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Short Trips: Return to Cedar Key (CDK), FL

On 9/4/2005, Julie and I flew back to Cedar Key in a 172SP from Peter O’ Knight in Tampa to meet her cousin and his family who were staying on Cedar Key for the Labor Day weekend. I didn’t shoot a lot of pictures this time, partly because it was so hazy and partly because we’ve been there before. The main difference this time was that we got to see the town and met people we already knew up there, so it was nice. It was also nice because we were able to get them to take a quick look at the runway condition before we took off and tell us if it was clear or not. With nobody taking care of the runway, the recent storms could have rendered it dangerous to land on.

We did our preflight at about 7:30 am or so, and were ready to go by 8:00 or 8:15. Our original plan was to take off from Peter O’, then go around the edge of Tampa Bay over Apollo Beach, around to Anna Maria Island and across the Skyway bridge, then go up the coast from Ft. Desoto all the way up to Cedar Key. However, once we were aloft, I could see that it was even more hazy over the Bay and along St. Pete, so we took an alternate route instead.

Since I hadn’t flown the plane we had that morning in over a year and I didn’t want my first short-field landing in this plane after all this time to be on Cedar Key, I decided to stay in the pattern for at least one practice landing. Julie was OK with this, so I made my announcements and lifted off. My practice landing was right on the numbers and I actually had to taxi to the first turn-off, so I was happy with this and we took off for Cedar Key right afterward.

As soon as we were up to pattern altitude, I departed the pattern to the North East and we were on our way.

As I said before, it was very hazy. The weather data said that we’d have 10 mi of visibility, with scattered at 3,000 ft and ceilings at 25,000 ft., with the haze burning off around 10:00 am. We had the 10 miles of visibility, but there was a very scary layer of haze that just wouldn’t budge. I tried to climb above it, but realized it went up to about 4,000 ft. and didn’t want to get stuck above it if it got thicker. It seemed to thin somewhat near the bottom, which was about 1,200 ft. above sea level, so I opted to fly at about 1,500 ft where I could easily see below it and had a reasonably good view up through it too.

We had a headwind of about 15 Kts. All the way there, but it was fairly consistent and the ride wasn’t too rough at all. We flew right up I-75 to Pasco County and turned North/Northwest at Tampa North (X39) and headed for Hernando County (BKV) and then on to Crystal River (CGC). After Crystal River, we continued on up to the “Big Bend” of Florida and crossed Waccassassa Bay. We then followed the coast on around to Cedar Key (CDK). This is a beautiful area of the state and features some really desolate stretches of coastline and inland forests. This is the truly unspoiled Florida that most never see. There are wading birds and all kinds of critters below us, along with pristine cypress trees and water so black and smooth it looks like a dark mirror. I really love flying low and slow over this terrain and just sight-seeing. Julie likes to fly low too, so she was good with this course.

The only real down-side was the damned haze and the need to be extra diligent for other aircraft and obstacles, etc. On the up-side, there were a lot fewer planes out and about that Sunday, probably due to the same haze factor we were dealing with.

Anyway, we found the tiny island runway without any problems, and swung in over the town to descend to TPA. As we turned to the base leg of our approach, the local taxi service called on the radio to see if we needed a ride into town. The local taxi service has been run by the same family for generations. Sometimes they come out and get you with their ancient old Checker cab, and sometimes it’s their personal grocery-getter – whatever they’re driving at the time! There’s no set fee for this, but I understand that it’s customary to pay them about $7.00 for the trip. The trip is all of two miles, if they go the long way.

In our case, Julie’s cousin Doug and his wife Heather were waiting for us in a little golf cart with seating for 4 at the end of the runway. I made a beautiful short-field landing (Cedar Key is only about 2,000 ft) and then back-taxied on the runway to tie down. If you’re going to Cedar Key, take your own tie-down rope. The airport has no facilities of any kind (not even water) and although there are cables along the tie-down area, the ropes have long since rotted or been cut away, etc. I knew this from a previous trip and took some ropes along in my flight bag. I tied us down amongst the three or four other planes that were there and we went on in to town.

Doug and Heather are extremely good hosts, and had a little golf cart tour of the town planned out for us. We checked out the local hot spots and places of interest and even stopped at the ancient old hotel on the marina. I think it’d be cool to stay there for a night or two some day. After we took in the local sites, we went back to the condo they had rented for the weekend and met up with their two kids Jake and Lizzy, and a friend that Lizzy had brought along on the trip.

Heather made us all Eggs Benedict!!! Now, I’ve always said that I’ll fly pretty much anywhere for a free meal, but this was way more than I had actually expected. It was delicious, and made me wanna sit around for a while with my pants unbuttoned, but decorum prevailed and I just imagined it instead. What a spectacular view they had! Three floors up and right on the ocean – sweet.

After breakfast, the kids took us back to the airfield in the golf cart, and the folks followed in the car. I did shoot this one shot of the whole gang in front of the plane before we left.

While we were taking the picture, another 172 came in for a landing and things almost got ugly. He flared about 6 feet above the runway, and just hung there. By this time we had a fairly consistant headwind of about 12-14 Kts. Blowing down runway 05 @ 060 degrees. He had 40 degrees of flaps out, and looked like it was gonna pancake in at any second. There’s not a lot of runway there to dilly-dally around and make the tuff decisions, either. You pretty much want to get down quickly or go around. This guy just hung there though, like he was on a wire. Finally, after what seemed like an impossibly long time, he tickled the gas a little and coaxed her down at about the halfway point. When they taxied in to the tie-down area, his passenger looked a little shook up to me. We could hear the old pilot (early seventies, I’d guess) telling the passenger he had to come anyway, but that he was glad for the company. We figured he must have a place there or something like that.

Back in the plane, we got ready to depart. My hand-held GPS unit was acting up, and I never bothered to learn how to use the one in this plane, so we decided to use pilotage and dead reconning to find our way home. I had plotted out the flight plan for both directions the night before, like I always do. I do this partly because it’s the safest way to do things, and partly because I get so excited before a trip that it helps me deal with the wait. Anyway, we followed our course and matched up the way points and all went very well. Julie is getting much better at helping spot the way points, and can actually look at the chart and find the features on the ground that are depicted on the chart. Spotting the Big Bend and the nuclear power plant at Crystal River were easy, then we just followed our headings down to Hernando County and then across to Tampa North. Then we just followed I-75 back down into Tampa and made our approach from the Brandon side of town toward Peter O’.

We arrived back at Peter O’ 15 minutes before the plane was due back, and loaded our junk into the X-terra and headed back to Zephyrhills.

What a great flight we had! We had a little wind (strong tailwinds aloft on the way back!), we had a short runway with water at each end to deal with, we had haze to peer through, and we had no GPS to use as a cross-country crutch. And yet, this was an extremely enjoyable adventure for us both. We met people at a remote location at a pre-determined time, and made the entire round trip in less time than they took just to get there! I think Julie’s just starting to get the airplane bug, and this’ll go a long way toward future trips together. I’ve since been checked out to rent from Zephyrhills airport (ZPH), so we’ll be able to just pop over there (1.2 miles away from home) when we’ve got an hour or two and just go flying.

If you are interested in a particular airport, or want to be able to pull up a list of airports that match a certain set of criteria, check out the Online Airport Facilities Guide on this site. You can search by city, services, facilities, restaurants and more!

Until next time, fair winds and blue skies,



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