My Second Trip to Sun-n-Fun
Friday, April 12, 1996
Winter had really sucked. Sixty plus inches of snow had fallen from
sixteen separate snowstorms. By April I was so damn tired of shoveling
snow I was ready to sell the house and move to Ecuador. This would be
my second trip to Sun-n-Fun in my S-7. Bill Hass was flying my wing
and it would be his fourth consecutive trip to Sun-n-Fun in his S-6.
This year, instead of my 7.5 gallon auxiliary fuel tank, my 220 pound
6'4" brother would occupy the rear seat. Last years' trip proved that I
really didn't need 5 hours of range when I only had a 3 hour butt. My
brother and I are no lightweights. Between Steve, me and a full tank of
gas we were already thirty pounds over gross, so we did everything we
could to save weight. We absolutely had to have two gallons of oil and a
tool bag. But everything else was cut to the bone. Clothing consisted of
only the absolute essentials, shorts and a few T-shirts and those we
packed in plastic Giant grocery bags. We even considered breaking off
the handles of our tooth brushes to save weight. After all the scrimping
we still ended up about 100 lbs over gross. To make matters worse I
had Ron Weiskopf change out the Rotax crankshaft for the newer 618
style in December. Because of all the snow I had only managed to get
about an hour of running time on it and I was a bit nervous about that.
As usual I was glued to the weather channel 24 hours a day for about a
week prior to departure. They were predicting four inches of snow the
day before we were supposed to leave and I swore that if it snowed one
more time I was calling the Realtor. As it turned out the snow storm
ended up being a cold soaking rain. And just like last year the day of
departure turned out to be pretty decent. We were forecast to have
headwinds all the way, but no significant weather. Steve and I blasted
off around 11:00am Friday morning into cool, overcast skies. We
rendezvoused with Bill Hass at Tappahanock Airport about 40 miles
south of Benedict where we both topped off for the first leg.
The forecasters weren't kidding about the headwinds. We had em.
About twenty miles an hour worth right on the nose. We both bitched
about the headwinds and hunted for better air higher and lower. It was
blowing harder higher up and was rougher than a cob lower. The 75
mph ground speed completely shot two weeks worth of flight planning
all to hell. I didn't even think we could make the first planned fuel stop.
One good thing though, the lousy progress we were making took my
mind off the brand new crankshaft that was spinning its brains out in the
lower part of my engine.
This first leg was the longest, and I decided to push it to the first
planned fuel stop. When we landed at Harnett County, North Carolina
about two hours and forty-five minutes later I calculated that I had 31
minutes of gas remaining. Legal or not that's too close for my comfort.
It was warm and humid in North Carolina. A nice change from the cold,
overcast Maryland we just left. We filled the gas and oil tanks and
drained about four gallons of coffee from our bladders and were
airborne again in fifteen minutes. I realized we were in trouble the
moment we left the runway. As soon as I broke ground the rpm
dropped to 5400 and would not go any higher. We hung there, at 45
mph, about twenty feet above the trees, neither climbing nor
descending, Rotax screaming its guts out. I knew the problem was a
partially stalled prop. It was fine during the test flight in December. Of
course that was at 45o and with only me in the plane. At a hundred
pounds over gross and a warm, humid day it was just too much for the
little two banger to handle. Once the trees thinned out I traded what
little altitude I had for some airspeed. As the plane picked up speed the
prop took hold and I managed to maintain a feeble cruise climb. I would
definitely have to tweak the prop before we got to Florida.
Our next fuel stop was supposed to be Walterboro, South Carolina, but
the headwinds got worst the farther south we went and forced us to
stop early. We landed at an airport called Lake City, South Carolina a
little after 5:00pm. It was a quiet little place set on the edge of a vast
lake resort area. We wandered around for awhile and it suddenly
became apparent why it was so quiet. The place was closed. Actually it
was in the process of closing. We were lucky enough grab the FBO girl
just as she was locking the doors for the night and talked her into
turning on the pumps for us. Lucky break for us. Five minutes later and
we'd have spent the night on the ramp. We both tanked up for final leg
of the day to Walterboro. It was even warmer here than it had been in
North Carolina and the prop was giving me fits. I had to circle the
airport a couple of times before I had enough altitude to cross the lake. I
liked the higher cruise speed, but damn, it took forever to get to
We were only about forty-five minutes from Walterboro and we still had
plenty of daylight left. In fact I knew it would absolutely kill Bill to land
with any kind of daylight remaining. Bill would rather fly until it was
pitch black and sleep in a cow pasture than waste one second of flyable
daylight. But we had been fighting the winds and turbulence for about
six hours and I was ready to call it quits for the day and find a cold beer.
