Kyler Laird's flying stuff : Florida-A


2000-03-12 to 2000-03-21

We talked about this trip for quite awhile. We'd been taking SCUBA lessons and needed to make four dives in order to finish our (Openwater Diver) certification. Everyone told us that we had to go diving in the Keys and that Naples would be horrible diving. My sister, Renel, and mother, Jessie, live in Naples, though. Renel graciously offered the use of her Suburban if we stayed there, and Mom agreed to dogsit while we dove, so we couldn't resist.

We decided to leave on the spur of the moment. The Marshalls were in town for a dog show, and we had been with them for lunch. I needed to rest, and Kitty was monitoring the weather. She decided that we needed to leave or else there'd be a good chance that we'd be weathered in.


We got a late start and flew at 11,500', climbing to 13,500' in order to go directly over Atlanta airspace. I was rested, but not fresh. Kitty was a huge help; she's doing a great job with radios (including her GPS) and navigation, and she'll even keep us straight-and-level when I need to concentrate on something else.

I was rested but not fresh. A couple hours into the trip, we both needed to reliever ourselves and after about three hours, the dogs let us know it was time to land. We put down in Valdosta for the night.

Valdosta was a pain. The FBO was closed (and had "No Pets" signs!), so we had to go through the fire house to get out. Our cellular phone service is GTE's AmericaChoice. We're supposed to be able to call any US number from anywhere in the "United State of America" without roaming or long distance charges. Ha! In Valdosta, we were greeted with a demand for a credit card or phone card number. This made making arrangements a bit difficult. (Apparently we needed to establish a PIN, but I found no way to contact a human.)

Fortunately we called the Holiday Inn. They were cool with the dogs and even had a van available to send for us. The van driver was afraid of dogs, but we appreciated that she took us to Taco Bell first for a quick snack. We spent the night at the Holiday Inn and got a fairly early start the next morning.

Although the FBO has pet-hostile signs, the staff was very nice to us and was complimentary of the dogs, who waited in the grass while I loaded and took care of the preflight checks.


We were happy to make this flight during the day. Coming out of Valdosta, I'd hoped to get following through the Live Oak MOA. We were dropped right as we approached it. As I diverted, we called to find that it was indeed hot, so we went around it. Our next obstacle was a tethered balloon. We were at 11,500' and it was below us and the wind was with us, so we got fairly close to it so that we could get out over the Gulf to avoid a nature preserve. (O.k., so it doesn't really matter at that altitude, but it's a habit.)

Following was good all the way down to Naples. We did have to stay high for a bit there at the end, but it wasn't a big deal. APF tower was confused at first about where we were as we were coming in (said we were east of them, but we were over water!), but quickly straightened it out. They asked us to keep the pattern short, so we made for the numbers. They seemed appreciative and it was good practice for me. (I miss those short approaches from my Instrument lessons.)

Once again, we encountered a pet-hostile (but otherwise pleasant) FBO. We had to walk around the terminal and go through the gate to get out. My mom met us with the Suburban and my niece, Annalise.


Our first stop was lunch. We went to the Registry. It's an upscale resort and shopping mall. I had some business to do, so I sat in the grass by the restaurant while Kitty and Mom went shopping (while we waited for a table). Between a low cellphone battery, bad PPP settings and people stopping by to talk about the dogs, I accomplished nothing, but I appreciated the warm reception from the people there.

The dogs stayed in down stays in the grass while we ate in the Silver Spoon. They did a great job. They had a constant stream of visitors the entire time. We received many nice comments about them. Most people wanted to know what we were training them to do. Some commented that it was nice "to see people who treat their dogs like family." That's close; they are our family.

We stayed at the Residence Inn in Naples. They gave us a ground floor room with easy access to a grassy side area. Everyone was so sweet about the dogs...except during an evening snack when one guy brought a manager out to show her that there were four dogs out in the grass in down stays doing nothing but panting and looking. Apparently his wife is a bit nuts (dog-phobic), and she was afraid she'd be attacked (although none of the kids petting them were). Another manager talked to us about it and was pretty cool. (She has a GSD.)

