I attended the regional AOPA Fly-in at Tullahoma Regional Airport (THA) in Tullahoma TN. a while back, Oct 9-11. I was able to bring my Dad along for the ride and we camped there for the weekend. I had a great time, meet some really nice folks and made a ton of great memories!
I started the trip by loading my gear into the plane at the flying club. I completed the preflight inspection and towed the plane to the gas pump to top it off, I had plenty of fuel but since I was about to go on a fairly long flight/s why not get all the fuel I might need. I loaded my gear in the back seat and departed Redstone AAF at about 11:00 am.
It was a pretty smooth flight to Fayette AL. took about 45 min. to get there. I arrived at the airport and saw Dad sitting on the covered porch at the FBO. He brought me some lunch and I was starving! So I joined him in the shade of the porch and ate my lunch while we discussed the flight. I told him the rough layout of the flight and what the fly-in procedure was to get into the airport. We loaded up his camping gear in the back seat of the plane. I had done a lot of weight and balance calculations so that I knew we would be within the safe flight envelope for weight and this would be my heaviest flight to date. After we were loaded up I programed in the Garmin 430W GPS, this took some time because I had never entered a full route (only did direct nav before). I figured out the flight plan entry and activated it and activated my flight plan with the FAA via my iPad Garmin Pilot app.
I performed the run-up procedures and continued to the runway, we planned for a departure on runway 18. I knew the plane was going to need more room than normal so I allowed the speed to build and slowly rotated at 55 kts, then stayed in ground effects until 75-80 kts and started climbing out. I could tell the plane was a more tail heavy than normal (still safe but more than I’m used too). We then started tracking to the GPS course and talking to the ATC Centers so we had flight following throughout this leg of the trip.
This flight was fairly normal until we got near Huntsville and started hearing more traffic that was heading towards THA for the fly-in, we must have heard 10 or so planes that were being handed off to Memphis center from Huntsville’s airspace. Not long after we were handed off to them as well and told to have a great time at the fly-in, the Huntsville controllers are all really nice and courteous!
Once we got close to our entry into the approach path for the fly-in we started really watching the weather on my iPad and Memphis center was also advising of approaching storms in Nashville and had grounded flights there, we were still a bit south and it was still sunny where we were. Our path was still clear for the first entry point at 3000′ AGL above Ellington Airport (LUG) so we stayed on course but planned for landing there if the weather went south. I was handed over to the air boss for the fly-in and to my amazement we were cleared for a right downwind for runway 06 at Tullahoma while continuing on the inbound track to THA. I repeated the instructions back with a caveat that I was over LUG, I thought they were confused to where I was since I had not passed over SYI yet. They confirmed I was the only plane on the inbound course! There was a bit of rain that we flew through just after we passed over SYI but that was the only weather we had to deal with.
By far the best thing we saw during this flight was an old antique airplane a DC-3 departing the SYI airport 3000’ directly below us! We watched him take-off, it was great. Just after we landed we saw him taxi into the aircraft display area. See this article for pics and info on this plane.
Once we landed, we were directed to taxi to the Camping are, this included taxing down a gravel road across a field. This was by far the most off pavement taxing I had done, maybe about ¼ mile off-roading in the Cessna 172! We arrived at our parking/camping spot just before the rain got there, we had about 30 min to get the plane staked/tied down and the tent set up. All of which we got done before the rain hit, although we should have left the sleeping bags in the plane. We headed over to the hanger and watched the rain come in and wait for dinner to be served. The dinner was great, it was catered by a local BBQ place and had a whole smoked hog dressed up with aviator goggles on! Dinner was great and it was followed by a great group of musicians from Nashville and included a massive amount of talent from the Nashville recording studios. Just as the music wrapped up the rain slacked off so we walked back to the tent. We found the tent was full of water, at least an inch of water in the bottom. Luckily we had our sleeping bags on pads so they were mostly dry. We had to unload everything from the tent and put it in the plane so we could bail all the water out of the plane. Yes! that’s right Dad bailed the water out of the tent with a cup! We moved the tent mostly under the wing, which worked fairly well as I woke up with only slightly we feet…
Once I dried Saturday morning I found the volunteer check-in, I had previously volunteered with the air crew to help direct the planes that were taxing off the runway to the parking area. I did that for about an hour while Dad wandered around exploring the AOPA exhibits and the Beechcraft Heritage Museum. I met a really nice guy, John, from Atlanta. He had flown in Friday just before I did, so we compared flying stories in between directing planes down the taxiway. He flew in a really nice Cherokee Six that he co-owed with his father. This was just one of the really nice folks I met while camping at the fly-in. Another really interesting guy was the record holder of the fastest non-stop flight from Hawaii to Salt Lake City in a Beechcraft Bonanza (single engine airplane) I think he said it took him a little over 19 hours! He flew in with his wife in their Beechcraft B35 Bonanza (not the one the record was set in) but his “new” plane was really nice! He was really interesting to talk to and had many different flying adventures that he told us about, flying the northern coast of Canada for 2 weeks and many trips across the oceans as he has landed on most continents not including Antarctica.
Saturday literally flew by we saw many many interesting things! One of the odd things we saw was a BD4 that tried taxing through the mud and broke the nose wheel off and had a propeller strike in the mud, resulted in a gash in the mud about a foot deep!
Sunday we woke up early to start packing up and preparing for the flight back. As I opened the tent I found a really thick layer of fog was covering the entire airport, thick enough that you could only see maybe 50 yards or so. We leisurely pack up while waiting for the fog to burn off. As we were packing up I walked away from the plane and turned around to find a really beautiful sight with the plane sitting in the field appearing out of the fog with the sun rising up over the trees surrounding the field we parked in. I took out my phone and snagged a picture of the plane, this has to be one of the best pictures I’ve taken.
We finally were able to depart THA at around 11:30 to fly back to Fayette to take Dad back home. Then I hopped back in the plane (about 30-45 min after I landed) and headed back to Redstone.
This is by far the most flying I’ve done in a few day span, I logged 6.0 hours all of it cross-country which will help in fulfilling the 50 hour requirement for my instrument rating. Most of all I had a great weekend and spent tons of quality time with my Dad and was able to take him along with me. He was a great co-pilot and helped me out managing the complex approach into the fly-in. This was a weekend that I will always remember!