PIREP: Apopka-Port St. Joe

Nate Van Ness, a longtime friend of X04, kindly wrote this guest post for our blog. Many thanks!

Our story begins late on a Thursday afternoon with a phone call from a friend at the airport. Would I be interested in flying up to the Panhandle region on Saturday with a guy who owns a Bonanza, and do a little shooting at the gun range up there? Lunch, and then a flight back?

Flying? Shooting? Lunch? Three of my favorite vices. Put me in, coach!

And so it came to pass that I met L.R. Du Broff outside of his hanger at oh-dark-thirty. If you don’t know him, L.R. is a very nice guy, generous to a fault, and smart as a whip. Once the introductions were complete, I got a good look at his trusty steed.

N8824M chomping at the bit
N8824M chomping at the bit

After pulling her out of the hangar, we both discovered a small complication- Lake Apopka mosquitoes are ferocious. Ferocious. Preflight was done with a minimum of dawdling. The motor was soon ticking over contentedly as we taxied, with about 50 hitchiking skeeters onboard.

Weather consisted of a low marine layer and very stable air. We filed for Costin Airport at Port St. Joe via HEVVN, with Apalachicola Regional (AAF) as a legal alternate. Blasting down runway 33, we climbed into the dawn sky and soon left our little biting friends behind.

This was my first exposure to a real, live V-tail Bonanza, and the ship did not disappoint. Strong, stable, and speedy, we soon reached our cruising altitude of 6000 feet. I looked over my shoulder, and was rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise:

Sunrise 6000 feet over Cedar Key
Sunrise 6000 feet over Cedar Key

Once airborne we were given a direct clearance from ATC, and the 1:18 flight time seemed like a lot less. Mr. Du Broff spotted up the grass strip that is A51 and plunked us onto the turf, right on the money.

Port St. Joe is a quaint, beautiful town hard on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. The grass is green, the sky bright, and the beaches wonderful. But did I mention there is a gun range?

The purpose of the trip was for my host to attend a shooting event at the Port St. Joe gun club. After the mandatory range safety lecture, much lead was slung.

After making lots of noise and dealing out lead contamination, it was time for the obligatory lunch. The “Sunset Grill” restaurant in Port St. Joe is not to be missed. I had a good time with the shooting group, eating fabulous seafood and swapping lies.

Soon, it was time to commit aviation yet again. A51 is a quiet little airport, with one runway and a drop box for you to leave your $10 landing fee. The first 1,000 feet of runway 33 is soggy, so if you aren’t up to snuff on your soft field technique, nearby Apalachicola Regional might be a better choice.

The author scaring the target (photo courtesy Sigtalk.com)
The author scaring the target (photo courtesy Sigtalk.com)

No sweat for a couple of aces, though. We made short work of the departure, and were soon winging over the Gulf for the trip home. A modest headwind held down our groundspeed a bit, but still, 160-odd knots true on 13-ish gallons an hour ain’t bad!

While L.R. introduced me to the details of Bonanza flying, another lesson was reinforced. Don’t let anyone kid you into believing that IFR occurs only in clouds. Once out over the Gulf of Mexico, we were in haze with no effective horizon. I found that if I tried to fly visually, roll control was soon tenuous at best. Be careful if you plan on flying in these conditions, and make use of the gauges!

Dodging a few buildups once over land, we soon found ourselves in the pattern at X04. The trip was a fast, fun experience and one I hope to repeat soon. Port St. Joe is not to be missed if you want to experience rural Florida at its finest. Big thanks to my new friend L.R. for including me on the adventure!