As we entered the pattern at Walterboro, South Carolina I recognized
the voice on unicom. It was Lloyd. Lloyd was as old as dirt and had
been a fighter pilot in the Pacific in WWII. He was a bonafide ace in
Hellcats with seven kills to his credit. Lloyd always had a story to tell.
He never shut up and he never told the same story twice. I'd never seen
a person who could talk as much as Lloyd. He was a fixture at
Walterboro Airport and had been my companion for two days when I
was weathered in coming back from Lakeland last year. Lloyd radioed
"welcome home" to us as we were taxiing to the ramp. I figured he was
just being nice. There was no way he could have remembered me with
all the traffic that comes and goes here. I was wrong. At 75+ years old
Lloyd was still sharp as a tack. Not only did he remember me from last
year, but while we were still on approach, and without being asked,
Lloyd had called and reserved us the last two hotel rooms in town.
What a guy.
While Bill was tying down I pulled off the cowling and tweaked the
prop. Bill suggested that pulling the pitch back about a quarter bubble
would do it. He was absolutely right. With that little adjustment the
Rotax just screamed and held 6300 rpm and a 600 fpm climb even in
Florida's heat and a hundred pounds over gross. Cruise was down
slightly, but what the hell, we weren't making any time anyway.
One of the friendly FBO staff drove us to the famous Thunderbird hotel
where I had spend two days last year. Russ Keil was still the
owner/manager and had turned away a line of people trying to get the
last two rooms when Lloyd had called on our behalf. Hey, do these
people take care of pilots or what? I swear I'm gonna retire here
Being settled in for the night we all decided to sample a little of South
Carolina's seafood. We had dinner at a grimy looking dump across from
the hotel that I just knew by the looks of things was going to give me
dose of the bloody, screaming shits the next day. We were served by a
fat old broad with hairy armpits that huffed and puffed when she
walked. She had so much food and grease stuck to her apron that a
family of Haitian refugees could've lived for a week off of it. She
complained that she was about ready to close, but served us anyway.
Everywhere we went everybody was always closing. I guess these
people in the south live a slower life than we do in the Washington D.C.
area. As it turned out the food was pretty good and it all stayed where it
was supposed to. Good thing too, because the next day was going to be
bumpy and slow.
Saturday, April 13, 1996
The next morning we blasted off a little before 9:00am with the winds
aloft still blowing the wrong way. If anything they were stronger than
yesterday. It was depressing to watch tractor trailer rigs pass you going
up hill. While I stayed at 2,500, Bill went looking for smoother air and
friendlier winds. He tried above 3,500 then tried below 1,500. It was the
same anywhere he went. We finally resigned ourselves to just sit back
and enjoy the scenery. We were going to be looking at it for a long time.
After what seemed like an eternity we finally saw the Atlantic Ocean
coming into view. We squeezed between the Savanna, Georgia class B
airspace and the coast line. This was the only part of the flight neither
of us liked. There's absolutely nothing but salt marsh for about an hour
(well an hour and a half at our ground speed of 70). In an emergency
you could probably put down safely on the bits of semi-dry land, but it
would take the rest of your life to walk anywhere inhabited by people.
That is if the snakes and mosquitos didn't get you first. We were both
anxious to get to the coast line. We'd had so much fun flying the little
fifteen mile stretch of beach last trip that this year I'd planned on a beach
run of about 170 miles. Once we picked up the coast line we dove for
the beach and broke out the video cameras. As we passed through about
100 AGL the turbulence suddenly quit and it became smooth as glass.
As we leveled out at ten feet over the beach almost all of the headwind
suddenly vanished as well. We were scooting along right over the surf
at over 85 mph! Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
We ran the first stretch of beach from just south of Savannah, Georgia
all the way to Malcom McKinnon, Georgia dodging beach debris, small
herds of wild horses, and generally having more fun than God intended
any man to have with his clothes on. At six miles from our next
refueling stop I called Bill and told him we oughta climb and find the
airport. He begged for just a few more miles on the deck. He didn't have
to convince me, this was just way too much fun. When the GPS read
two and a half miles and started counting back up I said "We gotta go
up! We're passing the airport!" I pulled back on the stick and found
myself immediately on downwind. Woah! Downwind to a pretty busy
airport I might add. I'd never heard of a pattern entry from the middle of
the field and ten feet off the deck, but we just improvised our way into
the pattern. We landed feeling almost drunk from the adrenalin high of
the last sixty minutes on the deck at 85 mph.
The local EAA chapter was hosting a free breakfast and cheap gas for
all Sun-n-Fun'ers. As everybody knows sport pilots never have any
money and will always take a free meal. As I stuffed my pockets with
plastic bags and headed for the free coffee and pancakes we noticed a
nice looking Ryan PT-26 landing. I remarked that it looked a lot like
Tom Bayne's airplane. The Ryan came to a stop and out hopped none
other than Tom Bayne, World War II flying outfit and all. Tom was
flying to Lakeland with his fiancee who was also decked out head to toe
in WWII clothing. Now he doesn't find these women walking around
town wearing these outfits. Somehow Tom manages to talk all his
women into wearing this stifling, wool WWII stuff in the hottest
weather. I don't know how he does it, but I bet its got something to do
with his anatomy.
