When you travel GA—and VFR pilots know this better than anybody—flexibility is the name of the game.
The launch of 12 aircraft from Northern Virginia to the Bahamas by way of Florida (see Reporting Points, “Bahamas Bound”) commenced the week of Jan. 26, with most airplanes set to depart Jan. 31 and a few making their cautious way down south earlier in the week to navigate around unseasonable snow- and ice storms in North and South Carolina and Georgia. (One airplane launched from Stearman Field in Kansas.)
On Friday, when conditions were severe clear (if exceptionally cold) in Virginia, all aircraft but one were under way. The pilot of a Cessna 182RG had postponed his departure because his wife was suffering from a fever.
Stopping for fuel and a BBQ lunch at Low Country Airport in South Carolina, we check the weather that lies between us and St. Lucie Airport in Fort Pierce. Some sizable chunks of green with some red and yellow mixed in are in our path, but moving off to the east. This weather doesn’t pose much of a problem for the nine instrument-rated pilots. It’s another story for the three who are flying VFR—and one of them is piloting a Light Sport aircraft.
Sure enough, when we land at Fort Pierce, we discover that all three VFR pilots are stranded at various points along the East Coast—and a fourth, instrument-rated pilot experienced radio failure at her fuel stop in Savannah, Georgia. What’s more, the weather-stranded pilots are in different locations: One got as far as Fernandina Beach in Florida; one is on the ground in Savannah; the third—the LSA pilot—is in St. Simons, Georgia. The clouds and precipitation keeping them on the ground threatened to remain well into Feb. 1, when all aircraft were set to depart Fort Pierce for New Bight Airport (MYCB) on Cat Island.
What to do? Could anything be done?
If this were 12 separate airplanes just coincidentally headed to the Bahamas, probably nothing. But, that’s not how things work when you’re traveling with Aviation Adventures in Manassas. Owner Bob Hepp, who is coordinating this trip and toting me along in the flight school’s 1964 Piper Twin Comanche, puts together a rescue mission: The group’s sole Bonanza will carry two of the group’s instrument-rated pilots to Fernandina Beach and Savannah, and they’ll fly as PIC back to Fort Pierce. (Sadly, no such option is available for the aircraft with radio problems, nor the Light Sport aircraft.)
And that’s what happened. More on our trip in a future post.