Sun n Fun 2011 Part 2

by admin on May 2, 2011

Sun N Fun 2011 the adventure continues.

Thursday -

Wednesday night with all of our smart phones showing lots of green and yellow coming our way on the radar, Paige requested we move one of the Tiki huts over our tent.  “Thank You Paige.”  The rain continued throughout the night. Our morning welcomed us with dark clouds and more rain coming.  Paige decided to leave early to go back to Ocala to pick up the kids, take a real shower and return that evening.  Boy did that plan change.  With her departure all eyes were glued on the impending weather.  “The Claw”, an ingenious device used to secure airplanes in one place, in all types of terrain, was selling lot hot cakes and everyone was making hasty last minute adjustments to their tie downs and any loose items that were not already stored.  Jeff, Mike and I had put everything we could possibly fit into the tents and continued to watch our smart phone and the weather surrounding the airport.  We learned early that the airshow for the day was canceled and the airshow performer’s aircraft had been stored.  Not a good sign.  Just north of the airport the low ceilings and clouds looked ominous.  Reports now were coming in that a tornado had been spotted just north of the airport.  The winds continued to increase and we learned that the red blobs on our smart phone radar sites that we had so far dodged were coming directly for the Sun N Fun show grounds.  Personnel were now running around in golf carts warning of the weather that had ripped through the Tampa area with several tornados and giving a time frame of 30 minutes max before they were upon us. The tornado “Warning” boxes on the weather apps had now changed to “Watch” boxes.  With really nowhere to go we assisted others prepare for what was surely not going to be a pleasant experience.  Looking out across the Antique & Classic area with the skies darkening and knowing all these beautiful airplanes that are designed to utilize wind to provide lift was a bit disconcerting.  Just the fact that most of these airplanes were used to being hangared and pampered and would now, possibly be facing the worst weather they have ever had to endure was unsettling.

 Drizzle became rain and the winds now were increasing to what I would judge to be over 30mph easily.  Mike was making a few last minute tugs on his tie downs as the skies began to open up.  The skies to the west now were beginning to turn an odd shade of green and we all believed this was not the place to be.  We had done all we could and now was the time to load up and seek shelter.  Into Ryan’s Explorer we crammed.  With Mike at the wheel we headed for the south exit.  Where we were headed other than out we did not know as of yet.  Ryan had informed us that he had taken shelter in the performer’s hangar. Out the window I looked one last time at my Stearman and Mike’s Travel Aire as they both were engulfed in the now heavy rain.  As we cleared the exit gate the wind and rain increased to a point where driving vision was difficult.  Just then the wooden guard house we had past some time back blew by us followed by a Port-o-john.   The rain and wind increased to the point now where driving was impossible and the Explorer was beginning to succumb to the wind.  With hail now pelting the Explorer, Mike put the vehicle in park and said “Hold On!”   Debris of trees, camper tops, tents and who knows what passed by in micro seconds.  I secured my seat belt and felt that would at least keep me from smashing into my car mates if our sanctuary became airborne.   The minutes passed and the winds and rain died down to where we could once again drive.  Naturally we were wondering what would await us when we returned. 
Back to the Antique & Classic area;

  As we inched our way back through the debris, the first thing we noticed was the destruction.  In a matter of minutes airplanes were on their backs, on top of each other and in all types of odd positions.  Tents were shredded, the fields were now ankle deep in water and Port-O-Johns were strewn about in all directions.   My heart was sinking fast as we passed aircraft after aircraft destroyed and knowing that Mike and I had fabric airplanes that probably would not have fared well.  As we passed a DC-3 that had moved more than 500 yards, taking a British trainer with it, my hopes diminished.  We rounded a corner and there was no sign of my Stearman or Mike’s Travel Aire.  Jeff’s RV-7 was out in the experimental area and we figured after we located the remains of our two aircraft we would venture out to see how Jeff made out.  Just when I thought all hope was lost, we passed a huge white tent used for volunteers and there were our airplanes as if nothing had happened.  What was left of our tents and the Tiki huts were in shambles and destroyed.  A thourough inspection of our two airplanes revealed NO marks or signs of wear.  Several rows back in the parking area however, there were those that were not so lucky.   Several airplanes were on their backs and intertwined with each other.  A lone Piper Pacer was sitting in the middle of the road with tie downs dangling from the wings.  It had turned into where the wind had come from and moved 100 feet of so without a scratch.   We quickly returned it to where we believed it originated, re-secured it and headed out to see how Jeff made out.  As we made our way through the commercial exhibit area the destruction continued.  Literally, piles of what minutes earlier were the vendors pride and joys were now nothing more than fabric, aluminum, floats and parts and pieces.  On though the debris field to locate Jeff’s RV. 

