Flying To Nowhere Part 4

Author’s note: I have decided to make a random flight with no goals except to fly. This is the final part of my adventure.

I departed Camden on Runway 6 and made a turn due east towards Fairfield County Airport, southwest of Winnsboro. In just a few minutes I came upon Wateree Lake, created in 1919 and one of South Carolina’s oldest man-made lakes. The lake itself was created by damming the Wateree River, named for a native American tribe that had disappeared by the end of the 18th century, victims of the bloody Yamasee War between the settlers and various Indian tribes.

Fairfield County was another airport I had never visited- the closest I had ever been to Winnsboro was as I passed the exit for it while driving to Charlotte from Columbia via Interstate 77. However, I had heard a lot about this airport, primarily its active general aviation population. Once I arrived, I was struck by the number of pilots, instructors, and flight students who seemed to be regularly coming in and out. There was activity on the ramp, in the FBO, on the flight line- easily the busiest of all the airports I had visited today. There was also an incredibly politically-incorrect cartoon on the wall in the Men’s room, picturing a man telling a Vargas-type woman (don’t know the reference? Google “Alberto Vargas”), “The agricultural degree does not qualify you to teach ground school.” Get it? Me either, and I wanted desperately to get some context, but I had an idea that this just might be a delicate area on which to tread.

Winnsboro itself is a small town, with a population of around 3,400. A check of the U.S. Census since 1870 shows that’s about as big as it’s ever been. Like Camden, it is rich in Revolutionary and Civil War history, and its list of notables includes a mixture of Confederate generals, politicians, and sports figures. Winnsboro was also a textile town, and prior to the Civil War, had a majority population of slaves, imported to work the cotton fields. The song “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”, covered by many different artists including folk-singer Pete Seeger, refers to the town’s numerous mills. Also like Camden, it has numerous sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fuel was also very reasonable here and I filled the tanks and decided to blast off to the west, this time for lunch. I had been planning on going to Hickory, NC, since they have a restaurant on the field and it is also where I had purchased our Bichi-Poo a few years earlier as a birthday gift for my wife. But as I was waiting to pay the fuel bill, I perused the bulletin board, as I do as every small airport. If you don’t do this, I’d highly recommend it, because once you get past the TSA reminders to report suspicious activity, you start seeing the ads for airplanes, wanted and for sale, local business cards offering different services (not all aviation related), and aviation community events, past and planned. One of the brochures mentioned a fly-in a few weeks prior to a nearby airport with a restaurant, so I changed my original plan and headed there.

Shelby-Cleveland County (or just plain Shelby County) was 61 miles northwest from Fairfield, by far the day’s longest single leg of the trip, and no longer in South Carolina- I would be flying over the border to our northern cousin. The airplane didn’t care but my mission of collecting my passport stamps was about to come to an end. The Ambassadors Passport Program is a strictly South Carolina deal, but, lunch, right? Nothing wrong with that!

Looking at my chart, I decided that rather than as the crow flies, I would make a small jog to the southwest to stay clear of the Charlotte Class B airspace, not because it was an obstacle but because I had stayed out of everyone’s airspace so far and didn’t want to spoil it now.  I easily circumvented Charlotte’s orbit and soon was landing in Shelby County. As I climbed out of the airplane, I saw a lone figure sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of the FBO. As I approached him, he called out, “I thought you were Ron in that plane.” He stood up, introduced himself, and asked if I had flown in for lunch. I told him about the brochure I had seen in Winnsboro that mentioned a restaurant called “The Flying Pig.” He told me it was a short walk and gave me the directions, then stopped. “Well, hell,” he said, “I’m hungry too. How about I give you a ride and we both eat. You can see how to get there and it’s a short walk back.”

We jumped in his jeep and he gave me the gate code as we left so I could get back in. The restaurant was indeed a short walk away (but not real short) and over some barbeque we talked about flying, especially helicopters, one of which he owned. After lunch, he decided that he may as well return me to where he found me and he dropped me off at the FBO where we said our goodbyes like we were old friends.

And suddenly, I was ready to go home. I had taken my time on this trip, made a lot of stops and talked to a lot of people, but it dawned on me how far I was from my home airport. I filed an IFR flight plan and decided to buy fuel, more as a courtesy than anything else, but also, in the back of my head, I heard the same thing I always told my flight students: the only time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.

And then, in this beautiful FBO building near the Appalachian foothills, I met my last stranger of the day- a young man in his twenties, working at the front desk for the city. Even though the fuel was self-service, he still came out to pump my gas. We did the normal small talk, during which he told me his dream was to learn to fly. He had gotten three hours of instruction in his logbook so far, but he was having a problem finding the time, since he was working two jobs and had a wife and children. Yes, I told him, I knew how that was. I had gone through the same thing, as had most pilots I knew. He smiled and said it was his dream and he’d get it done. Yup, I said, I don’t doubt that you will.

He smiled again, waved, and walked back to his desk. I fired up the Cherokee and taxied out. As I sped down the runway, I saw a small flash of white off the left and realized it was some residual snow from a bit of winter weather in the area a week or so earlier. It was all gone except for that patch. I made my last radio call before switching to Departure to pick up my clearance, and the young attendant thanked me for visiting and invited me to come back soon.

Once I was settled in with ATC and had the autopilot taking care of the flying business, I mused about my day’s adventure. I had traveled across the state by visual flight rules. I hadn’t bothered ATC and instead relied on my charts, GPS, and most importantly, what I could see out the windows. I had met a lot of nice people, seen parts of the state I had never laid eyes on before, and gotten four stamps for my passport. I had flown 350 nautical miles, visited five airports, and would log a total of six landings, including one on a grass strip. I had easily spent $150 on fuel. I looked at my watch and calculated my arrival time at my home airport- just at six pm.