Throughout our stay we enjoyed visits by and to Renel (my sister) and Richard's family. Devon, Laird and Annalise came over several times to swim at the pool while Mom watched the dogs (while we dove), and we ate dinner twice at their house. Jackson, her oldest was away at Sea Camp for a couple days, but we did get to see him a couple times. Max, their retriever pup, tried so hard to play with our dogs at the house, but they were too interested in all of the new sights and smells.

When Kitty researched dive shops in Naples, she started by sending e-mail to everyone listed by PADI. One dive shop, Sealandia, responded. We hit the jackpot! The owner, Tim Armesy, is from the Chicago area, is a pilot and airplane mechanic, is a dog owner (Sam), and is patient. He was willing to devote two days just to finishing our certification. We couldn't have done any better.

We met Tim on Tuesday to be fitted for gear. He didn't hesitate to pull new gear off the shelves for us to rent. We got to use some great equipment (and became quite spoiled).

Our first two dives were off of a small boat operated by Sealion Charters. The operators (Captains Chris and Gordy) were great and did what they could to help us get our stuff together on a rocking boat. We dove ~5nm off of Naples. One dive was at a barge wreck. Visibility was ~10 feet - not great. Tim was very patient and Kitty was a trooper. I was exhausted and ready to sleep.

The next day, we dove from a beach. Tim brought along another divemaster, Tim. (Good thing we can't talk underwater or that could have been confusing.) He was a treat - pleasant and patient. I was especially glad he was along because the visibility off the beach was only a few feet, so he stuck with Kitty while I swam with the Tim A. I had some communication problems on my first dive and exhausted myself as a result. After completing my second dive (in IMC), I blew chunks for awhile (after surfacing, fortunately). I was wasted for the day, but I was happy to have completed our certification requirements.

For lunch on Thursday, we ate at The Palms Restaurant. We had just had our PADI card pictures taken at a nearby photo shop (where the dogs stayed outside in down stays and got a very nice visit and compliments from nearby shop staff). We were the only ones eating outside. (The weather was beautiful!) The waitstaff all came out to see the dogs and even brought out a tub of water. Great food (fruit plate...mmmm), great people and great weather. I was finally starting to relax a bit.

On Friday, we discovered a classy restaurant right next to the Residence Inn, Alexander's. They're in a courtyard mall. We went over for lunch and left the dogs in the grass of the courtyard while we ate at the outside tables. Some of the young ladies who worked at Alexander's finally noticed the dogs and as they were leaving (They close after lunch until 5:00.), they brought some chicken breasts for them. What a treat! Grazie was a little overwhelmed by all of the attention, but the chicken was too much for her to resist.

Although Alexander's is usually booked, we were told that we could be squeezed in for dinner. We had been eyeing the dinner menu over lunch, so we made a late reservation to enjoy with my sister and brother-in-law. Sadly, my brother-in-law, Richard, was hit while riding his bike to work and suffered a concussion. My sister still joined us for dinner and we had a great time. The food is outstanding and the service was great. Richard even showed up for dessert and to pass out Lepricondoms! (That needs some explaining...)

Several times through dinner, other patrons asked us about the dogs. Most of the other couples were a bit older than us, and they were so sweet and complimentary. I don't get tired of explaining how we found them and that this is "just what they do." Lots of people peg me for a professional dog trainer, but one woman was confused when she saw me hugging and kissing the dogs. These are obviously not someone else's dogs. (I do make out with other people's dogs, though!)

We had been talking about taking a quick trip to Key West. We posed it to my mom and her eyes lit up, so we quickly made arrangements.


I filed and flew on my very own flight plan for the first time! (I finally figured out why Key West is EYW; its 4-digit identifier is KEYW!) We filed DVFR for a direct flight from APF to EYW. Total time was right at one hour, but quite a bit was spent on the ground. Still much better than driving!

The FBO at EYW was ok. (I didn't even go inside.) We had to park in overflow (gravel) parking, but there was a van to take us up to the FBO (and bring me back because I forgot some things).

Key West

We found a fantastic property. It's way more than what we need (three bedrooms, jacuzzi, off-street parking, ...), but we're enjoying it as I type this. It's the "Hemingway's View" of Center Court Historic Inn and Cottages. This is truly a pet-friendly place. There are three resident dogs (at the office). The house is wonderful and we're looking forward to enjoying Key West!

