By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 7 – Clearwater to Ocean Isle, NC

We’re on our way back to Ithaca.

When we checked the weather this morning, it looked reasonable, except for a cold front right across the Florida peninsula, about halfway between Tampa and Jacksonville. Still, all the airports in the area were reporting VFR, so we decided to give it a try. With a narrow band like that, you can always turn around, or if it’s just raining, you’ll be out of it in a short period of time.

We loaded up N46493, dropped off the rental car, and said goodbye to the folks at Clearwater Airpark. The ceilings weren’t too bad, and Tampa cleared us into the Class B as soon as we called them after taking off. They warned us about moderate to strong precipitation about sixty miles north, but we could see a long way and the horizon was clear, so we pressed on.

Further north, the Garmin Pilot radar display on the iPad started showing precipitation ahead. Mostly green, but some areas of yellow and orange and even “Danger Will Robinson!” red.

However, we still could see perfectly well out the window, and trusting our eyes more than electronics, we continued northward. Before long, we hit the precipitation. How bad was it? Let me put it this way – if I were standing out in it, I wouldn’t have bothered to put on my raincoat. Light drizzle at best, and over in a minute or two. Complete non-event, proving it pays to go look, as long as you leave yourself an out.

By the time we hit Gainesville (KGNV), there was a low deck of scattered clouds, but not much more.

The deck got thicker, but still broken, so as we neared the Georgia Coast we dropped through a gap to fly on under the clouds at about 1,800 feet.

Our planned lunch stop was a the halfway point, Saint Simons Island on the coast of Georgia. The mudflats in that area have really interesting patterns of meandering streams…

After crossing over St. Simons Sound, we were on final for Runway 4 at KSSI.

St. Simons had been written up in the AOPA newsletter as a fly-in destination a few months ago, because of this:

That’s Southern Soul Barbeque, a short walk from the FBO. It’s not very flashy, and we’d have walked past it – but for the smell of barbeque wafting from the smokers next to the unprepossessing building. It was everything the article said it was. The pulled pork sandwiches were great. If you’re in the area, this is a good place to stop.

After we took off from KSSI, the ceiling started dropping as we climbed and headed up the coast. We were clear beneath at 600′ or below, but what had been a broken deck had become fairly solid. The visibility was still pretty good, though. Our destination was reporting clear skies, so if we could get above the thin layer, it would be VFR all the way, so while I plugged along, Jerry called Jacksonville to see if he could file IFR to climb through the deck. By the time Jacksonville got back to us, though, the ceiling had lifted up to at least 1,800 feet with good visibility under, so we let it go and I continued flying.

Blue sky appeared as we passed Tybee Island, Georgia, and it was clear and beautiful from then on.

This is the Tybee Island bridge

A boat winds through the channels in the mudflats on Fripp Island, South Carolina.

I guess it was low tide – the road to these houses stands out against the mud flats.

All of these houses have boathouses on a channel – but it looks like they need incredibly long walkways to get to them.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, where the Civil War started 154 years ago this month.

After passing Charleston, we turned a little to follow the Intracoastal Waterway for a while

We headed back offshore as we approached Myrtle Beach, so as to stay out of the mix of airspaces. Myrtle Beach Approach was very accommodating about clearing us through the Class C and Class D areas just inshore, as long as we stayed off the beach (but within gliding range of shore – no floats on 493!).

A few miles north of Grand Strand Airport (North Myrtle Beach), we switched over to 122.9, and soon we were on final for Runway 6 at Odell Williamson Airport in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.


My college roommate picked us up at the airport as we finished fueling the Cessna, and we’ll be staying the night with him and his wife. Tomorrow morning, we’re off on the last leg of the trip, back to Ithaca – assuming there isn’t a blizzard going on up there. One could get used to this warm weather…

{- Back to Sun’n Fun Report | Ahead to Day 8: Back home! -}


Aerostar to the Dominican Republic – Update

Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes!  Our trip to the Dominican Republic ended on Saturday April 18, we flew successfully flew back to Florida and then back north on Monday April 20th.  However, on that weekend I managed to contract “Dominican Revenge”, so this past week wasn’t all that much fun, but now that I’m feeling much better. This is a catch-up post and summary of the end of our trip.

