably cloudier and foggier toward the East, but I just climbed above it and headed on over at about 4,000’ or so. This new plane has a glass panel and flies very well. I hadn’t been on a cross country alone in quite some time, and had forgotten just how serine it is.

I could see “lakes” of fog below me and low, scudded clouds here and there as I flew along Highway 60 toward Lake Wales. The moving map marched dutifully onward, marking my progress, but other than the traffic avoidance system, I really didn’t need it since I’m so familiar with this area anyway.

As I got to Lake Wales, I picked up two other planes in the immediate area and took action to avoid them. Good thing too, because they never saw me at all and went sailing past toward Sebring, along Highway 27. Never said a word on the radio, and I’m still not sure that they ever saw each other either.

While I was circling down to the airport, I was listening to another plane approaching from the South West. He was a Piper Dakota, and was noticeably shaken by the weather. It was pretty thick down at ground level, and he was advising that nobody else try it after him. I had already checked it out, and considered the fact that this was a parachute plane and they are constantly trying to keep other airplane traffic away (a real sore spot for the locals), and I could clearly see the field, so I entered a downwind for 35.

On downwind, I could see it. On cross-wind, I could see it. On base, I could see it. On final, I couldn’t see it. I knew that I was straight and level, and lined up at about 600’, so I decided if I couldn’t see it at 400’ I’d go around or just abort altogether. Just as I made this decision (a second or two at most), I popped out of the cloud cover and was lined up perfectly with the runway. I put in the last notch of flaps and did a near-perfect landing on runway 35.

I taxied off at the end of the runway, and parked near a hangar that the local parachute school uses and was just getting out when a couple of hammer-heads from the jump school came pulling up in a pickup truck and said “Hey! You gonna park there? ‘Cause this is a parachute operation here, ya know…”. I replied “Yes, I’m going to park here, and this is a GA airport open to the public. I’m going to sit here until the weather clears. Do you have a problem with that?”. He quickly mumbled “no problem” and pulled away. As he drove off, he stated that the weather would be clear in a half hour. That’s all fine and good, but I’LL be the one who decides when I feel the weather is clear enough to safely go up again, thank you very much.

My Dad and I sat there for about 45 minutes and caught up on family happenings, etc. What’s the point of going up sight-seeing if you can’t see anything?

When we were ready, I helped my Dad get into the plane, which was no small task. He has two artificial knees and they just don’t bend as well as they need to, so it took him several tries to get in and situated. When he was ready, we fired up the 172SP and headed out to the runway. 17/35 has no taxiway, so we had to back-taxi down to the other end to take off. I ran through the basics with Dad, then we were off!

I had no idea how he would handle flying in a small plane, but it turned out that he had been up several times before with other pilots, so he was fine. I took him around by Crooked Lake, and then over Blue Lake, and Julie’s parent’s house. Then I flew him over his own house and circled until he spotted it. Next, I flew him over Bok Tower at about 1200 feet, then on to Winter Haven and the Chain O’Lakes. When we got up to Fantasy of Flight, and Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field, we got to watch some planes doing touch-n-goes from above. I circled around Winter Haven and headed back toward Lake Wales again and we got a great view of Cypress Gardens and the whole Garden Grove area before heading back to LW airport.

LW AirportAs I entered downwind for 35, I saw the parachute school’s 182 come lurching out onto the runway and begin back-taxiing to the other end. This didn’t bother me because he had lots of time. But when he got halfway (where the parachute folks had their little tents set up), he stopped, and then turned around. Then he turned around again! He never responded once to my radio calls, and continued to tie up the runway until I had to break off my approach and go around again. He did this three times in a row, until I made some fairly stern statements that he needed to clear the active runway, then we were finally able to land. I made a really good landing in spite of being royally pissed off. I don’t think my Dad realized just how ticked I was, though, and that’s pretty much the way I wanted it.

Anyway, after we were on the ground, we said our goodbyes and I snapped a couple shots of us together before climbing back in for the solo trip back to Tampa. Then I got a little chance for payback.

Right as I got to the 17 end of 35, the jerk in the 182 announced “Sky-divers away over Lake Wales!”, etc., so I decided I’d just sit tight and wait. Even though I could see that he had made the call early, I wasn’t gonna risk getting hit by a meat-bomb on my way out.

The other plane for the school is a King Air. For those who don’t know, this is a large twin turbine that can carry about 6 or 8 parachutists aloft and get up to 13,000’ very fast, but burns plenty of jet A in the process. He had come in just before I started to taxi out, so he was right behind me again with another load and ready to go.

Me and my Dad at Lake Wales AirportPerfect. He could wait just like I was. The main difference here though, was that he was burning about 5 times the amount of fuel I was waiting. After a few minutes, he came on the horn and said “Alfa Tango, are you waiting for the parachutes?”. I confirmed, and he immediately cut loose with “Steve! Are you dropping those chutes?!”, and Steve shot right back “Alfa Tango, we are no factor! Please proceed.”. It appeared that Steve was the low man on the pilot totem pole at this establishment.

I then very slowly began to taxi out onto the runway. When I was almost to the intersection of the two runways, Steve announced that he was on short final for 09. I decided to tell them that I’d be waiting again. The King Air bellowed over the horn “Steve!!!” and Steve came back on and said “Alfa Tango, we are no factor. Repeat, no factor. I’m begging you to cross and continue.”. Finally, a little respect from Ol’ Steve! 8-D

After I taxied across 09 and got down to the starting end of 35, I decided to do a quick run-up and check my mags again. The King Air announced that he would taxi off onto a side taxi way for 09 and wait for me, that I should take my time and all that good stuff. I could almost feel Steve cringe. Steve announced quickly that he was clear of all runways, and I took off. As I turned cross-wind, I announced I was departing the pattern with my usual “Good day”, which means you are not returning in pilot-talk. The King Air came right on and responded, and thanked me for using Lake Wales airport. I wouldn’t want to have been Steve when they both got back on the ground again! Screw you, Steve. You had it coming to you.

My flight back was just as nice as the flight over had been, and I stayed at about 3500’ all the way to Brandon, where I dropped down under the class Bravo and went in to Peter O’ at 1,000’. That’s really the only time it got bumpy all day, and even that wasn’t too bad.

After I landed and paid my bill at the FBO, the lady behind the counter told me they’d heard the whole exchange on the radio. They are on the same frequency as Lake Wales at Peter O’. This is a large part of how I knew what kind of jerks they can be at Lake Wales in advance. I did tell her that those para-pilots don’t have the sense God gave a monkey, though.

Will I ever fly back in to Lake Wales again? Of course. It’s a very nice strip and is close to family for both myself and Julie. It’s also an FAA AIRPORT, and they do not own any part of it, so why should I let them intimidate me out of using it?

Anyway, I think my Dad had a good time, and I know I did, and I’m not really mad at Steve anymore, either. So all in all, I think it was a very successful trip.

Fair winds and blue skies,



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