Sun N' Fun 2021
(the following trip log generously detailed by Greg Valvo)
Planning for the trip began weeks in advance with Club Flight committee members Robert and Julius brainstorming activates. Ideas included the Sun 'n Fun event itself, a trip to Key West, Disney Land, and a tactical pistol shooting course. Plans coalesced into a multi-ship mission to the Lakeland area with several side trips to keep things interesting.
During the pre-trip period, several people dropped out due to maintenance issues with some of the JAC fleet. Alex, a main instigator of the Sun n' Fun mission, decided he was going to visit Florida relatives instead. Julius switched between different airplanes like a hobo changing trains. He eventually ended up going with Alex in his partnership Mooney. Robert took several conference calls.
A plan eventually emerged for the Saratoga crew (Robert, Guillermo, Greg) still going to Sun n' Fun:
* Sunday - Depart N12 for Winter Haven FL (KGIF).
* Monday - Side trip flight down to Key West - Alex and Julius would join us.
* Tuesday - Attend Sun n' Fun.
* Wednesday - Attend Sun n' Fun.
* Thursday - Participate in the tactical pistol training course - Alex and Julius would join us for this too.
* Friday - Fly home.
Friday, 9 April:
Alex and Julius depart for the Miami area.
Sunday, 11 April:
Based on based on forecasts the night before, Greg filed IFR for an early morning departure from N12 to the planned fuel stop - Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport (KEQY). Come Sunday morning, the TAF proved to be annoyingly accurate. We arrived at Lakewood and were greeted by a 200 foot ceiling, sky obscured, and less than 1/2 mile visibility. Undaunted, we loaded up the Saratoga with flight bags, suit cases, water, beer on-ice, and 55 pounds of Pistol Ammo that Alex didn’t have the payload capacity to carry in his Mooney (at least not with Julius on-board). Then ….. we waited, and waited, and waited … for the weather to lift.
During this time Robert made a breakfast run and returned with egg sandwiches, hamburgers, and what he claimed to be the World's Best Crum Cake (it was just OK).
Greg made numerous calls to McGuire Clearance to push back the departure time. Eventually, they told him that the flight plan would be in the system for another 3 hours and to stop calling them.
Finally, after 3 hours, the WX improved to about 600 broken with 2-3 miles visibility. So, we jumped in the plane and launched with Greg flying and Guillermo handling Comm. Our IFR clearance was pretty much "As Filed" and fairly direct.
After entering solid IMC around 1000 feet, we finally broke out into beautiful sunshine above the overcast at 5000 feet. Once through Delaware and into Virginia, the undercast started to become broken. We were able to stay mostly visual for the remainder of the flight. But the buildups did grow as the day heated up. We cranked and banked around the ones we could (to help, Greg made fighter jet noises) and flew through the rest - they weren't too bumpy. With strong headwinds, the ~440 nm trip was completed at a disappointing average ground speed of 125 KTS.
After a bathroom break and quick lunch at the airport (nobody wanted any of the 5 pounds of trail mix that Greg brought), we launched IFR again for KGIF with Guillermo flying and Greg on Comm. We were still carrying Alex's 60 pounds of Pistol Ammo.
It turned out that the delayed departure from Lakewood didn't make much difference because a band of severe thunderstorms ripped through central Florida during much of the day. We would have ended up waiting somewhere else anyway. The storms had cleared out by the time of our 9pm arrival at Winter Haven.
Upon arrival we summoned an Uber -- Note for future trips: Get a rental car instead as Ubers are few and far between in the Lakeland / Winter Haven area. After the long flights, we enjoyed cold beers in the parking lot while waiting for the ride. Still nobody wanted any of Greg's trail mix. We left Alex's 65 pounds of Pistol Ammo in the plane.
Monday, 12 April:
Things got derailed a bit as the WX Monday morning did not support our planned flight to Key West. "No Problem" we said, we'll just go to the Sun n' Fun event today. Unfortunately, the show didn't open until Tuesday. So, we needed a new plan.
We settled on a side-trip to St. Petersburg for bike riding along the beach. Greg located a bike rental shop there and Robert (in between taking several conference calls) arranged to rent a Tesla for the drive. Still, nobody wanted any trail mix.