We took life easy and settled in on Friday. The dogs love the fenced-in courtyard. We have chickens (descendents of fighting chickens!) behind us and cats regularly slink around on the (outside of the) fence. We left the dogs in the house at night and went exploring. We eventually found Louie's Backyard Grill and (right next to it) Dog Beach (which we had learned of in Florida is Kind to Canines), but we ended up eating at Abondanza(sp?). Good thing we split a couple dishes between the three of us! Mom enjoyed the leftovers.

Saturday, while Mom stayed with the dogs, Kitty and I went on a dive trip with Captain's Corner aboard the Sea Eagle. Kitty called it "cattle car diving," but I think it was about as good as we could expect. It was a large boat and there were lots of other divers with us (unlike the first boat dive we took), but the staff took good care of us. Kitty didn't feel so good after our ride through ~4 foot waves (neither did I), so she opted to stay on board.

Besides all of the Spring Breakers, there were ~7000 sailors in the area on the USS George Washington (and on rotation in town) for the weekend. We were fortunate that one of them, Mark Klinger, decided to go diving that day. I dove with Mark, a Rescue Diver, on two dives. I was glad to be with an experienced diver on my first "real" dives. We'd been told that we'd meet a lot of good people through scuba diving, and Mark certainly supported that.

The dives weren't like our other ones; I could finally see what was around me! Unlike our Naples dives, I got to check out the wildlife (coral, lobster, sting rays, and lots of bright fish - but I missed the nurse shark, sea turtle and barracuda!) on this dive. I did relax a bit, but I was thinking a lot about just diving. I napped on the way home.

For dinner we all went to Duval Square. It was a bit crazy on the way over. Grazie was spooked the entire time. Lots of people honking their horns (especially the scooters), playing loud music and lighting firecrackers. (Basically what you'd expect on Spring Break in Key West with a few thousand sailors in town.) We secured a table at New York Pasta(?) near a raised plant/tree area. Grazie stayed spooked the entire time, so she was up on the ledge with her head under my arm. The food was great (a trend...) and both waitstaff and visitors were nice to the dogs. We received several compliments and a big dish of water.

On Monday, we were getting ready to depart. We had been hearing about storms to the north and Kitty was already making plans to stay in Key West for another day (although we would have had to have moved). I had checked in with DUATS earlier in the day, and the weather looked fine at least up to Naples, so we planned to leave. Before we left, I tried to get on again to file my DVFR flight plan, but all circuits were busy. I was getting a bit anxious because I didn't especially want to have to file with a human briefer with so much happening. Just before the taxi arrived, I got on and filed.

We piled in the taxi van at 11:00am on Monday. The dogs were in down stays while we loaded all the bags. When everyone else was in, I called "come" and they came in a flurry. I thought it might overwhelm the driver a bit. He said that he'd had dogs in his van, but never four dogs. (He repeated this a couple of times.) He has a dog (Lab), though, and was kind to ours. He even petted and chatted with each one. When we told him that Gable is a Portuguese Water Dog, he became especially interested because he's Portuguese! This was a much better trip than the one from the airport (where we were dropped off half a block from our house).


The plane seemed fine, and I packed and preflighted without delay, while the dogs waited in their usual spot on a sleeping bag (Thanks, Cam!) in the shade of the tail. It was getting warm and we were ready to get airborne. As we climbed out to the east, we were advised to keep our turn to the north in tight as there was a recovery mission going on at the naval base (to the east). Just then I picked up two diamonds (jets in fighter configuration turning hard) nearby.

As we headed north, I switched to Miama Flight Service and tried to open my flight plan. The specialist had trouble at first, but I thought it was because she wasn't getting my tail number correct. Unfortunately she didn't have my flight plan at all yet and I ended up having to file in the air - as we flew north across the Air Defense Identification Zone boundary, and as other pilots were trying to accomplish their business. I was a little tense. We did finally get a Customs squawk code, and we even got Flight Following from Miami most all the way back.

We stayed low (2500') because of my dives earlier. I feel better when I'm higher, but there certainly weren't any obstructions around. Radar coverage down low was spotty, though.