The last  we posted, we were near Santiago, DR in the center of the country.  We then flew to Monte Christi (MDMC) in the northwest corner of the DR near the Haitian border. Monte Christi is a general aviation airport with a 3500′ runway along with a modest ramp, no fuel and very quiet.  Until we all showed up. Twelve planes and nearly 30 people created a LOT of activity for this little community.

Monte Christi is a semi arid beach community with “El Moro”, a mountain rising right out of the ocean just at the coast.  We flew in from the eastern side of this photo.  The airport is in the mid-right with the town behind it.  The smoke at the top is from fires burning to clear the sugar cane fields.

For our twelve airplanes,  the Dominicans set up a temporary tower, brought in customs and immigration for our departure (more on that later) and met us warmly.


Our Aerostar along with three single engine turboprops — very nice company!


15-LFB_4428As we all know, pilots are from all walks of life and create a small world.  And Ithaca is unique because of all our connections throughout the world. One of our group owns this beautiful TBM 700 turboprop.  The owner is from Ithaca — David Hill is the son of Carm Hill, a long-time Ithacan.  He didn’t learn to fly here, but he did learn how to put a plane right where he wants it.  Right On the numbers!

Another fascinating story within our little band is who this airport is named for.  2-LFB_4708The older gentlemen at the left is Osvaldo Virgil. He is the first Dominican baseball player to play in the major leagues.  Beside him is his son, Ozzie.  He also played in the major leagues, lives in Arizona and flies a C210 although he flew out with his agent who has an Aztec.  Ozzie, the elder, grew up in Monte Christi and lives there now.  And to honor him, the field is call “Aeropuerto Osvaldo Virgil”  So we all got “very” first class treatment!

14-LFB_4474More about the airport.  Depending on where you look it’s listed from 2600′ long up to 3500′.  It’s actually closer to 3500′, but has the unusual feature of having a good size hup about 2/3rds of the way down runway 5.  I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the hump till we were on a mangrove tour on the water.  From the water, the hump takes on a whole new meaning!  Fortunately, the wind blows quite hard there most days favoring runway 5.  All of us stopped well before we got to the top of the hill.

After a couple of wonderful days relaxing, visiting a banana plantation and local salt works, it was time to head back to the US.  We got back to the airport expecting to do a quick immigration and customs exit and depart.  But our new friends had a surprise for us. Every official from that part of the Dominican Republic showed up to wish us well and thank us for coming!  What was supposed to be a 9am departure turned out to be nearly 10:30am.

So finally aftFlightaware Poster saying our goodbyes to all, we headed back out over the Caribbean.  For us, we were headed to Tamiami FL, (KTMB) to clear customs and then over to Naples.  We had learned that although the Dominicans required a hard copy international flight plan and they filed them, they  probably wouldn’t get  the departure times correct.  So none of them were active.  A number of us anticipated this (thanks Jim), and had filed electronic flight plans from teh Bahamas with an airborne pickup. So that’s why Flightaware doesn’t show our departure airport as Monte Christi.  And it slightly confused our friends at Customs.

We spent the weekend with Jim and Connie Wells in Naples, FL and flew non-stop from there back to KITH on Monday in 4:11 averaging 271 knots.  Makes up (a bit) for the slow slog down there the previous week.

This trip is very doable in just about any airplane.  Yes, for slower aircraft, it takes longer and there will likely be more fuel stops.  But with planning and making the time available can make it all work out very well.  LFB_4273Doing escorted trips with Jim Parkertakes a lot of the logistical hassles out of the planning and makes for an opportunity to meet other pilots from all around the country.


By Skyhawk to Florida – Sun’n Fun

Greetings from Lakeland, Florida!

Our week at the Sun’n Fun fly-in is over, and before Jerry and N46493 and I head back tomorrow morning (knock on wood), I thought I’d post a report and some pictures to the blog. In case you weren’t aware, you can click on any of the photographs to get a larger size version.

If you haven’t been to Sun’n Fun, it can be really overwhelming at first. The event covers a huge area – basically the entire south half of Lakeland Linder Airport (KLAL). There are permanent buildings, like the Florida Air Museum and Central Florida Academy of Aeronautics, which are used during Sun’n Fun, as well as dozens of large tents and hangars, and small buildings put up by organizations like EAA, the 99’s, and so on.