We ate our fill of free pancakes, drank some free coffee and shot the
breeze with Tom for awhile. The place was humming with activity as
mostly GA types were passing through heading for Sun-n-Fun. Tom had
the only warbird and I believe Bill and I had the only homebuilts on the
entire airport. The rest were spam cans.
Spam can drivers are a funny bunch. All of them are experts and know
everything there is about aviation (just ask one). They can usually quote
the FAR's, argue about the correct procedure to use with ATC and
know the POH by heart. And to a man (or woman) they are probably
bored to death with flying. This is because they really aren't flying
anymore. They're too high to see the ground as anything more than a
featureless green mat. They're too busy playing with all their buttons,
switches and dials and talking to ATC to look outside anyway. Spam
can drivers are generally a snobbish bunch of boring pricks. I know. I
used to be one.
Finally we couldn't stand it any longer. Both of us wanted to get back
on the beach. We jumped in the airplanes and fired up. Well almost.
Bill's fired up, but I flooded mine and we ended up spending about thirty
minutes replacing the plugs (I hate it when that happens).
We finally got airborne and headed immediately back to the beach. The
plan was to stay on the deck all the way to Flager County, Florida
(another 120 miles) and make our last refueling stop there before
heading to Lakeland. The beach was a little more populated along this
section. In some spots it was just plain crowded with people. Everybody
wanted to wave at us. Especially the kids. They would hear us coming
and splash out into the surf jumping up and down and waving their arms
frantically. We'd wave back and they would jump up and down and look
back at their parents screaming. I could just imagine them
saying..."Mom, Dad they waved back!" Our arms got tired waving at all
the kids. Who knows? Maybe we inspired some of them to become
pilots that day.
At one point we were flying along at about 25-30 feet on a section of
beach that was pretty deserted. Suddenly I spotted a single person
walking along the dunes. As I flew past I noticed it was a guy. I could
tell because he was totally naked! Bill who was flying trail verified my
observation. Yep! naked guy alright, must be over a nude beach. Whoa!
That posed some possibilities! We really started paying attention at this
point. We only spotted one other nude worshiper of the sun, who also
turned over to be a guy. Bummer. We must've been on the wrong beach
because the radio was filled with chatter about all the babes somewhere
called Coconut Beach. Wherever the hell Coconut beach was it wasn't
where we were.
We were having so much fun parting the sand and chasing horses we
almost didn't see this huge tanker pulling out of an inlet. As we pulled
up to clear the tanker Bill asked what all that concrete was a couple of
hundred feet to our right. I looked and saw a large 27 painted on the
ground. Boy that sure looks like a runway. Boy that sure looks like an
aircraft carrier floating there. Boy that sure looks like a control tower.
Holy shit! Not only had we violated Mayport Naval Air Station's
airspace, but we had violated the hell out of. I mean we were damn near
over the approach end of the fucking runway! I was having so much
damn fun I forgot to call. Too late now. Never confess your sins to your
wife or ATC! We both floored it and headed for the deck. We put the
planes into a slip to hide the numbers in case the tower was using
binoculars to figure out who the hell we were. We leaned on the
throttles and didn't slow down until we were ten miles south. I felt
stupid for the blunder. I mean, hell we could've been creamed by an A-6
or something. Bill said he should have been paying more attention too.
We both flogged ourselves for awhile. Bill cautioned that we shouldn't
mention the name of the next airport we were going to land at just in
case. I thought that was a pretty good idea. Despite how remote the
possibility, I didn't relish the thought of having a friendly FAA civil
servant waiting for me as I taxied up for gas. For the rest of this leg our
next refueling stop was code named Havana, Cuba.
In a few minutes we were dipping and weaving all over the beach and
we both forgot about it. We finally landed at Flager County after
another half hour of splendid, low level, high speed, aerial beach
combing. We tanked up with gas for the final leg to Lakeland. It was
with great reluctance that our route of flight took us away from the
coast. We were up at altitude fighting headwinds and mild turbulence.
Life sucked once again. An hour and a half later we had Lakeland in
sight. We felt a little better when we spotted all the poor spam can
drivers doing endless laps around Lake Palmer waiting for ATC to give
them a call. We thumbed our nose, dropped to five hundred feet and
sneaked into the ultralight side of the field. Final was over the Pepsi
plant today and we touched down on the sacred soil that is Lakeland
Linder Airport at 11:30am on April 13th.
The nice thing about arriving at Sun-n-Fun the day before it officially
starts is that it gives you a chance to see things without the crowds. We
wandered around Paradise City for several hours and didn't see anything
really new. By 5pm we were ready to head back to the hotel, so we
saddled up and took off for Winterhaven where we had hotel
reservations and a rental car waiting.
The arrival at Winterhaven wasn't nearly as bad as it was last year. Still
there was plenty of traffic to watch for. We landed and taxied to the
same parking spots we had last year. It took forever to get a gas truck.
There was a waiting list you had to put your name on and I think we
were like one million or one million and one, something like that. We
also had to wait for the rental car lady so we weren't going anywhere
anyway. While we were doing all this waiting I whipped out my trusty
portable phone to call the hotel to make sure our reservations were still
there. No, I didn't use the pay phone at the FBO and pay a quarter for
the local call. I had to use my high tech mobile phone and call standing
next to my airplane, because I was cool you see? I found out a month or
so later that little one minute phone call had cost me nine dollars! They
must've routed my call around Jupiter for Gods sake! I guess I'll have to
be un-cool from now on. I don't have the money to be that cool.
We finally got a gas truck and picked up our rental car and found the
hotel. We had made plans to meet Buddy and Woody (two guys from
our club) at the Outback Steak House in Lakeland. We had just enough
time to shower some of the sweat and grime off and grab some clean
clothes. Then we were back in the car for the 45 minute ride to
We found Buddy and Woody half shit faced already at a table. They had
apparently just been seated, but had passed the two and a half hour wait
by devouring a whole bloomin' onion and a bottle of scotch. Our
waitress was cute, the poor thing. Nothing worse than a table full of
drunk pilots away from home. We made up for our boisterous behavior
by leaving a generous tip.
On the way back to the hotel Bill said he had to have some ice cream.
Dairy Queen, Highs, Seven-eleven he didn't give a shit, but he had to
have an ice cream. We pulled into the only place that still had lights on
and by a stroke of luck they had a freezer full of goodies. Stopping at
that little place for some ice cream after dinner became our nightly ritual
while at Sun-n-Fun. By the time we got back to the hotel we were all
pretty well played out. I don't think anybody said anything. All you
heard was shoes and pants hitting the floor followed by heavy snoring.
Sunday, April 14, 1996
The official opening day of Sun-n-Fun. I don't know if this place has a
curse on it or what, but just like last year there was a heavy fog on
opening day. Last year we made the mistake of driving to Sun-n-Fun
only to see the fog lift about a half hour after we had arrived. This time
we just hung around the FBO and waited. In Florida when the fog starts
to lift it just vanishes, almost in the blink of an eye. When we started
seeing blue patches through the fog we yanked out the tie-downs and
started warming up the airplanes. By the time we were ready to go there
was blue sky everywhere with patches of low scud rolling across the
airfield. We took off and headed southwest towards Lakeland.
Everything was fine for a couple of miles. But it wasn't fine over the city
of Lakeland. The visibility went completely to shit as we penetrated the
edge of a fog bank. There was almost zero forward visibility, but you
could still see the ground. I didn't think it was particularly dangerous,
but the situation definitely had my attention. Bill radioed and asked what
I thought about things. I told him that if gets any worse I was turning
around, but at the moment things just sort've sucked a little bit. About
that time we popped out on the other side of the fog and Lakeland lay
right in front of us clear as a bell.
Bill mentioned something about jet traffic and before I could ask him to
say again a Gulfstream III bizjet passed directly over us by about 50
feet. I mean you could see the rivets on this sucker he was so close. I
waited to feel his wake turbulence, but it never came. I don't know if the
pilots of the G-III ever saw us that morning. Probably not. They were
probably on an IFR flight plan, in and out of the soup and figured they
were the only ones in the sky, because no one would be stupid enough
to fly VFR in this kind of shit. Oh well, that's why I carry a BRS chute.
As usual the ultralight pattern at Lakeland was alive with Kolbs,
amphibs, powered parachutes and all manner of shit. Having learned our
lesson last year trying to be nice guys, we just picked out a spot and
butted in line. I know that sounds bad. But honest to God if you try to
be a nice guy about it you'll spend hours doing circles waiting for some
jerk to leave you an opening large enough to slip into. We landed and
hid our planes at the far end of the field so Randy or John Schlitter
wouldn't see them. Last year they had insisted on us parking our planes
in front of the RANS booth, on the other side of the snow fence. At first
I thought this was an honor. Eventually I realized that it was just free
advertizing for the RANS guys at my expense. The great unwashed
ended up using my airplane for everything from a shady place to park
their fat ass to using the horizontal stab to set their cokes on. I about
had a coronary over that the previous year. I mean for chrissake this
little airplane had to get my ass all the way back to Maryland. So
anyway that's why we hid the planes at the far end of the field.
