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.

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