Monday, February 08, 2021

Port Saint Lucie, Florida

Mary and I needed a get-away and we have been thinking long and hard about Florida as the go to spot.  We wanted to look at a few properties on each coast for our winter getaways, and visit with my brother and his wife for his birthday. 

My initial planning looks like a six hour flight so I'll make one stop midway to top off with cheap fuel and then continue on. I have explored multiple stops; Grand Strand SC, Georgetown SCMt. Pleasant SC, listed closest to farthest. The final selection will depend on winds aloft Thursday morning.

Every flight plan starts with weather watching and I have started a week in advance. It feels good to knock off the rust on my flight planning. Having only done local day flights of late, a pilot can loose the long range planning skills needed for safe flight. I explored all my go-to web pages, NOAA Graphical Forecast, Vans Airforce Weather, Skew T Soundings, and Foreflight Imagery.

Thursday - Departure Day

I selected Mt. Pleasant SC, KLRO for our one and only fuel stop and a chance to stretch our legs. Mary and I arrived at OXB at 7:15 and I finished up the preflight. I followed the inspection by adding the bags, we were just under max gross take-off weight by seven pounds.

Ocean City has runway 14-32 closed by NOTAM. This morning's choice would be runway 2. The connecting taxiway, Hotel, was also closed thus requiring a full length back taxi. 

I launched, and made my call to Patuxent approach in order to open my IFR flight plan. An easy peasy start to the day with the always welcome, cleared as filed. Mary quickly returned to dream land while I did that pilot stuff. 
I counted seven tankers at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay as we slipped by overhead. The ride this morning was smooth, and we enjoyed some tailwinds.

Grand Strand KCRE
As we continued south I was handed off to multiple approach controllers, but for the most part the ride was quiet.  
Norfolk handed me off to Washington Center and I was quickly given direct PLANN, I had to confirm the spelling since I thought ATC had said FLANN, somehow food is always on my mind.

This leg was three hours from wheels up to landing at Mt. Pleasant. I entered the right downwind for runway three-five and followed a Cirrus to the ramp. Once shut down the fuel truck pulled up, the line personnel was responsive and friendly. The airport was clean and in excellent shape.

Mary decided to stay in the plane, no stretching the legs, she was ready to go. I settled up the bill and we were off.

Second Leg
With 3 Tango Charlie fueled and ready to go we launch for our final destination, Fort Pierce Florida, KFPR. I had taken on enough fuel to bring me to fifty total for the last hop.  3 Tango Charlie hot started with no problem and we taxied out for departure. 

Once in the air I contacted Charleston approach and picked up my IFR clearance to Ft. Pierce, we were once again on our way.  The ride was smooth but we now had somewhat of a headwind. Approach had asked my speed when I picked up the clearance and I responded 130 to 135 knots.

Once level in cruise I had to run a bit harder to hit 130, averaging 127 all the way to Savannah. Upon reaching Savannah I turned south and the tailwinds picked up and carried us along.  The ATC hand offs continued and all controllers did a great job. At this point I noticed the radio was starting to get busy. 
Approach directed me to climb to eight thousand for slower traffic and I complied. I could have cancelled, and I did give it some thought, but with all the busy airspace ahead I thought it best to suck it up and get it done. I eventually requested six thousand once clear of the traffic I was following.  As we crossed into Florida we were handed off to Jacksonville approach, the tempo had surely intensified. 

The outside temps had started to rise and the need for cabin heat diminished.  Mary started peeling off her jacket, then followed with her vest.  I had long ago shut my floor vent off and was enjoying the cool air from my overhead vent.
From Jekyll Island south we followed the east coast, just off shore, eventually crossing back to land at Ormond beach. Along the way each coastal airport was a bee hive of activity, I was wondering where so many planes had come from. I hadn’t seen this much activity since flying in New York. 

The radio was buzzing with chatter, it was a rude awakening compared to sleepy winter Ocean City. Traffic was heavy and I was no longer following my flight plan, instead, I was following vectors to keep clear of traffic. I switched off GPSS and relied on my heading bug to lessen my workload, choosing to take advantage of the autopilot. 

Once on with Orlando approach I advised that I had the weather at FPR. I was handed off to the next Orlando sector and ATC advised to expect the visual into Ft Pierce. ATC  did a nice job of stepping me down for the airport with the requirement of not to exceed 90 knots. I complied and had to dirty up the Commander to fall in the Congo line to land. I made a nice landing and taxied for the APP Jet Center.  
Once parked I took on fuel and confirmed our hangar space. My brother and his bride were at the gate and helped us handle the bags once they were given access to the ramp, in their vehicle. 
The drive to the condo was just under twenty miles. Once home and unpacked I took a nap to give my right leg a rest. Sitting for so many hours really takes a toll and I could hardly walk on it.  Ibuprofen to the rescue!
I slept for maybe an hour, hour and a half. The meds kicked in and my wheels were once again feeling “normal”. Dinner plans were changed and the four of us decided on tacos. I went along for the ride to pick up our take out order at Taco Dive.  Mary had two steak tacos, I had one beef, one chicken, and a pork I didn’t even get to. My brother and his bride each had two shrimp tacos.  We closed out our day playing cards (canasta), actually relearning the game from my childhood.  It was so nice to finally sit a talk with my brother face to face. The last time we were together was pre-covid. Texting and talking on the phone will never replace real face time.


