The Great American Flying Vacation
Nothing beats exploring the world from the cockpit of a personal airplane. Sure, there are endless regional diversions to draw us aloft. But who among aviators doesn’t aspire to grand aerial journeys, and treasure memories of those made in the past? For unlike airline travel, piloting is as much about the voyage as the destination.
Last summer I heard from Angus Watson, who with his wife Chloe was planning a flying vacation from Chicago through my neighborhood: the desert Southwest. We discussed their intended route, and associated terrain and weather considerations. But not until Angus shared their online photo album afterward did I realize that he and Chloe had just completed a “Great American Flying Vacation.” Their dozens of amazing ground and aerial photos reminded me that such journeys are at the core of why we learn to fly, but at the same time have become disappointingly rare.
The Watsons invested $6000 in their 16-day, 3,000-mile vacation, including 27 hours in their flying club Cessna 182, avgas, car rental, and lodging.
“We chose to stay at some pricey hotels — Santa Fe’s La Fonda, The View in Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Lodge,” explained Angus, “but the memories will last forever. Compared to a premium two-week cruise or tour, this vacation was a bargain. And as they say in the ads, how do you value piloting an airplane over Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Canyonlands National Park? Priceless!”
Then last fall, San Antonio pilot Sergio Schaar wrote of “touring the beautiful Southwest by air. I have great interest in flying from San Antonio to Monument Valley during March spring break with my 13-year-old son Max in my 1971 Cessna 172.” He expressed concerns, however.
“I love traveling to new places and I love adventure, but I’m also a conservative newly-minted instrument pilot who always puts safety first. I am concerned about mountain downdrafts, high density altitudes, the tricky approach into Monument Valley’s ‘one-way’ airport, aircraft performance if I need to fly instruments at high minimum en route altitudes, winds aloft exceeding 30 knots, rapidly changing weather, not to mention being in the middle of nowhere… and of course, my own limitations. Greg, do you think it would be stupid and crazy for a 300-hour flatland pilot like me, who has never flown in high elevations and mountainous terrain, to try a trip like this? Too ambitious, maybe?”
“Of course not,” I replied, “This is why you became a pilot!”
Read Greg’s entire June, 2013 Flying Carpet column, “Flying Carpet Tour.” (Please allow a moment for the file to load.)
Top photo: Chloe and Angus Watson at Monument Valley, Utah. (See the Watsons’ “Southwest Vacation” photo album.)
Upper right: Max and Sergio Schaar with their Cessna 172, the “Green Hornet” in Flagstaff, Arizona. (See the Schaars’ “Flying Carpet Tour” photo album.)
©2013 Gregory N.Brown
(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)