There are forums of all sorts, put on by Sun’n Fun itself, as well as by EAA and AOPA and the FAA. Jerry and I went to several by Ron Machado at the AOPA tent – if you haven’t heard him talk, look up his YouTube videos. They’re very funny, and very useful, full of tips on how to fly and do it safely.

There are hands-on workshops on all sorts of topics from avionics to fabric covering to riveting – in the EAA tent they were building a Onex, and visitors were invited to drive a rivet or two to help the project along.

Most, if not all, of the General Aviation and Experimental manufacturers were there, showing off their latest products. This is the new SubSonex jet from Sonex, which gave flying demonstrations a few days.

You could buy rides in a helicopter, or a biplane, or Ford Tri-Motor, or a B-17 bomber.

Paradise City, on the south end of the fly-in, is reserved for ultralights and light sport aircraft. They fly off a grass strip all day, demonstrating the latest in kits and light sports. This is an Apollo gyroplane.

Many people flew in, and the more interesting airplanes were parked in exhibition areas for classics and vintage craft, arranged by brand or age. This is a very rare Fairchild 71.

Every day there’s an airshow from 2:00 to 5:30. The show often starts with warbird fly-by’s. This is a B-25 Mitchell bomber.

An F4U Corsair – remember “Baa Baa Black Sheep”?

A P-51 Mustang – Lee Lauderback’s “Crazy Horse 2”.

Another P-51 and a P-40 Warhawk.

A pair of T-34 Mentor trainers

The Warbirds class is not just WWII airplanes. Jet aircraft are appearing at shows, as well. This is an F-86 Saber, Korean War vintage, flown by Doug Matthews.

A T-33 jet, the trainer variant of the F-80 Shooting Star, flown by Greg Colyer.

There were many top-named aerobatic performers doing solo acts. Here, Greg Koontz demonstrates the capability of the Super Decathlon – a variant of the club’s Citabria. Kids, don’t try this at East Hill…

Jim Peitz performed his routine in a Beechcraft Bonanza.

Jerry “Jive” Kirby in an RV-8:

Kyle Franklin’s custom Demon 1 biplane, “Dracula”.KyleFranklin-Dracula_4543

Matt Younkin in a twin-engine Beech 19.

Patty Wagstaff cut a ribbon over the runway, upside down

Rob Holland’s MXS airplane has so much power, he can pull up vertically, and then hang on the prop, remaining motionless.


Skip Stewart in his modified Pitts biplane, “Prometheus”

Then there are the precision flying teams.

The Breitling Jet Team was at Sun’n Fun to kick off their first American tour. They fly L-39 Albatross jets, and they’re incredibly smooth in their routines.

Rob Holland, Matt Chapman and Bill Stein flew formations as the 4CE team (pronounced “Fource”). That’s an MXS, CAP580 and an Edge 540.

In a great display of formation aerobatics between wildly different airplanes, Gary Rower and Buck Roetman performed in a Stearman and a Pitts.

The GEICO Skytypers fly SNJ-2 Navy trainers from the Second World War – and very well, indeed.

Finally, the ultimate in precision formation teams, the Air Force Thunderbirds in their F-16 jets:

The Mirror Pass, cockpit to cockpit…

… and the other way up, just for variety…

Two of the days, Wednesday and Saturday, ended with evening airshows. The evening shows started at dusk with the Aeroshell team in their AT-6 trainers, equipped with LED lights and smoke:

Dan Buchanan carried an incredible amount of pyrotechnics on his powered hang glider.

I think the most beautiful performance was Manfred Radius, who flew his sailplane with pyrotechnics on the wingtips. Silent flight to the sound of classical music…

By far the most spectacular performance was by Gene Soucy, flying his Grumman Ag Cat:

Watch this space tomorrow (I hope), as we resume the flight…
{-Back to Day 6: Texarkana to Clearwater | Ahead to Day 7 Clearwater to North Carolina -}

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 6 – Texarkana to Florida

After a long – and sometimes frustrating – day, we’ve made it to Florida.

The weather this morning in Texarkana was beautiful, and the forecast was for the rain which was over north Florida and Georgia to have moved offshore by the time we arrived late in the day. So, with our fingers crossed, we took off from KTXK bright and early.