Upon arrival in the Experimental area, at first glance I noticed an RV with Maroon accents stripes on it laying on its back and my heart went out to Jeff.  Then he quickly pointed out that his was in fact several airplanes over and appeared to be unharmed.  A quick check of the RV confirmed this.  We checked his tie downs and began assisting others who were not so lucky.  Lifting airplanes off the intertwined mess and trying to tie them down before the next wave came was some busy time.  For the next several hours we accessed the damage and assisted others.  Some tense moments for us and our families as phone service was out for almost an hour.  As phone service was restored the phone calls and text came in inquiring about our safety and owners airplanes that had headed home and left their airplanes due to the weather.  The FAA had taken control and decided with reporters now showing up, locals coming out to see the mayhem, airplanes on their backs with possible fuel leaks, now was the time to shut the show grounds down and ask anyone that was not required to leave.  Soaked to the bone and nothing more to do we picked up Ryan, who and headed out for some dry clothes, dinner and beverages. 

That night at dinner we toasted the fact that we were all safe and then toasted those whose aircraft did not fare well.   Fortunately for all involved, no one was seriously injured.  Things could have been a lot worse.  While finishing our dinner we learned that with the weather passing late in the evening, Sun N Fun and the FAA would do everything in their power to put on the airshow for Friday.   And that they did.


Sun n Fun 2011 Part 1

by admin on April 26, 2011

Sun N Fun 2011 was going to be a great year. The celebration of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, The Blue Angels would be attending, our Stearman made the Sun N Fun 2011 poster, we had more pre Sun N Fun planning than years past, more Tiki hut antics and our buddy Rex had borrowed a professional camera for Coconut Flyers first REAL video. The old question, “What could possibly go wrong?” Well, to give one the best account I will have several blogs upcoming describing the event and the trials and tribulations as they came about.

Should have Known, Omen 1; Sunday afternoon, the day prior to our departure for Sun N Fun. We had just returned from “Wings Over Flagler” airshow/fly-in and knew we had a lot to do. Fortunately we had done some pre planning and had most of our Sun N Fun gear in the hangar awaiting someone to pack it up. We organized a packing afternoon which seemed to be going along smoothly. Right up to the point that Jon’s wife decided to take their golf cart home for something. Packing was going great until the phone rang and we were informed that Jon’s wife Lynn and somehow lost control of their cart and been thrown out. Now like most of our toys, Jon’s golf cart sits up high and goes very fast. Not a good combination. When we arrived on the scene Lynn was upset and her foot and many parts of her body showed the signs of the accident. Off to the hospital with Jon & Lynn. Lynn was admitted to the hospital and it appeared headed for surgery for some screws and pins and stuff to put her heal back together. Jon’s trip to Sun N Fun was not looking like it was going to happen. In the true Coconut Flyer fashion, we continued to pack for Sun N Fun all the while checking on Jon & Lynn and hoping for the best. Mike Burke had arranged to have his 1933 Curtis Travel Aire flown down on Sunday so he could assist in the transportation of our goods. Paige as always had seen to it that no one would go without food or beverage for the entire week of our camping adventure. By nightfall on Sunday the trailer and Coconut Flyer Ground support vehicle were loaded and awaiting an early Monday morning departure. Our planned Monday morning fleet launch would enable me to secure a place for Jon’s Stearman if later in the week he would be able to make it down for a day. Reports of possible weather moving in would have to wait until morning to see what the true situation would bring.

Monday, omen 2; Awakening early on Monday and ready for our big day began rather slowly. Mike Burke and our Buddy Ryan were on station ready to depart as well. Only drawback was lots of scattered showers and low ceilings. Paige also ready to depart did not want to get to Sun N Fun and have me not be there until late or not at all on Monday. With Mike and Ryan leading the way in their vehicle and calling in routinely with weather reports, Monday was not looking like a good day for our usual arrival. Our camping buddy Jeff Deaton from N.C. was also reporting that the rain was coming down and the Antique & Classic parking area was quickly becoming a swamp. Finally around 4pm, we scrubbed our mission for a Monday departure. Hey, we have the rest of the week, no big deal, right? Tuesday we will head out. We will not be stopped.

