The big day: we flew up to Sun ‘n Fun for my first major fly-in and airshow encountering several hiccups along the way.
To get the most out of the day, we woke early to meet Russ’s partner in his Cessna 170 at the airport at 7AM. The forecast predicted limited visibility, so I wasn’t surprised when we woke to thick fog over the lake. We were late getting to the airport, but that did not matter since we stood around for another two hours waiting for the fog to clear. We spent those two hours incessantly checking our smart phones for weather updates from nearby airports. Once the fog started lifting, clouds moved in forming a 1,000′ ceiling. Everyone else decided they were ready to go when the visibility improved to over 10 miles. I still wasn’t confident in the low ceilings. Tyson ended up convincing me that if I didn’t go with everyone else, I was likely to get stranded at Placid Lakes all day by myself.
For the fly in, Lakeland had special arrival and landing procedures. Airplanes were supposed to arrive over Lake Parker and wait for ATC on the ground to call them out by type and color. Pilots were not supposed to talk on the radio. From there, you followed a specific course in to the airport where you listened for ATC landing instructions. Once on the ground, you posted a sign in your left window saying your destination, and flaggers pointed out which way to taxi.
Flying at Cessna 170 speeds, it took half hour to fly from Placid Lakes to Lakeland. As we approached, we heard other traffic on 122.75MHz leaving Lakeland. We asked them and they reported that Lakeland was VFR and accepting incoming traffic. Then we switched over to the ATC frequency and started listening. It sounded like some people were lined up and spaced out orderly. They were sent directly in to land. ATC sounded rather frustrated dealing with a “gaggle” of other airplanes and sent them into a holding pattern over lake Parker. It sounded like you really wanted to be good and get sent straight through rather than getting assigned to the holding pattern.
Arriving at Lake Parker, I watched out for traffic. People kept cutting me off, and I kept trying to find a line to follow and leave space. But to no avail. I was sent into the holding pattern. Around I went. No matter how much I tried to find someone to follow and to leave reasonable following distance, someone else would cut in from inside me. Then ATC announced an emergency at the field closing one of the two runways. We circled around more. ATC occasionally sent one or two people in, but never me. They told everyone who wasn’t already in the holding pattern to go away. Then they announced that both runways were closed it would probably be an hour until they reopened. I decided at that point to give up. I peeled off and headed to Zephyr Hills since it seemed to have a good reputation.
I checked Glympse and noticed Tyson was on the ground at Sun ‘n Fun. Tyson later told me he didn’t even have to circle once. Russ txt’ed me. He was still up flying, and thinking of heading to Winter Haven. So I rerouted there. I was frustrated and upset about not being able to get to Sun ‘n Fun but I still tried to concentrate on flying. I terribly bungled my entry to the Winter Haven pattern. There were people flying all over the area dispersing from Lake Parker. I hadn’t read up on the Winter Haven in advance, and my directional gyro had precessed so much that I wasn’t sure which way the runways pointed. But I managed to land and get parked. Then I had a minor meltdown sitting next to my airplane.
Meanwhile, Russ reported he and Dave had stayed circling Lake Parker. Five minutes after ATC announced the airport was closed for an hour, they started sending people in to land again and Russ made it in. Even though I was about to miss the Women in Aviation lunch I had signed up for, I decided I was in no shape to attempt the approach again. I walked over to the restaurant on the field and had myself a cuban and sweet tea.
Feeling a bit better, I headed out again. Back at Lake Parker, I was again sent into the holding pattern. This time there were fewer planes, and people behaved better. Passing over the power plant at the north end, ATC called out a blue low wing. I rocked my wings and they said I could proceed to landing. Yay! I crossed the lake, and then ATC called out the blue low wing on the west side of the lake to turn left immediately because of traffic on the right. Well, there was traffic on my right, so, I turned left, back into the holding pattern. Around and around I went again. After three or so more turns, ATC routed everyone out of holding and in to land. We were supposed to fly at a constant 90kts to not bunch up, but the high wing ahead of me seemed to be flying 70kts some of the time. Tyson had warned me to expect a tight base leg. I slipped it in, and landed just fine. I stuck my sign on my bubble canopy and followed directions to home built camping and a very worried Tyson.
All told, I spent 1.5 hours in the air circling around and diverting. Tyson spent those same hours worrying himself sick and almost forgetting to find lunch for himself and Isaac. I think he needs a t-shirt that says “I survived my wife flying to Sun ‘n Fun”.
Once we had settled down, we headed off to see Sun ‘n Fun. We started by watching the air show. I have to say, it wasn’t as fun watching the airshow as I expected it to be from photos. It really looked like it was more fun to fly it than watch. We met up with Russ and Dave for a bit. Then we wandered through the vendor exhibits. Isaac turned bright red from the sun and heat and eventually napped. We stuffed him full of lemonade and smoothies to make sure he didn’t get heat stroke.
After the airshow finished, we walked back through the LSA and ultralight area and watched them giving rides. To finish the day, volunteers in the home built camping area put on a tasty dinner.
P.S. Someone else’s video of flying in around the same time we did.