This is the Red River in Arkansas – the cut-off oxbow bend is now called “Cypress City Lake”.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Looks like static electricity on a grand scale…1244-LA-trails

After an hour or so, we crossed the Mississippi – unlike my first crossing last week, the River was in full Big Muddy mode, complete with towboats. 1256-Mississippi

This is a tributary of the Mississippi, with farms on each bank. 1261-MS-riverfarms

I’d seen a post on the AOPA Members facebook group from the FBO at Monroe County, Alabama (KMVC), inviting people flying to Sun’n’Fun to stop in for a free buffet meal. As it turned out, KMVC was almost exactly half way between Texarkana and Clearwater, so it made a perfect stop for fuel and food. About three hours after taking off, we were on final for runway 21, KMVC.

Everyone at Monroe County was as friendly as can be – the guy on the line even pumped our fuel at the self-service fuel pump. We fueled next to another airplane (a Cherokee) headed to Sun’n’Fun, then we all went into the FBO for food.1278-AL-KMVC

It was still a bit early for lunch, so they had a breakfast buffet – sausages, corn bread, grits (of course), sausage-and-egg-biscuits, coffee and other drinks, even popcorn… 1279-AL-KMVC-buffet

We filled up, then sat around talking flying while we watched the weather on our tablets or smartphones – the storms moving in from the Gulf of Mexico hadn’t moved on as predicted. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse. We waited, and watched, until it looked like there was a route along the back side, if we headed more directly south and then east. The problem is that most of the Gulf coast around there, and many miles inland, are all restricted areas and military operations areas (MOA’s). We found that we could take a corridor from KMVC to Logan (1A4), Tri County (1J0), and Mariana (KMAI), then south to Talahassee (KTLH) which avoids the various airspaces. We decided to go ahead for an hour, which would take us to KMAI, and see how things looked. If the weather wasn’t good ahead, we’d land there. If not, we’d go on to Talahassee and see how it was there, and so on.

As it turned out, we started to get light rain around Talahassee, but the visibility was still good, so we decided to press onward to Perry-Foley (40J). About ten miles from 40J the ceiling began to drop and the rain strengthened. We decided to land and wait it out – along with about eight other airplanes, as it turned out. 1285-FL-PerryFoley-40J

Perry-Foley is another very friendly FBO, with a nice airport dog and a good facility for just sitting around in. So we did, for several hours. I read some magazines, petted the dog, talked flying, checked the weather, autographed the Sun’n’Fun poster on the wall… Finally, a little after 5:00 the weather broke and we got back in the air.

The route to Clearwater runs along the Gulf Coast. The weather wasn’t bad as we went along, and you could see clearing to the west.

To the east, most of the land is pine scrub or mud flats with interesting channels. 1300-FL-mudflats

As we neared Clearwater, it turned out that the storms had moved on – but they’d left behind a low deck of broken clouds at about 800-1,200 feet. We threaded our way through the clouds and the busy workspace (talking to Tampa Approach along the way), until we arrived at KCLW – and for a miracle, the deck broke enough to make our landing uneventful at last.

For an extra eight dollars a night, they offered an open-sided hangar for 493, which I decided was worth it. The Cessna’s done a fine job, and earned a week in the shade.1318-FL-KCLW-493

We’re off to Sun’n’Fun tomorrow morning, and all week. If everything works well with the weather (and when does that happen?) we will be back in the air a week from today. As ever, watch this space…

<- Back to Day 5: Santa Fe to Texarkana | Ahead to Sun’n Fun Report ->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 5 – Santa Fe to Texarkana

Today’s weather in Santa Fe was picture perfect – clear blue cloudless skies – albeit with a very strong north wind. We dropped off the rental car and were in the air by 9:00 Mountain Time. We climbed to about 8,100 feet to clear the hills southeast of Santa Fe – once you’ve made it over those ridges, it’s downhill all the way to Florida.

This is a map of our route for the day, courtesy of CloudAhoy, which I had running on the iPad to log the trip. With slight jogs to fit in waypoints at roughly 65-100 mile intervals, we headed basically east southeast for the entire day, crossing from New Mexico into the Texas panhandle, then following the Texas-Oklahoma border most of the day, dropping back into Texas for a while, then finishing up at Texarkana, Arkansas.

