Flying to Sun-n-Fun with Wally

Wally's Mooney

Each week, I review our Pilot Tips before we publish them on the internet. I always appreciate the advice that our instructors have to offer, as I know our subscribers do as well.

Whenever I have a chance to fly with one of these expert aviators, I jump at it. So when Wally Moran asked me to join him on a flight from his home in South Carolina to Sun-N-Fun in March, I happily accepted. We would be flying the trip in his pristine 1966 Mooney M20C which was great news for me, since I have little time in this type. What a great opportunity, fly with Wally Moran and log some Mooney time!

We departed KDYB Airport in Summerville, SC at 7:00 am sharp for the 321 NM trip to Florida. The weather was perfect along the entire route. We didn’t see a single cloud or hit a bump during the two hour and forty minute flight. We had better than 20 miles visibility the whole way down to Florida. This was the just the kind of smooth, uneventful and relaxing flight that pilots live for.

While the trip was uneventful, it wasn’t without lessons to be learned. The teaching points didn’t come from the weather, ATC, traffic or anything we encountered along the way. In fact, the lessons came more from what we didn’t experience. I picked up some great pearls of wisdom observing how Wally Moran prepares for a cross-country flight.

In no particular order, here are some lessons I took away from my trip with Wally.

File IFR. Even though we were assured excellent VFR weather for the entire trip, Wally insisted on filing an IFR flight plan. I probably would have gone VFR, choosing the ease and convenience of going “direct” on my own terms. In hindsight, filing IFR was the better choice for a number of reasons. First, it assured that we would remain clear of TFRs and restricted airspace that are common along our intended route. It also guaranteed traffic separation and preferred routing as we neared Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on the busiest arrival day of Sun-N-Fun. The cost was less than 10 minutes of additional flying along our “protected” route.

Fly high. I know Wally has always been an advocate of flying as high as possible, but I really understand why after taking this trip with him. Before we departed, Wally calculated that at our filed altitude we would be within gliding distance of an airport for the entire trip, with the exception of one 5-minute stretch over Georgia. WOW…now that is some serious airmanship! It was a real eye opener. I like to fly high as well, but I don’t exercise that kind precision in my planning. What a comforting thing, knowing that we could safely make it to an airport if we had engine trouble for most of the trip. We used the “nearest” function on the Garmin 430W to validate this along our route. Wally pointed out the 5-minute period where we were “out of” gliding distance to an airport. The other 2 hours and 35 minutes when we were “in” gliding distance was more relaxing. What a great safety margin to build into your flight plan.

Plan early, plan often.  Another thing that struck me was how prepared we were for the flight. It seems I’m always rushing out to the airplane and pulling everything together at the last minute before I make a trip. This causes extra stress and possible preflight oversights. Wally’s preflight process was completely different. Everything was done the day before our flight. Weight and balance calculated, weather briefings completed (starting 2 days before the flight), preflight completed, route planned and analyzed, flight plan filed, cockpit organized.

Everything was ready to go! The only thing we did on the morning of the flight was make a final check of the weather and a final preflight inspection before departing. As a result, we were not rushed and “behind” the airplane before starting the engine (as I have felt on many occasions). It’s a great way to start your flight.

Who does what? Wally knew I had little time in a Mooney and wanted me to get the most of this experience, so he offered to work the radios and free me up to focus on flying the airplane. He divided up the pilot duties in such a way that it was very clear who was responsible for what. We discussed this prior to departure and there was never any doubt what my role and focus was for the entire trip. It’s good for multiple pilots to fly as a “crew”, but is critical that the tasks are divided logically and briefed completely before the flight to eliminate any confusion. This is a professional approach to flying with multiple pilots.

These are a few lessons I took from this flight. Overall, I was most impressed with Wally’s overall approach to the trip. He treated the mission in such a way that a majority of the risks were eliminated before we departed through planning and preparation. When you fly with an aviator of Wally stature, you can’t help but learn from them – even when the mission appears simple. I’m grateful for having had this opportunity.