I had previously arranged to meet up with another S-7 builder, Randy
Beachler, in front of the RANS booth. Randy lived in Ohio and he and I
had been in contact with each other for the past three years, trading
ideas and swapping stories about the S-7. We usually met at Sun-n-Fun
each year. Sure enough, he showed up at the appointed time along with
two friends. We made arrangements to meet for dinner that evening.
Steve and I wandered all over the ultralight side of the field trying to
find the SVS-1400 four stroke engine from the Chech Republic. I had
discovered this two cylinder engine about six months previously while
surfing the internet and had talked to the designer. Steve and I were
anxious to see it in the flesh. We must've walked 30 miles that day, but
never found it. In the meantime I came across a really neat set of strobes
from Kutzleman. These were wing tip style double flash units. I drooled
over them for two days before I finally parted with $228 and took a set
home with me.
There really didn't seem to be anything new this year. Some guy with
obviously too much money and nothing to do had mounted a jet engine
on a Mitchell B-10 flying wing. That made about as much sense as a
confessional in a whore house. What the hell can you do with an
airplane with a ten minute range? We did manage to stumble across the
guys that were developing the Aero line of twin cylinder, four stroke
engines. These things were really a work of art. The 85 hp model was
only 90 pounds and was designed to drop right into an existing 582
engine mount. Plus they all used parts you could but from any hot rod
place. Somehow I liked that idea better than having an engine made in
Lower Slobovia or whatever.
We milked the day for all it was worth. When they put the green flag up
signaling the all clear to fly after the air show was over we were ready
to head back Winterhaven. We met Randy Beachler and his two friends
later that evening at some Italian joint just up the street from the
Outback. The food was ok, and they gave you two free beers with your
meal. Now these guys know how to attract pilots. After dinner we had
our customary ice cream stop to finish off the evening.
Monday, April 15, 1996
Unlike the previous day, Monday dawned sunny and clear, however
thunderstorms were forecast for later in the day. We discussed taking
the car to the show rather than flying, but Bill was having none of that.
No way he was going to sit for hours in a line of cars, then stand for
hours getting tickets. He had a point. So we flew in again. Flying to
Sun-n-Fun definitely has its advantages. Not only is it faster, but you
know all those people sitting in the line of cars are hating life. Besides, if
all you're going to do is hang around Paradise city you don't even have
to pay for a flight line pass.
Having taken in the sights of Paradise City yesterday Steve and I were
going to spend the day on the other side of the field checking out all the
vendors. We decided to be honest about it and purchase a pass rather
than trying to sneak to the other side of the field. While we were buying
passes Bill rented an electric cart. I failed to mention that Bill had
surgery on his knee only eight days before the trip. He could fly ok, but
standing and walking gave him a problem. The electric cart was worth
We started at the first indoor vendors building and finished up the last
building about three or four hours later. After the first couple of
buildings it gets to the point where you start seeing the same thing over
and over again. Bill and I both had all the avionics we needed and we
didn't see any new whiz-bang, gotta have toys so basically we just
wandered in and out of the buildings looking at the same stuff we saw
last year and the year before that. It was kind've a bust. We wandered
around some of the parked experimentals and saw a few neat things.
One guy had mated a modified Breezy airframe to a Bell 47 bubble. It
looked like some kind of grotesque mutated sperm cell with wings. But
I bet the guy had good viz.
They started the airshow, but we had gotten bored from that stuff years
ago and since nothing else really attracted our attention we went on
back over to Paradise City. Steve and I still had not found the SVS-
1400 engine that was supposed to be here. It was the primary reason we
came to Sun-n-Fun this year. We figured the guy had just not made it to
True to the forecast some dangerous looking storm clouds were starting
to roll in from the west. Suddenly everything was a dark grey and the
wind really started whipping. They canceled the airshow because of the
high winds and closed the field. Great. Now how the hell do we get
back to the hotel? I moved my airplane down to the opposite end of the
field so I could make a fast get away in case things improved. Of course
then the wind switched and I was at the wrong end. I started seeing the
spam cans blasting off from the main runway. One every couple of
seconds. It looked like a scramble at Mig alley. Apparently they were
letting the GA guys get out ahead of the storm. I flagged down one of
the officials and asked if I could get the hell out of there. He told me
that the field was closed to ultralights because of the winds. I explained
to the guy that I was an "N" numbered experimental aircraft, not an
ultralight and if the GA guys could leave why in the hell couldn't I? The
guy made a call to the tower and got clearance for me to depart. About
that time Bill Hass and Steve came wandering around the corner. By
this time the wind was really howling. We practically had to scream to
hear each other. I told Bill to crank up we getting clearance from the
tower to leave. He hauled ass to his plane as fast as his crippled leg
would allow. Steve and I yanked up the tie downs and jumped in the
airplane to keep it on the runway. I got a signal from the lineman to go
ahead and crank. By now a significant crowd had formed to watch the
impending crash of two idiots departing in a full blown gale. I was sure
we were going to get our guts shaken out once we were airborne so I
tightened my belts so tight I could hardly breathe. Bill checked in on
freq and asked if it was ok to go. I looked at the official and made a
gesture of "well?" He was obviously listening to the tower over the
radio and held up his hand to wait. Suddenly he jabbed his finger into
the sky telling me to "go for it" and shook his head yes. I gunned the
engine and pulled out of the parking space giving them a little salute of
thanks as I went by. I called Bill and told him I was taxiing his way for
departure and we had clearance to go. The snow fence was about three
deep in onlookers by now all waiting for our takeoff. I felt like we were
the airshow, and I guess in a way we were. The coolant was hot by the
time I reached the end of the runway. Bill was ready. I pulled the belts
just a little tighter and floored it. As soon as the airplane came off the
ground all hell broke loose. I was everything but straight and level. We
were really rocking and rolling and for a minute I thought I had just
made the stupidest move in my life by taking off in this shit. But once
we were above the trees it smoothed out. Turning towards Winterhaven
I picked up a 20 mph tailwind and was clocking 110 mph over the
ground. Ya-hoo! We made Winterhaven in about twelve minutes and
landed without incident. We were just tying down when the rain started.