Once you leave the hills around Santa Fe, Eastern New Mexico is essentially flat, brown and mostly uninhabited. Roads ramble here and there, for all appearances purposeless. Surely there was a reason for these tracks to follow the paths they did – but what? Something to ponder as the miles slip by under your wings. 1185-NM-roads

At the perhaps ironically named town of Happy, Texas, there is a huge feedlot. A billion Big Macs on the hoof – I’d guess it’s not all that happy for them.1196-TX-feedlot-HappyTX

Once into Texas the land becomes much greener and more intensively farmed. At this point, some ranch roads approach and cross the wonderfully named “Prarie Dog Town Branch of the Red River”.

As we progressed east, the winds got stronger – much stronger. Every airport we passed was reporting in the mid-to-high 20knot range, with gusts into the mid-to-high 30’s. We had originally planned to stop off for fuel at Memphis (Texas, not the famous one), but it turned out that they don’t have it. So, we switched to landing at Childress, Texas (KCDS), about 3 hours after leaving Santa Fe. The KCDS ASOS automated weather reported 330 degrees at 24, gusting 32, but they have a runway 36 so I decided to go for it. My landing wasn’t bad, but taxiing with a 30+ knot wind can be really interesting. The Cessna really didn’t want to turn at some points as we taxied to the fuel pump. Fortunately, it was a credit card self-serve pump, since the FBO was closed. 1208-TX-Childress-KCDS

There were tumbleweeds tumbling across the taxiways – I stopped to let this one go by…1214-TX-KCDS-tumbleweed

We had wanted to grab lunch at Childress, but it was not to be. The airport has a courtesy car (like Hamilton, it’s a former police car), but with the FBO closed there was no one to give us the keys. There was no way to get into town, about two miles away, other than walking. Not that two miles is such a big deal, but we didn’t want to waste more than an hour getting there and back, plus the delay in eating. So, we taxied back to Runway 36 and took off – with a 30+ knot wind down the runway, old 46493 felt like a STOL 172. We were halfway to takeoff speed before starting the roll!

We continued to follow the Red River, Oklahoma on one side, Texas on the other. From this picture, it’s clear why it’s the “Red” river…

Having passed Memphis-not-in-Tennessee, we continued on to pass Chattanooga – also not in Tennessee. This one is in Oklahoma.

That sort of thing isn’t really unusual. As land played out in the East, settlers would move west and establish new communities named after the ones they had left. You can find strings of similar names across the country – think of Ithaca, New York, and Ithaca, Michigan (or Lansing, in both states), Rochester, New York and Minnesota, and so on.

Clouds began to gather as we left Childress. The further east we went, the lower the clouds, until we were down at about 3,200 feet, here at Texoma Lake.

At three hours, fifteen minutes, after leaving Childress, we were on a right base for Runway 22 at Texarkana, Arkansas (KTXK).

The folks at the TACAir FBO couldn’t have been nicer. They arranged to fuel and tie 46493 down for the night, then arranged for a hotel room and rental car for us, both at a discounted rate.

As it turned out, we landed just in time. As we drove up to the hotel, only four miles from the airport, it started to rain and a thunderhead appeared, with active lightning for a few minutes.

If everything works as planned (and when does that happen?) tomorrow afternoon we’ll be in Clearwater, Florida (KCLW). Texarkana is almost exactly halfway from Santa Fe to Clearwater, so if the weather continues to blow off to the east we should be able to make it in six or seven hours. We’ll see – as ever, watch this space!

<- Back to Day 4: Mack to Santa Fe  | Ahead to Day 6 : Texarkana to Florida->

By Skyhawk to Florida – Day 4 – On the way to Sun’n Fun!

The weather in western Colorado (that’s western Colorado as in “it’s always sunny in Fruita”) has been utterly wretched for the last three days. We’ve had snow, and rain, and this morning when I woke up you couldn’t see across the street for the fog. It took until noon before the clouds lifted enough that we could get out of Mack Mesa.

My plan for the first day of the second leg of the trip was to head south from Mack Mesa to Gunnison, climbing to about 12,500 feet to cross at Marshall Pass. Then, descend to Pueblo, Colorado for breakfast and fuel, and on to Liberal, Kansas for a half day at the Air Museum. But, this is one of my trips west, so…

Greetings from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As I’d said, it took until noon for the clouds to lift, but they didn’t lift anywhere near enough to allow crossing the Rockies at any of the available passes. The clouds were at or below mountain level both north and south of the valley that Mack’s in, and the highest ceilings along the original route were well below the passes. So, we replanned the trip to head west to Utah, then turn left and follow the valleys down to Santa Fe. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible to do that route at no higher than 7,800 feet. Once the ceilings along the way got higher than that, we were off.

