Planet PPG Christmas week Fly-In 852

I almost didn’t make it this year.  Dawn and I were chilling at the Taj McQue after returning from New Jersey with the family, when I got a text from Mike Lange ….Pine Island at dawn? ….   Wow! … I looked over the next few days and tomorrow morning was it, the only window of opportunity to attend the 10th annual Pine island Fly-In.  I kissed my bride goodnight at 11:45 and was up and fixing coffee at 4:45.

Here is the video by Eric Farewell

It was 68F with light wind and scattered mists on the way to Pine Island.  I arrived before first light and “not a creature was stirring” but by the time I unloaded my rig and pulled on my flight suit, people were starting to move about.  Mike pulled in and Paul came around with a pot of coffee.  
While we were waiting for the briefing, patchy low clouds started rolling over from the east.  By the time Paul finished the brief we were fogged in.  Undeterred the guys began setting up at the kiting field in front of the hangers.  I didn’t like the tree line at the east end of the field so I pushed the Falcon to the runway.  By now the fog was thicker than I had ever launched in.  I could just barely see the hangers and the tall trees surrounding the area were all but gone. But… I figured, that, as long as I could see the sides, with the wind coming straight down the runway, I would be able to launch and climb out just fine.  While setting up I heard several launches but by the time I was set and ready to start the motor it was dead quiet.  
What the hell…. I fired it up and launched!  I 
The wing came up clean and I was off in a blink.   The rate of accent must have been pretty good because the sides and ground disappeared as soon as I left the ground.  The fog coated my glasses, and all I could see was a kaleidoscope of tiny round prisms.  They were beautiful but totally obscured my vision.  If there had been an obstruction, there’s no doubt….I would have felt it, before seeing it.  At 300 ft I could see a faint orb ahead and at 350 ft, I was above the soup.  The entire area was socked in, it felt like flying over a giant bowl of cotton candy.  There were a couple of wings in the distance heading south so I turned to chase them, thinking the whole time, I hope this stuff has moved on when I get back or I’m going to be landing out.
Photo credits to Aviator You Tube Channel. (I stole a few screen grabs… 

I trimmed to full reflex leaving the right side a little faster and a few minutes later I started seeing glimpses of the surface.  Yea!  Cheated death again.  Forming up with three pilots ahead and two behind we flew south into increasing strong breeze for about an hour.  The APCO was hauling ass.  I don’t know what the other guys we’re flying but I was doing a 360 every few minutes to keep from leaving the group.  About halfway down the island, the Garmin gave a low battery warning, so I turned it off just in case the clouds were still around and I needed a little help to get over the runway for landing.
The plan was to fly to Saint James City and muster.  Then, those who wanted to do the water crossing could climb a couple thousand feet and head over to Sanibel Island.  As it turned out the wind was just too strong.  I was in full reflex at Saint James City and only penetrating at 6 mph.  To safely make that passage we would have had to climb really high and more than likely the winds at altitude would have been even stronger.  Also, we burned a lot of fuel getting to the bottom of Pine Island and I doubt anyone had enough fuel to do the crossing and return to base. I think somebody might have tried because when we returned Paul got a call from a pilot who need a recovery from “Gilligans Island”.  The flight back was very fast, I turned off the GPS because of a low battery warning, so I don’t know exactly, but I think I was going at least 50 mph.
Back at The airport the sky was clear with a stiff breeze.  I set up for final on the runway and landed without drama. Paul cooked up a batch of breakfast and we swapped hanger stories.
Great Flight !   Thanks Paul!    And Thank You Mike Lange for the heads up!

Author: JoeO

Powered Paraglider pilot since 2005

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