Monday, July 8, 2013

Piper PA28 Flight Over Gulf Shores with Rod Kellogg

Every two years, 50+ members of my family meet at Martinique on the Gulf, in Gulf Shores Alabama, for a family reunion and a 4th of July celebration. 

Since I just recently became a student pilot, I decided that it would be fun to take a lesson wherever I travel with my family. So for the first time, I took a flight lesson outside of Virginia. Not only that, but I hadn't yet flown with anyone other than my instructor! My mom and brother were excited to finally be sitting in a plane, with me at the controls. They weren't too nervous...

Here is the full video summary of our flight. You'll see everything from our flyover of the family reunion (arial and ground views) to our landing at the aircraft-carrier like Dauphin Island to clips over Fort Morgan. More videos can be found on my youtube channel: MartinsAviation1 Check it out!:

Before the summer began, I looked around at flight schools in the area. I ended up contacting Gulf Air Center, located at the Jack Edwards National Airport (JKA). I began to email back and forth with my instructor, Rod Kellogg, who was willing to make anything work for my family. We set a date and time for our flight: July 2nd, at 1pm. 

Arriving at Jack Edwards, I was happy to find one of the nicest general aviation airports/FBO's I'd ever been too. Because of all of the vacationers, there were a lot of private/charter jets and turbo props around the ramp. I hadn't seen so many in one place since Santa Monica, CA back in March! After looking around for a few minutes, I was greeted by Rod up at the front desk. He turned out to be one of the nicest, most personable people, much less a flight instructor, that I'd ever met. After talking a little bit about the flight, we walked over to the hangar where our Piper PA28 Warrior (N8410C) was parked. Never having flown a PA28, Rod helped me out during the walkaround, pointing out features of the plane that I wasn't used to. 

Compared to the new Tecnams that I train in, this 1976 Piper was a little more retro than I was used to. With gauges instead of the partial-glass cockpit that I'm used to... it felt a lot different having to look at each individual instrument for different information. That's a good thing though! Like anything, its good to experience a variety of systems and planes as that's what flying is really all about. A pilot's license is a license to learn. Also, the Piper Warrior we flew was actually equipped with a small Garmin Aviation GPS, the same model I use in the Tecnam. 

Before taking off, we went over our flight plan. We planned to fly West along the Gulf Coast, following Fort Morgan Road, to Dauphin Island's Airport (4R9), and back. On the way, we were going to do a few flyovers of the beach where our family would be. I hadn't ever flown over a beach before, so I was excited for the awesome opportunity! 

Jack Edwards Airport (JKA) was the first multi-runway airport I'd ever flown out of. After a short wait, we lined up on the centerline for Runway 17. Starting our takeoff roll, I took a quick glance back towards my brother and mom who were beaming, that was an awesome feeling! Lifting off the first time with my mom, I could hear her laughing with excitement from the back seats. 

You can see the first takeoff from Jack Edwards JKA (runway 17) in the video above or via the following link: Flight Over Gulf Shores with Rod Kellogg

My mom sent a group text out to the family, letting them know that we were in the air and only a few minutes away from our flyby. Because we were flying over the open water, we got as low as 500 feet to buzz the beach. I had no idea what to expect flying over the beach and family. It ended up being a pretty incredible thing to see from the air. I dipped the wing down and saw dozens of my closest family members and cousins waving towels around to get our attention. After a quick pass, we looped around a second time to say hey by waving the wings for everyone again. It put a huge smile on all of our faces to see the family down there cheering us on. That was definitely the highlight of the trip for me! 

Videos of the flyovers can be seen shortly after the beginning of the video, which can be found at the top of this article or via this link: Flight Over Gulf Shores with Rod Kellogg

After our fun with the family, we flew West down the beach to Fort Morgan. It's an incredible fort to see from the air. If anyone ever gets the chance to fly over the area, you've got to see it! We flew a few circles around the fort and then proceeded to fly off the coast towards the lighthouse, another really cool feature of the area! 

Flying at about 300 feet this time, we got a really good look at the lighthouse. It was really cool to see this lighthouse in the middle of the ocean on a tiny island of rocks.

As planned, we then headed towards Dauphin Island's Airport: 4R9. This was probably the most exciting thing for me going into the flight lesson. The airport on Dauphin Island is built out into the water, sort of resembling an aircraft carrier. At only 3,000ft long and 80ft wide, Dauphin Island was one of the smallest airports I'd ever flown into. With very light traffic and a scenic approach, I knew I was going to love the airport. 

