Keep Your Eyes to the Florida Skies

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we write are actually inspired by true events in our Sunshine State. Join me in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes.

Since I write stories full of action-adventure, mystery, and a quirky band of characters who legally steal big airplanes for a living, I thought I’d write about Florida from the perspective of people who fly in our skies. What do pilots and their passengers encounter living in this swampy, beach-lined, and lightning capital of the US, that they might not in other states? I asked that very question of two pilots at the Sun-N-Fun airshow last week.

T-6 Warbird
T-6 Warbird

Thom Richard, who races P-51 Precious Metal in the Reno Air Races and lives in Kissimmee, had a definitely unique Florida tale. He was flying his T-6 Warbird (similar to the one pictured above) to Marco Island at night. When he approached the airport, he was asked to do a low flyby down the runway. For anyone who flies a unique aircraft, this is not an unusual request. Aviation fans love to watch and hear the powerful (and loud) warbird aircraft. But this was at night, in the dark, when no one would be able to see much. He did as directed and executed a low flyby and came back and landed. After he taxied in, he was curious as to why they requested the flyby. Simple. It was the best way to get the twelve-foot saltwater crocodile off the runway! We have more than gators in Florida.

Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal.
Thom Richard, Reno Air Race pilot of P-51 Precious Metal, at Sun-N-Fun 2014.
Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected runways.
Florida Crocs and Gators can be found in the most unexpected places…like runways. (Nile croc photo from Wiki Commons/Leigh Bedford. Gator photo by Will Parks.)

Chuck Gardner works at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Texas, but has many hours in the Florida skies. He flies warbirds like the Stearman biplane (shown below), the T-6, or the famous P-51 Mustang. His favorite time for flying in Florida is March in an open cockpit. That time of year a low level flight over central Florida orchards brings the sweet sweet smell of orange blossoms wafting (rather blowing) into the cockpit. Sure hope he doesn’t have allergies.

Stearman Biplane with the open cockpit makes a great way to smell the orange blossoms in Florida.

On the other hand, Chuck had a number of things were not so great about flying in Florida. There are the afternoon thunderstorms that are accompanied by lightning…lots of lightning. A few years ago a small tornado blew through the Sun-N-Fun airshow at Lakeland, overturning aircraft and tents. No injuries, but a lot of damage and shook-up fans. Mother nature has other very small, very annoying ways to cause problems flying in Florida that every driver here will understand…Love Bugs. Those two little black bugs that are stuck together and airborne. The front end of a car can turn black with bugs stuck to them, and so can the propellors and leading edges of an aircraft. Yuck. BIG, beautiful birds are another claim to fame for the state of Florida. Contact with one in the air or on the ground can cause quite a bit of damage to an aircraft. Chuck said frequently when taxiing out to fly, he has to rev his engines to clear stubborn Sandhill Cranes who refuse to move off the runway.

The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.
The Sandhill Crane can be curious and rather fearless, when it comes to cars and planes.

Last but not least, since I write about extreme characters who steal/repossess airplanes for a living (REPOSSESSED and OUTFOXED), I thought I’d mention that there are several people in Florida who have recently become well-known for a reality TV show on Discovery Channel called Airplane Repo. One of the stars is Mike Kennedy who lives in Orlando. He’d make a great character in a novel. Another is Ken Cage of IRG, who has part of his business, International Recovery & Remarketing Group, at the Orlando Executive Airport. It’s a strange world out there, folks, so pay your bills and they won’t take your airplane back.

Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott on left.
At 2014 Reno Air Races we ran into Airplane Repo star Mike Kennedy and wife (center), Sandy (rt), Test pilot hubby Scott (lt).

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back sometime to read other blog posts on aviation, travel locations, or simply to check out some of the fun photography and crazy stories.


  1. Love the buzzed gator. We took a small plane around Southern Africa a few years ago and thought the sight of the jeeps chasing animals off the air strips before we landed was hysterical … but our pilot never flew low over them.

    1. What I thought was unusual about the buzzing story was the creature was a croc! We don’t have many in Florida. The only croc I’ve seen was down in the Everglades years ago. I’m so jealous about your South Africa trip. Hubby and I have been to SA and at Sun-N-Fun talked with a couple who run a business where you rent a plane and fly yourselves around SA/Botswana/Zimbabwe. We were fascinated and think will try when hubby retires in a few years. There is also a book called Air Vagabonds about ferry pilots before the days of GPS. Had a story about a guy that hit a giraffe while flying low. Got stuck out overnight hiding in the crashed remnants of plane, listening to lions/etc tearing up what was left of the giraffe. Crazy stories.

  2. I enjoyed your post. My husband is a pilot and we lived in Florida 14 years ago. We were at Sun n Fun the year the tornado came through, but we left that morning so we missed the tornado. I will have to read your book, it sounds interesting.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Cecillia. Glad you and your husband missed the tornado excitement that year. Like most aviation enthusiasts, it’s hard not to be interested in anything related to flying. Hope you enjoy Repossessed. I loved writing that book and it won several awards last year. It has some fun quirky characters as well as twists and turns in the plot. The story arose from my hubby, a pilot, who flew with several guys who had repossessed airplanes or had stories to tell about people they knew who had done it. Definitely not a job for the timid. : )

  3. How interesting. I never knew there was such a thing as airplane repossessing. Or even that we had crocs in Florida. Love bugs, yes. We’ve been told to spray the front of our car with Pam when we drive on the highway during love bug season.

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