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Across the scars of a hurricaneAcross the scars of a hurricane

Super Cub journey a flight of extremesSuper Cub journey a flight of extremes

Ferrying the AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub from AOPA’s final fly-in of 2018 at Gulf Shores, Alabama, to Winter Haven, Florida, afforded a perfect opportunity to take in the pristine beauty of the Gulf Coast, and witness the devastation left in a hurricane's wake.

Light tailwinds, a clear sky, and the morning sun greeted me as I took off Oct. 28. The complex of Class C, Class D, and military airspace along the coast was intimidating, but Pensacola and Eglin Air Force Base controllers were extremely helpful providing flight following. (Pilots flying along the coast in the Eglin/Valparaiso Terminal Area must talk to controllers and follow special air traffic rules.)

Light teal waters along the coast were contrasted by the deep blues of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Beaches sported high-rise condos, and the aerial viewpoint made it easy to spot interesting shapes in the water, such as a dolphin and seahorse, before the commercial stretch gave way to undeveloped shoreline that stretched from Florida’s Miramar Beach to Philips Inlet. The shapes in the water along the shore (you might also spot the outline of a fish and a sea turtle) are artificial reef systems designed by Florida’s South Walton Artificial Reef Association.

The spectacular flight took a different turn north of Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base. A different kind of blue dominated the landscape here—bright blue tarps. My heart sank while flying over this area of Florida that was ravaged by Category 4 Hurricane Michael earlier in October. For as far as I could see across the ground from 3,500 feet msl, entire neighborhoods were damaged. Blue tarps seemed to cover almost every rooftop in sight and trees were stripped bare. In some areas, it looked as if the foundations were all that were left of homes. Just as abruptly as the path of destruction began, it ended before Tallahassee, and lush green trees in the swamps seemed untouched.

The extreme views during the flight—from pristine tourist beaches to cities decimated by natural disaster—displayed the Gulf Coast and its extremes, in a way. The Gulf waters along the shore can be calm and welcoming or fierce and destructive, as so many hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico have proved year after year.

Flying the Super Cub low and slow over an area brings a connection to the communities below that you just can’t get from cruising at high altitudes on an IFR flight plan. I’ll take that any day, even when breathtaking beauty turns to heartbreaking devastation.

  • Flying the AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub along the Gulf Coast at 800 feet provides views of the high-rise condos along the beachfront as well as homes on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
  • The Gulf of Mexico waters change colors along a sharp line.
  • The brilliant greenish waters along the Gulf Coast are a stark contrast to the deep blue waters of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
  • Damage from Hurricane Michael extends for miles north of Tyndall Air Force Base. Entire neighborhoods have blue tarps over house roofs and trees are laid bare.
  • Cheap avgas at Perry-Foley Airport in Perry, Florida, attracts birds of a similar feather: The AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub and a Cub on floats.
  • The South Walton Artificial Reef Associaton's Seahorse Reef at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Taildragger, AOPA Events

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