Baby, it’s cold outside!

Update Feb. 2018: This story was published in the February 2018 issue of Comanche Flyer magazine, the official magazine of the International Comanche Society. See the PDF of the article. 

When the temps drop, we hunker down. EXCEPT when we decided, spur-of-the-moment (mostly), to jump into our Piper Twin Comanche (N8475Y) and escape to Florida. Snowbirds! Full story posted below this short video:

Bob was looking out for a good-weather window of opportunity, and spotted one in early December. So I did have some advance warning, along the lines of, “we might leave with short notice, so get ready.” One night he said, “OK — we’re leaving tomorrow morning.” Scramble, scramble, to quickly pack — but not too much weight.

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Clockwise, from top: sunset at Lake Minnehaha, Clermont, FL; Southern Soul BBQ; the “TSA” kitty; enjoying the warmth; self-fueling at Darlington, SC

We left Manassas, VA on a lovely, clear day, and flew down to central Florida, to visit Bob’s sister Julie and her husband Mike. Total flight time was around 4.5 hours — we broke it up with two stops. First fuel stop was in Darlington, SC, where a beautiful kitty was “working” in the terminal; as the manager cheerfully explained to me, “Oh, that’s our TSA agent.”

Next stop was at McKinnon Airport (St. Simons Island, GA), where we took on fuel for N8475Y and ourselves … we enjoyed a delicious meal at Southern Soul Barbeque. Now THAT is real, melt-in-your-mouth southern BBQ.

Bob had chosen the Orlando Apopka Airport, one of the closest to his sister’s home. It turns out to be quite unusual — it’s a privately-owned, 100% “condo” airport. All the hangars are privately owned, and the owners’ association manages the airport. They were friendly and helpful, but the airport has no tie-downs, which I’d never seen before. We were told they can normally offer hangar space, at $35/night, but there was “no room at the inn.” We chocked 75Y and Bob’s sister Julie picked us up for the drive home.

We spent several days visiting with Mike and Julie and enjoying the warm temperatures. Julie went to Embry-Riddle University and also has her private pilot’s license. Brother and sister had not ever flown together before, so a highlight of our visit was a flight to Vero Beach. A pleasant surprise — Vero Beach is the home of the Piper factory, so we realized that we had, in essence, brought 75Y back to her birthplace. Alas, we didn’t have time on this visit for a factory visit.  This part of Florida is criss-crossed with lakes, so the flights were most picturesque.

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Flying down the Keys island chain

We hopped back into 75Y for an uneventful flight down to Key West. The Key West Airport is very close to the nearby Naval Air Station Key West — so it’s important to pay attention and land at the correct airport! The folks at Signature FBO were friendly and helpful — it’s clearly a popular airport. I sat in the lobby for a few minutes and used the free wifi to visit a few apps (Trip Advisor, Hotel Tonight, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Trivago) to find a reasonable hotel for a few nights. We scored an excellent booking at the Key Lime Inn, a charming collection of small cottages, within walking distance to main historic area. We took a quick Uber ride into town.

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Pan Am’s first-ever flight was from Key West to Havana, just 90 miles away

A fun surprise — on our first night there, the town held its annual Christmas parade … on the street right in front of our hotel! Parade folks tossed out tons of candy to the kids. We weren’t trying to grab any, but so much fell on us, that we ended up with candy anyway.

This was our first real visit to Key West … years ago, we had stopped here on a cruise ship. (We had enjoyed it, but let’s face it, from a cruise ship you can only see so much in a few hours on shore.)

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Clockwise, from top L: our position at the southernmost point of the continental US; sunset and schooners; Ernest Hemingway’s study; on base leg to Key West Int’l; at the very end of Route 1, at Mile Zero

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We loved the architecture — all the gingerbread homes — the food, the culture, the atmosphere, the laid-back vibe, the friendly locals. There was a lot to see and do, and we poked around to our heart’s content. We got a kick out of all the contented polydactyl cats on the Hemingway property … one kitty was fast asleep on Papa Ernest’s bed.

After a few days, Bob saw that a huge weather front was moving across country, and was headed toward the East Coast. We considered flying partway — perhaps up to Savannah or Charleston — to wait out the storm, but ended up deciding to make a run for it. We left bright and early the next day.

Flying conditions on the way back were pretty good. Flying over the Everglades was interesting — it’s gigantic! It must be so full of wildlife — made me want to traverse it by airboat. For the entire trip, our altitude ranged from 6,500′-7,500′, so we were able to get in plenty of good sightseeing.

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Some of the VIPs who have flown into Moore County over the years

We did encounter some clouds, but just flew above them. We made a pit stop at Jacksonville Executive (Craig) Airport (FL). For our second fuel stop, we landed at Moore County, NC, right in the heart of golf country. No stopping for lunch! We were hoping to get to our home airport of Manassas, VA ahead of the front. We made great time — at one point, with a stiff tailwind, our ground speed topped out at 210 knots!

We landed safely at Manassas, just as it was beginning to drizzle. 75Y is back in her hangar, safe and snug. What a wonderful adventure! — Diana

Look for us on Instagram: #N8475Y

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