The plan was a quick half hour hop to Portsmouth where we would rendezvous with Ted, builder and pilot of a very nicely equipped RV-9A. From Portsmouth, we would launch south in Ted's plane in the general direction of Gatlinburg, TN. Well, not the general direction, actually. We would be headed in the ultra-precise direction of Gatlinburg, courtesy of the GPS and autopilot Ted has installed in his plane. Me, I'm happy to be able to hit the broad side of a state as wide as Tennessee, but Ted prefers the laser precision of an electronically enhanced navigation system. Me, jealous?? Surely you jest! Those grapes are just sour, that's all. Yeah, that's it. The grapes are sour and I wouldn't want them anyway. I'm not fooling anyone, am I? Ok, I admit it: he has a very sweet panel, and I had to be very careful not to short anything out as I salivated over it. To see the effect of the GPS-driven autopilot, note the preternaturally straight line of the outbound leg:
The return leg has a couple of turns in it - those were the occasions when we had to go around clouds that were too tall to go over.
But before all of that, I first had to get to Portsmouth, and the automated Weather-out-the-Window(tm) robot there was reporting 1/4 mile visibility in fog and 100' ceilings. When even the birds are walking, it's prudent to follow suit. After calling the robot every ten minutes for an hour I started to get a little antsy to get going and headed to the airport where I would consult the robot one more time, and if it was still foggy I would fly to a clear airport just a few miles from Portsmouth. I called Ted and told him my plan, but it turns out that a pair of human eyes on the ground are more discerning that a robot. Ted reported that half of the 5000' runway was clear, and that was more than enough for me.
The skies over Bolton were faultlessly clear, and the air was as smooth as a Skyy vodka martini. There was very little haze, and barely a whisper of wind. In short, it was exactly the kind of weather that you wish you could bottle, package, freeze, or in some other way preserve. But... you can't preserve it, so you use it while it's fresh. Off we went, headed in the approximate direction of Portsmouth. Twenty-five minutes later, we were just a few miles north of the airport and could see the entire length of the runway. The clouds that had caused the earlier fog had drifted off just to the south of the airport. I captured a few brief seconds of the view we had of the runway while just a mile north as we were entering the landing pattern, as you can see at the tail end of the video:
In addition to all of the complex operational/navigational gadgetry, Ted's plane also has 10 more horsepower and a lot more wing than mine, so he would be doing the flying for the high altitude, long distance phase of the trip. I parked Papa and climbed into the right seat of Ted's plane. We started up, and were soon climbing away from the Portsmouth runway. At about 300' altitude, Ted finished the fandango his fingers had been dancing on the collection of mysterious buttons on his panel and leaned back to enjoy the ride, saying "My work is done." The extra power and increased lifting surface of the longer wing made short work of the climb to 8,500', and we were soon throttled back and settled into our cruise. The fuel flow meter was indicating a frugal 6-some gallons per hour while the GPS and associated electronic gadgetry informed us of our 170 mph ground speed. It even told us that we were achieving 20+ miles per gallon, an efficiency that I would be hard pressed to achieve in my Subaru!
The weather remained clear for almost the entire ride to Gatlinburg, although there were some nice puffy clouds around as we got closer to Tennessee. Both Kentucky and Tennessee provided mile after mile of beautiful scenery to watch flow by under the wings, but before long we were descending into Gatlinburg:
We borrowed the courtesy car for a quick trip down the road for lunch. The traffic was horrible, and any thoughts that I had been harboring about visiting for a more extended stay were quickly eradicated. Touristy and crowded: not the place for me. We found a little Mexican restaurant where I ordered a chicken quesadilla, sans black beans out of deference to my passenger/guest status. Beans and unpressurized airplanes can be a dangerous mix.
It was a nice lunch, but the courtesy of the courtesy car was somewhat Cinderellaesque: be back in an hour or it turns into a pumpkin. The distant relationship between beggars and choosers should be maintained, of course. As with the proverbial Gift Horse, one should most studiously avoid looking into its mouth. Still, the restriction could have been more artfully communicated. Somewhat gruff, it was. But bearable: I was hungry.
Lunch done, and on to the next stop. I've been wanting to make a trip to Knoxville, and as it is not very far at all from Gatlinburg, Ted graciously offered to make a landing there so that I could get a feel for the airport. It's a nice looking place, but fairly busy:
Scenic area too:
From there we headed south into the full-size Smokey Mountains. I took pictures while Ted flew the plane:
The destination for this leg was Jackson County, North Carolina. Jackson County airport was built using the standard methodology for mountainous areas: find an unsuspecting mountain, chop its top off, and build a runway. It's odd to me that they chop off the top of the mountain but then do a pretty lame job of leveling it. Ted was faced with a slightly downwind landing onto a downward sloping runway. It was the first time all day that I was happy to be riding, not flying! It was a beautiful airport, though. It was both quiet and scenic, two traits that were conspicuously missing from Gatlinburg:
Ted's plane has a distinctive paint scheme that requires him to either fly to the south or to fly over central Ohio without stopping until he gets to Michigan:
Maize and Blue being somewhat... unwelcome in Columbus, home of THE Ohio State Buckeyes.
In addition to various slopes on the runway, mountaintop airports are also apparently susceptible to situations arising from part of the mountain deciding to move elsewhere:
The answer to the dilemma of having a few hundred feet of runway fall down the mountain was pretty simple: they just re-painted the runway a few hundred feet shorter. Note to pilots landing on runway 15 at Jackson Co.: DON'T LAND LONG!
If you ascribe to my long held theory that the more expensive the golf course, the harder it is to play (which seems to me to be exactly backwards), you will agree with me that it must cost a small fortune to play here:
From there we headed back to Portsmouth. It had been a long day of flying, and I was a little concerned that I would be reluctant to climb back into Papa for the half hour flight back to Bolton, but such proved not to be the case. It was great to ride along with Ted, but it's even greater to be the guy doing the flying. The weather was still terrific and it was an enjoyable trip. And, to top it all off, it was another greaser of a landing!