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Mike's Pilot Log: South to South Adventure

Flying in the USA is a whole new aviation experience

Olivier woke me up at 6am. I didn't sleep well. I needed more sleep. Coofffeeeee, please.

We piled our luggage and 3 empty fuel cans into the taxi and headed for the airport. I asked the taxi driver to stop at the nearest fuel station to the airport. He nearly had a fit, swearing at us that he wasn't carrying no fuel, no way, man! So we told him to ssstttoppppp the taxi right there at the next corner. Swearing at us, he drove off. Grumpy old fart! The next taxi driver, a black man, was more accommodating and was quite happy to stop for fuel for us.

At the airport we packed carefully and slowly. During the process of rigging my wing, I inadvertently managed to get my one finger caught in the space between the hang block and the left trapeze downtube. I got a fright, because looking at where my finger was I thought I had broken it. It was hugely painful, so I was very lucky that Olivier was right there to straighten the block and free my finger probably within 30 seconds. It was badly bruised and cut, but everything worked OK. After a rest and Olivier bandaging my finger, we were hard at work preparing the aircraft for flight again.

I was a little nervous of all the controlled airspace we would have to fly through in the next few days.

Headwind again. We have been lucky on this trip with tailwinds and good weather. The route was again along the Mexican Gulf coast, heading eastwards.

We were lucky that we had the opportunity to get our radios working better, and the transponder fixed and adjusted.

Flying in the USA is a whole new aviation experience especially if you are flying along the coast at low level, because you land up flying through every airspace there is. If you look at a map of the USA, the coastline is where the real concentration of airports and airspace is. We flew into a lot of airspace that you can only enter if you have a transponder with mode C (altitude encoding part). During the day we had F16 jets doing circuits around us, Coastguard helicopters fly past us, banner towing aircraft fly over us, watched as large passenger airliners took off or landed near us. At one point the air traffic controller told us to turn right on a heading of 140 degrees to stay away from military airspace. Well, I turned onto 140 degrees and ahead of me lay the Mexican Gulf and the next place to land was Jamaica. Well, excuse me, but we are not equipped for deep sea fishing today. I recommended that we would all be a lot happier if we stayed near the beach. OK .. Thanks.

The air traffic controllers talk very quickly in the US also they abbreviate the words and sometimes do not repeat everything heard. On a few occasions I had to ask them to repeat what they had said and to speak slowly. I thanked Mike Walker in my mind a few times for recommending that I fit the active noise cancelling Lightspeed headsets into my helmet. Also, we could never fly the route we have chosen if we didn't have a transponder with mode C.

Anyway, the particular airport we flew past where the F16's were doing circuits had over 70 fighter jets parked outside. The amount of military aircraft we saw was mind boggling.

At one of the large airports, the ATC asked me if I had the runway visual. Yes, I did. OK, climb to 1,000ft, turn left and fly directly over the control tower, we have a flight of 6 fighters taking off. As Olivier and I passed directly over the top of the runway, the last F16 fighter was taking off. I could hear the roar of the jet engine as he lifted off the runway underneath us. Within a few seconds he disappeared into the clouds above us.

The airports in the US are incredible. Even the little ones have lights and facilities. I can now believe what I once heard at one of the Rotax conferences two thirds of the light aircraft of the world are in the USA. There are beautifully tarred airports absolutely everywhere.

The first small airport we landed at was Trent Lott. We landed and were directed to our parking bays by 2 young men with battens. Then we were shown into the luxurious air-conditioned airport building, where we could help ourselves to coffee. The weather details were easy to get . weather radar images were shown on a screen in the briefing room. Next surprise the courtesy car. Sir, here is the key to the courtesy car if you would like to go into town for a bite to eat. We took the car and got food and fuel.  The price for all of this it's free, free. There are no landing fees in the USA as far as I can establish. The only fees are overnight parking fees of between $5.00 and $7.50. Rent an aircraft with good radio and transponder, buy some charts and fly this country. This is where aviation is without obstacles. It's well managed without being too formal or too disciplined. There must be thousands of airports.

It was an amazing day for me. Because I have the stronger radio and the transponder, Olivier and I have decided that I would do the navigation and radio work in the congested places of our flight. Olivier has handled almost all of the radio work up to now on our trip.

I was incredibly busy in the air - dealing with the flying, the navigation through the airspaces, talking to other aircraft and air traffic control, having to listen very carefully to catch everything that was said. We went through one controlled zone after another. A busy day.

Our overnight stop was at Apalichicola. The airport was an old airforce base. Big concrete runways. At this airport the courtesy car was $7.00 per hour. We took it, headed into town and after eating a dozen fresh oysters at Boss Oyster Bar, headed back with the fuel cans full. We showered under the garden hose and slept under the mozzie net. We were attacked by the little "see me nots" which bit me on the top of my head and some ants that got into my shorts. These little N American ants can really bite. I noticed that everyone that sees an ant nest here takes a wide berth around it. You will notice that insects feature quite a lot on our trip. Somehow, we cannot avoid the bloody things.


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