A good long ways
The challenge is now always out there. The impossible distance, 283 miles (455 km) from Quest Air to almost South Carolina (would have been South Carolina if Chris Smith hadn't had it with driving). The big flight from Jonny and Dustin.
The forecast called for southeast winds in central Florida with the winds turning to the southwest up by Georgia late in the afternoon. Not a perfect forecast for a long flight, but a good one and well worth the try.
Belinda and I had just driven east from Casa Grande, Arizona and arrived at Quest Air on Friday afternoon. We spent the rest of Friday cleaning up the Arizona dust that had soaked through our trailer. It was great to be out on the grass, even though it was relatively dry here in Florida. Belinda was not ready to drive one more day. She was ready for a rest, as was I.
But the forecast was good and it looked like it wouldn't be that good for a long flight to the north for a week or so. So I got up early and got the Wills Wing T2C 144 setup and washed down, getting rid of a bit more of that Arizona dust. I had downloaded all the waypoints the night before, making sure I loaded a few extra ones to the north to keep me out of air space around Jacksonville and Savannah, if I got that far.
The cu's didn't show up too early which was okay by me as I still hadn't gathered up all the material needed for a long flight and I wasn't out to the launch area until 11 AM, about the same time that Jonny took off a year earlier. Overhead the cu's were scrawny but enough to indicate where to search for the lift.
Joe hauled me up and I released at 2,000' AGL in a ten mph wind out of the south southeast. There was a wispy nearby and soon I was able to find the light lift that would sustain me throughout the day. Bo Hagewood launched soon after I left, but landed back at Quest.
It seems that you always get low at first heading out from here and I was down to 1,100' just north of Groveland, but there were plenty of places to land if needed and I held on to the lift that got me to 3,800'. There were cu's ahead and around and the prospects were good for staying up. I thought I was seeing cloud streets.
Although the clouds looked inviting, I just couldn't get up to cloud base, until I got north up the Turnpike and the day turned on. I was cooking now, but I could see the cirrus above and thicker ahead, the sky was turning milky white above the cumulus clouds. My dark glasses were now too dark. From the Turnpike to almost Orange Lake I found good lift and raced between thermals. I had a long ways to go.
Near Hawthorne the cu's got thinner, but were still plentiful. There were trees every where beneath me, so I had to stay up and keep going to avoid poor landing areas. Just before I got to the big prison near Starke 100 miles out I was back down to 1,300' over chicken houses. The prison is situated in a large open area, so there were plenty of places to land near the highway and not behind any fences. I just stayed in the 270 fpm I found over the chicken houses to over 5,500', the highest of the flight. The wind was now out of the southwest.
The next turnpoint was at Macclenny just south of the Georgia border, and the farm land gives out up there, giving way to just forest plantations with areas of clear cut to land in. I was soon low again and I went back up wind to an area that looked reasonably landable. I was flying without my shoes, for the first time in a while, but that is not a good idea when flying over this part of Georgia, where the clear cut areas are full of slash piles.
Fortunately, I found lift over this somewhat landable area and that got me back up enough to make it to St. George where it looked I was going to land again in a clear cut area. I saw a nice grass field to the east and it looked like I could make it there. As I crossed the St. Mary's river back into Florida there was some fortunate lift, light, but enough to get me up again to find a better place to land. I was 145 miles out.
The wind was out of the west now at ten mph and I was hoping to go north. A few miles to the north the cu's stopped, the sky was completely white with thick mid level clouds. The road Y-ed with a branch heading to the northeast. There were trees every where.
Given the west wind I headed northeast. I was no longer gaining any distance away from Quest. When I found the next thermal the wind was out of the west northwest. I saw a grass airport a few miles to the north and decided that it didn't make any sense to keep going north.
After landing at the airport at 150 miles out, I discovered that it was closed to General Aviation (due to problems with the runway, there were X's on the north and south aprons). I had seen that there was fence all around it and the gates turned out to be locked. Belinda found someone nearby who opened up the gate for us.
It was a long drive home, after a six and a half hour flight.