And man did it pour. Bill and I had brought our own tie downs, but we
rented another set from the FBO just to make sure the planes were still
there when we came back in the morning. We finally got everything
secured and we all dived into the car soaking wet and laughing like hell.
Talk about milking a day for all it was
worth. We did.
Tuesday, April 16, 1996
Tuesday morning still had a low broken to overcast deck hanging over
the airport. But Bill was in his "I'm going home mode." I had found out
last year that when Bill gets it in his mind that he's leaving, there isn't a
hell of a lot that can stop him except maybe a .357 magnum bullet. I
knew Bill was a little anxious about the weather so while he was
packing his stuff I gave his airplane a thorough preflight. One of those
preflights you make when your 80 year old grandmother is about to go
up with you. I snapped a picture of Bill as he was climbing into his plane
and again as he took off. I mean you never know. The way Bill pushes
the weather it might be the last time you ever see the guy.
Steve and I decided to drive to Sun-n-Fun today because we wanted to
stay for the club party later that night and I couldn't fly the plane after
dark since it wasn't equipped for night operations. By Wednesday the
crowds had thinned significantly. We zipped right into the parking lot
and walked right up to an empty booth to buy our tickets. No wait, no
Steve and I had decided to go to Choppertown to see if the SVS-1400
engine display was located with the rotorcraft guys. We caught a tram
rather than walk. It was a pretty good hike. Better than a mile. While we
were there some guy was hovering a little single place helicopter with an
APU jet engine. As we watched, the helicopter suddenly dropped the
two to three feet to the ground and rolled over on its side, throwing
blades and dirt all over the place. The pilot scrambled out of the side
window apparently unhurt and ran a few steps away from the ruined
helicopter apparently worried about fire. A couple of people ran over to
help the poor guy, but he was all right. Five minutes later every siren at
Lakeland was going off and about a million vehicles, fire trucks,
ambulances and God knows what all came pouring onto the field. A
little late if you ask me.
Since Chopper Town was obviously closed for the foreseeable future
Steve and I decided to head on back to Paradise City. We waited for the
tram for awhile, but eventually we said to hell with it and started
walking. Along the way we spotted some twins with vortex generators
all over them. Since I had already ordered two sets of VG's for my S-7
I was curious about proper placement. We got out some paper and
measured the exact placement and angle of a couple of different planes
for future reference.
We made it back to Paradise City after a long, hot and dusty walk. We
went in through a gate we rarely used and low and behold there was the
SVS-1400 engine. We must've passed the damn thing about a hundred
times in the past three days. We crawled all over it for about an hour
taking pictures and videos. We didn't bump into Milan Stavnek, the
company president, until late in the day. We had a pretty good talk with
him about the engine and Steve and I were initially impressed..
Most of the activity was winding down for the day. Steve and I hung
out around the club tent. Drank a few beers and shot the breeze. Buddy
Carlisle and Ron Raum came back from flying the Titan Tornado and
Buddy was just in love with it (Buddy was in love with everything he
didn't own yet). He ranted and raved about what a nice machine it was
for several minutes. Titan fever had suddenly swept through the club in
the past few weeks. Three or four guys were talking about buying
Titans. I thought they would be sorry after the initial fascination wore
off. The damn thing was just plain little! I couldn't see where you could
ever have a serious cross country airplane, no matter how fast it went if
you could only carry ten gallons of gas, had nothing but a back seat for
cargo space and had a panel so small you didn't have room to hang
anything on it. Finally the club party we had been waiting for started. It
was kind of pathetic as most parties go. Basically 15 or 20 guys gorged
themselves on food for about half an hour to forty-five minutes then
everybody left to go to bed. You call that a party? Steve and I left to
find the car, stumbling around in the dark trying to keep from knocking
the shit outt've ourselves on a wing tip or tripping over a tie down stake
on the ground. We talked about the merits of the SVS-1400 engine and
how it would fit into the S-7 all the way home.
