Happy 40th birthday, Vern!

Naval Air Museum: For an aviation enthusiast, one of the premier events is to pay a visit to the Museum of Naval Aviation History at Pensacola. The museum is home to many exhibits and to the Blue Angels. For a man who has loved airplanes his whole life and who works on them for a living, pns1.jpgthere was no better way to celebrate a 40th birthday than to have a visit to the Museum .... and Wild Mama was only too happy to accommodate his wish!
Since I started teaching school 2 weeks ago, getting out and about has become a bit more challenging - being on the school schedule leaves only weekends to make little airplane jaunts. Teaching in Punta Gorda made the flying part even more challenging still since Wild Mama remains in LaBelle. But Vern was only too happy to fetch our winged steed and pick me up in Punta Gorda for the aviation weekend. The day was beautiful and we were able to go VFR for the whole trip. After passing Tampa airspace, we climbed out to 8500' to get over the layer of haze and smoke that had developed due to some local wild fires just north of Brookville. The air aloft was certainly much cooler and cleaner but necessitated our contacting ATC to get through all of the restricted areas going into Pensacola. We did a quick air filing over the Ocala VOR, picked up the clearance over Cross City and skated across all of the restricted areas without a hitch.
Our landing was not quite as hitch-free as the journey. Deciding to avoid the main airport at Pensacola, we opted for a smaller field at Ferguson - a 3200' grass and asphalt strip just north of the Museum and directly under the inner circle of the Pensacola NAS Class C. The dumped us out on top of Ferguson at 4,000'; we circled right, dropped the speed brakes and took a nose dive for the runway. Piece of cake until we tried to taxi. It seems that the taxiway area is grass and was quite wet. Wild Mama was bogging down terribly and she took quite a bit of power to try to taxi onto the ramp - we left a few ruts in our wake. Safe and sound, however, we tied her down and headed off for the start of the birthday weekend.
Early Saturday morning found us at the Museum trying to plot out the day. There were many exhibits that we wanted to see and we wanted to catch the back lot tour that required a space reservation. We got the 10:00 am slot so there was still plenty of time to catch all of the other inside stuff too. The exhibits here are very well done and the museum is lad out according to historical periods - we started with the WWII era and got sidetracked on a film about aircraft carriers.
 pns2.jpgThe final exhibit was probably one of the most interesting for me. The sign said "Treasures of Lake Michigan". Now being a scuba diver this has extra special appear but  could not magine what would be at the bottom of Lake Michigan that would be aviation related. The answer was quite a surprise. It seems that in the dawn of arcraft carriers, there had to be a training ground and Lake Michigan was it. Many men going off to be carrier pilots had to have their 8 traps on the modified "carriers" that were deployed into Lake Michigan. Needless to say, many of the planes did not make the landings and ended up at the bottom of the Lake. One of the planes recovered was the Dauntless - a Midway Battle veteran and on display, fully restored, at the Museum.

Pensacola Naval Air Museum

Detour:  We had seen a front moving across the US - there was snow in TX and some pretty nasty weather between here and there. Flying this morning was not an option the winds were high, the visibility was low and the thunderstorms were numerous. A detour was in order. The weather had cleared back to the west so we hopped in the car - sorry, this part is not an airplane adventure - and headed to Mobile, AL for a little "business" trip - the purpose of which I am not at liberty to disclose just yet. We were met by Bud Ratliff who gave us a tour of the town - past the battleship USS Alabama, the cruise ship terminal, the historic section of town and past much of the low lands that were ravaged by Katrina. We heard so much about New Orleans that it never occurred to me that Mobile was in the path as well. While many of the areas still had blank spaces where thriving businesses once existed, pns3.jpgmuch of the area looked untouched by the storm. One such place was Felix Fish Camp Restaurant. This was a picture that could have been taken in the Keys: an old rusty looking hodge-podge of sticks and tin from the outside with an eclectic collection of nautical memorabilia on the inside. The food was outstanding as was evidenced by the long lines waiting to get in. We took an instant seat in the bar area - the last one I might add.
The detour was just enough to get us through the worst part of the weather and back out of Ferguson Airport. It was still quite wet but we took the direct route across the turf taxiway and onto the runway. We called for clearance before leaving and blasted off straight south over the shoreline, climbing out at 165 kts - Whoo-hooooo! A tailwind! The winds were out of the NW so this was gong to last quite a while. We climbed out over the low clouds lingering on fromthe front and skated through all of the restricted zones again. It was not until we made the turn south at the pan handle that we caught up with the front and the associated wind shift. Our tidy little tailwind dropped to zero and soon to a negative and we slogged through the remaining miles barely breaking 130 kts. It was fun while it lasted. We managed to stay out of most of the slush until it was time to land in Punta Gorda and we had to shoot the approach. The winds were high and the approach was slow but we broke out well above minimums and touched down with a chirp. The perfect ending to a 40th birthday weekend.