Sunday, January 16, 2011

The real McCoy

We are at our familiar secret stealth spot in Orlando, Florida (map). We arrived here early yesterday afternoon, because I wanted time to scope out the airport on the scooter in the daylight. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is just a couple miles east of this spot, an easy scooter ride. We are scheduled to pick up our friend Stephanie there this afternoon.

Any time we need to bring the bus into an airport, I need to do a lot of research ahead of time. It is often the case that places where private cars normally go to drop off or pick up passengers are not open to us, either due to overhead clearance, weight limits, or both. Sometimes we've had to use the commercial bus lanes. No matter what we do we almost always end up having a curb-side discussion with airport parking or transportation enforcement officials. Often I call the airport police ahead of time to find out what I should do.

Since I knew we would be parked an easy scooter ride away, I decided this time to do a personal on-site tour first. In addition to scoping out the pickup areas, I wanted to check out the back way into the airport to avoid having to get on the tollway first. The back way involves an airport perimeter road that not only affords excellent views of the west runways, but also takes you past one of Orlando's hidden gems, the B-52 Memorial Park.

It is perhaps little-known to most travelers passing through Orlando International that the airport was once a strategic bomber base, McCoy Air Force Base. This is why the airport code is MCO, and many businesses and other features in the area have McCoy as part of their name. The Air Force is long gone, but one of the bombers formerly stationed here came home to roost. The park is on the airport grounds, and they simply taxied the aircraft into the park after its final flight. It is so well hidden that I don't think even most Orlando residents know about it.

Louise would rather pluck her eyes out than visit an air museum of any kind, so as long as I was by myself I decided to stop. I've seen B-52s up close before (including the musical group, of whom Louise is a big fan), but it is still impressive to stand next to one. The plane is moderate by today's jumbo-jet standards, but there is something about the massive (and weird) landing gear and the way every cubic inch of the plane is consumed by equipment, personnel, or bombs, that makes it interesting, in a Dr. Strangelove kind of way.

A little further along I came to the lone parking lot available to oversize vehicles, the Blue long term lot. I then ended up making four separate loops around Terminal A, wherein I discovered that
  1. The Arrivals level has a weight limit of 13 tons and a height limit of 13'
  2. The Departures level also has a weight limit of 13 tons but is open above
  3. The commercial bus lanes are below the Arrivals level but are gated and require a transponder to enter.
Eventually I found an airport operations official enforcing curb lanes on the arrivals level, and she told me basically to ignore the weight limit (we weigh 24 tons) and that we'd fit without trouble on the arrivals level (it looked higher than 13' to me anyway). I left the airport to the north to scope out bus-friendly dining options for after our pickup.

After all was said and done, we decided to just take Odyssey over to the Blue lot later today and then ride the shuttle in to the terminal. That will avoid the inevitable conflict with the curb-lane Nazis who will either think we are a commercial bus breaking the rules, or else a non-commercial vehicle clearly over the weight limit for the upper decks. Also, we'll be able to enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the many restaurants in the main terminal, one of which is called McCoy's (naturally), without having to worry about navigating and parking the bus after dark. So while I had originally presumed we'd be right back here tonight, instead we will probably just spend the night in the Blue lot.

Tomorrow we'll head down to the marina in Fort Pierce and I will drop the ladies off before retiring for the night, most likely to the Flying-J.


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  2. Love the B-52 shot - and any out-of-the-way opportunity to discover aircraft history.

    I saw the B-52 at the Wright-Patterson museum, and was surprised that seeing it indoors made it almost seem... Well, not small - but not as big as I know it to be. Sean, you'd really appreciate their display: They've specifically placed the plane for good views of the cool landing gear mechanism layout.

  3. Those B-52's make great shady spots for airshows in hot climates. That was the best place to be at shows at Nellis AFB.


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