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.)
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.