Homebuilders Workshop: Leading Irma Around
Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 12:24PM
Ed Wischmeyer in Ed Wischmeyer, GA, LSA, RV-9A, homebuilt aircraft, light sport aricraft

By Ed Wischmeyer

Friday: Spent yesterday, the day before, and this morning getting the house and the hangar ready for Irma. In the hangar, everything that shouldn’t get wet or that could blow away went into plastic tubs and into the back of the car.  In the garage, I moved some low-lying tools up off the floor, but it would be too much work to get everything high enough for a bad flood. In the house, the major concern was roof leaks, so I put plastic drop cloths over things that should not get wet… most of them, anyway. And if the neighbor’s pine tree fell on my house, or if the water level got up to the hardwood floors, well, too bad.

A friend who is on the insurance for the RV-9A will fly it somewhere safe, I’ll fly the RV-8 to my sister’s house in Knoxville. Irma is forecast to come up the East coast, so I’ll be well out of the way. A friend helps me hang storm shutters on the windows. They’re numbered, the windows are not, but it makes little difference, they all seem to fit. I go out to the hangar for a final clean up but I have all my baggage with me for the trip. Hey, weather is good, and if I wait until tomorrow morning and the weather is uncooperative, I’ll have no good options. I fly to Knoxville.

Saturday: Glad to see family, and they’re glad to see me, but my impromptu visit doesn’t fit all that well with what they’ve already got going on. I take them out to dinner that night and watch the weather, almost obsessively. With Irma now headed for Knoxville and threatening to stall there for a few days, Wilmington, NC, seems like a good option. However, there are mountains between Knoxville and Wilmington, some pretty good winds aloft, headwinds to boot, and gusty winds there. I stay put.

Sunday: Good call not to go to Wilmington as it continues gusty and its forecast has gone to pot. Irma is following me. I saddle up the RV-8 and head to Dallas to visit a friend.

On this flight, I have the oxygen bottle where I can reach it, a good call, but I have real problems plugging in the cannula. A little saliva helps that, and I have oxygen. My physiology doesn’t like to be above 8,000 without O2 – yes, pretty low – but I head to Dallas at 8,500 and 10,500, above the clouds in the smooth air.

With all the accumulated stress and uncertainty, and not much recent experience, flying the RV-8 is a pain in the ass. I have recollections of it being great fun when flown with panache and élan, but flying it with stress and boredom is not the same.

First gas stop, believe it or not, is at Ripley, MS. Gas, bathroom, sofa. When I flew over what I thought was downtown, all I saw was a trailer park, but the cell phone tells me that there are 20, count ‘em, places to eat in town, the closest three miles away. And the autopilot, which had not worked before, works when I decide to try it; a small but welcome blessing.

Monday: Get a text message from the alarm system that the power is off. Twelve hours later, another message that the alarm system battery is low. I know that the milk will spoil (I’d not emptied the fridge because I thought I might be coming back that afternoon, a bad call), but hopefully it won’t stink up everything. I was well-stressed before I took off and there has been little to alleviate the stress. Flying the RV-8 over unfamiliar territory with only the unfamiliar little GPS has added to the stress.

Tuesday: Good flying weather for getting home, except most all of the runways along the Gulf Coast are north/south, and the winds are out of the west, sometimes gusty. There’s a ton of military airspace along the coast around Pensacola, and with a handheld GPS as my primary nav (iPhone and iPad as backups), I don’t want to avoid both airspaces and weather at the same time. I stay put.

Besides, the power is still off at home. A neighbor posted pictures that indicate that the street was flooded at her end, but I don’t know about my house. No point going home to a dark house. And it was the near-certainty of power outages that was a big motivator for evacuating.

A kind soul from central Mississippi had offered to let me stay at his house and park the plane in his hangar. His place is now getting rain from Irma with unflyable weather the rest of the day.

Wednesday: Weather looks good except for maybe a line of showers at the end of the flight. Two days of rest and good company have greatly improved my state of mind and energy levels. The first leg is only an hour with kidney management in mind, and when I pull the plane to the gas pump in east Texas, there is a sound from one wheel reminiscent of when kids put playing cards across bicycle spokes. Expletive deleted. Turns out that it is a brake caliper that is chattering, not a big deal, but something I’d neither encountered nor heard of before. We put the front part of the wheel pant back on, but a half hour is wasted.

Next stop: Louisiana, where there is cheap gas, a courtesy car to get lunch, and a terminal building with only park benches. No nap here, and I continue towards home. And it’s on this leg that the RV-8 starts to be fun again. I’m more comfortable with the little GPS screen, several crosswind landings have gone well, and I know that the house and hangar have survived with little if any damage.

Next stop, Tuskegee, AL, a quiet little airport with great service. Halfway there, I discover that the GPS is programmed for Tuscaloosa, but a 30-degree heading change gets me on course. There are lots of clouds and I only occasionally get up to 3,500 feet over the trackless forests, but a 15-knot tailwind cures many perceived ills. It is bumpy, and I’m glad there’s nobody in the back seat – they’d get not only bumps, but also side to side jostling as the RV-8 does its little tail wag, almost unnoticeable up front. Still, this leg would be so much easier IFR and with a full autopilot. 

By the time I get to Tuskegee, I don’t just have a tired butt, I have a flaming fanny. Ouch and a half! But the gas stop was quick, the folks were friendly as always, and it was homeward bound, a 90-minute flight that would get me home 45 minutes before sunset.

The line of showers was dissipating in the later afternoon, and I got through with no more than small raindrops that unfortunately did not clean the bugs off the airplane. The landing was fine and suddenly I was back in my old reality, after visiting two totally different cities, much more well-kempt than the tired parts of Savannah that you always have to drive through.

The insurance maximum reimbursement for evacuating the airplane is $500, about what I’ve spent on gas alone. We’ll see how they handle my claim.

I was lucky on this hurricane, but I have friends in Texas who were not. Be a friend when you get the chance.

Article originally appeared on In Flight USA (http://www.inflightusa.com/).
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