Oops! "We're off to SINnFUN" was the text message to my wife Wendy as Bob Wiseman, my Mooney partner, and I closed the cabin door and buckled up in preparation for takeoff from KGTU. This was followed by a quick "TYPO" message as I really didn't need to leave the wrong impression as I was about to leave town for a week (I love it when APPLE spell check tries to help me out!)

It was a beautiful Sunday morning as we climbed out on an easterly heading for what was supposed to be the start of an eight day trip to SUNnFUN and family visits. In the end, weather delays stretched the trip to 11 days of great fun sprinkled with fabulous flying and wonderful folks.

Our round trip route included: KGTU (Georgetown) KAEX (Alexandria, LA) 82J (Ferguson-Pensacola) KLAL (Lakeland FL) KSEF (Sebring FL) KCOI (Merritt Island/Cocoa Beach FL) 82J (Again) and back home to KGTU. Add to this a bit of local sightseeing time with family, and the Mooney logged an even 17 hours for the trip.

At KAEX, self-serve fuel was under $5/gallon and Million Air provided a free Crew Car along with two $10 dinner coupons for a local BBQ joint: with iced tea and tip our total bill was under $5.00.

Arriving 82J later the same day, pattern altitude was only 527' MSL (500' AGL) as the field is only 3NM northwest of Pensacola NAS's Sherman Field (NPA) and one has to sneak in under their controlled airspace. A retired Navy man, Wiseman had actually taken his private pilot check ride with old man Ferguson (no longer with us) here at 82J back in the late 70's. After swapping stories with the current owner, we were given free tie downs and use of the airport Hummer for the next 18 hours. Rooms at the Pensacola naval base BOQ exceeded expectations and, at only $57 each, were a real steal. Taking advantage of our awesome wheels, I listened to my buddy Wiseman relive his young Navy days as we drove through the old central district in route to a a great dinner at the Fish House on the pier. Breakfast the next morning was at the base Starbucks (this ain't your fathers Navy anymore) and then we toured the Naval Aviation Museum.

We departed 82J later that afternoon in "severe VFR" weather and flew the beautiful gulf coastline in route to Lakeland. Having just upgraded the Mooney's GTX330 transponder with ES (ADS-B Out), our iPads' ForeFlight/Stratus 2 Traffic Advisories really came alive as we approached the Florida peninsula. We found ourselves often watching potential traffic conflicts long before ATC Flight Following issued any alerts. Then, having plotted and saved the SUNnFUN NOTAM's arrival procedure as a "Favorite Route" on ForeFlight in advance of takeoff, our arrival into Lakeland was a piece of cake.

Being a SUNnFUN first timer, I wasn't sure what to expect but in reality it reminded me of OSHKOSH from years past ... i.e. much the same, except smaller and with the facilities being a bit less well established. Nonetheless, everyone was friendly and helpful. We pitched our tents for four nights and explored. Two retired FedEx "Cargo Dogs" (as they called themselves) were camped next door with their Cessna 310 and helped to provide evening entertainment. Wandering the exhibit grounds after hours one night we met Roger, the BBQ Pit Master. He was taking pulled pork and brisquet out of the smoker in preparation for the next day. We ended up with samples and an unplanned sandwich to go with our late night beer. The next day Roger introduced us to his wait staff as "regulars" and told them to take care of us. Later that afternoon we were happy to see Dick Gossen's Glassair III ... the 1990 SUNnFUN Grand Champion ... parked front and center in a place of honor on the flight line. Also, it was great to see the Blue Angels back in action once again. We had actually tried to visit their hangar while at Pensacola NAS a couple of days earlier, however the fence was a bit too high and the signs a bit intimidating!

After four nights at Lakeland we headed down to Sebring to check in with Wiseman's brother with plans to go the next day to Merritt Island to see his mom. In between, the Mooney's starter gave up the ghost ... thankfully before we'd left Sebring. The Sky-Tec 149-12LS's cast aluminum front end had cracked completed off, although we later learned the crack had started some time ago and it just decided to finish the job that morning. With a stroke of luck and the help of friendly folks at both KSEF and back at SUNnFUN, we tracked down Roger Smith, owner of Carter Aviation Group out of Sebring who just happened to be at SUNnFUN himself that afternoon. Roger found a compatible, upgraded Sky-Tec 149-NL at Aircraft Spruce's SUNnFUN booth just before they closed Saturday evening, then met us back at his shop at Sebring at 8:30 AM Sunday morning to install it. And he did it all with a smile! A Great guy!

Despite the exceptional turnaround on the starter repair, by Sunday afternoon we'd missed the weather window home, so instead we flew on to Merritt Island where we were lucky to stay with Wiseman's mom for a couple of days until we could safely depart. Meanwhile, we took advantage of the layover to visit the Kennedy Space Center, just a short 30 minute drive north from Cocoa Beach. We finally got a short break in the storms Tuesday afternoon and were given a 6 minute clearance void time for departure. It was great to have two qualified IFR pilots on board and we were really glad the Mooney has both XM weather and Stratus ADS-B weather radar on board. We made it back to 82J before once again being blocked by storms to our west. After refueling and once again being loaned the Hummer, we checked back into the Pensacola NAS BOQ and said we recheck weather for an early departure. The next morning we were wheels up at 4:15 AM in perfectly clear, calm, star studded skies. As we flew along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the lights of New Orleans were clearly visible in the distance ... and it was just us along with the the FedEx "Cargo Dogs" on frequency.