DepartureNAS Meridian, MS (KNMM)
RouteKNMM EWA JAILS SZW KGNV KGNV LAL RSW THUMP KNQX
DestinationNAS Key West, FL (KNQX)
We took off at about 3 PM local from NAS Meridian. It was a lovely day- clear skies and unlimited visibility. The departure was straightforward, consisting of a vector to Kewanee, then a clearance up to our filed altitude of 27,000. Climbing up that high in such a small airplane under a bubble canopy is a truly unique experience. Airliners cruise at higher altitudes, but seeing out through a 10″ porthole is no comparison to having a full panorama, while also being in command of the flight. We were at about 280 knots indicated, but over 500 knots over the ground. These numbers, again, are not dissimilar to airline travel. But when you’re the one making the decisions about where to steer, when to descend, and how to enter the terminal area, it becomes an entirely different experience. Whereas an airline passenger is a passive observer, we are instead active players. And being so high above the earth in such a small plane makes you feel so insignificant. Not unlike, I imagine, being far out to sea. An airliner is a bus driving down the highway, but I felt more like a bee drifting on the breeze. Of course, I had 5,527 pounds of thrust and an irascible instructor making certain that breeze blew me in the right direction. At 100 miles outside of Gainesville, we began a slow descent into the regional airport. ATC vectored us into a downwind for the ILS 29. An approach like that is about as simple as it gets. But my inexperience got the better of me, and the instructor intervened a time or two. (In debriefing my first missed approach, he said “That was an abortion.”) The ramp at Gainesville Regional was overrun with C-130s, SH-60s, and other support aircraft participating in some special operations exercise. The FBO, no doubt, was more than happy to serve up the tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel they required. Furthermore, the manager is a retired Navy pilot, who was quick to share his war stories and try and convince me that fighters are a better route than electronic attack. I remain skeptical.