Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Flying The Famous Abby Nelson!

Well she is to us anyway; famous.  My oldest daughter, Abby, has been dancing for quite a few years now and last fall she auditioned to be a company member for the new national dance expo called Dance League USA.  At the ripe old age of 10 she made it!  So that meant, in addition to her home studio's busy schedule, she has to attend at least two cities with this new group.  She gets to take all the classes during the expo, help the instructors as needed, and gets to perform during the closing show for all the attendees put on by the company owner, teachers, and fellow company members.

Given that it is winter, we weren't sure if we would be able to attend the inaugural event in Dallas, TX this last weekend, but as my Dad likes to say,"It was field grade flying weather!."  The girls already had last Friday and Monday off from school, so once Abby was done with her exams Thursday morning, we got her out of school early and took off for Dallas around noon.

As anyone that flies these parts knows, heading west during the winter will almost certainly treat you with a headwind.  So I abandoned my normal IFR flight plan and elected to to just head out VFR to get moving in the right direction without delay.  We got flight following at 4500' and settled in to the 30+ knot headwind which resulted in a ground speed of less than 120 knots at times; ughh!  I know, it's still fast, but when the true airspeed is 150 knots +, it stinks!

A little over three hours later we stopped at Meridian Aviation, our favorite FBO at Key Field (KMEI) in Meridian, MS for a quick turn to hit the restrooms, get fuel, and to load up on ice cream, popcorn, and hot dogs.  In less than thirty minutes, we were back in the air heading west.  A quick check of the winds aloft before takeoff showed that even though they were still high, there wasn't much difference up to 6500' so I elected to give that a try.  Well that didn't work out.  We leveled off and settled into cruise again, but this time we only averaged about 110 knots!  So after about 40 minutes of basically the same thing, we descended back to 4500' to see if the winds were a little less and if the bumps were tolerable.  And the answer to both was yes!  We gained about 10-15 knots and even though we left smooth air at 6500', the ride at 4500' had only occasional light chop.

As we approached Tyler, TX, we watched the sun set.  It has been a long time since I had my family in the plane at night, but we all enjoyed the pretty views below; especially the nighttime approach over the Dallas Metroplex and landing into the Dallas Executive Airport (KRBD).  After we landed, we taxied to Ambassador Jet Center, out favorite FBO when visiting Dallas, shutdown, unloaded into the rental car they had pulled up next to the plane, and we're quickly on our way to the hotel.  After a quick bite at In-N-Out Burger by the hotel, we settled in to our room and got some much needed rest.

Abby didn't have to start her dance stuff till Friday evening, so we enjoyed a great visit and lunch with Kristi's Mom and stepfather during the day.  After playing with Mimi & Grandpa Don, we took the girls back to the hotel so Abby could get ready for company rehearsal.  They rehearsed for about three hours and Abby finally got to bed around 10 pm.  Saturday was going to be an early and exciting day!

Abby was up and out the door before sunrise, so she was ready start at 7:30 am!  Not me......Mary and I slept in, then got ready for our day with a stop at the doughnut shop.  At these dance conventions, the attendees spend all day in various classes and then compete at night.  Abby got to learn more techniques in ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, and hip-hop as well as she assisted the instructors as needed.  The highlight of the first full day was that some of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders came to visit.  They did a little question & answer session and then let everyone get autographs.  Abby was pretty stoked!

My Dad & Kim were also in town visiting for business so we got to spend time with them too!  Mary and I picked up Grandpa Saturday morning and proceeded to the Dallas Zoo for a few hours of fun.  We got to see the insect building, the reptiles & amphibians, penguins, gorillas, and even fed the giraffes.  On the way out she got one ride on the carousel which of course she HAD to find a "pretty" horse to ride!

Sunday was another early start for Abby so she could attend the day's classes.  Mary and I drove out again to meet up with Grandma & Grandpa, Ellie, and Karen to enjoy a tasty brunch at the Brookhaven Country Club.  The convention was was over by 2 pm and we all went back at the hotel to watch Abby dance in the closing show.  Mimi and Pam also joined us so we had quite the little cheering section going for Abby.  She did great!

Monday morning came early and it meant it was time to check-out and head home, but not before seeing our friends Gina & Pat for breakfast.  Flying on your own has it's benefits since we were able to pace our morning schedule and enjoy our time with our friends without feeling rushed.  After paying our fuel bill, loading the plane, and conducting the pre-flight inspection, we were in the air and headed home around noon.

The weather again was CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) so we departed VFR and got flight following at 7500'.  Our departure out of the DFW airspace was painless and although the winds aloft were not as strong as they were on the way out, they were decent tailwinds!  A little over two and half ours later, we landed in Meridian, MS for our now usual rest stop and quick turn.

The last leg home was a little over 2 hours and we averaged about 170 knots (almost 200 MPH!).  As we cruised over the farmlands of the South, a lot of farmers were making their seasonal burns.  As the sun set, you could see the flames pretty well.  We had a nice, smooth nighttime approach and landing back home in to Jacksonville.  One of the biggest successes for us this trip was Mary.  It's not easy for anyone to be coped up in a small plane for a long time, but Mary has traditionally required a little more help than could be give at time over the years.  Not this time!  She was a perfect little traveler and even allowed Mom to get some nap time in on occasion during the flights.  This looks encouraging!

A few things learned this trip:

1.  This was the first VFR cross country I had done in years.  I know it's available at my home drome, but the ground controllers at KMEI and KRBD will happily arrange flight following for you.  This sure makes life easier once you take off.

2.  Our hotel room had two double beds so it's not easy to all four of us to comfortably fit.  Short of getting a roll-away, which can cost extra, we brought along our twin sized AeroBedwhich made the sleeping arrangements easier to deal with.

3.  The family did great!  No complaints at all.  It was 7 hours of flying time to Dallas and only 5 hours for the return home!  My iPod Touch is still working well to provide in-flight music and I have discovered that Abby is a perfect DJ as she selects a nice variety of music while we travel.

4.  I seriously considered flying into Dallas Love Field (KDAL), home of Southwest Airlines, for this trip since we were staying on the north side of town and one of the FBOs there advertises relatively cheap AVGAS.  I never called to ask about ramp and parking fees.  We have used Ambassador Jet Center a few times before and you just cant beat it.  Yes, we had about 15 mins more driving time, but we didn't have to get sequenced into the flow at KDAL, which I'm sure is not and issue, but I know it WOULD add time nonetheless.  Ambassador has good fuel prices and does not charge ANY ramp, handling, and tie-down fees.  In addition, as long as you buy fuel, they will put your plane in a hangar if the have space available and we have always received that benefit.  Why go anywhere else?

It must have been shirt giveaway day on Monday!  Ambassador gave us a nice polo shirt and Merdian Aviation gave all us t shirts!  Pretty cool!
Our Swag!!!
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