Flying to Georgia for a Burger and Fries You don't necessarily need to hit the road to spend $100 in gas -- and if you take to the air, you'd be surprised just how far you can go. We hitch a ride with a college professor who flies from Nashville to a regional airport in Georgia to grab a burger.

Flying to Georgia for a Burger and Fries

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This summer we've been sending writers across the country on little trips for a travel series we call A Hundred Buck of Gas.


The only rule, they have to get where they're going and back again on $100 worth of fuel.

CHADWICK: And today we hear from NPR's Audie Cornish, a Boston native, recently relocated to Nashville.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

Now Tennessee borders eight states. A hundred dollars worth of gas could probably take you as far south as Jackson, Mississippi or as far east as Charleston, South Carolina. I'm not from the south, and there's a lot I want to explore. But my new Nashville friend suggested a better way to see the country.

(Soundbite of airplane)

CORNISH: By small plane. $100 worth of fuel is just enough for a day's ride to any number of the regional airport diners popular with amateur pilots. But to be completely honest, I'd never been in a little plane before. Everything I know about flying involves long security lines, minimal leg room, and stingy snack supplies.

When I asked my coworkers for advice on what to expect, most say motion sickness. Enter Pilot Catherine Cavagnaro.

Ms. CATHERINE CAVAGNARO (Pilot): This is Sally. She's a 1973 Piper Cherokee 140, and she's my baby.

CORNISH: Sally is a neat little white plane with cherry-red racing stripes along her body and a matching leather interior. Cavagnaro is the perfect pilot for this kind of mission.

Ms. CAVAGNARO: Clear prop.

(Soundbite of airplane starting up)

CORNISH: She's the head of Math and Science at Sewanee, the University of the South. But more importantly, she's willing to jump on any excuse to fly for fun. She's journeyed across the state for the perfect bagel, and even flies to pick up groceries. And she's an aerobatics pilot, which means she knows how to do spins and tricks like something she called the Zero-G Pushover, which she was kind enough to show me on the way there.

(Soundbite of airplane engine)

CORNISH: Okay, you were exactly right. It felt like a roller coaster.

But that was really the only time my stomach turned a circle. The clouds seemed to hover at the edge of the wings. We're sailing over the glittering, winding Tennessee River and the rolling carpet of green hills into northeast Georgia.

Cavagnaro tells me that piloting a plane is really a series of light-but-steady movements, and I can hardly feel the touchdown at the Winder-Barrow Airport.

(Soundbite of airplane)

CORNISH: We park the plane just a few feet from the doors of the Spitfire Deli. Celia Lockwood, the owner and chef, is ready and waiting to judge our landing.

Ms. CELIA LOCKWOOD (Owner and Chef, The Spitfire Deli): I grade them all. I've seen then belly flop here, forget to put their landing gear down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Lockwood is a British immigrant and former flight attendant who has turned the airport's old lounge into a shrine for the WWII fighter jet it's named after. There are photos of pilots in Spitfire jets. Even the burgers are named for planes.

I'm more than halfway through my P-51 Mustang cheeseburger before I realize that inhaling half a pound of Angus beef might not be a good idea.

Should I not have eaten this, since we're going to go back in the plane?


Still, I'm feeling guilty about this burger. It seems a long and expensive way to go for lunch. But one of Lockwood's regulars, a flight instructor named Paula Cash, assures me that no one who does this kind of thing does it just for the food.

Ms. PAULA CASH (Flight Instructor): You know, people just want to fly. If it costs $100.00 in fuel and aircraft rental, that's okay. It's worth it.

CORNISH: Catherine Cavagnaro is sure she will convince me of the same, that by the end of this trip I will want to learn to fly. She starts by teaching me to fuel up.

Ms. CAVAGNARO: Actually that's perfect.

CORNISH: And then determines I'm ready to guide the plane on takeoff.

(Soundbite of airplane)

Ms. CAVAGNARO: Okay. Now we're looking for center line. Here goes the throttle.

CORNISH: This is not easy. I thrust when I should pull, I turn the yoke when I should tap the pedals, and I feel like the plane is guiding me, not the other way around.

(Soundbite of plane engine)

CORNISH: Oh my God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Okay, we're flying?

I can feel each shift of the wings under my palms, and for a few brief seconds I really feel like a pilot. The blue sky is dwindling into shades of pinks and purple. This is definitely worth a hundred bucks of gas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH Audie Cornish, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ADAMS: Pictures of the Spitfire Deli, the pilot and the Piper Cub she calls Sally at our website,

CHADWICK: And our series, A Hundred Bucks of Gas, continues throughout the summer.

(Soundbite of music)

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