08 Juni 2019

Work - can be amazing, or: How good is Sun ´n Fun?

If you were wondering what I was up to while all these 200+ km days in the alps passed unused - I could fly the first one (a 175km triangle, as I had to get back home early to prepare for my work trip), and had to work during the next 3 days. Yes it hurt to know that I could not use this amazing weather pattern that only seems to happen every 15 years in such perfection! BUT- as self pity is usually not my style, I started looking forwad to my work flight to Tampa, which promised at least some hot days in Florida.
Little did I know what my question to one of my passengers would lead to. I observed his "Sun ´n Fun" cap, so I just had to ask if and how he was involved in flying. When he told me about his sea plane, my curiosity was on full throttle. Oh yes, he flew jets in the airforce too. Wow! He and his wife had finished their trip with a visit of Hangar 7, so I told him my involvement and answered his wife´s and his curious questions about hang gliding with some recent clips I took at Quest and on Rauschberg.
Next Bob introduced us to his friend Lites, who has over 1000 carrier landings, flew the F 18 - and is a super friendly guy with a long personal history in professional aviation, who invited the co-pilot and me to get the real "Sun ´n Fun" experience. Can you imagine an F18 pilot calling our sport of hang gliding "the real flying"? It left me humble and speechless. Well not for too long, as I wanted to know more about these extraordinary people than our flight left me between the food services... I had basically just known the famous Sun ´n Fun fly-in, but in fact they train more than 100 students starting at age 14 to become plane mechanics and/or pilots at their academy, also there is a permanent exhibition on!!!
During the private tour, our friendly hosts could clearly see how much I wished to be 14 again, specially when a group of boys and girls came running over, having started flying before driving a car...  I was totally thrilled!
And how cool to have met Mike again, who had been a dragonfly pilot who had towed me up during the last women´s worlds at Quest some years ago!
As we were lucky with the weather, amazing treats were lined up for co-pilot Dave and me. While Bob took me up in his home built Thorp T18 that he had made from scratch together with his wonderful wife Susan, Dave was taking off behind us in the beautiful Stearman, a 78 year old lady in extremely good nick! How cool is that, Bob flew aerobatics with me over Lakeland, and even let me fly the plane around the clouds for a while, and back to the airport. Then we swapped, and I got to sit down in the front seat of the bi-plane.
My pilot/instructor Greg had been working for Mike Goulian at the Red Bull air race for almost two years. The world of aviation is small! I was really surprised how agile this large plane is, and how tight it rolls into steep turns! It felt wonderful to stear this artefact of aviation history, I couldn´t believe how lucky I was! When Greg came in for landing, it really felt totally like a hang gliding one, coming out of the steep turn into final and landing on the spot - except we can´t slip our wing quite as elegantly as these guys do it!

Next, Susan and Bob took us to "Jack Brown´s Seaplane Base" , beside the Winter Haven Airport. Bob had no idea how much I had eyed this airport (and all the water surrounding it...) during our Quest competition in April, and almost landed just next to this lake! Now I was taken up for some tuition in Bob´s Piper J3 Cub seaplane
. He flew me over to the next lake and explained to me how to tell the wind direction on the lake, and how to land the plane. Then he let me fly back to the lake where we took off from - and let me land the plane! My first water landing!!! Soooooo much fun!
As it got late, Dave and I decided to come back the next day to have a look at the "Sun ´n Fun" exhibition, the museum store and - another highlight for me - a store for avionic spare parts, where I stocked up on some bits and pieces for my glider. Bob and Susan were hosting us again, answering questions the whole day!
I felt bad when I had to tell Dave, Lites, Bob and Susan that we need to leave, because pick-up for our work flight home was approaching, and traffic in Tampa can be challenging... but sure as, we will be back!
ps - in this lake house that I´m pointing at, Richard Bach wrote our all time favourite "Jonathan Livingston Seagull".