The sun broke out as we neared the Utah state line, following the Colorado River as it wound its way.

Note the railroad train, paralleling the road, paralleling the river… not too many flat spots to put a transportation system in those narrow canyons…

The valley opens up as you enter Utah, and the ceiling lifted and became much more broken, too.

This is Fisher’s Towers, a well-known photography spot not far from Moab.1132-UT-FisherTowers

Moab is just over the ridge, through the pass ahead. We dodged the clouds, and went past Castleton Tower close on the right. Very impressive from that point of view…1136-UT-CastletonTower

From just south of Moab, we turned southeasterly toward Dove Creek VOR (DVC), which sits in a corner of a farmer’s field.

From Dove Creek VOR, the route crosses Cortez (CEZ) and Rattlesnake (RSK) VORs. Rattlesnake is east of Farmington Four Corners Regional Aiport (KFMN), and was our first waypoint in New Mexico. By this time we were indicating between 125 and 135 knots groundspeed – after fighting headwinds all the way out it was so great to have a significant tailwind for a change.

By the time we got to Cortez we were able to climb up to 8,300 feet, which put us comfortably above anything nearby for the rest of the trip. The weather report (METAR) at Santa Fe had changed to a 4,100 foot ceiling, which meant not only that they were full VFR, but the clouds were over 10,000 feet (KSAF is at 6,400 feet). We could be sure that not only did we have lots of air below us, we were also comfortably clear of clouds, too. I should note that this was one of those times I was glad I had the Garmin GDL-39 ADS-B receiver – getting real-time weather uploaded as long as you’re in range of an ADS-B ground station is a real plus.

There were a lot of oil and gas wells in New Mexico. This one was out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing at all for miles but the rocker pump and storage tanks. Presumably someone must come along from time to time and empty the tanks – it must be quite a drive to do so.

Santa Fe is effectively in the next valley over from the one we’d been following – with the Sandia Mountains in the way, peaks at 9,000 feet and up. You have to continue southeast until you’re nearly due west of Santa Fe before you can turn left and aim for the airport (PEDRA interection, if you’re following along on a sectional chart). We did so, and as soon as we did we started hearing Santa Fe Tower. We called in about 25 miles west of the field, and were told to expect runway 28, as the winds were varying between 270 and 290 degrees at 17 knots, gusting 24 knots. Before long we cleared the last ridge, and Santa Fe was straight ahead.

We were cleared to land while we were on downwind, number two behind another Skyhawk. They weren’t kidding about the gusts – about 200 feet up, 493 sort of bounced upward and rightward. That got my attention, believe me. Nevertheless, I think my landing was quite creditable, if I do say so myself. At least, Jerry didn’t scream and grab the yoke or anything… and we were down and parked at Landmark.

Tomorrow, we’re heading east – the plan is to get to Texarkana at least, but I’m not really sure how far we’ll get.  The weather controls, as always…

<- Back to Day 3-Cheyenne to Mack   |   Ahead to Day 5 – Santa Fe to Texarkana ->

Aerostar Trip to the Dominican Republic – KFXE – MDST

130 to 310!!  That’s the true airspeeds of the slowest and fastest planes in our group of 12 flying out to the Dominican Republic today.

C172ROur leader Jim Parker has been flying the islands for decades and has been to over 110 airports throughout the Caribbean.  He flies an really interesting airplane, a Cessna 172RG.  Yep – it’s basically a 180hp Skyhawk –  called a Cutlass,  a lot like the club’s Skyhawks except the gear retracts and with that added complexity comes about 20 knots.  This one flies at 130knots.

With a strong bladder and/or a fuel stop, the 670nm from Ft. Lauderdale is well within the reach of a Skyhawk.  One of our group flew down from Montana in their 1963 Bonanza. Bonanzas of that vintage are 130knot machines.  On the other end if the spectrum was a Cheyenne II twin turboprop and three single-engine turboprops, the fastest being an Epic homebuilt cruising at 310knots at FL270!  Rounding out this eclectic fleet were a couple Piper Saratogas, an Aztec, a Navajo Chieftain, a B55 Beach Baron and us.

