A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Flights to and from Tybee Island

October 30, 2016
Tyson Sawyer

For our recent trip to Tybee Island, GA, I check the aeronautical charts to find the best/closest airport. The closest was Hunter AAF, a “private” military base. They weren’t going to offer the sort of welcome I was looking for. However, just west of Hunter was Hodges Airpark (GA39). It was also listed as private, but a call to the owner secured permission to use the facility and park the Bearhawk for the week.

Saturday: NH16 to KLYH

Georgia is a reasonable 1 day flight of about 10 hrs plus any stops in the Bearhawk. …unless you are traveling with a 3 yr old who doesn’t get out of the house quickly and you want to arrive by mid-afternoon. Additionally, we needed to arrive on Sunday, but the weather for getting out of the northeast was better on Saturday. We decided to split the trip into two days, spending Saturday night in Lynchburg with Emilie’s parents.

To the west, clouds touching the ground.
To the west, clouds touching the ground.

Our first stop was for fuel in Jaffrey. We filled all 4 tanks and headed south after eating a quick lunch. Our last attempt to fly south was thwarted by weather. This one started ominously as we skirted clouds to our northwest before the weather improved.

Pilot at Shippensburg with his Kolb Aircraft
Pilot at Shippensburg with his Kolb Aircraft

With the clouds behind us, the only remaining obstacle was about a 30 kt headwind component. Where we would typically see 100-125 kt ground speed, we were seeing only 80-85 kt. After 3 1/2 hours or so, we were still well within PA and the crew mutinied, demanding a rest and stretch stop. We landed at Shippensburg, PA (N42). There we found the airport manager enjoying the nice afternoon, a local pilot polishing his Kolb, and a gentleman with a para-sail and backpack motor waiting for the winds to die down.

Emilie claimed left seat for the final leg to Lynchburg. Apparently she is more talented than I because our ground speed was now about 120 kts. The speed difference was from a slight change in our course and some changes in the winds. It was enough to make up the 45+ minutes we had spent on the ground. We arrived in Lynchburg just before sunset and Isaac enjoyed spending the evening with Grandma and Grandpa.

Sunday: KLYH to GA39

Emilie chose to ride in the car with her father allowing Trudy to ride with Isaac and I in the Bearhawk. The first leg was to Columbus County Municipal Airport, NC (KCPC) where we would make the first fuel stop since leaving Jaffrey. We had a light tailwind giving us 130 kt ground speed, even though we were down low at 3,500 ft. The amount of fuel that we had remaining would have been just about enough to get to GA, but with no reserves. …maybe.

Swamps of South Carolina.
Swamps of South Carolina.

Though we had been low, Trudy found during the descent that it wasn’t as low as her head cold would have liked. We flew the rest of the trip at 1,000-1,700 ft. This time the change in heading and winds didn’t help as ground speeds dropped off to about 105 kts. Though not fast, we enjoyed a nice cruise down the coast to Tybee Island and then over the marshes and estuaries to Hodges Airpark.

Arriving at Hodges I wanted to stay out of the “class delta” airspace that is operated by Hunter AAF. Without going east of the runway, I circled the field and then landed. A local J-3 pilot was watching and came over to chat after we landed. He said that he had watched how close the downwind leg was and wondered if I knew what I was doing. The base leg was even closer and I turned final over the end of the runway leaving him certain that I’d have to do a go-around. He was surprised when the plane came over the tree line and dropped down for a landing that was smooth, short and uneventful

Our plan was to find a taxi or Uber ride from the airport to Tybee Island to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach with Isaac while waiting for Emilie and John to make the drive. Trudy and I spent too much time re-organizing our stuff to end up with everything we would need, and nothing else, in our backpacks. Isaac made friends with the local fire ants, resulting in a few minor bites. When that was all sorted out, I spent a bit of time trying to figure out the Uber app. With some uncertainty, I eventually concluded that I had requested a ride. The ride arrived in about 10 minutes. It was a very nice woman in a nice Ford SUV. This was my first Uber ride of any sort and it was her first weekend driving for them. The service was excellent. Score one for Uber.

John and Emilie stuck on the wrong side of the bridge.
John and Emilie stuck on the wrong side of the bridge.

We had ideas of getting to Tybee Island in time for a slightly late lunch. It was nearly 4:00 PM by the time we arrived. The North Beach Bar and Grill at Fort Screven was right next to the beach and within walking distance of the townhouse we had rented. Their burgers and BBQ sandwiches are excellent. However, after we had ordered, we got word from Emilie that she and John were stuck on the wrong side of the bridge to the island due to a serious accident on the bridge. They had retrieved the remainder of the gear from the airplane and had been planning to get the key for the townhouse from the rental agency which was going to close at 5:00 PM. Fortunately, the rental agency wasn’t all too far from where we were and there was just enough time for Trudy to get her food and eat before walking to get the key. After Isaac and I also finished eating, we walked to the townhouse and met up with Trudy who arrived there at about the same time. Emilie and John found some dinner while waiting for the bridge to re-open.

