Kentucky Bourbon Trail Proves Worthy of a Flying Adventure

Toward the end of the trip, it was a fun challenge to thread the decision-making needle.

Although the captain had uttered more than a handful of expletives to express his dissatisfaction, the translation of his communication to me and the flight engineer was, “You gotta be kidding!” His remark was a reaction to the fact we had just been advised over the company frequency that cargo loaded on board our brown-and-white Boeing 727-100 in Louisville, Kentucky (KSDF), had been destined for Jackson, Mississippi (KJAN). Unfortunately, our airplane had been flight planned for Jacksonville, Florida (KJAX). Yours truly had unknowingly crunched the provided weight-and-balance numbers for the wrong cargo using the infamous “whiz wheel.”

Having never departed the UPS ramp, we shut down the three engines that had just been started. We waited for the just-out-of-college loading supervisor with the clipboard and stopwatch to climb up the portable airstairs/scaffolding.


The captain was incredulous that the young man had to be convinced of the fact our flight couldn’t just get off the highway at another exit without replanning and recalculating. (Jackson, Jacksonville…same thing, apparently.) My employer at the time was Evergreen International Airlines, one of the contract carriers flying UPS freight when the shipping company was in its aviation infancy.

So when my wife expressed an interest in flying our airplane to Louisville for a Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, the above described 40-year-old memory evoked a snicker and a smile. I had survived that employment and gained invaluable experience that assisted in launching an enviable career with my dream airline. My only exposure to Louisville had been a nearby Holiday Inn and a pilot operations trailer on the UPS ramp in the darkness of night.

Our excursion more recently began with a visit to Greenwood, South Carolina (KGRD). The group of pilots and their wives who had conquered Iceland the year prior converged on Mike and Christa’s new lake house for a few days of water fun. We departed from separate Florida airports in separate airplanes with the goal of arriving at the same time. And thus began the process of threading the decision needle.

With Florida’s typical August spawning convective weather by early afternoon, it didn’t take much convincing that a morning departure was mandatory. Although my friend, Scott Roze, a retired colleague, wanted to coordinate departures in his Piper Dakota so that my wife and I arrived at KGRD via our Piper Arrow at the same time, it wasn’t one of my concerns.

Fortunately, Scott gathered his group for an earlier-than-planned wheels-up time that allowed them to avoid a band of convective weather rolling through the Jacksonville area. Despite his thousands of hours in all types of airplanes, Scott considers the Dakota and himself a VFR-only operation. Since retiring from the airline, he hasn’t maintained instrument proficiency to his satisfaction. Although I chide him about being a “Boy Scout” for following rules, I respect and admire him.

After our lake visit, my wife and I departed Greenwood for Louisville’s Bowman Field (KLOU). The 2-hour, 15-minute flight seemed simple enough for planning a direct routing, but a closer look revealed the Great Smoky Mountains as a terrain threat. Although the maximum sector elevation was 7,000 feet, it would be bad marital policy to subject my wife to potential orographic turbulence. To avoid such pain, I filed for a jog in the route farther to the south, nearer the lower elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In my former life, the mountains in South America, Latin America, and the U.S. required us to be situationally aware and vigilant of the terrain threat. In addition to our training, the airline designated certain areas of the world with specific alternate routing over mountainous terrain for an emergency or depressurization event.

Specific terrain-affected airports were also designated, requiring us to review idiosyncrasies in procedures, arrivals, and departures prior to our trip. In addition, some airports required a check airman to be on a captain’s initial flight. A 90-day currency was also a requirement. Tegucigalpa (MHTG) in Honduras is a good example.

Fortunately, our trek across the Smokies was accomplished with nary a bump. Aside from a handful of vectors through some cumulus attempting to go nimbus, our late morning arrival into Bowman Field was seamless. As fate would have it, the Uber driver was a flight instructor and airplane owner who had been encouraging his son to fulfill his airline pilot aspirations.

We kicked off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with a tour of the Angel’s Envy Distillery, an easy walk from our boutique hotel. The tour became a valuable template for the remainder of the trip, imparting to us the necessary skill to properly taste bourbon.

It would have been un-American to not visit the racetrack at Churchill Downs, or not to tour the city, so we accomplished both the following day. After the Louisville visit and a couple more distillery tours, the next day’s plan was to return our rental car and fly 15 minutes to Bardstown, Kentucky (KBRY), where numerous distilleries and much cheaper 100LL was located.

Mother Nature decided to play her own cards with a line of convective weather. Although beating the thunderstorms was not out of the question, it seemed the right time for discretion to be the better part of valor. Keeping the rental car, we humbled ourselves with a 40-minute drive to Bardstown.

Maintaining the long-standing tradition of cheap airline pilot, I awoke just before dawn and returned the rental car to Louisville. With thanks to my new friends at Bowman’s Executive Aviation, the Arrow was rolled out of a hangar for my short trip to Bardstown. I arrived through a thin, translucent cloud layer, reflecting later that maybe the RNAV (GPS) approach should have been requested despite the field technically reporting VFR conditions.

Tom, the affable Bardstown airport manager, greeted me with fueling assistance and our new rental car delivered right to the airplane at the tie-down spot. My wife had claimed never to have set foot in Kentucky, but we simultaneously had a déjà vu moment after entering a local restaurant for lunch. A later glance in the airplane logbook revealed a KBRY entry. Apparently, we had made a fuel/lunch stop at the airport six years ago when we brought the airplane home from Amarillo, Texas, shortly after its purchase.

After three days of touring the town and distilleries, we departed for home at sunrise in order to beat the usual Florida convective weather in the afternoon. Despite the capability to complete a four-hour flight with full wing tanks, my abundance of caution and our personal bladders don’t allow for such an operation. As it was, we had to thread the needle around a thin line of building convective weather that ForeFlight had displayed before departure. The technique of “looking into the light” got us through the line without a bump.

Aside from the typical frequency congestion through the Jacksonville area and the usual dive from the last assigned altitude, we arrived at Flagler, Florida (KFIN), no worse for the wear. It was a fun challenge to thread the decision needle, notwithstanding great memories and a newly stocked liquor closet.

This column first appeared in the November 2023/Issue 943 of FLYING’s print edition.


New to Flying?


Already have an account?