After an early morning briefing — mostly learning each other’s names, where the fuel pit is at Santiago and how to deal with air traffic control in the islands, off we went.  Well, not really.  The turboprops and we kind of hung around since the goal was to meet in Santiago between 2 and 3pm.  Some of our group left from different Florida airports, but everyone was in the air by 10:45 am or so.

Our ride down was actually quite easy.  We filed for 19,000 ft where we had the best winds – actually, not much wind at all.  Down low, there was a 10-20 headwind, at FL 190 and above, the tailwind was in the 5-10knot range.  The route took us over most of the Bahama Island chain.  It was a beautiful day with puffy clouds over many of the islands.

The world does look different from FL190 than down low.

Over the edge of Long Island, there’s a large salt flat.Salt Flats




And farther down in the Bahamas we crossed the Acklin Islands.  We were actually never very far from land.  In the distance to the southwest, Cuba dominated the horizon.  That’s the east end of Cuba on the moving map.Acklins



Flying in the Dominican Republic itself is a bit different.  First, about 40 miles northwest of the ALBBE intersection, Miami Center announces – “Radar service terminated – contact Port-o-Prince Center on 124.50.”  Yes, we were in Haiti’s airspace and Haiti doesn’t have civilian radar.  So, it’s back to non-radar reporting points.  Something all instrument students learn, but rarely get to use in most of the lower 48.  And unlike when I learned instruments, you always know where you are and with a push of a button, you can estimate with great accuracy the time to the next mandatory reporting point.  Pretty straight forward – except for the accents.  All the communication is supposed to take place in English and most of it is.  But with a mix of Haitian, American, Bahamian, and Latin American pilots all in the same airspace, communication became “interesting”.

We were IFR trying to get down in a non-radar environment.  Making myself understood took about 10 miles and the Haiti controller had to coordinate with the Santiago approach controller — that’s a different country.  In all, it took about 50 miles to get us a decent clearance.

By this time, we were with Santiago Approach Control which I think is near the coast in Puerto Plata.  They have radar, but it’s very spotty.  So even though they can “see” you occasionally,  you are never in “radar contact”, so everything is done in reference to DME from the Santiago VOR-DME.  In the world of GPS, we don’t hear DME (distance measuring equipment) all that often anymore.  It happens that the VOR-DME is located right at the field, so the GPS distance is fine.  Our Aerostar happens to have a DME and it was really nice to have it.

And there were a bunch of cumulus clouds over the 4,000 ft ridge that we had to fly through, so canceling IFR wasn’t a good idea; especially with four of our group all arriving at about the same time.

In addition to the basic language differences, the syntax is difference.  The controller would say:  “N60LM, Fly to Station Romeo-India-Golf-Alpha-Romeo and say DME from Cibao.” The first time I heard him,  it took a minute to figure out what he was saying. Cibao is the name of the airport – like Hartsfield is the name of Atlanta’s airport.  Station can be a fix, like an intersection or it can mean a specific airplane; “Station 60LM” and “Romeo-India et al” is the RIGAR intersection.  So, US controllers would say: “N60LM, fly direct RIGAR (and maybe pronounce it phonetically) and say distance from the Santiago VOR” (since that was in our actual clearance).   After a couple of tries, we figured out the cadence and got a clearance to the final approach fix on the ILS.  Santiago is in a broad valley, so once past the ridge, the clouds pretty much disappeared and we received a visual approach.

Finally we were turned over to the tower controller, a female voice speaking flawless English with a slight Latin accent.  With that, we were on the ground.  Only Jet A was available via truck at all of $2.47/gallon.  We had to taxi to a fueling pit and paid $6.83/gallon cash!  Here’s Trudy stretching her legs while Juan fills the main.

MDST Refuel

We had a wonderful reception right at the FBO with various officials making speeches about how great it was to have visitors to one of the busiest airports in Latin America.  And here I thought we were still in the Caribbean!  It’s the first time I can recall being greeted by Customs and Immigration eager to stamp our passports, basically ignoring our Inbound General Declaration forms, and handing us Presidente cerveza (beer) all at the same time.

More tomorrow about where we are staying.  It’s late!