Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One Trip, 85 Suitcases

The logistics that go into a big GA flight might leave you wondering where you left your car

Flying is the least of what air show pilots do. For our 10 minutes in the air, we pay the price of executing the logistics that gets us there. This summer I had a complicated, sort of three-in-one trip: an air show in St. Louis; a visit to Alaska for the annual Salmon Bake at the Alaska Aviation Museum and a flight to Louisville, Ky., to finish up a type rating in the Short Tucano T MK1 that I'd be flying at Oshkosh. As we all know, women can't take just one pair of shoes, so I had to pack carefully. I needed air show shoes, warbird boots, hiking shoes, evening shoes, workout shoes and day clothes, night clothes and assorted flight suits, and my helmet and gloves. I guess the only thing I didn't bring was my parrot, Buddha.

Organizing everything into several suitcases, and along with air show supplies, I loaded the Bonanza where it all neatly waited to wing our way to our first stop—the Fair Saint Louis Air Show. Thanks to ferry pilot Chris my Extra was already there.

For several days I had been looking at weather-prog charts, fronts, and since I live in Florida, possible tropical storm development. Forecasters are getting better, but to know what's really around the corner takes a crystal ball. Weather is weird. Tropical storms develop into hurricanes quickly, and just when you think you know where they're heading, they can do a 270-degree turn. A cold front might look like it's marching steadily along, only to turn a corner and head north. Cold fronts meet warm fronts and occlude, and sometimes they just stall out, like the cold front I had been watching. I kept waiting for something behind it to poke its nose in and push it through, but no, instead it stopped on my flight path and stubbornly refused to move.

Drats! I live close to the airport, but whether you're sitting in an FBO or your living room, waiting for weather to change is like being in limbo. Checking weather at the top of every hour keeps you in a constant state of readiness in case the weather picks up, but there comes a time when you realize you have a no-go situation. By 6 p.m. with the front stationary, I realized my plan of flying the Bo to St. Louis wasn't going to happen. The standard answer an air show pilot gives when asked if they've ever scared themselves is to say, "Yes, scud running trying to get to the show!" I've pushed weather enough times to know what my limitations are.

I booked a commercial flight for zero- dark-30 the next morning and unloaded the Bo. The hangar floor looked like the aftermath of a tornado! One minute I was smugly organized, the next it was disaster—piles of "stuff" were strewn everywhere. Lucky for me, because my life is an ongoing travelogue, I have a plethora of packing options (POPO?). Would you like to go rafting in Costa Rica? I have a bag for it. How about a safari? No problem! A horseriding holiday? I have just the bag with a place for your helmet and riding boots. I have bags for an overnight, a week and a convention. So, feeling resourceful and out of any better ideas, I grabbed two giant wheeled duffle bags, put everything I needed into them, and went home and set my alarm for a 4 a.m. wake-up call. So much for avoiding the TSA. Blah!


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