Tuesday; What’s a little weather? Omen 3; Tuesday started out not much better than Monday except the forecast was for the weather to begin to break soon. Finally around 1030am the ceilings had lifted to where I could head south. Paige had left almost an hour earlier and was reporting SOME blue skies above about 30 miles south. Mike, Ryan and Jeff were at the Lakeland airport and were reporting skies were clearing there as well. How did we do all this before cell phones? Off I went into the gloomy grey yonder. It did continue to get better the further south I went to the point that when I arrived at Sun N Fun skies were clear and the winds were calm. Now see, all this fuss over weather and it’s all gone now. Upon arrival we were directed away from our usual parking place in the second row due to swampy conditions. We elected to park and set up on high ground and move Mikes Travel Aire to high ground as well. This would be our campsite for the next 5 days. I went over and registered and like clockwork Paige arrived. The unloading and assembling of our Coconut Flyers Island Oasis had begun. By 2pm we were all set with our three Huts, housing facilities, food stores and blender. Now we just sit back and enjoy the airshow, our friends and most of all the airplanes as they arrived that evening. Turnout was down due to the weather from the day prior and a huge front covering from Mississippi to Virginia. So we enjoyed steaks on the grill and hanging out. A missing man formation was formed in front of the tikis in honor of Jon who at this point was learning the fine points of helping his wife negotiate around in a wheelchair. We were here with our friends and that’s all that matters for now. Why does everyone keep telling us about the weather that is expected on Thursday? That’s two days away and those guys are never right are they?

Wednesday; Weather is the topic of the day. Omen 4; Wednesday began as many Sun N Fun Days, early to rise, coffee on the grill and showers. The crowds are light but Paige has her routine and I just stay out of the way and enjoy my coffee. Before you know it Jeff Deaton stops by followed by Mike and Ryan. A beautiful morning but the talk is about the impending weather beginning possibly later on today. Lots of airplanes are arriving and Sun N Fun seems to be getting back to normal. Our Island Oasis will provide the backdrop for tonight’s annual Florida Antique Biplane Association (FABA) “Under the Wing Thing” with lots of food and good times and close to 80 people scheduled to attend this year. Bobby and Sue Wyatt have been hosting this shin dig for several years now. Always a good time. Still the topic of conversation as the airshow begins is the weather to the west and what time it will arrive. By 330pm we know the weather will be arriving soon and it does not look conducive to three tiki huts and almost 80 people. As the skies darken and the winds pick up, the last part of the airshow is stopped. Those FABA members that did arrive assisted in helping break down and secure our camp and the extra supplies we had accumulated for the “Under the Wing Thing”. Camp all battened down, 5pm and it’s still happy hour. People begin to come in as the rain begins as well. Tim Averet delivers Apple Tinis to tents and vehicles as we all seek refuge for the rain. The rain lets up and we all emerge for Cuban sandwiches and Crab cakes. Not a bad evening. That is until the rain sets in. And man did it set in. Paige and I had a fairly dry night with nonstop rain. Jeff Smith in his tent next door remained dry for the most part also.

Surely Thursday would be better, right? Stay tuned.


Coconut Flyers goes Metropolitan

March 6, 2011

This past weekend Coconut Flyers took to the road. Paige and I loaded up in the Coconut Flyers Executive transport, “A 1957 Nash Metropolitan” and took to the back roads of Florida. Temps in the 70’s not a cloud in the sky, what could possibly go wrong? Ahh, again, remember, plan for the worst, hope [...]

Read the full article →

Air-to-Air Photo Shoot

February 16, 2011
Thumbnail image for Air-to-Air Photo Shoot

Hello everybody,  Wow!  What a great evening.   Photographer Dave Dillman came up on Thursday for an Air-to-Air photo shoot with Jon & Lynn Risings recently completed T-6.  Jon & Lynn spent at least a full day polishing and cleaning on the 6 to get it ready.  I think they must have polished a full [...]

Read the full article →

The Restoration of a Classic

Thumbnail image for The Restoration of a Classic February 6, 2011

On October 1, 2009, friends Jon & Lynn Rising purchased a beautiful T-6 from a neighbor, Gerry Walburn. The T-6 had undergone a tedious restoration back in the 90’s and was a good, sound ship.  As with most new toys, Jon was flying the wings off the T-6. One of the trips Jon and I [...]

Read the full article →