Naples (again)

Naples was gorgeous and it was nice to have a car (Mom's) available again. We wandered around town and eventually found a restaurant on Fifth Avenue that wasn't busy and had some shady outdoor seating. It was nice to relax awhile and chat with Mom before we took off again.

Back at the airport, we fueled up and changed into warmer clothes. Our front tire was a bit low on air so we had it inflated. The dogs waited in Mom's (air-conditioned) car while we were busy getting ready. They liked this a lot more than hanging out under the tail on a hot ramp!


Chattanooga is right on the way home from Naples and about two thirds of the distance. We planned to stop for fuel, dinner and a stretch. When we landed, however, we discovered (dramatically) that our front tire was flat. I was thankful that I had come in slow and kept my nose off. (My instructors have drilled that into me.) I didn't notice the front tire until I had slowed a bit and started to apply brakes for a taxiway.

We made the taxiway and I chose to call Krystal Aviation for some help. I shut down the plane while a lineman brought out an air tank and a tug. He filled up my tire and towed us to the ramp.

Everyone at Krystal was pleasant and helpful to us. It was refreshing not to see "No Pets!" signs. We eventually made hotel reservations and rented a car there. I was pretty beat after unloading everything and feeding the dogs, so we went to dinner on our own and came back to enjoy sleep. The dogs didn't even get up in the morning to go out 'til about 8:00. As I write this, it's almost 9:00 and they're just starting to move again.

While we waited for the plane to be fixed we went into town. We ate lunch at a new Schlotsky's. The weather would have been considered really cold in Florida, but people were out enjoying it. (Little girls were getting ready to swim when we left the hotel. Brrrr!) We ate outside and received a visit from the manager. He complimented the dogs and talked to Kitty while I got drinks. We discovered that he's a pilot and thinking about going back to work for ComAir. It was an appropriate discussion as we were under the approach path of all of the big turboprop transport planes going into CHA. The dogs ran around in the grassy/muddy (just built) park by Schlotsky's and got more attention from people enjoying the weather.

We still had some time, so we went shopping at Sam's. Kitty was bummed when we got to Florida, because she realized that she hadn't packed the Harry Potter book that she had just started reading. Renel loaned her family's copy so that she could finish. Kitty wanted another and knew that Sam's had them.

While Kitty shopped, I waited in the car and dialed in to check mail and weather. The weather looked pretty grim. I didn't pull up the satellite pictures (too slow over cellular), but the forecast for the northern part of our route was for low ceilings. It was beautiful in Chattanooga, and we had enough fuel to go home and return, so I decided we'd go.

The good folks at Star Avionics took care of replacing our nose tire and tube. While it was up on jacks, I had them check the right main landing gear, too. Its "down and locked" light hasn't been working well and it drives Kitty a little nuts to wonder if we're going to land on two wheels or three. By 3:00 we were ready to go. The gear was checked and we were assured that the problem was electrical and in the console. We'll have it fixed locally.

Kitty returned the rental car while I loaded and performed preflight checks. The dogs were in their usual position on a sleeping bag under the tail. A couple of the people who worked in the building had to come out to ask about them. It looked like we had quite a group of spectators on the second floor. Everyone was nice and complimentary.


I was excited to finally be going home! As we climbed out of CHA, I could see the cloud coverage increasing to the north. We received Flight Following all the way home. The cloud layer topped around 4500' and we were at 10,500'. Our strategy was to keep watching for opportunities to descend through holes in the clouds, and to keep going as long as we could clearly see safe paths down. (I'm still not multi Instrument certified, but that's coming up later this week or next...)

Breaks in the clouds were numerous and we happily tooled along (with a crosswind slowing us a bit) up to about Bloomington, IN before the clouds started to get continuous. We had been listening to BMG's ASOS and knew that we could come down there, but LAF's ATIS was reporting overcast at 2,500'. Kitty finally made the call that we needed to descend. It was about time anyway, and I'm glad we called it there. I tried to come down gradually, but we ended up diving under clouds just in time. There was not another break all the way to Lafayette.

For about 60 miles we bumped along at 3000' (then lower). It made us appreciate the beautiful sunny skys we'd been enjoying at 10,500'. We finally made it to LAF. Once again, our right gear light failed to light (until we touched down), and we cycled the gear several times, but we made it without incident.

It's good to be home.

owned by: kyler


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