Flying “Gypsy Aire”

The past few years seem to have been a bit on the boring side yet somewhat of a blur. The airplane routine had gotten fairly dependable. Sooner or later nearly everyone who stopped by the hangar, and there were more than a few who did, came up with the very original question, “When you gonna fly that thing?” My answer was, likewise, nearly always the same, “When I do you’ll know it.

4_1Not that the RV-8 project I had puttered on for years hadn’t been flown. The first flight of “Gypsy Aire” was nearly three years ago and had developed into sort of a long winded shake down cruise. It would fly, it had flown. For months and months I would make a little trip for lunch or something and then spend a few days puttering around on any one of the hundreds of small details that make an airplane become unique and personal and friendly. The plane was legal, had flown off the test hours, and the squawk list was getting smaller every day. Some days I was proud that I had taken my time with finishing the airplane, like the day I discovered a fatigue crack in an elevator skin. That little crack resulted in a complete replacement of the right elevator. There is some good in everything I suppose, and the good in this was that the right side elevator has no trim tab installed and comes off and goes back on quite easily. Another winter set in and I decided it was time to move the project along and get the long awaited final paint job. As it sat under the halogens in the hangar with its freshly draped coat of poly-paint I could finally see a beautiful swan where an ugly duckling has sat before.

4_2The ramp rats haven’t been the same since. There is lots of whining because I am not around so much. No more cook outs and cold beverages. Not much hangar flying going on. They come to see what’s new and I am gone. I warned them all. I told them that when I was finished with the project they would know it. I made that decision long before I ever flew the airplane. I wanted a “go places” personal airplane and the only way I could do that was to build my own. Numerous trips to Oshkosh and hours on the net provided me with all I wanted to know. I picked what I believe to be the most bang for the buck and started down the long road that is airplane building. Looking back, it was well worth it all.

4_3There have been many other love affairs along the way. I have been in and out of 172’s and Piper Pacers, Maule M-5’s, Talorcrafts, Champs, Citabrias and Cessna 210’s. All got me where I was going albeit sometimes much more slowly than I wanted. “Air planes is airplanes,” as they say. Any of them beat a long drive on the highway. But I have to admit that when I get to altitude over the Blue Ridge Mountains on a February day and true at 190 knots with the GPS saying it is just 1:47 more minutes to Cross City “Floriday”, I have finally ended up where I wanted to be.

4_4So began the journeys. The February trip to Cedar Key, Florida started with a ride in my truck behind the snow plow to scrape enough fresh snow off the taxiway and runway to get “Gypsy” launched in the early morning sun. Weather was low and scuddy and spitting snow as we passed Cincinnati and pushed on for Dixie. By the time we stopped for fuel at Johnson County in southern Tennessee the sky was broken to scattered at 4000 ft. or so. As we climbed out I decided to plunge through a hole and we climbed to 9500 ft. to escape the bumps below. At altitude the GPS showed the tail winds pushing us over the hills at 234 kts! We had cocktails on Cedar Key just 5 short hours after our departure from the “Great White North” that is Michigan in winter! After working and waiting for years, life was suddenly good again.

4_5Cedar Key is just a dot in the Gulf just about mid-way down the west coast of Florida. It is a terrific destination for pilots. With a district just barely large enough to walk around in, Cedar Key offers a relaxing get away and enough to see and do to keep you occupied for a few days. KCDK provides a 2355’ by 100’ runway in fair condition with wide open approaches (ocean) at both ends. Be kind when approaching for runway 5 as the base leg will take you over the village. The runway typically offers a cross wind so be sure to check the windsock prior to lining up.

4_6Transport for the mile or so trek to the village from the airport can be arranged by contacting Judy’s Taxi on Cedar Key at 352-543-5406 or you can try to reach her on the CTAF 122.9. Judy is typical of the slow paced, “happy to see” you people we met on the Key and is more than glad to drag you and your bags to the hotel for just $5.00 per person.

We rented a golf cart while on the “Key” and toured the streets from the airport to the museum, (Cedar Key boasts a surprising amount of colorful history) to the shops and restaurants. Our rented condo at the Island Place (800-780-6522) provided everything we needed for our stay and was surprisingly economical. If you love sunsets ask them for a gulf side unit. Gulf side units come with a small balcony ideal for dolphin or sunset watching.

4_7There is no shortage of dining establishments on the island and most if not all of the eatery’s offer fresh bay seafood. We tried most of them of course, and all were delightful. But, our favorites by far were the Island Hotel dining room, and Tony’s. The Island Hotel (352-543-5111) took Southern cooking to a new level in our minds and we spent two evenings there enjoying low country grits with shrimp and bacon gravy. 4_8If you are watching your cholesterol, you probably won’t want to have this “over the top” concoction more than once during your stay. Tony’s (352-543-0022) offers an oyster appetizer which is really more of a meal as there were literally too many delicious, fresh oysters for any one person to consume. Both restaurants offered great food. The Island Hotel seemed to us to offer more history and ambience than others on the Key.

4_9We braved some fairly chilly weather while we were in the sunny south. A day or so of cold rain made us glad that we had bothered to carry sweatshirts and jackets with us. Still, we managed a couple of nice afternoons lounging in the sun and a couple of lazy mornings off sipping bloodies and watching dolphins slip by just off shore. Another afternoon of touring in our golf cart with visits to the Museum and shops on the spit, and our stay was complete. All too soon it was time for us to say goodbye to gulf shores, pelicans, dolphins and decidedly warmer weather, and point Gypsy northward toward home. With light bags stowed, “Gypsy” lifted off and I put the big white “N” that would lead us home in the compass window.

4_10Snotty weather with low ceilings and ice and snow forced us to take a break in Knoxville on the way back to reality, and we staged our arrival in Michigan with just one more night filled with southern hospitality and BBQ ribs. Flight time home was nearly as good as flight time south. We showed just 5.5 hours of flight time on the trip home.


Next adventure: “Gypsy takes Charleston”.

Tom Speerstra

Author: Tom Speerstra

Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and Pappy “the dog” Boyington.