It’s November 1, 2014 and I have no idea where October went. Looking back, I was only in Idaho 4 days during the month of October. Thankfully, I love the nomadic lifestyle.
I spent most of October in Orlando, Florida. I was there 14 days – but only nine of those days were scheduled. I will get to that story in a moment.
The genesis of the Florida trip was the annual NBAA (National Business Aviation Associate) convention, which is held in Orlando every other year. I left Idaho and boarded a commercial flight in Spokane to Fargo, North Dakota. From Fargo I drove to Park Rapids to pick up a plane from the paint shop to fly it down to Orlando. Leaving Park Rapids I flew right over Minneapolis/St. Paul on my way to Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Each October, the Beechcraft Museum throws a “Beech Party.” In essence it is a huge Beechcraft specific fly-in. It was my first time going and it was incredible. I have never seen so many Beech 18’s and Staggerwings in the same place. On top of that, there were two Twin Bonanza’s (which are quite rare). I also have not seen Staggerwings fly much – and I must admit, the Staggerwing is possibly the most beautiful plane to see in flight. It just looks fast. What I actually found more impressive than all the flying airplanes was the Beechcraft Museum itself. Outside of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, it is the best airplane museum I have ever been to. It is beautiful and highly educational. There are also some very rare planes, all that they let you climb into and sit in. That is the best part – they actually let you touch the museum pieces! It is worth the trip any time of the year.
The evening was spent having a hangar dinner with great friends and new acquaintance. After dinner, it was time to call it a night. Chris, a great friend of mine, who lives there made Kenny and I hotel reservations at one of the local hotels (Tullahoma is tiny and when the Beech Party comes to town they all sell out months in advance). Turns out the hotel had given away one of our rooms and all they had left was a smoking room. Right about the time the front desk was telling us this a couple with face tattoos, handguns, and a human sized suitcase walked in the lobby. Kenny and I looked at one another, and decided to drive up to Murfreesboro to stay the night. The fun was just beginning.
We had borrowed Tullahoma’s crew car for the night to get to the hotel, but we had not expected to drive but 5 miles. When we realized we had to drive 45 miles north to Murfreesboro we then realized the van from 1990 was not in the best shape. In fact, every light on the dash was on and it did not smell great when we got to highway speeds. About fifteen minutes outside of Tullahoma, the engine temperature red lined. There was no shoulder to pull over and we were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night with no cell service. So we did what any good mechanic would do, we kept going. A few miles up the road, we had gone from 60 mph to 30 mph, with the pedal all the way to the floor the whole time. Thankfully, there was a gas station and we pulled over. We opened the hood and realized it had no coolant, not a drop. Kenny went inside and grabbed some water as I filled her with gas. On our way we went, but no change in engine temperature. At this point, we were halfway between where we started and where we were going. We kept going but it was clear the car was not going to make it. As a last resort, Kenny turned the heater on high and WHALA! The engine temperature went way down! Great news! Except the windows did not roll down, and it was 90° F outside…
30 minutes later we rolled up to the hotel, windows completely fogged up due to the humidity, sweating our butts off, covered in grease and engine fluids in a van that was making sounds no car should ever make. I am sure we were quite a sight.
The next morning I left early to go meet my good friend at the Murfreesboro airport to fly his T-34. I left Kenny to get the car back to Tullahoma on his own! I took a cab to get to the local airport. It should have been an uneventful ride, but nothing is uneventful when traveling with me it seems. I called the cab company; made sure they took credit cards, and double-checked when I got into the cab. As we arrive at the airport, the cabbie turns and says, it will be $15. I handed him my credit card, he looked at me with crazy eyes and said, “I don’t take those.” I said, “I asked you when we got into the car and you said you did?” He, of course, denied having that conversation and so I sat there and looked at him with equally crazy eyes. Here we sat, looking at one another with crazy eyes with smooth jazz playing in his beat up, smelly van. It was quite a moment we shared.
I finally cracked and got my wallet out and handed him the only $10 bill I had. It was all the cash I had, every dollar. He said that wasn’t enough and he was going to call the cops. At this point I was fed up, got out my phone, and pretended to call 911 myself as I got out of the car. I walked in, said hi to the FBO manager, and walked out to the ramp to wait for Erric. A few minutes later, I hear yelling inside and turned around to see the FBO manager was not letting the cabbie onto the ramp to talk to me. The FBO manager asked me to come back inside. As soon as I walked in the cabbie, (an African American man about my height) got in my face and said I owed him money. Long story, somewhat short, I calmly yelled right back into his face why he did not comply with the Tennessee law for cab drivers and I would be happy to call the police on his behalf. I also asked the FBO manager to kindly call the police and tell them a black man was harassing your customers and trespassing on airport property. I have never seen a cab driver turn around, speed walk back to his van and drive off so fast. No coffee needed this morning.
Erric finally showed up and we went up in the T-bird for a beautiful morning flight. There is no better way to wake up then a morning flight doing aerobatics over beautiful country.
Later this day Kenny and I loaded up the plane and were on our way to Savannah to pick up our PR team for NBAA. This flight was rather uneventful and ended with a great landing into Savannah International.
