Georgia was my birthplace for flying. I cut my teeth piloting a little Alarus out of DeKalb-Peachtree airport in northeast Atlanta (PDK), and that was home base for 15 years. I set a goal of landing at every public-use airport in the state, and dang near got most of them, even if it was just a touch and go. Over that time I learned a thing or two about flying in the South.
1. The Weather is Fine Year ‘Round.
You really can count on flying pretty much all year in Georgia. There are very few winter days that are so cold that you need to preheat the engine… and heck, if it’s that cold once you do preheat, you can count on crystal clear skies and the awesome performance of super-dense air. It will certainly have warmed up by the time you stop for lunch. The summer does get hot, but that’s all the more reason to get some altitude twixt you and the ground to cool off some. Plan to finish your day before the afternoon thunderstorms attack and you’ll be right as rain.
2. From the Mountains to the Sea.
The scenery in Georgia is more dazzling than people expect. There’s nothing better than climbing into a blue October sky to circle Brasstown Bald (the highest point in the state at 4,783 feet), admire the fall colors and waggle your wings at the ground huggers who hiked – or drove! – to the top. At the other end of the state there’s the low country, with the Atlantic Ocean surging against the coast and the Savannah, Altamaha and Saltilla river outlets creating verdant, sandy barrier islands to explore. With airports at Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Brunswick and Savannah, you can park your plane and have a fancy meal or be swimming in the ocean in minutes.
3. You Really Can Fly VFR through Atlanta Airspace.
Most folks think the Class B airspace around Atlanta is best avoided. And rightly, if you are on a long cross country and just passing through, you’re better off keeping your distance. But with many public airports all around the city, the guys and gals at Atlanta Approach can be very accommodating with your route. The magic words are “over the top.” If you’re trying to go north to south, or south to north, and Hartsfield is right in your way, just call up Atlanta Approach and ask for it. You’ll get it more than half the time, and you’ll have a bird’s eye view of ATL and the downtown at 4500 or 5500 feet.
4. You Can Feel Good About Flying and Helping Others.
PDK in Atlanta is the home of Angel Flight Soars, the southeast regional Angel Flight organization. With two Children’s Hospital of Atlanta facilities in town, a specialty cancer center at Carrolton, a burn center at Augusta, and a number of other great treatment centers in the region, Angel Flight organizes an average of nine missions per day, 365 days a year. In 2018, volunteer pilots flew over 3,300 missions… talk about getting your (angel’s) wings! If you fancy four-legged friends, Pilots-n-Paws has plenty of missions to rescue shelter animals and transport them to a new “fur-ever” home. Since the South has a large pet over-breeding problem, these treks often start in Georgia – or nearby – and head north, often with two or more flight-legs involved. Both organizations are 501(c)(3) certified so you can deduct the transportation costs… your avgas just got a little cheaper!
5. You Can Be IMC on a VFR Day.
Georgia has pine trees… lots and lots of pine trees. Also oaks and birches and grass and weeds and all sorts of pollen-producing organisms. And it seems like for at least a week each year, usually in April, these all conspire to release their spores into the air at the same time, casting a yellow fog over the region. This is especially true over Atlanta, which is made worse by the exhaust of hundreds of thousands of vehicles. All of which to say, I have taken off on a crystal clear morning, and within an hour seen visibility drop so far that PDK Tower started requiring ILS approaches. And oh what fun it is to descend into that amber soup, and pray that you have some Claritin in your flight bag.
6. The $150 Hamburger?
Georgia is a great state for flying, but one thing it sorely lacks is a wealth of airport restaurants. One of the best is right at PDK (The Downwind Restaurant) but if that’s your home-drome, then it becomes a standard $10 hamburger. What fun is that? If you’ve got a taildragger or a taste for adventure, you can fly to Peach State Aerodrome (GA2), a sporty turf strip south of Atlanta that requires good short field landing technique and high ground clearance. The reward is Barnstormers Grill, a juicy burger and a seat right on the runway to watch those other pilots slipping in over the trees.
But if you want to log some time enroute to filling your stomach, there are good options just across state lines. Greenville Downtown (KGMU) has the Runway Café. Eufala, Alabama (KEUF), has the Airport Restaurant & Lounge. And 30 minutes into Florida at Flagler Executive (KFIN) there is High Jackers. So the price of that $100 hamburger just went up a bit, but on the other hand, there’s more time in your logbook.
Okay, maybe not unique to Georgia, but this is where I learned to love clouds in all their varieties. In the spring, stratus layers along a low pressure front hug the ground at just above low-IFR altitudes, making it easy to maintain approach currency. And what a joy it is to break out above a thin inversion layer in the fall to spectacular blue sky and sunshine. But the most fun is summer, when big puffy cumulus clouds form towers in the sky and beg for pilots to make turns around and through their cotton canyons. At sunset, those white cauliflower forms catch the violet, pink and orange of the setting sun, a roiling explosion of Mother Nature’s beauty.
8. Southern Hospitality is Alive and Well.
Even with all the benefits noted above, the best part about flying in Georgia is visiting all the little airports that dot the state. You may come for the cheap self-serve fuel, but you will soon strike up a conversation with the FBO attendant who is either a grizzled old-timer full of hangar stories, or an eager young local who yearns to build a career in aviation. Either way, there will likely be big rocking chairs on the porch, cool shade on a sunny day, and a front row seat to watch that next pilot landing to join you and sit a spell. It’s what flying in the South is all about.
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