After all that fun in Florida, it was time for the third phase of the adventure, flying back home.
We woke in the morning to hazy conditions, but no clouds above. Most everyone was packing up and heading out. As usual, we took longer than everyone else to pack up. Someday we need to figure out how to be faster. By the time we left, clouds at 1,000′ had moved in. Departure was much simpler than the approach. The biggest concern was spotting aircraft after we had all left the Lakeland airspace. I departed right behind someone going about the same direction, but a little slower. Eventually they turned left.
Our first stop was Apopka, FL to meet the previous owner of Tyson’s Bearhawk. There was one other airplane in the pattern when I arrived. They were practicing touch and go’s. On final, I realized there were two taxiways, one 500′ from the start of the runway, the other 3,900′ from the start of the runway. I really didn’t feel like taxiing three thousand some odd feet down the runway after landing. So my first thought was to land long. Then I spotted the gas pumps and plausible parking, all at the close end of the runway. So if I landed long, I would still have to taxi all the way back on the parallel taxiway. So I decided to land short. Before the paved runway started, there was ~250′ of well kept grass that looked landable, so I did not need to leave any safety margin landing at the beginning of the runway like I do at my home airport. I ended up stopping just barely past the taxiway, around 550′ from the start of the runway.
Tyson arrived, and we met Bill. He took us out to breakfast. I was a little too preoccupied with Isaac and checking weather to be polite company, but I think he and Tyson had fun chatting about the Bearhawk. The weather was not great. There were storms forming north of us in Florida. Airports in South Carolina to Virginia reported IFR. Bill gave us some useful guidance on the Florida storms. Don’t try to escape them to the east because they build when they hit the coast. So instead we spotted a break in the radar towards the west coast and headed back to the airplanes to try to get there in time.
Tyson and I stayed together for the first leg of the trip. We were stuck under low clouds and had to detour slightly around one rain shower, but otherwise our plan held good. We flew threw the break in the storms, and by Gainsville, the clouds had almost disappeared. I throttled up as soon as we had passed the storms. Three or four other pilots were chatting on the air-to-air frequency, 122.75, somewhere behind me debating finding a hole to go up or staying under the clouds. I reported back that conditions significantly improved at Gainsville which seemed to relieve them.
After Gainsville, I headed direction Rutherford NC, KFQD, expecting to stop sooner because of weather. I stopped at Spartanburg Downtown, the last airport on my route reporting good weather and it had cheap gas. As I approached I could see a wall of clouds ahead. I passed under some thin clouds, and instantly the outside air temperature dropped by 10 degrees.
There was quite a crowd at the gas pumps. Some were IFR and not worried about the clouds. Others were headed away from the weather. The gas pumps were also almost out of gas. I tied my airplane down, anticipating a potential overnight stay and scoped out the amenities waiting for Tyson to arrive. Tyson had a different idea once he arrived. He thought visibility under the clouds was good and we should hurry to not get stuck out after dark.
The low clouds were broken, so I decided to go up through. Lynchburg reported clouds at 11,000′ and nothing below. I concluded as long as I stayed below 10,000′ I did not have to worry about getting stuck on top. There were many layers of scattered clouds. I climbed up above another one to find better winds. But then that one kept growing and growing and I found myself at 7,500′ to stay above it. Looking out the window it looked clearer to the east, and the airport weather reports agreed, so I turned east, found a hole, and dropped down one layer. Then, slowly each layer broke up and dissipated. By the time I arrived in Lynchburg, there were no low clouds at all.
I contacted tower with no issues, then as I was on long final, tower said he “could only see two out of three down,” which I took to mean he thought I had retractable gear and one was malfunctioning. I replied I had fixed gear so they had better be down. Then on short final he reiterated “I can see the main gear but not the nose gear.” I was too busy landing to formulate an appropriate answer, but once I was down he figured out the puzzle for himself, “oh, it’s a taildragger.” To which I replied “yeaahhh.” Tyson had been listening on the frequency, so when he arrived half an hour later, he announced “6JC two mile final runway 4, gear down and bolted, third wheel in the back.” Tower chuckled, “so you heard about that…”
My parents picked us up and we headed home for dinner, and quality piano and book reading time for Isaac.