After loading up the plane, we filed and took out for Orlando International. This flight would bring us fairly far out over the ocean as we cut the corner from Savannah to Orlando. Not flying over large bodies of water much, this was a neat experience. Once south of Jacksonville our fun really started to begin. Bear in mind we were on an IFR flight plan, meaning that it is Air Traffic Control’s responsibility to keep us safe from other air traffic. Since the weather was visual meteorological conditions, we were also keeping a vigilant eye out for traffic. Good thing because off our right wing comes a small 4 place airplane dive-bombing us. He flew within a half mile then went up, finished his Chandelle (an aerobatic maneuver) and was coming right for us again this time from the left. He got way to close for comfort so we did a 4G pull up and climbed 1500 ft. in 2 seconds. Before ATC could call us and ask what we were doing, we called them and kindly asked what the hell they were doing?! Had we been in instrument conditions we would have collided. ATC never warned us about the traffic. His response was, “oh, traffic 1000 ft. below.” Kenny said, “Yeah, 1000 ft. below because we are now 1000 ft. above our assigned altitude.” After that ordeal, we were wide awake. About 10 minutes later another narrow escape happened. We were on a collision course with a Baron approaching from our 10 to 12 o’clock and ATC did not warn us in near enough time. We had to deviate ourselves. After this Kenny, who was working radios, was fed up and asked for the controller’s names. JAX Center was asleep at the wheel – a dangerous scenario when we were relying on them for aircraft separation.
At this point, this was just another day flying in the life of Mark Brown but Kenny was a bit overwhelmed with all that had happened the last 24 hours! I cannot blame him, it was our first major trip together. I do not think he will travel with me any more after this experience. Once we landed at Orlando International, we were instructed to make a right turn onto Taxiway Bravo, but we needed to go left toward the FBO. Once holding on Bravo, we were told the west ramp had just been shut down and will be for 20-30 minutes. We soon realized why – Executive One Foxtrot was sitting on the ramp. Executive One is the call sign for the president’s plane, and it becomes Exec. One Foxtrot when it is just the presidents family without him (F for family). Michelle Obama was in Orlando for some reason and she was on her way back to the airport as we landed which is why they shut the ramp down. So here we were, sitting in the middle of two runways at Orlando International for 30 minutes watching jets takeoff and land waiting for Michelle Obama to load up and takeoff. It was neat really, not many people get to chill for 30 minutes in the middle of one of the busiest airports in the country watching huge 777 and 747’s takeoff and land.
NBAA takes place in two locations. The major part of the event is in the Orange County Convention Center and the smaller portion is at Orlando Executive Airport. All the planes with wingspans less than 50 ft. are put into the convention center. Our airplane was just small enough to be able to fit into that category. The way they get the planes there? They shut down the highway and tow us down the road to the convention center in the middle of the night. Therefore, after our wild day thus far, it was going to end taxing our plane through the Orlando Streets in a “Parade of Planes.” I cannot make this stuff up. (One of my favorite photos is our plane passing by McDonalds. The caption reads “Just stopped at Macaas for a quick pick me up to get through this wild night flight…”)
The rest of the show was filled with anything and everything airplane related, as well as a bunch of high flatulent parties thrown by the sponsors. It was not until Thursday, Ashley’s Birthday that things would get interesting again. For a few weeks, I had been having some stomach pain, but it was not concentrated and just felt like gas. Like I said, I spent all of October traveling and I figured I just was not eating well enough. Thursday morning I woke up with much worse pain located around my belly button. I went to the show, got our booth set up and sucked it up not paying much attention to it. As Ashley and I were on our way to Orlando Executive Airport to check out the static display later in the morning the pain became much worse. It was too much and I had Ash take me to the ER.
By this point, the pain had moved to my lower right quadrant and I was certain it was my appendix. Once 15-20 doctors, nurses, and surgeons poked on my belly, they all came to the same conclusion. After x-rays, CAT scans, and dye tests they determined it had not ruptured by was well past the point where it should have. They wanted to wait a day so it was not until Friday that I finally had the surgery to take it out.
Friday and Saturday, I spent recovering and finally went back to the hotel late on Saturday night. A few days later I finally began feeling good enough to get out of the hotel. Ashley and I took full advantage of being stuck in Orlando and visited Universal and Disney World (in a very limited way, obviously). I had to cancel all the plans I made for Ashley birthday but the last night there, I felt good enough to take her out to a nice dinner. We were treated with a gorgeous Florida evening and beautiful sunset. It seemed like a fitting end to a wild trip.
No one likes to get sick away from home, but I have to thank Ashley for being my saving grace the entire trip. She was there to hold me when I felt like crap, she was there encouraging me before surgery, she was there with that big, bright, beautiful smile as I came out of anesthesia, she was there to drive me around, she was there to pack all my belongings when we had to move hotels, she was there sleeping in uncomfortable chairs so I wouldn’t be alone at night, she was there making sure I took the correct medications at the correct times, she was there cleaning out the bucket I puked in the first 24 hours after surgery, she was there filling up my water glass and making sure I was as comfortable as possible, she was there to deal with the hospital business affairs, and she was there keeping me calm as the medications made me nervous, impatient, and mean. Without her, I would have been a mess. I will never be able to thank her enough for all she did for me this trip. On top of all that, she spent her entire birthday in the hospital with me and did not complain or care a bit. If unconditional love has a definition, Ashley’s picture should be next to it. Thank you Ashley, I love you.