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What would you do? Sun ’n Fun conundrumWhat would you do? Sun ’n Fun conundrum

Should you leave your airplane to the elements?

The scenario: You and a pilot friend are flying to the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida.
March/April Preflight

It’s the first time to the show for both of you. Both you and the right-seater are fairly new private pilots with about 150 hours of flight time apiece, and you are excited to experience a cross-country from your home airport in North Carolina. You’ll park and camp with the airplane on the Sun ’n Fun grounds—another first. It’s a rental Cessna 172 you’ve both flown, so you plan to trade pilot-in-command responsibilities with your friend.

Watching the weather leading up to the show, you realize that while the weather looks great for your arrival and you have some flexibility on the back end for a departure, there are four or five days in between where thunderstorms are in the forecast—every day.

You recall that occasionally, Florida thunderstorms turn into wilder types of weather, and you’re concerned about camping at Sun ’n Fun with the possibility of strong winds, hail, or worse hanging over the week.

Do you:

  • Cancel the trip. It’s not worth the stress of wondering whether your tents will be blown to kingdom come or the airplane will be damaged.
  • Go. You’ll roll the dice and bring extra-strong tiedowns.
  • Go, but stop short of Lakeland, find an airport where you can hangar the airplane for the week (at a not-insignificant cost), then drive the rest of the way.
  • Go, but find a hotel or a dry place to stay as a back-up.

Rolling the dice

By Jill W. Tallman

Ordinarily I’m crazy conservative, but this time I’m choosing option two. Thunderstorms are a part of flying in Florida. While they can and do turn vicious—think of the derecho that blasted through Sun ’n Fun in 2010, collapsing tents and tossing airplanes—such extreme weather patterns are not routine. So long as I’m flexible on both ends of this trip and not planning to fly in a thunderstorm, I feel good about taking a chance with the rest of the week’s weather. But, I’d also check to see whether the 172’s rental insurance is paid up, and if I’m on the hook for any part of the deductible in the event of storm damage to the airplane.

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Staying dry

By Ian J. Twombly

I love to camp, and there’s nothing quite like camping under the wing of an airplane. But I’m also now old enough that having everything soaked in a bowl of camp soup is less adventure and more annoyance. I’m going with the fourth option. The airplane will most likely be fine. Tens of thousands of people go to fly-ins every year, and weather-related mishaps on the ground are rare. What is guaranteed is that communal showers, Florida sunshine, and fire ants already tamper the zest for camping. Throw some cold water on that and I’d be searching for a warm bed.

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