Where have you been? What have you seen?
I’m late in producing this trip report which was last November 2017, when poor flying weather in the USA really is like UK flying! Fog, low cloud, more fog and poor viz.

A planned VFR boys autumnal flying trip to the Florida Keys requires there being no Hurricanes down there, so November seemed a good month. We knew that there was a risk of some form of weather delays at that late time of year due to reduced VFR conditions from our northern departure points all the way southbound. And so it turned out to be...

Planned route:


Four of us were flying from separate departure airports in the mid-west in the four Taylorcraft that we each own.
I and Mike from near Chicago, Jim from north-west Iowa and Mark from Kansas City Missouri. Right from the start we were delayed 24 hours, which made Jim (trip organiser extraordinaire) work overtime to notify all the planned stopovers and places-of-interest of the delay.

There was a BIG front across the intended route for all of us:


But after that initial day's delay, we all four met up in Batesville Arkansas..24 hours late.

On the way south, Mike and I had to fly over some heavily-forested areas. We diverted our magenta line to remain within reasonable gliding range of a main road that followed our general direction. I’m as cautious as can be about flying over trees for hours at a time, but sometimes you have to do it!


Batesville were fantastic, giving us the keys for the Office to camp in and the keys to their courtesy car:


Next day...more bad weather!


We were delayed half a day, and took the opportunity to use the courtesy car again to visit the local museum and the locks on the White River which passes through Batesville. These have been converted to small-scale electric hydro-generating plants.


The local history was fascinating, especially the use of the river “back in the day” as the lifeblood of the community:


Anyway, after lunch the weather cleared a lot, so off we went south.

We fly over vast catfish farms:


And we cross the Mississippi many times on our way towards Louisiana.

The Mississippi, as we all know, is retained by vast levees to keep the water in the river channel when it floods. These are constantly maintained by the Civil Corps (perhaps it was them that built in the first place...) but anyway, each levee is now topped by a narrow hard runway! Just too tempting!



Four of us refuel in Vicksburg, as the sun is setting rather quickly! We still have a half-hour flight to our re-planned overnight stop:


....but we make it in time to the crop-spraying centre that is Magee. What a dump. Note to self: never go there again!


The next day, we met the panhandle of Florida, with a planned refuelling stop at Destin.
Boy, was this place busy! Our formation of four did not flumoux them, but we did volunteer to orbit on the downwing leg to assist with the jet arrivals.

(Below: Florida panhandle coastline)


(Below: refuelling at Destin...the only place we paid a handling fee)


Later that evening, we coasted further along the Gulf of Mexico, and I took the opportunity to take some sunset photos of Mark:


We were hosted that night by Jim’s cousin Joe, who has a lovely C150 based at a private airpark on the Florida east coast called Costin. I have met Joe before, at Jim’s home in Iowa.

(Below: Joe, at Costin, Florida. I had initially thought the waterway was for floatplanes, but it was just a waterway). So no drifting off the runway too much!


The following day was going to be a bit special; we had planned to meet with an old friend of mine Jon, who following retirement from the airlines, now summers in Florida. His old airline-pilot career brought him to the UK every week, and on many occasions he came and flew my Taylorcraft in the UK. I have also flown his in the US when he lived in New Hampshire. He was the main instigator of my first time flying into Oshkosh, back in 2001.

That Taylorcraft of his now lives in Florida, so the intention was to meet up with him and make a 5-ship, at least for one leg of our journey.

And that’s exactly what happened (with yet another weather delay first thing!)

We left Costin in fine weather. Turning eastbound, towards the southern-heading eastern coast of Florida proper, we encountered this coastal fog:




So we diverted into Wakulla County Airport for 20 minutes whilst the warming temperatures dispersed the fog.

I was now warm enough to get rid of the leggings and cabin heat and time to don shorts!

We met Jon at Perry airport, where he was to guide us to his private airpark at Little River

So we become a 5-ship!



Jon spends his summer months at this private airpark. The general idea of airparks is that you buy a plot of land adjacent to a runway, build a hangar (and then the house!) and everyone contributes to the upkeep of the runways, taxiways etc.

For departure the next morning, we took his private taxiway under the trees to reach the runway.

More later, as I get to type up the rest of the trip.
Iceman, Katamarino, mick w and 10 others liked this
Sorry for the delay in updating, I’ve been poor at keeping things up-to-date. However, here’s the next instalment.