What a great start, my brother cooked breakfast. We had scrambled eggs, home fries, and bacon. Following all the good eats I hooked up with a realtor here in Port Saint Lucie.  This realtor was referred to me by my friend and fellow pilot Charles G. Mary and I had discussed our wants and needs for a Florida home and we relayed this list to the agent. Now that he was on the hunt we all saddled up and went on a tour of the local communities. We found the perfect home in a 55 and older community that accepted our fur baby and met all our wants. One problem, it blew through our budget without a second thought. Back to the drawing board. 

After a long day of searching we headed home to relax a bit then headed out to dinner. Tonight we went to the Stuart Boat House
My brothers birthday dinner was fantastic! We all took a short walk to help digest our meals and walk to the SUV. I have to say the town of Stuart was bustling with activity. Restaurants were busy and on the ride home I  noticed all of the mall parking lots were loaded with vehicles. Day two ends relaxing at home, and an early night heading off to bed. 


This morning my brother made pancakes, once again he did a great job.  With full tummy’s we headed to Dubois Park. 
The parks in Florida are amazing.  At least the state of Florida puts your tax dollars to good use. I will also say that the many sports complexes are just as beautiful. I guess the drive was maybe thirty minutes south.  Parking was free, there were also shower and bathroom facilities available. The park was doted with picnic tables, BBQ grills and there were life guards on duty. 
Jupiter Lighthouse

Red-headed rock agama

Jupiter Lighthouse
After exploring the park we headed back north to investigate some condo listings our agent provided. The first place was in a beautiful gaited community. We wanted to check the place out and asked the first car entering if we could piggy back on passing through the gate to look at a listing, he agreed. The condo was adjacent to Greenville Point on the St Lucie River, just a gorgeous location. 

The second condo was in Vero beach but we decided to call it a day. After a quick phone call to the agent we agreed to tour homes tomorrow, Vero beach will be first. I was also advised that the condo near Greenville Point was now under contract, that was quick. Tonight we relax with wine, crackers, cheese, and maybe more cards. 


The forecast matched the conditions which were not good for our flight north. The revised departure from FPR will be 8:30 Monday morning. 
The plan for today is to tour with the real estate agent. One of the properties we had scheduled to see went under contract yesterday, they seem to move fast.  So today we are heading to the Vero Beach Area. 

One of the biggest hurdles is our Ziva girl. Twenty pounds seems to be the weight/size that is allowed, Ziva is 110 lbs. The other concern is hangar space, the availability and location relative to whatever property we decide on. 

Sigh...Right about now a new motorhome is looking better for our mission.

Monday - Departure Day

It’s an early start to a day of flying, let’s get to the airport.  Joe drove us north to Ft. Pierce airport and we rolled right out on the ramp to load the bags. APP Jet had 3 Tango Charlie ready to go at 8am.  

I squared up the bill for hangar space which was $45 a night. A bit more then I wanted to pay but I knew the plane would be safe from storms.  I completed my pre-flight and we said our goodbyes, at least Joe and Janice will be back up north soon.

METAR KFPR 080753Z AUTO 03005KT 10SM OVC16 21/18 A3005

Once the fan was turning I set up my GPS and took care of all the cockpit tasks prior to movement. With instruments and radios set I requested my IFR clearance to Mt Pleasant KLRO. 

A 2/6 in ten
F 123.62
T 7442

When my run up was complete I advised ready to go at A5 and Runway 10R. My new instructions were fly heading 100°, that was it. Ok, that heading will take me out over the ocean headed to the continent of about then As Filed?

Once wheels up and climbing out I was quickly handed off to Orlando approach just after going feet wet. Orlando turned me towards Melbourne (MLB) once identified and position verified. 
We were in IMC until breaking out around 5,800 feet. After the initial break out we were in and out of the clouds until we passed Ormond Beach. The view on top was beautiful.
The ride was still very smooth and we had a slight tailwind. I was handed off to multiple approaches; Daytona, and Jacksonville (two sectors). The last Jack Approach amended my route, Direct BASSO direct KLRO. Well that was an easy update to the GPS and a time saver. 
Direct BASSO
The direct BASSO route takes me about nine miles offshore as we road along at seven thousand feet. With tail winds I could easily make the shore line in an emergency. I was splitting traffic on V1 that was heading southbound.
Saint Simmons Island
I was handed off to Savanah then Beaufort and finally Charleston Approach. Charleston stepped me down and once I reported Mt. Pleasant in sight, and had the weather, they cut me loose. It was an easy entry to the left down wind for runway 17 and I followed with a smooth landing. Once shut down on the ramp I took on thirty-four gallons to bring me back to fifty. Mary didn't bother to get out of the plane so I grabbed her a Dr. Pepper and crackers.

