by Dan Winnie

Or How I almost became an aviation statistic without really trying...

Wow, this has been one fantastic week at Clinton Airport (KCWI)! The Cessna 150-152 club has done it right, from the first late night arrival through the banquet in the hangar, and now Jeff and I are sitting on the taxi way waiting for a crop duster to land. After the only aircraft in the area slower than us clears the runway, I call our departure on the UNICOM and we taxi into place, Jeff aka "where's my fuel cap?" in N3740J aka Gremlin is staggered off to my right. I apply the brakes and smoothly apply full power, Miss Juliet starts shaking and her engine starts screaming like one of those crotch rocket motor cycles that pass you on the highway while performing a wheelie. OK, she shakes a bit and we start rolling more like a Vespa with a little too much oil in the fuel.


Dan Makes a Clinton spot landing contest attempt in a stiff crosswind.

As we lift off we make the gentle left turn and pass over the parking area. I look down for one last view of the parking area and only see Gordon's straight tail glistening in the sunlight, all alone. Continuing south we climb slowly to our cruising altitude of 4,500 feet. Jeff and I chatted briefly on the air-to-air frequency still excited about our week but slowly coming back to reality. We have about 10 hours to go to arrive in Destin, Florida for the night. While we flew along, we listened to the different formations flying north to OshKosh, and it saddens me a bit. I was so close to the aviation Mecca, and yet, I am unable to go as duty calls me south. Alas there will be next year. Jeff finally called up to me and asked me to slow up a bit. With my mighty 100 horse power and a 50 inch cruise prop, I was pulling away at 2500 rpm to Jeff's 2650. Hmm maybe those wheel pants and wing tips do help. I looked in my mirror, yes, my C-150 still has the rear view mirror and it is useful.


Jeff and Gremlin in the mirror

I watched, Jeff maneuvering back and forth, trying different positions. I took my camera and put Miss Juliet on automatic pilot (locking the yoke with my knees) and twisted around to get a few shots of Jeff. We motored south occasionally chatting about what we did and slowly the evening plans came together. Jeff has family living near my home base (Eglin AFB - KVPS) and had not traveled through the restricted areas at night. So the route plan became, I would lead, talk to Eglin Radar, to get us through the corridor. We decided to land at Destin, a Public use airport (KDTS) where Jeff would leave Gremlin there for the night. I would land after Jeff, off load a bit of my camping equipment, to avoid being grossly over weight. I figured if I took out most of my stuff, I could put on 10 gallons to make the 10 minute flight to Eglin AFB, park Miss Juliet, and hop into my truck and drop Jeff off at his grand parents. I think this could work. So the plan was decided. Jeff had not been into Destin at night, but I explained to him, it is no sweat. I religiously fly down the mid-bay bridge, and enter Destin from the East. With this I mind I explained to Jeff to keep the 18 story high rise hotels, and 10 story condominiums to your left, fly along highway 98 until just before the baseball fields with the tall 75 foot lights around them. The ball field lights make a good down wind turn point for runway 14. Jeff quietly said OK over the radio. Hmm, maybe a bit too much info. Well we can talk about it on the ground, we needed to get ready for the landing at Vandalia.


Miss Juliet and Gremlin Waiting for Fuel at Vandalia

Looking at my dual GPS equipped panel, I could see we needed to start down and listen up to the ASOS. We turned downwind to 27 and I could see a Cessna 208 at the fuel pumps. Cool I always like looking at the 208, I would like to fly one some time. We landed, Jeff turned short and got to the pumps first. Wow, the 208 really made Gremlin and Miss Juliet look small. The 208 full of sky divers taxied out blasting us with dust. I helped Jeff push Gremlin to the pump where the attendant looked at Jeff and asked if he wanted gas. Hmm. Go figure. We convinced him that both of us could use a "top off" as we were headed for Florida. He replied "Florida? In those? Can you make it? Wow." So the eager and overly impressed re-fueler limbed the ladder to fill Gremlin. Upon getting all the way up, he looked at Jeff and asked, "Hey do you have the fuel cap?" Hmm again, let me see. The fueler saw us taxi up, push the plane into position, and HE climbed the ladder to the wing. To me the odds were Jeff didn't have the cap. Maybe this guy needs a Jeff Foxworthy sign. I don't know. OK time for more doubt benefit. "No we don't ┬┤was the reply from Jeff, where the re-fueler answered "Well I don't know where it is, it ain't here, what do you want me to do? Jeff responded, fill her up and we will deal with it. We went inside and chatted with the attendants and came up with a replacement fuel tank cover. We pushed Gremlin out of the way and moved Miss Juliet to the pumps, where the guy again asked if I wanted to put gas in it. Hmm. OK, I guess he didn't hear the part about flying on to Florida today. With a load of fuel, a cold soda and a warm breeze working through the tiny cabin, we taxied out to the runway, Jeff in the lead. We pushed in the power, felt the rush and soon we were climbing through the air at 5500 feet and a comfortable 80 degree air emitting from the air vents.


