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The Home Stretch

July 10, 2010

We departed Southern Illinois University at about 6:45 a.m.  We knew we had to fly solid, clean legs and make our time on the ground at each stop short and productive.  We had hit our stride with regard to “planning” and “duties” and stuck to it for the remainder of the race.  We concentrated on flying the timing line at SIU, started our stop watches, noted the time, and I began the preparation phase for the flight ahead while Heather took us to altitude.

Once again we found we had little to no help from the winds.  Uncle Bruce had been up early gathering weather and we compared his intel to that we received from our morning Lockheed-Martin briefing.  I pulled out our sectionals and looked for any areas of concern and then moved on to reviewing the fly by procedures for Elkhart, IN.

Prior to this leg we had hoped to see our friend and supporter, Bill at the Elkhart stop.  However, we knew by this time that he was out of the state – and we wouldn’t have time to chat anyway.  Two days prior (this was now Friday) many of the teams had made it to Elkhart only to be greeted by confusion and bad weather.  Confusion came on the part of a controller (so we are told….) who perhaps “lost the picture” as Heather calls it, with all the planes approaching for fly bys to land and then returning to actually set down.  We don’t know all the facts, but we did talk with one of the teams involved in a “too close for comfort” situation while under control of ATC.

The weather was also causing problems for the teams both on the ground and in the air near Elkhart that night.  A tornado warning had been posted for northern Indiana, and many planes – something like 30 of 34 planes that had parked there for the night – were quickly put into hangars.  Those who weren’t so lucky had to wait out severe storm conditions in hopes that no damage would be inflicted on their planes.  (Just for reference, we were still in Waycross, GA at the time…and Bravoski was sitting on the ramp with one simple chock holding her in place.  It was so still in Georgia we didn’t even need to tie her down.)  The teams in Elkhart on Wednesday evening had been riding the tailwinds out in front of the storm, and now had the overnight to let them pass.

When we arrived in Elkhart, IN we saw team #7 heading out and found out from the Stop Chair that team #15 had come and gone already.  We fueled up, hit the restroom, grabbed some water (saw the remainder of snacks and evidence of the RON list (remain over night) from earlier days, caught up on weather and then headed out.  Bravoski was starting like a dream today.  Cooler temps up north along with Heather returning to her tried and true method of starting the plane.  One leg down….2 to go.

Next stop, Parkersburg, WV.  On this leg we chose to go high for two reasons:  our best weather info told us that higher was better from a wind standpoint and we knew there would be clouds from around 3500′ to 6500′ or so.  We headed up to 7500′ which had us up over top as more and more clouds were building the further east we went.  The ride was smooth (while at altitude) but as we started our descent, we could really feel the turbulence.  Heather had the plane and I was carefully reading the chart to determine how we could recognize where the airport was.  Our two GPS units came in handy, but we still couldn’t see runways.

The chart showed a “plant” on the western side of a river and we quickly identified that.  We were low now – getting set up for the fly by, but had to be sure to stay over top of several towers as we headed in to the airport.  Once over the river, we picked up the airport, lined up for the fly by – and did what we needed to do!  Past the timing line, Heather made a turn to come back to land, and again, we had to watch out for those pesky towers.

One team was just leaving as we taxied to park – though it wasn’t a team we had seen earlier in the day.  The heat had built up again and we kept looking at our watches….we were going to be tight on time, but we could still make it.  More snacks, a little bit of chit-chat with those waiting to see us, more weather talks and we were back out at the plane.  I was reading e-mail on my PDA when I saw my friend Joey had e-mailed everyone at AOPA that we had already taken off and would be there by 3:15 or so.  I quickly did the math and e-mailed her back that we were still on the ground at KPKB and wouldn’t likely be there until after 4.  As we took off, I sent a “We’re ok” e-mail from our Spot GPS.  This was my way of indicating to the 5 recipients of that e-mail that we were once again on the move.

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