3 Tango Charlie did not immediately hot start, I had to try a few times before she fired up. I don't think I held the pump on long enough on the initial start. 

I taxied to runway 17 and after my run up launched for home. The Garmin 480 was showing 2 hours and 46 minutes to OXB. The sky was now CAVU along with a smooth ride. No short cuts on this leg but we did manage a few pictures along the way. 
What a view passing over Norfolk! We could see Virginia Beach in the distance off our right wing and clearly see the entire Bay Bridge tunnel. As we went feet wet over the Chesapeake there was a good bit of traffic, both military and commercial. My head was on a swivel and the ADSB really helped. 

The best part of the flight came as we crossed the Bay and were just about to reach the Delmarva Peninsula. I got a call out for traffic, two F22's.  Yes my excitement was now full on mode. I then hear ATC ask if it's a flight of two or four...this is getting even better. 
My mind flashes back to the Top Gun Scene when Slider calls, "Ice we have a problem here, now I'm bringing up four aircraft on radar, not one pair but two pair."  Mary and I are straining to see the F22's, both trying to spot them and then there they are, one thousand feet high at our one o'clock, it was awesome! 

With that excitement I now had to settle myself back down and keep flying.  Wow, what a sight passing right overhead. We continued for home with a handoff to Patuxent approach as we made our way north. Pax asked our on course heading to confirm we would not enter the R-6604 restricted area at Wallops Flight Facility. I advised my heading and even turned away a few degrees to make sure I was clear.
I cancelled with Pax and switched to Ocean City to monitor traffic. It was quiet, I had the airport to myself as I entered a long left down wind for runway two-zero. I made a nice landing and rolled out, forgetting about the taxiway closure that required me to have to back taxi. I made a one eighty and headed to the hangar. 
It was fun trip flying and even better catching up with my brother after all this time. It felt good to get the first real cross country completed in our Commander. 3 Tango Charlie flew perfectly, a real pleasure, and the speeds reduced the flight time. I felt on top of my GPS work and it really felt good getting some IMC time. I had not gotten my ticket wet since the Summer of 2018.

New airports - 2 (136) KLRO and KFPR
Air time - 12 hours round trip
IMC time - .6 hours
Miles - 1526 nm


Chris said...

It’s great to see you traveling again!

Jim Rowe said...

Great write up, as usual Gary. Thanks for letting me "fly along." Welcome home!


Gary said...

Thanks! We had a blast and 3 Tango Charlie is a fun travel machine.

Gary said...

Chris, very exciting to get back traveling. We may be headed back in March if we find that winter get-away.

Anonymous said...

Very cool! Another excellent adventure! Charlie N57

TangoWhiskey said...

What an awesome trip! Thanks for sharing!!

Gary said...

Troy, thanks! It was fun but short. For the video I kept it very basic, one camera. The bride doesn’t care for the crew cam and I just decided not to mess with wing views. Next trip back to multi cam set up.

Now if we could find a condo...

Gary said...

It’s time to get back to our travels. We’ve missed it.

JohnJ said...

Gary: Excellent blog and videos. Looking forward to your next trip already. A couple of questions:
1. Was the IFR one route and you essentially "suspend" it for the Mt. Pleasant stop or do you file two separate routes, one for each leg?
2. How well did the Aspen and 480 setup work for IFR flying?
3. What does one do for "bio breaks" for long cross countries like this one? Is the intermediate stop it or does one usually use pee pack type help along the way?
4. Was most of the flight helped by autopilot? And is the Commander everything you thought for CC flying?
Your videos with the inclusion of ATC and occasional instrument photos are very informative.

Gary said...


Thank you for the kind words.

1) I filed both legs in the morning with a three hour offset. Once fueled at Mt. Pleasant I launched and opened up the next IFR flight plan with approach.
2) My Aspen and the 480 work flawlessly, I just need to keep sharp with the button pushing ;)
3) I don't outfly the brides bladder :) She did not want to get out on the fuel stop instead she was ready to go the last 3 1/2 hours.
4) I hand flew everything in our Sundowner, shot all approaches and I was fine. In the Commander I have an awesome autopilot STec 60-2 that even shoots approaches. Every pilot still must keep proficient hand flying.

Thanks for checking in!