Miss Juliet rolling out of the dreaded C-150 wake turbulence

I moved about behind and along side of Gremlin to get some air-to-air pictures, and for a second there I got caught in the dreaded C-150 wake turbulence. We rolled rather quickly to the right and left, I descended, and got out of the rough air. I commented about it to Jeff and he laughed, he had discovered it also.

We traveled south toward Nashville, to a small airport just out side the control zone, as we descended to 2500 feet, it got a bit hazy, and Jeff called out "I have the field in sight."

Hmm... both my GPS's showed about 20 nautical miles to go, but maybe I had the wrong airport in the boxes, after all Jeff has that beautify Garmin stack, how could we be lost?

He was lead so I followed him as he led us through some wonderful smokey little valleys, twisting and turning, climbing over a few ridges, it truly was a wonderful low level visual route. After about 20 miles of so, the airport exploded into view. We entered a right base, landed and taxied into FBO. The refueller was waiting as we taxied in, we got fuel without much fanfare, Jeff chatted briefly with the girls at the counter, they smiled at his charm, I looked at the weather and made the decision to leave for Moontown before dark. We fired Gremlin and Miss Juliet up, taxied and again made a smooth southerly departure, climbing to about 3,500 feet, where Jeff reminded me to "pull it back a bit so he could keep up. OK, back to 2,400rpm in the climb. We headed for Rocket VOR, just north of Huntsville, where Jeff would drop back into 3M5, Moontown and refuel. I had to go to Huntsville International for a quick visit with a fellow company employee that lives there. As we crossed Rocket, Jeff in Gremlin peeled off to the left and I contacted Huntsville approach and proceeded on a 10 mile straight in landing. As I taxied to the FBO, I decide to refuel here, then transition to Moontown and pick up Jeff for the final leg of our flight. I was disappointed when I got to the FBO, they had the fuel I needed, but all of the fresh baked cookies I love to get there were just cleaned out by the Gulf stream jet that taxied out as I was arriving. Now I was bummed. I had been eating peanuts and drinking diet Sprite for the last 500 miles, thinking about those cookies and what a nice snack they would be. Sigh.

Well, I blasted off with the speed of a damp bottle rocket, and was directed to maintain runway heading until I cleared the restricted area. I asked to turn back to the North, to go around the short way to Moontown, but was denied due to inbound traffic. Great. Now they are adding an additional 20 minutes out of my way to fly around the hills to avoid traffic and a restricted area. Oh well, part of the reason for this trip was in fact to build time, so off and around the hills I flew. I still was a beautiful afternoon to be up there among the wispy of clouds and bit of haze. Twenty five minutes after leaving KHSV, we gently touched down on the beautifully manicured grass runway at Moontown. I taxied over to the FBO, leaving the engine running, I expected Jeff to be ready. After about 5 minutes Jeff popped into view and asked me to shut her down as he was waiting for the local mechanic to find another gas cap. We laughed, Miss Juliet sputtered to a halt and I got out and walked a round.


Miss Juliet and a refurbished L16 hanging out at 3M5

Moontown is every bit as nice as the AOPA magazine said it was. From the old guys on the bench out side the FBO sharing their opinion on most everything imaginable, the creaky old fuel pump, to the neat array of vintage aircraft tucked into the open hangers near by. I think I will make this one of my mandatory refueling stops from now on; it is truly living aviation history. With the new cap secured, we blasted off for the final 3 hour leg to Florida. I was leading again and the drone of the engine was very relaxing. By the time we got overhead Montgomery Alabama VOR, (MGM) the sun was setting and the haze glare made it difficult to see very far ahead. I looked back at Jeff and took a few nice sunset pictures.