Wednesday, April 17, 1996
Today we were leaving for home. The day was sunny and beautiful. If
only Bill had waited another 24 hours, he wouldn't have almost gotten
killed on the way home. We didn't know this at the time, but about a
week after we had got back Bill called to tell us of his adventure.
Apparently he was almost home and had been dodging small rain shafts
most of the way. He had a headwind (what else?) And was running out
of daylight. Rather than go around this last rain shaft, he decided to fly
right on through it to save time. It was pretty small, he said, and he
could see right through it. What he couldn't see were the intense vertical
currents associated with rain falling from the bottom of a thunderstorm.
As Bill put it..." one minute I was flyin' along the next minute I was
being sucked up into the bottom of the cloud." Bill said he had power
off, nose pointing towards the ground and his VSI was maxed out,
meaning he was exceeding two thousand feet per minute up. Just as he
was about to penetrate the cloud base he said he felt like he was slapped
by a giant hand. He had been slammed by the down draft. Bill was at full
power and best rate of climb speed and heading for the ground at fifteen
hundred feet per minute. There was absolutely nothing he could do
about it. The down draft hit him so hard he said his flight bag slammed
up against the skylight so hard he thought it would bust the lexan and
go sailing off into space. About this time he figured he was dead. Four
hundred feet above the ground he flew out the side of the down draft
and it let him go. A shaken Bill Hass then proceeded to his home field
and landed without further incident, giving all the other innocuous little
rain shafts a wide birth. He had been lucky he flew into a very small,
mild wind shear. A full blown thunderstorm would've ripped the wings
off the tiny RANS and spit out the debris into the trees.
Not to sound like "I told you so", but Steve and I departed into
beautiful, clear blue skies about 24 hours later. We saw the coolest
thing. There was still small areas of ground fog, mainly in the low lying
areas. We spotted a large round depression in the ground filled with fog.
The surface winds were spilling the fog over the edges and dragging it
downwind. It looked like a giant cereal bowl with sugar spilling out of
it. We also saw a few hot air balloons. We passed right over one in fact.
Half way to Flager County, our first refueling stop, I had to piss so bad
my eyeballs were floating. I asked Steve if he had anything I could use.
He drank the last mouthfull of water outt've a water bottle and passed it
to me. Now this was one of those spring water bottles with the real
small openings. The size of a Coke bottle. Have you ever tried stuffing
the head of your dick into one of these things while flying an airplane? It
ain't easy, let me tell you. I asked Steve to take the controls while I
shifted around and tried to position my...well, myself over the tiny
opening of this damn water bottle. We had a little light chop and just
about when I was relaxing to let go a quart or two we'd hit a bump and
the head of my dick would pop out and I'd have to pinch it off to keep
from peeing all over the airplane. It was hell! After about a half hour of
struggling I finally managed to drain my bladder. I handed Steve back
the water bottle half full and warm. "Here, hold this." I said. "What the
hell am I supposed to do with this?" he asked. Jesus you'd think he was
holding an open jar of radioactive toxic waste or something. We
debated throwing the whole bottle out the window, but I was afraid I'd
kill someone. I could just see the headlines..."MAN KILLED BY
LARGE PLASTIC BOTTLE OF URINE. DNA TESTING
CONTINUES..." Besides I might need the bottle again before we
We landed at Flager County and filled up with gas. Steve bought a few
goodies for the family at the gift shop they had at the FBO. Ya gotta
bribe the family with gifts ya know. That way you increase you chances
of getting to go again. We took off and headed straight for the beach.
For some reason flying the beach wasn't quite as much fun by ourselves
than when Bill was with us. But it was still a helluva lot more fun than
flying at three thousand feet. Steve shot some excellent video over my
We pulled away from the beach when we came off our second refueling
stop at Malcom Mckinnon, Georgia. I didn't know if it was my
imagination or not, but the engine seemed to be acting funny. I couldn't
quite put my finger on it, but it just didn't feel right. About the time we
were crossing the dreaded salt marshes near Savannah the engine started
to surge. It would speed up then slow down, speed up, slow down. Oh
lordy, lordy. Please don't let this thing quite now. Now I knew it wasn't
my imagination. We were definitely having some kind of problem.
