Thursday 24th Feb 2011.

Today was the day that the Space Shuttle was due to launch, so I quickly checked the website to ensure that the launch was a go, and on time. Jens, Andreas and I had asked Mike if we could have early flights, so we could get to see the launch. We had originally planned to be flying when the Shuttle took off, but decided that we couldn’t guarantee that we could all get into the air, so decided to drive as near as possible to the Kennedy Space Center to get the best view.

Tracey had left before I got up, in the hope that she could get her solo hours in before she had to leave for Orlando International and the flight home. It initially appeared that her run of bad luck had continued, as she came back to the house to collect some study information, when her original early start had to be postponed due to fog. Fortunately, she did get into the air about an hour later, when the weather cleared, and managed a sizeable chunk of hours before landing to go home. I bumped into her in the EASA reception, and she was in much better spirits than yesterday, having got her time in. She wished me luck with the rest of my course, before she left for Ireland.

The winds today were much kinder than yesterday; in fact the METAR reported zero wind with zero direction, i.e. calm. I was hoping my landings would be better in these conditions than the previous gusty conditions, but it looked at one stage as though I would not be finding out. With the Shuttle launch later today, there was a 40 mile no fly area around the Space Center, so it appeared that everyone and their dog was flying around Ormond (which was just outside the no-fly zone). When I called the Tower for permission to taxi for T&G’s I was told that the circuit was too busy for us. I suggested to Mike that we fly up to Flagler to try there; he thought it may have the same problem, but we decided to give this a try. However, when we taxied to the Runway, we found ourselves behind a line of another 5 aircraft, which were having difficulty getting off the ground, as so many others were in the circuit and landing. A further 5 or so aircraft lined up behind us, and we must have waited a good twenty minutes before we were cleared for take-off.  I started lining us up to fly to Flagler, and Mike asked what I was doing, as he had misheard me when we had discussed aborting the trip to Flagler whilst on the ground at the hold position. I had also not heard him inform the Tower that we would just do a circuit and land. We requested a T&G again from the Tower, and as several aircraft had left the pattern, this was granted to us. In fact, we managed four T&G’s before the end of the lesson, and as hoped, they were much better than previous days, probably because of the calmer winds, but also due to the practice I was getting.

After landing, I had lunch in the ‘Slip&Turn’ Inn whilst we waited for Jens to complete his lesson. Once he was back on the ground, Jens, Andreas and I set off for Kennedy. We had decided that time was against us getting too close to the Space Center, so drove down US Highway 1, and one of the lesser used roads to the Space Center. This took us through a nature reserve, and allowed us to get within about 10 miles of the launch site, before the road was closed. We parked near a bridge over an inlet that we thought would give us a better view from this slightly elevated position. With Bike Week approaching in Daytona, there was a fantastic range of Bikes and Riders that came past us on the bridge, obviously with the same idea we had.

Initially, I couldn’t see the Space Shuttle, so I asked couple where we should be looking. They pointed out the general direction, but told us me wouldn’t be able to see the Shuttle with the naked eye, due to the heat haze. However the lady loaned me her binoculars, and there in front of me was the Shuttle, Discovery! The launch time fast approached, and apart from a few minutes delay just prior to the expected launch time, Discovery set off in a blaze of fire and smoke. My photos of the event don’t really capture the magic of the launch; it was truly an amazing spectacle to witness.

After this, we headed back into Daytona Beach for a bite to eat at the Johnny Rocket American Diner (a burger bar that Jens and Andreas had previously found).  During our meal, I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from my Daughter Claire, as it was after midnight UK time. I had been texting all the family on the way to the launch, and afterwards, letting them know what a great time I was having, and Claire just wanted to know more about it. She was also having difficulty relaxing and sleeping, as she moves into her new home tomorrow, and excitement is getting the better of her!