Setting sun as we head home, near MGM

After the sun was completely down, I could make out the familiar land marks and small town lights leading us to Destin. All of a sudden time seemed to accelerate. Andalusia, zipped pass by out right wingtip, Lake Florala to the left, and then the large silver hangars at Crest view glistened in the parking ramp lights just off our right wing. Eglin Approach Control cleared us through the North/South corridor to Aux Field 2 (VFR reporting point) to White point, down the mid bay bridge. As we wove our way through the airspace, I felt relaxed to be home, almost 10.5 hours to get here; I remembered I needed to do the 3 night take off and landings to be legal for me to take Jeff to Eglin. I called Jeff, and as soon as he could see the Destin airport, he would pass me and land; while I did my three touch and goes for currency. Jeff landed and as I rolled into the down wind I performed my Gumps, with the same robotic action as I did with students at this airport. Carb heat on at mid field, seat belt, fuel selector on gear down, power to 1500 rpm abeam the end of the runway. Flaps to 20 on base. Landing light on. Almost there.

I turned final a bit early, Dang! I forgot how narrow Destin is and at night it looked smaller., Over shooting a bit, flaps to 40, need to slow down and get down. Power to idle, check decent, yoke back slowly, WOW I greased it in, and no one to see or hear it. OK, um flaps up, carb heat off, check flaps, add power smoothly, 60 mph slowly rotating. Yes I did a very nice job! As I passed through 100 feet Miss Juliet thought she would add to the challenge of my first night landing in longer amount of time than I should have let go by. She, in a very unladylike action, coughed, and then caught her breath. I looked straight ahead and saw the water park ride area, and above me one of those rotating arm rides. The menacing machine was bright yellow, hard to visually miss and had a single long arm with a pod at the end, stretching out in my direction. She coughed again, and then started to shake violently. Hmm... I think we have a problem.

Looking past the ride, was one of those 15 story condos to the left, and an 8 story condo to the right. As I passed over the base ball field, with the bright lights hindering my view of what was ahead, I coaxed her to 150 feet and headed for where I thought the gap between the buildings would be. IMPORTANT NOTE TO SELF: I have to make the beach, landing before the condos, into the water park would not be good. I shot the gap at about 150 feet, 50 mph, with Miss Juliet belching flame out of the left stack, and probably rattling a few windows to boot. As we cleared the buildings the onshore breeze kicked us up immediately another 100 feet or so.

250 feet out over the Gulf of Mexico at night with a sick single engine airplane wasn't quite how I was expecting this trip to end. I knew I didn't want to go swimming with the sharks. I wasn't sure what was wrong, but considering the time since I left HSV, fuel could be an issue. What a stupid thing to do. Ever so slowly, we climbed to 500 feet and turned back toward the airport. Leveling off I managed to get 60mph with the engine sputtering and shaking. I knew I could make the airport now. I quickly landed as she coughed and resisted my attempts at more power. On short final I eased the power back a bit and she immediately quit. I remembered what an instructor said many years ago. " If you do something and the result is bad, then undo what you did, stupid." Hmm....Better put the throttle back.

When I did and she sputtered to life. I landed, rolled out and turned into the FBO where the marshaller watched us limp in. I shut her down, got out and the line man asked, "Are you having some problems? Your airplane don't sound none too good." Well, I don't remember what I said, but it was something like, yeah, she is tired, and running a bit rough. How about filling her up? I was afraid to hear the total when the lineman was finished. She took 18 gallons, that's all I could squeeze in. I climbed up and sure enough, she was indeed full. Well I felt a bit better; at least I had legal fuel.

Taking from Mr. Hanna's discussion on the engine, I pulled the prop through 4 times slowly, and I found a dead cylinder. The prop just flopped through. I went through again, same action, one dead, a no compression cylinder. Well Jeff, I guess we call for a ride. The next day I met with my mechanic (Miss Juliet had just come out of annual the week before the trip) and explained what I thought was wrong. 4 days and $500.00 later my Mechanic said "dang good guess for a pilot, picked the right problem and the correct side. Pretty good for a pilot!" We laughed as I handed over the check.

Reflecting over the last few days, I have indeed been lucky. While I wouldn't try to change the things I did this trip, rather I will work harder on what not to allow the situation to develop again. I have been to KDTS a hundred times and never truly considered what could happen if I had an engine failure after take off, never let myself exceed my personal 3 hours on the ground rule. Miss Juliet and I flew the other day and I think she made her point.

We are friends again.

Dan Winnie
N3813J
Mary Esther, FL





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