From my Friend Jon’s place, we flew to Plant City, where we had arranged a tour around the Sensenich wood & composite propeller factory, which I reported separately here. Of note is the very warm welcome we received, despite us not even being customers (but we might in the future!)
Our next stop was Manatee where we stayed overnight with an old friend of Jim...said friend got a short video of us taking off in stream the next morning, after the early mist and dew had dispersed:

Early dew & mist at Manatee Florida:

Departure from Manatee:

So we continued south over the flatlands down the western (Gulf) seaboard of Florida...until another fog bank forced us to turn around near Fort Myers and retrace our route 35 miles, for an unplanned landing at Venice.
We were somewhat on a “get-there-itis” flight that day, because we had booked an apartment in Marathon on the Florida Keys, at some $800 for one night. But we weren’t in so much of a hurry to get stuck above cloud getting there!
Fortunately, within an hour of landing in Venice, the fog bank cleared so we could head south (and then south west across the Everglades) to the Keys.
As we approached the Everglades wetlands, we started to see the first evidence of the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida just two months before.

Below: Blue tarps over damaged roofs

Flying over the Everglades was a two-handed quandary. It has some stunning wetland scenery, with the reflection of the sky in the water, but on the other hand: where to go in case of problems? (the answer to that is in the drink, and watch out for crocodiles!)

With four aircraft in loose formation, the chances of a problem are multiplied...but also the resolution to any problem is assisted by the presence (and radio capability) of the participating aircraft.
In the middle of the Everglades is this rather empty and forlorn and (I assume former military) airport laconically called Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, which we used as a waypoint and overflight destination, only because it might offer a safe landing in case of trouble.

Apparently a lot of Miami flight schools use this as a destination / waypoint for student cross-countries.
Passing that, and heading further south, we hit the Keys proper

Between each island (properly called Cays but sounds like Keys) is usually a bridge, so we mostly flew along those.

....to Marathon (see if you can see Jim’s red Taylorcraft ahead of me

Marathon had been hard hit by Hurricane Irma. Our Taxi from Marathon airport went past some devastated places. The roadsides were piled high with water-destroyed furnishings, white goods, timber, sofas and other domestic and business losses, all waiting for them to be taken away along what is a little road back to the mainland.

They were desperate for tourist business, so we got a good deal on our accommodations, and we had the most fantastic meal at the Sunset Grill, well-named!

Our Apartment:

Sunset Grill:

Next day we headed further south (and west now!) Key West is well named!
Following the road. We pass by a break in the old road:

I know the reason why there is a break in this bridge, and a film (movie) was made which included it’s destruction, so 1 point for naming the film (I’ll re-visit this on the return flight).
We fly over further devastation:

...and a lot more blue roofs

As we approach Key West, we have to decide whether to fly around the US Naval Air Station airspace at Key West, or talk to them for a transit (remember, we are all non-transponder, and post 9-11 everyone of a military persuasion is still nervous, even after all this time).
So Jim chats with them, and without even a doubt they clear us as a formation through their overhead at 500 feet.

That puts us pretty much at right downwind at Key West International, so we change to their frequency straight away.

We see more hurricane damage, although Key West was not as badly affected as further east.
Signature at Key West:

So we made it to Key West, hurrah! We did do some mandatory tourist stuff:

And then to be honest, we left, because it was as interesting as that.
More later.
Katamarino, Dave W, mick w and 2 others liked this
Excellent write up and pics again, Rob. Thanks very much.

Rob L wrote:I know the reason why there is a break in this bridge, and a film (movie) was made which included it’s destruction, so 1 point for naming the film (I’ll re-visit this on the return flight).

James Cameron's True Lies. Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnie. 8)

A highly realistic movie, with absolutely no Hollywood ridiculousness.

Nope, none of that at all. ;)

Rob L wrote:In the middle of the Everglades is this rather empty and forlorn and (I assume former military) airport laconically called Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, which we used as a waypoint and overflight destination, only because it might offer a safe landing in case of trouble.

As I understand it, it was destined to become the new "out of town" airport for Miami in the era of the supersonic transport. However, this wasn't to be, so it's now used for airliner training, circuits and all that, but that's pretty much disappeared now with the simulator having taken over. I've seen airliners doing circuits there though.