Short Trips: Sightseeing over Lake Wales
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.
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.
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
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!
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,