Isaac and Trudy at the beach
Isaac and Trudy at the beach

The three of us on the island side of the bridge changed into swim suits and walked to the beach. Isaac could not wait to get to the beach! As we crossed the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach, he ran ahead to get his feet in the sand and see the ocean. He was a little timid about the waves at first, but eventually he and I spent some time swimming in the surf. After that, he enjoyed chasing a poor little sand piper up and down the beach. I felt a bit sorry for the bird, but it never chose to fly very far away and it was burning up some of Isaac’s extra energy after two days in the airplane, so I allowed the chase to continue. As the sun set and we packed up, we got word that Emilie and John had made it across the bridge and would beat us back to the townhouse.

Photos from flight down

Kayak week

We spent a fun week kayaking around Tybee Island:

GA39 to KLYH

Departing Tybee Island, we had more gear and people than would fit in one car. We chose to make a run to the airport on Friday evening with as much as we could. We stashed all the stuff in the airplane and sorted out what belonged in which vehicle in the morning.

Emilie and I had planned to do a one day trip back to NH. However, like on the trip down, timing and details got in the way. As before, one can only get a 3 yr old going just so quickly in the morning. Winds were unfavorable. The final straw was marginal weather for night flight. Flying below low-ish clouds is easy in daylight if you are paying attention and planning ahead. In this case, we would be arriving quite a number of hours after sunset, and that is a different game. Yup, I can do it. Nope, not going to. We decided to spend the night in Lynchburg again and make a two day return trip.

John and Trudy dropped us off in the morning and hit the road for their long drive. As we announced on the radio that we would be departing Hodges Airpark, the owner got on the radio and invited us to come back again if we ever had the chance.

Tybee Creek sand bars and waves.
Tybee Creek sand bars and waves.

We headed out over the rivers, marshes and estuaries to the coast. This time we recognized many of the features from our week kayaking. After the quick tour of the coast, we headed up to a “normal” cruising altitude of 5,500 ft and called ATC for advisories on traffic. And to get needed clearances for airspace we might choose to pass through.

A bit north of Charleston, SC, the controller mentioned that Gamecock B and Gamecock C MOAs (Military Operating Area) in our flight path were active. He asked what our intentions were. A MOA is not restricted airspace. Even when active, it is legal to fly through them. Doing so can put yourself and others at risk because F-16’s are not entirely compatible with Bearhawks. Had we continued through, it would have disrupted the exercises that the F-16’s were doing. Though it only took me a moment to look up the MOAs to see what he was referring to, the controller gave us a minor heading change to keep us outside the airspace before I could get back to him with a plan. As it was, there was already a jump plane (sky divers) operating from an airport (KPHH) inside one of the MOA’s and the F-16’s were having to keep tabs on him and his jumpers.

On landing at Columbus Co for fuel, I was down and stopped in about 300 ft. Not bad for a flying weight of nearly 2,100 lbs (mostly payload, not much fuel remaining). This left one “problem”. I had to taxi an additional 3,000 ft to get to the fuel pumps. I can’t help myself. Emilie called my touchdown short. When I objected, she claimed that the tail wheel had touched short of the pavement. I pointed out that the rules for the Valdez Mayday Fly-in STOL competition are based on the main gear and don’t count the tail wheel. As a practical matter, I disagree with the rules, but rules is rules. By the rules, my touchdown was just about perfect.

Experimental Jet - L39
Experimental Jet – L39

After fueling up, we pushed the Bearhawk away from the pumps to where I expected it would be out of the way. Then we went inside to sit and eat the lunch we had brought with us. While we were eating we heard calls from an “experimental jet” as it entered the landing pattern and made its final approach to land. “Experimental jet”? What was it? When it came down the runway, I could see that it was an L-39 Albatros, a Czechoslovakian trainer. They are relatively affordable on the “military jet scale”. They are not certified by normal FAA processes and are given an “Experimental – Exhibition” airworthiness certificate when flown by US operators.

In the mean time, a helicopter pulled up to the fuel pumps. I noted I had done well to move the Bearhawk before going inside for lunch. Then it occurred to me that an L-39 doesn’t likely have a long fuel range and it also would need fuel. I ran outside to see how this was going to work. Though the Bearhawk was “out of the way”, the lineman helping the helicopter was directing the L-39 to pull up to the pumps “backwards”. Instead of facing the Bearhawk, it was going to blast the Bearhawk with its exhaust! I ran over, jumped in the Bearhawk and taxied it to “somewhere else”. The L-39 pilots had also seen the problem and were being patient for the problem to resolve itself. We spent a little time chatting with the pilots of the L-39 and Isaac had fun looking it over.

