Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flying Around the 2012 County Line Fire

As usual I haven't flown since we got back from Spring Break over two weeks ago. Not good for the plane or me! Unfortunately fire season has arrived with a vengeance here in Florida and visibilities were down to less than 3/4 mile in smoke yesterday all the way out to the coast. Yesterday's afternoon sea breeze pushed it all back inshore, but it was forecasted to return today. (See: Florida Forest Service)

With some available time this morning I decided to head out to the airport to at least "see" the plane and complete a few housekeeping items. When I left the house it was beautiful clear skies; no smoke! So with my chores complete, I went flying instead. Yeah!  I had no plan other than to just go fly. I thought about flying along the coast or flying to Plataka for fuel, but decided to just head west at first and then we'll see where we go.

I always try to "play" with something in the plane each time I fly to get to know her better. This time I played with the power setting tables to see if my airspeed remained unchanged with various combinations of RPM and manifold pressure to maintain 65% power. Sure enough it worked! I really shouldn't be surprised, but it was nice to confirm that the engine is working properly. So at 4500 feet I was flying at about 134 KIAS and 144 KTAS. While flying at 65% at the lower RPM of 2100 and higher manifold pressure of 24.3 in, I was burning well over a gallon per hour less. Every little bit helps so when I find myself flying a little lower, I'll have to remember to pull out the tables and use the lower RPM for desired settings.

So after heading west and with my playing complete, I came in to view of the County Line Fire located about 40 miles west of Jacksonville near the Taylor VOR in Northeast Florida. Currently there is a TFR over the area, but I stayed well above it and on the north and east sides of the fire lines. I took a few pictures and then descended to 3500 feet as I turned around an headed back for Jacksonville. I snapped a few more shots and enjoyed the flight back home.  It was a great morning, and I thank all those firefighters on the front lines!

Monday, April 2, 2012

And The Thunderstorms Parted........

I flat out refuse to allow myself to get into a situation where we NEED to get somewhere in the plane when conditions aren't right.  I'll drive, fly commercially, or just delay till the conditions are safe.  We planned to come home on Saturday which left us at least an extra day if needed.  The forecasts for Saturday were perfect for us to get from Treasure Cay (MYAT) to Fort Pierce, FL (KFPR) to clear Customs.  On the other hand, the forecast for home was showing 50% or greater chances of thunderstorms associated with a cold front moving in from the northwest.

If we waited an extra day in Treasure Cay the weather may have been better, but I would have to contend with the remnants of the front and forecasted high winds.  I decided to go ahead and leave Saturday and if need be we would stay the night in Florida somewhere and finish the leg home on Sunday.  I filed my IACO Flight Plan and eAPIS manifest in the morning.  I was a little worried about the eAPIS manifest since the Internet went out the night before.  I can always file my flight plan over the phone or in the air, but I have no other options for the manifest.  Luckily the Internet was back up in the morning and Sydney picked us up at 10:30 am and we were loaded up and wheels up around noon.

When we flew down I had a lot of static on the last frequency with Miami Center.  I thought it was them, but it was me!  I had this happen before in the Arrow as well.  With a certain active frequency dialed into Com 1, and a different one dialed in to the active side of Com 2, that combination causes static on my Com 1.  It is by far not a common event and this time it just so happened when I had 134.2 dialed in to Com 1 and 122.8 dialed in to Com 2.  When we departed Treasure Cay and I turned back to Com 1 to pick up my clearance from Miami Center, the static was still there.  That led me to recall  that previous experience with the Arrow and as soon as I hit the "flip-flop" button on Com 2 and took 122.8 out of the active slot, the static disappeared!

Anyway, we got our usual clearance to Fort Pierce (KFPR) :  ZFP Angee Direct at 8000 feet.  About an hour and fifteen minutes after leaving Treasure Cay, we were shut down on the US Customs & Border Patrol ramp at Fort Pierce (KFPR).  During the flight I kept panning the Garmin 496with XM Weather to check out the conditions at home.  Sure enough a huge thunderstorm was building west of Jacksonville and moving east.  The one thing I did notice was that nothing yet was developing south and there was a huge gap between that cell and the line of thunderstorms behind it.  I told Kristi that instead of having lunch at the Airport Tiki like we usually did, we would make this a quick turn.  Clear Customs, get gas, and get back in the air for the hour and a half flight home.  I figured we could at least get closer to home and still have numerous "outs" along the way like Daytona Beach and St Augustine to stay the night if need be.

With one last check of the radar at the FBO, the weather was cooperating so we launched for home.  We climbed to 11,000 feet to remain well above most of the weather.  We dodged a few build ups here and there, but for the most part we stayed in the clear.  As we progressed north, the huge cell was right over our home airport, KCRG, but moving east at 16 knots.  The gap behind it was still there and holding which was great.  As we flew over Daytona I could pick up the ATIS for KCRG which had now issued as special weather update for thunderstorms and heavy rain.  No worries, we were 30 plus minutes out so things were looking great.

We could see a nice cell building over Palatka to the west as we passed, but we were nowhere near it.   Once we we got handed off to the Jacksonville Approach controllers, they reported that the thunderstorm was now moving offshore and to expect a visual approach at home.  I told them I visually agreed with what their  radar showed and thanked them for the perfect timing!  A few minutes later we touched down on Runway 32 in clear, dry skies.  We unloaded and secured the plane, went to the grocery store and McDonald's, and got home about 15 minutes before the rest of the front and thunderstorms arrived!

Spring Break was unfortunately over, but we had an awesome time.  The storms had parted perfectly for us and we were glad to be home.  The price of the XM Weather subscription, in my opinion, is worth every penny.  I don't use it to to allow me to push the envelope, but to keep us safe and always aware of our outs when needed.  That's the key: ALWAYS LEAVE YOURSELF AN OUT!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2 Dive Trips This Time!

I always feel spoiled when I can take a day for myself to go diving with Treasure Divers.  This year I got to go twice and I was joined by Karen, a family friend, on the second day.  I met some great folks on this trip.  I met a neat lady from Germany who just recently went on a dive boat holiday in the Galapagos.  I also met a kind family from Ohio and the father and son were using the dive trips to finish up on the open water certifications.  Brent, Treasure Divers' owner, and Sandy always make my experiences memorable, but I truly enjoyed meeting and diving with the other divers this year.

On Monday we got to dive on the northeast side of Great Guana Cay on Turtle Reef and The Cathedral.  We spotted a sea turtle, a beautiful Queen Angelfish, a huge grouper, a stingray, some good size barracuda, and enjoyed some swim-throughs and beautiful reef structures.

On Tuesday, Karen and I got to dive on the wreck of the USS San Jacinto.  The wreck is huge and you can still see the boilers and a lot of the ship's remaining structure.  The entire area is teeming with huge schools of fish.  I found a French Angelfish and the largest Parrot Fish I have ever seen.  Its beak was probably the size of my fist!  After the wreck dive, we shifted back to the area we dove on Monday and did our second dive on The Round Wall.  Here I found an amazing Gray Angelfish.

Originally we were going to make Tuesday's trip an all day adventure with lunch at Nipper's, but the weather dictated otherwise.  With dark skies approaching, we all agreed to head back to Treasure Cay and call it a day.  We made it back to the dock and to our condo just before the brunt of the weather arrived.  I can't wait to go back.  I find something new every time I dive which is really amazing.

Here is a slide show of my dive pics.  If the slide show doesn't work, follow this link to the online album:  Treasure Cay, Spring 2012 Dive Photos

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