It turned out to be a pleasant day with bike riding, lunch at a beach-front restaurant, swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, and drinks on a rooftop bar overlooking Tamp Bay on one side and the sunset over St. Petersburg on the other. Robert took a conference call.
On the drive back, we got to witness various forms of bizarre human behavior while sitting at a gas station waiting for the Tesla to charge. As it was late when we got back to Lakeland, we ate at the same restaurant as we did the previous night.
Tuesday, 13 April:
The weather in south Florida and the Keys cleared and were ready for our flight to Key West. Due to the scarcity of Ubers, we called a car service recommended by the staff at Winter Haven airport for the trip over there.
Upon arrival at the airport, we discovered that neither Robert nor Greg thought it would be a good idea to actually bring keys for the Saratoga along. Both sets were back at the hotel in Lakeland. Calling yet another car service, we arranged for a driver to go to our hotel (without us) and pick up the keys that we asked the hotel staff to retrieve from Greg's room. So, 90 minutes and $60 later, we had the keys. While we waited, Robert took a conference call. He also arranged for a fishing trip / sunset cruise in Key West. Still no takers for Greg's trail mix.
So, a little behind schedule, we launched for the hour and 40 minute flight to Key West, still lugging along Alex's 70 pounds of Pistol Ammo. Robert flew this leg and made a wonderful landing at Key West International (KEYW).
Grabbing an Uber (which ARE plentiful in Key West), we finally met up with Alex and Julius for lunch at a Cuban restaurant. Robert, Guillermo, and Greg had already arranged to spend the night, so they enjoyed lunchtime drinks.
We then headed for our charter fishing trip. It turned out to be less of a charter and more like a guy with a boat. We didn't catch any fish either. But, it was a lot of fun and the sunset, as viewed over the Gulf from the boat, was absolutely spectacular.
At the end of the boat ride, we said goodbye to Alex and Julius who were flying back to Miami that night. Robert, Guillermo, and Greg headed for the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. During his shower, Robert took a conference call while Greg ate trail mix. We had a good dinner then walked around a little visiting a couple Key West bars.
Wednesday, 14 April:
Uber to the airport and Greg flew the leg back to Winter Haven -- still lugging Alex's 75 pounds of Pistol Ammo.
Our regular car service lady took us (and a couple other pilots) from Winter Haven to Lakeland airport for the Sun n' Fun - with a stop on the way for road-side BBQ. She continued on to our Lakeland hotel and dropped off our bags from the Key West trip.
After figuring out where to get tickets and enter the show, we wandered about for several hours taking in the sights, static displays, and aerobatic shows. Also picked up some SWAG. The only disappointing part was the show's Beer Tent -- miserable selection.
At the end of the day, we called Charlie's Taxi for a ride back to the hotel. After showering, Greg and Guillermo had Happy Hour by the pool. Robert took a conference call.
Thursday, 15 April:
Finally, managed to get an Uber in Lakeland. Headed to Winter Haven airport for the flight to Immokalee Regional Airport (KIMM) which is in south Florida, surrounded by ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Middle of nowhere. Robert did a nice job flying the leg -- still lugging Alex's 80 pounds of Pistol Ammo.
Upon arrival, we took a crew car to Force IMI to attend our Tactical Pistol Shooting class. Here we met up with Alex and Julius again and finally handed Alex his 85 pounds of Pistol Ammo.
It was a very interesting class in close-range pistol combat taught by an expert instructor who spent years running security at Israeli embassies in South America. We each shot several hundred rounds in various tactical scenarios.
Afterwards, the gang had take-out Mexican food at the on-facility apartment where Robert, Guillermo, and Greg were spending the night. Then Alex and Julius drove back to Miami. Robert took a conference call.
Friday, 16 April:
Got a ride back to Immokalee Airport and started our journey back to New Jersey.
Robert flew the first leg to Conway-Horry County Airport (KHYW), west of Myrtle Beach South Carolina. Despite being told to remain clear of the Class Bravo by Orlando approach, it was a fairly direct flight. No Pistol Ammo this time, but Greg still had three pounds of trail mix.
In Conway, we took a crew car for a nice lunch overlooking the Waccamaw River.
Guillermo flew the last leg direct to Lakewood. By then weather in the area had cleared out enough for a VFR arrival.
It was a great trip with a great crew. I look forward to doing another one.