Today was the most I have ever flown in one day–7.4 hours in total, between five airports.  We started off the day in Aiken, South Carolina with a departure around 0700 after an early wake for a cab ride to the airport.

From there we were asked to fly to Ocala, FL (KOCF) to pick up some supplies.  We had room for about 200 lb of cargo, most of which consisted of food and toilet paper.

We carried this load to Lakeland (KLAL), where the heart of the operation is located.  Some volunteers who drove all the way from Minnesota are running things from their impressive RV.

After dropping off our personal bags at Lakeland, which allowed us to add more cargo to our trip, we filed IFR to Homestead (X51) and took to the skies again.

Cargo that is brought into Homestead is unloaded from a large number of small airplanes and then prioritized by need.  Some larger aircraft, including Cessna Caravans, then transport larger loads to the Keys airports.  It is a bit more efficient this way.

Homestead was hit hard–many aircraft were destroyed here one the ground by the hurricane.  The salvage effort is nearly complete.

A nearly brand new Cessna was tossed like a toy.

One of the Pittsburgh group had been asked to take over organizing the Homestead operation.  He agreed, but nearly collapsed from dehydration earlier today.  When we arrived at Homestead, we stuck around with him until his flying partner R (name redacted due to R’s modesty) returned from a mission to pick up donations from Boca Raton.  I helped load one of the Caravans while we waited.  When R returned, we began our departure, intending to return to Lakeland to pick up our personal bags before continuing on to Sarasota, where R is graciously putting us up in his second home in the area.

However, the early evening weather put up a blockade between us and Lakeland and I deemed it safest to fly straight to Sarasota (KRSQ) where we were to meet R.  Halfway to Lakeland, we advised ATC we wished to divert to SRQ, where we ended our flying day.

We grabbed dinner and stopped to buy toiletries that we had left behind in Lakeland and then went to R’s home, where I am writing this.  Good night!

Aiken, South Carolina

I filed the flight plan for the first leg of our trip to Florida to Aiken, SC.  Nothing particularly recommended it to me other that its convenient positioning south of Charlotte and its relatively inexpesive fuel.  My copilot Scott had called ahead to ask about fuel and services and returned with a positive report.

We were a bit late in leaving Beaver so we got here in the late evening.  That’s when the brightest lights in Aiken came out. I found out that Aiken normally is unstaffed afte 5 p.m.   Because we had filed as a Compassion Flight, the staff at Aiken decided to stay to help us out!

Gary, Tessa, and Connor were here to help and they really meant it.  They thanked us for coming to help with the hurricane relief efforts and made me feel like i had better do my best, because they did theirs for us.

When we arrived we weren’t sure what our next action would be so we headed to the flight planning room and had a look at the weather.  Unfortunately there was some uninviting radar between us and Ocala.  We discussed our options and eventually settled on staying at Aiken.  Part of that decision was made based on the costs of staying overnight at our other potential locations.  Aiken was going to be the most cost effective.

The downside was that the hotel was about 20 minutes away from the airport so we would have to hire a cab.  The Aiken staff were prepared and Connor offered to drive us to the hotel in his own car.  When we asked about places to eat, they explained that there really wasn’t much within walking distance of our hotel.  

Connor, who studies accounting here, handled that by suggesting a good local place he likes to go and offering to drive us there.  “Grumpy’s,” a sports bar with an impressive draught list and an outstanding briaket sandwich, was just the place we needed.  We ended up having dinner and chatting with him for a while.  Interestingly enough, Connor had found himself in Aiken because of his love of the sport of polo, which is a big thing here.  Connor is also a pilot and showed us some pictures of his recent trip to Alaska with his uncle and grandfather in an A36 Bonanza.  

Amazingly, and in a stroke of real “small world!” serendipity, Connor had once spent time at the Darlington Polo Club near our own Beaver Falls.  We spent time learning about polo and how one gets involved in the sport.  We also learned (or at least had confirmed to us) that “they do things differently in Darlington.”

After a great dinner, Connor drove us back to the hotel.  We wish him the best of luck in his education and future!  And thanks to Gary and Tessa for their friendly and dedicated services too.  I would certainly recommend Aiken as a waypoint for any air travelers.