Key West, FL

We arrive in Arkansas to a blue sky and light winds. Having failed a couple weeks ago to bring the plane all the way back to Chicago thanks to the AI eating itself. Now that the AI has been fixed, and a new push to talk switch installed, we’re ready to head down to the Bahamas to meet some friends for a bit of beach fun.

We leave Little Rock and head toward 79J, South Alabama Regional Airport at Bill Benton Field. Flying over Arkansas and Alabama it’s really striking how thinly populated things look. Lots of forest, water and hills, but not too many people. We keep on the lookout for some places to land in case of an emergency, but otherwise just enjoy the sites.

We stop at 79J for a load of fuel and then set off toward Orlando.

The forecast for northern Florida looks Beth-marginal. Meaning that it’s safely flyable, but on the edge of what Beth will be comfortable with. She doesn’t like clouds and really doesn’t like rain. I figure the plane has been sitting in a high desert getting dusty and could use a free wash, but we’ll try to avoid the mess to keep Beth happy.

We take off from 79J and start monitoring the ADS-B weather. It’s a good system, but it’s important to remember that the radar images shown on my iPad are up to 20 minutes old and should be taken as guidance rather than gospel. Still, there is a lot of light green and green precipitation on the screen. In my experience this reading is often precipitation that isn’t even reaching the ground, so we should be fine.

79j-korlAs we get further down the road the clouds get a bit more dense, but we’re still clear of them and can see the ground. We start to hit the first rain and I can tell Beth is getting a little nervous. ATC is giving us guidance, a turn to the right to avoid a build-up, but we manage to find some honest to god rain. If we were in a car, no one would think anything of it. It’s not really that heavy, but it’s enough to knock the dust off the Dancing Orange (as Beth has lately been calling the plane) and thus it’s enough to make Beth nervous.

Once we are clear of the build-up ATC puts us on back on course to KORL and the weather starts to break up. It’s still reasonably impressive looking, but uninteresting from an aviation standpoint except when I put in the carb heat and the engine choked a little as it ingested some water. This is another of those things that makes novice flyers nervous, but really presents no aviation hazard. The way carburetors work is that they create an area of low pressure and inject the fuel into it. This low pressure also leads to a quick drop in temperature and, in some cases, a bit of ice forms. To prevent this from stopping fuel flow we apply heat to the carburetor and this melts the ice. It also makes the engine make a pretty little gurgling noise. The carb ice gone, we fly the ILS 25 approach to well above minimums and taxi over to Sheltair for the evening.

Morning comes and we head out for some volunteering. Beth has found Clean The World, so we’re heading over to help them for a few hours. We arrive and get the standard introduction to their mission. In short, they take discarded soap from hotels, process it and make new soap out of it to send to third world nations where basic hygien can be the difference between life and death.

I asked our leader what she was doing today and she said she was making packs for homeless people in the US. These consist of toothbrush, toothpaste, a small towel, soap and a couple other things. I found it very striking that, in a country where some still claim that “we’re #1″ that we have such needs going unmet except by charity and that the toothpaste was donated by a company in India. What a statement that in a wealthy, first world, nation, those most in need of help are finding it coming from India.

We grab some junk food at New York Deli Sub (my gyro is pretty good, but not exceptional, Beth is eating egg salad sandwich that is big enough to feed the offensive line for the Florida Panthers) and head back to the airport.

All the weather has moved through the area now, so I’m looking forward to an calm flight down to Key West. Beth definitely is also hoping for an easy leg.

We hit the edge of the coast and are over open water for the first time. The winds are calm and we’re within gliding distance of land for the majority of our flight. We also have our life preservers on in case we have to ditch. This time things work out fine and we soon find ourselves on approach into Key West. We get on a left base for runway 9. The variety of aircraft is very cool. A couple regional jets are shuttling sun worshipers, mid-sized float planes are taking people to other islands and a collection of light twins is already sitting on the very busy ramp. We are the only bush plane.

But we are here and ready for the long weekend in Hemmingway’s old stomping grounds.

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