Sweat started to trickle down my back. My eyeballs jumped from
landing spot to landing spot. There weren't many places to land so I
decided to press on to our next fuel stop which was good old
Walterboro, South Carolina. When we landed and I pulled the cowling
what I saw almost made my knees buckle. The rotary valve oil bottle
was completely dry. The oil line still had oil in it, and there was almost a
half quart in the engine itself, so I was pretty sure I had not sustained
any engine damage, but I had never seen the bottle completely empty.
What I did not know at the time was that the bottle nipples had
narrowed due to the clamping pressure I had applied. The original
Rotax oil lines had started leaking last year and I had replaced them with
high quality 3/8 inch oil line. The problem was the Rotax oil lines were
metric, not 3/8's. The replacement line was oil tight for the first year, but
as the bottle nipple had narrowed the lines became progressively more
leaky, until finally all the oil just blew right out of the bottle. It was a
classic case where higher quality was actually bad. I filled up the oil
reservoir and took a socket wrench to the clamps. I got about another
half turn on them. I would have to check the bottle every time we
stopped for gas.
We were racing the sun to get home in one day. With the headwinds and
the time it took to fix the oil problem the sun was winning. What I didn't
want to happen was to have the sun set and be only a hundred or so
miles from home. But I was not going to press it either. We would just
go as far as we could and then stop.
Our new route of flight took us directly over the Raleigh-Durham TCA.
Rather than waste time going around we climbed to 4,500 to get above
it. It was already cold, but at 4,500 we were absolutely freezing our
asses off. Plus we were loosing the sun and the added warmth it gave us
through the skylight. Steve grabbed our lightweight jackets out of the
baggage compartment and we both managed to struggle into them. It
helped a little, but it was getting colder the farther north we went.
Another reminder that Old Man Winter wasn't quite finished with the
Dillon, South Carolina was our next fuel stop, and we both put on our
winter coats. It must've been in the high 50's or low 60's on the ground.
We passed right over South-of-the-border on our climb out. At this
point I wasn't sure if we were going to make it to Benedict before it got
too dark to fly or not. I kept watching the ground speed. If I could keep
it in the 80's we would just about make it.
We needed to make one more refueling stop to make it to Benedict. It
was around six or six thirty in the late afternoon and I was concerned
that the next intended fuel stop would be closed by the time we got
there. It was still about 40 miles off, but I tried calling anyway. There
was no response. Now I wasn't sure if they were closed, or they just
couldn't hear me. There was an airport just 15 miles ahead, but a few
miles off course. If I could get fuel there we could still make Benedict
non-stop. Being conservative in nature I made a command decision. If
they were open I was going to land and fill up. I called. The FBO was
closing in thirty minutes. I asked them to hold the fuel truck for me I
was ten minutes away. We refueled for the final time at Halifax County
airport in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. It was a beautiful little place
next to a river. As we took off for the final leg home Steve remarked
how different things always looked every time we landed and took off
again. It's true. It almost seems like a different day even being on the
ground for only 15 or 20 minutes.
We didn't waste time climbing to altitude. There wasn't any need. We
passed over endless fields and sod farms. We leveled at 1,500 just to
give us a measure of protection against flying into tall towers. The
ground speed at that altitude was about 85mph. It was going to be
close, but it looked like we would make it. Steve shot a beautiful
panorama from one wing tip to the other. The sun was setting over the
Appalachian mountains. There was some cloud cover to the west and it
was getting darker faster because of that. It was also cold. By the time
the Potomac River came into view the sun was long since gone and we
were operating in that half hour of legal twilight that having strobes
allowed. Shitty strobes though they were. I couldn't wait to install the
Kutzleman's. Steve was still filming as we came up on Benedict. When
he took the camera away he was surprised at how dark it actually was.
The camera was so good that it gave him a better picture than the naked
eye. He joked about letting me use the camera to land with if I needed
it. In another fifteen minutes I would've taken him up on it. The little
extra ground speed we got by staying low had made the difference. We
touched down at Benedict right on the edge of darkness. It must've been
around 8:30pm or so. In fact we had to use the headlights from the van
to unpack the airplane.
The trip down to Sun-n-Fun had taken 13 hours. We had terrible
headwinds on the way down. The trip back had taken only 10.7 hours.
We had taken off at 8:00am and landed around 8:30pm stopping five
times for fuel and averaging about 20 minutes per stop. Steve had a
great trip. I had a great trip. We shot some excellent video, and I didn't
want to sit in the damn airplane again for at least a month.
The author is a Commercial pilot with Instrument and CFII ratings. He
has worked as a flight instructor, part 135 air charter pilot and Air
Traffic Controller in Tower, Center, Approach Control and Flight
Service positions both in the Air Force and the FAA. He holds a
bachelors degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University. He owns and fly's a RANS S-7 he built from a
kit in 1992. He currently resides in Waldorf, Maryland.
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