Landing the Piper PA28 Warrior (N8410C) took getting used to for me. Unlike the light sport aircraft and other newer planes that I fly, the 1976 PA28 takes a lot of control pressure at slow speeds to fly properly. The nice part about the Warrior is that at cruise, the plane is extremely steady, and if trimmed properly, requires very little input from the pilot. I found that on final and during landing (like I expected), it took a lot of getting used to the Warrior to perfect everything. The landings I flew were by no means smooth... I kind of expected that going into the flight though. In a larger 4 seat plane, the airspeed bleeds off much quicker than that of a Light Sport aircraft (which essentially can act like gliders). For me, this resulted in firm landings, but nothing really dangerous. Rod was nice to me and said that it was ok to hit it a bit harder on that short field haha. 

You can see the footage from our landing during the video near the beginning of this article.

After our first landing, we back-taxied towards the turnout area at the beginning of runway 12. We shut the plane down and hopped out to get a scenic view of the island, airport, and plane. Here are some photos from that break: 

Rod and I decided it would be worth it to try another pattern at Dauphin Island, so after taking off from runway 30, we came back in for our second run. The landing went better but not by much, still pretty hard. I improved from the first landing, but was still having trouble getting used to the slow speed tendencies of the plane. Learning how to adapt to new planes quickly should come along with more hours spent at the controls.

You can see the footage from our landing during the video near the beginning of this article.

Dauphin Island was a whole lot of fun. I can't think of too many airports out there like it for general aviation. Afterwards, we flew back up the coast, past more of Gulf Shores, and returned to Jack Edwards Airport (JKA). We had a left crosswind landing on runway 27, but nothing too bad. Taxiing back to the ramp area, I once again noticed how many private jets and turbo-props there were. I saw a few families boarding and exiting their aircraft. 

Overall, it was an awesome flight. I want to thank Rod Kellogg for being so courteous and welcoming. He really made the trip special for us. Along the flight, he was always pointing out landmarks as we didn't know too much about the area. After our flight in the PA28, Rod introduced me to another one of his students, Joseph Olmstead. I had the chance to go up in another type of plane, but I'll leave that to the next post! 

Thanks so much Rod for making this flight a highlight of our vacation and summer,
-Swayne Martin 
Twitter: @MartinsAviation


  1. Airline pilots sometimes joke that life would be better if we made millions doing something else and just flew for fun. Have you considered a career in movie making? That YouTube video is FANTASTIC.

    Looked like fun. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Haha I've heard that one a few times! Thanks for the compliment, glad you liked it!

  2. I remember my transition from a C152 to C172. My first passenger, while I was still a student, is actually my wife of 8 years now. I'm glad you got to show off to your extended family. If you're ever in the KLAX area again you should fly to KAVX. The runway as actually on top of two hills.

    1. I've always wanted to fly to KAVX... I know all about it. I'll be looking to get my hundred-dollar hamburger there! :)

      Thanks for leaving a comment,

  3. Great post! My first two flights were to see whether I preferred the C172 or the PA28, and I have to say, I fell in love with the Warrior, and did all of my private flight training in one (its instrument panel looked identical to yours, except it had no GPS, so even MORE retro, haha). I think this brings up some important points which you're in a good position to discuss (as a training pilot): how you feel about training in low- vs. high-wing aircraft (most people say this is really just a preference), and how you feel about training with glass panels vs. steam gauges (there's much more disagreement on this issue in terms of effectiveness, especially in training).

    The school I learned to fly out of didn't have GPS's in the planes (which forced us to rely on VOR and chart navigation), so that's the "school of thought" I came from; keeping it simple so the technology doesn't get ahead of the student. One extra we DID have in the planes was a mock landing gear lever (with working lights!), which was rigidly incorporated into all the checklists. Even now, years later, I still verbally verify that the gear is "down and locked, three green lights", even if it always was.

    1. Thanks James!

      That's almost the same situation I was in when I first had to choose. I had to choose between a Tecnam Sierra (low wing), Tecnam Eaglet (high wing), or a C172 (high wing)... I ended up loving the low wing Sierra. I just felt more comfortable in it than in a high wing. I felt like my visibility was better! I too love the PA28 now..

      Thanks again for leaving that awesome comment!
      -Swayne Martin


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Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin