It was Philip’s turn to go on a long flying adventure. We considered Sun ‘N Fun, but the scheduled launch of SpaceX CRS-8 to the International Space Station with the inflatable Bigelow Expandable Activity Module and the potential of being present for the first successful landing of a rocket on a barge won.
This was Philip’s longest flight, so we planned to spend a night with my parents near the half-way mark on both the flight out and the return flight. Strong winds were a big part of the entire trip. On the first leg the air was so bumpy we found ourselves at 10,500 feet before the ride smoothed out. The time spent climbing and winds combined to cause the trip to take about 20 minutes longer than normal, but the smooth air seemed worth it.
On the second day (Launch Day), we arrived at the airport around 08:00 and found the forecast tailwinds I had noticed several days in advance. We saw the ocean from the Sonex for the first time. This part of the Florida coast line is pretty remote and doesn’t have the sandy beaches that I’m used to seeing along the panhandle.
We could have made it all the way to Space Coast Regional in a single leg, but not knowing what to expect transitioning the Orlando Class B airspace, we refueled at Marion County/Dunnellon X35.
After departure, I contacted Jacksonville Center to inform them of my intention to fly direct to Space Coast Regional at 3,500 feet. He chuckled when I mentioned being capable of 120 knots and said he’d see what they could do for me. When I switched over to Orlando Approach, they immediately sent me down to 2,000 feet–below their airspace where I could have flown anyway. Oh well. The controller made it feel more pleasant by referring to it as “begin your descent now” despite us both knowing it doesn’t take 60+ miles for me to descend from 3,500 feet :-)
Philip was very excited to get to the beach. I read online that Playalinda beach is a pretty good location to watch launches from. I emphasized the beach part of the trip to him since I was a little worried he might be scared of seeing the actual rocket launch. The water was the perfect temperature. He had a great time splashing and jumping over the waves for the hour or so we waited before the launch (and for an hour after the launch and most people had left).
The beach ended up feeling closer to the launch than I expected. The rocket was clearly recognizable as it lifted off. The most impressive part about watching the launch in person was how brilliantly red the exhaust gases are. On computer screens it tends to look white, but the brightness and sharpness of the red flame are impressive in person. I was able to track the rocket until the first stage separated before I lost track of it.
Shortly before the launch I let Philip know that the launch was imminent so he knew what to expect. He happily watched the launch and seemed to understand what was happening, mentioning that it was going into space.
Anticipating strong winds and turbulence, we planned our departure for early the next morning. I told the control tower that I was planning to fly over to do some sightseeing at the Shuttle Landing Facility. They had me talk to Orlando who assigned me a squawk code and had me switch to the control tower’s frequency that was acting as a CTAF since the tower was closed.
The headwinds on the way back to Enterprise were strong and turned what had been a < 3 hour flight the previous day into a 4 hour one. The first couple hours were pretty smooth, but it started getting bumpy as we descended for our fuel stop. We refueled at Quincy, Florida 2J9 where the runway is an island within a sea of well-maintained grass that is used as a taxiway and a runway. We stayed long enough to watch a couple loads of skydivers land.
The runway in Enterprise is oriented exactly perpendicular to the headwind we fought all morning so I fought one last battle against the wind while Philip slept. The wind caused me to go around for a second try, but the second try resulted in what felt like the best landing of the trip. Philip was happy to spend the rest of the day with the complete attention of his grandparents. The morning’s flight back was met with a slight tailwind, smooth air, and a very light rain shower right at our home airport.