The flight to Lynchburg was uneventful. Getting a ride to the house was eventful. The gentleman running the desk at Lynchburg suggested a particular taxi service. I called them up and told them where we were at the airport. I was explicit about what business and road we were at/on. I specified that we were on the opposite side of the airport from the commercial flight terminal. I was told that the driver could accept either cash or credit card. Then we waited. We waited for about 30 minutes. No taxi. The gentleman behind the desk called them. Apparently the taxi had gone to the commercial terminal so he again explained where we were. We waited again. After another 20 minutes I pulled out the phone to request a ride from Uber. Just as I was about to submit the final request, a taxi drives up. 50 minutes after the original call, we find out that he also had first gone to the wrong side of the airport before coming to the correct place. We loaded our bags and went to get in. …but the doors of the minivan had signs saying to not pull the door open because it had an automatic system that would break. We couldn’t figure out how to open them, because the mechanism was broken and one had to pull the door open by hand in exactly the manner it was signed to not do. With that sorted out, we got in. Emilie was invited to sit up front and help navigate to the house. …then the driver suggested that she might not like the front seat because the seat belt didn’t work, so she got out and then into the back seat. In general, the minivan was a dump and stunk from being smoked in. As we were driving out of the driveway, Emilie noticed a lack of a credit card machine and so asked about it. Turns out this taxi was also not equipped to handle credit cards in spite of having been told that that would be an option. We were nearly out of cash. After a short and polite discussion, we turned around and unloaded our bags. I pulled out the Uber app and had a very nice ride in a clean vehicle in less than 10 minutes. Score 2 for Uber.

After bringing our bags into the house, we decided to exercise Isaac a bit while waiting for Emilie’s parents to return. Behind the house and down steep hill is a river and a flood plain that is most often dry. There are some paths there and minor stuff for Isaac to explore. We brought a couple of small balls to toss around. Isaac still needs to work on his game of “catch”. We found some thorny bushes that Emilie had seen in her youth, but they had become much larger. They had also started growing what looked like mandarin oranges. We picked a few to bring back and study. We found that they are Trifoliate Orange and are edible, though bitter and best as a marmalade.

Because of the time spent at the fuel stop and the time wasted trying to use a taxi instead of Uber, it wasn’t all that long before Emilie’s parents arrived.

KLYH to NH16

Fog in the James River valley.
Fog in the James River valley.

The next morning we got an early start. While climbing over Madison Heights, we admired the low fog stretched out in the James river valley. At first the head winds were not too bad. The forecast predicted they would get worse as we went further north and later in the day. When we cleared the mountain range, our ground speed dropped 10 kts or so. Checking the available reports, the surface winds appeared to be light, possibly even in our favor. This would be unusual as the winds aloft were decidedly against us (again…). We dropped down to about 1,000 ft or so above the ground and recovered much of the lost speed. We followed valleys to keep out of the opposing winds until stopping at Shippensburg again for an unplanned pit stop. From there the valleys didn’t go in our direction and the terrain forced us up higher. However, by staying close to the rising ground, we kept up a reasonable speed.

Flying dollar (8N4)
Flying dollar (8N4)

We planned to stop at Flying Dollar (8N4) to stretch and check out a grass strip that we had not seen before. It is privately owned by a couple of guys, but open to the pubic. By the time we reached there, the winds were blowing pretty good and constantly changing from straight down the runway to straight across. On final approach I saw that the runway sloped moderately uphill with sharply rising terrain before the runway. As I approached, I found myself using perhaps 40% power or more to maintain my glide path. Later, while walking around and exploring the airport and its approach, I concluded that the combination of tree line upwind of final approach and the slope before the runway had combined to create both wind sheer and a down draft. Always use whatever power or control inputs it takes to fly the airplane. Never just ride along doing what works most of the time. If needed, abort the approach and try again.

While exploring, we found some information posted that indicated that down-hill landings and up-hill take-offs are “prohibited”. The slope of the runway was compounded by tall trees at the high end of the runway. The low end fell off down a hill that was clear of trees, so no obstacles there (other than down drafts and wind-sheer). I was a bit taken by the “prohibited” statement. Winds can be strong. To takeoff down hill, we were looking at the possibility (depending on timing with wind shifts) of a 15 kt tail wind. One doesn’t generally takeoff with that sort of wind. There was no question in my mind that, depending on winds, the Bearhawk is quite capable of performing both the down-hill landing and the up-hill takeoff. I also concluded that it was capable of doing the down-wind/down-hill takeoff, so that was what we did.

We stopped in Jaffrey for fuel. Again, we could have flown the full distance between GA39 and home without a fuel stop, except that GA39 didn’t have fuel and in both directions we would have landed with no reserves. …or possibly slightly less. Since that was not the fuel plan we used, we had plenty.

Photos from return flight