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I finally got checked out to fly a few different airframes solo (or with anyone else that doesn’t have an instructor rating) out of Savannah Airport about 3 weeks ago.  It took about 10 hours of flying to re-hash both my VFR and IFR currencies (though I have yet to get signed off on night flying).

Aside from just doing something I enjoy, one of my goals in regaining my currency was to “revolutionize” the way I travel (and build up a set of “air” legs for Pam along the way).  I mean, let’s face it: after 15 years of driving (especially over the past 2 years of road-tripping to and from every TDY I go on), the whole luster and adventure of going across the country in a car has worn off a little bit.  Besides, do it in an airplane (that you’re in control of) and you get there three times as fast with twice the adventure along the way, leaving more time for the destination.  Of course, all those advantages do come with a slight increase in price tag for travel… probably about double of what it costs to operate a car (but you may break even if you take hotel costs into account that long road trips incur).

Immediately after I got checked out, I started planning the maiden voyage for the family: a measly 1-hour hop to St. Simons Island for lunch… the proverbial $100 hamburger.  I was TDY (again) last week, and the weekend before got rained out with tornado warnings.  So this weekend was the one.  Saturday solidified my resolve even more with cloudless skies; I reserved the only plane left for Sunday afternoon, a 2-seat VFR-only Diamond Eclipse.

Diamond DA-20

Sunday afternoon arrived with a 30% chance of storms and building clouds.  The clouds, though low, were high enough that I could stay underneath them legally and the thunderstorms seemed more of the pop-up variety (ie, there really wasn’t a line marching toward Savannah or St. Simons Island).  The weather could go either way though; granted the plane is rigged for “in the clear” flying only, I was frustrated from pushing this trip off for two weeks already… time’s up, let’s do this!

I got everyone loaded up and hopped in.  After starting the engine, I ended up spending an extra 10 minutes on the ground trying to figure out why the intercom wasn’t working (it worked prior to engine start).  Screw it; we can always yell and still hear each other in the cockpit.  On we pressed.

Getting to St. Simons Island was uneventful (for me).  Pam tried to shoot a picture of our house as we flew over it (lower left) but had the camera in video-record mode accidentally; oops.  Brenden fell asleep in her lap shortly thereafter (lower right).

Brenden sleeping in flight

[flv:/video/MaidenFlight.flv 240 180]

I was mostly following the Atlantic coast for the scenery, making the flight a little over an hour long. Pam was a champ throughout the whole flight (even if I did have to fly straight and level to prevent stirring her stomach). The thought crossed my mind to fly a pattern before I landed at St. Simons, but then I looked over at Pam using three fingers to keep her lips shut… better make it a straight-in and a full stop; I didn’t have any barf bags (item #1 to buy after landing).

Mullet Bay
We ended up eating at this place called Mullet Bay.  The food really hit the spot even though in the whole scheme of things, it probably wasn’t to write home about.  I always find that an adventure can turn “unremarkable” food into really good food (at least, that was the case on all the motorcycle rallies Pam and I have been on).  Anyway, we finished eating with a sound of thunder here, a lightning bolt there, and eventually tornado warnings that were 30-40 minutes out.  Time to figure out the weather and make some decisions.

Either I could hurry up and try to outrun the stormline to Savannah, or I could let it pass (wait about an hour or two) and try to get back to Savannah in the aftermath.  I chose the latter since the plane was, after all, only outfitted for visual flight.  Damn – should’ve rented one of the IFR birds; I’ll write that one down for next time.  So we waited… and looked at the weather…

Waiting out the Storm

and waited some more… until I ran out of daylight.  Ultimately, there were points where I probably (with some luck) could have made it work… but why? No need to neither potentially wipe out the Snakeye clan with one fell swoop nor piss off the plane-rental people with what they perceive as John Wayne’ing it. Since Pam really had to work today, we rented a car to drive home for the night.

I took a day of leave and drove back to St. Simons Island this morning. The weather was still shit and I ended up waiting for about 3 hours; once the front was passing and clouds gave way to wind, I was outta there. The nice thing about being out here: just follow the coastline north to the next big city… and I did just that between 1,000 ft and 1,500 ft. Other than being incredibly bumpy, the landing back here was no problem… and hence closes the “initial voyage” of the Snakeye crew.

Well I guess it was more a partial voyage, since it was just me, myself and I on the way home. On hindsight, I think Pam would’ve needed all 5 puke bags for the return trip had she been there (either last night or this morning). Be it the clouds/storms from last night or the high gusty wind from this morning, I was getting tossed like a salad… Really though, it was pretty bumpy.

All said and done, I guess that “$100 hamburger” ended up being a $300 hamburger including the damn car rental. Oh well, misadventures can be fun too… and they tend to be more memorable. One of my fondest motorcycle memories was getting hailed on while riding to Albuquerque with Pam and the guys… and trust me, that was NOT fun at the time.

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