“Hello Greg! I’m back in Flagstaff with a group of Dutch students doing our annual video production workshop at NAU (Northern Arizona University).
“One show’s theme is ‘Arizona from Above,’ so I thought of you and your Flying Carpet. Would you consider working with them on a story?”
It was Charlie Hicks, former CBS-TV anchor and NAU faculty member, who now teaches International Media & Entertainment Management at the NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Anything to promote international relations, right?
Following approvals, student producer Floor van der Vlugt phoned to arrange the details. All three students were excited about flying, explained Floor, “but one is very nervous.”
I suggested we meet early for cooler and smoother flying and filming…
For pilots to be interested in space and science fiction is only “logical,” but few of us personally experience the interface.
I met Chris Barton when he was executive director of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.
He was intrigued by piloting, so we launched on local flying adventures. Even while savoring the controls, my friend was captivated by Meteor Crater and the unearthly volcanic landscape where Apollo astronauts trained for moon missions.
Our friendship and Chris’s flying were interrupted when he joined Florida’s Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra as executive director. So when he phoned recently about returning to Flagstaff for a concert, I offered to retrieve him from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by Flying Carpet.
Navigating a Class B airport requires planning, but it’s always a kick. Phoenix controllers welcome light aircraft, and Cutter Aviation offers complimentary airline shuttles.
My first minutes with Chris were consumed by departure and taxi clearances. He oohed and ahhed as we swooped over futuristic clusters of docked jetliners on early turnout. Only after escaping congested airspace could I ask, “What’s new?”
“Actually, you won’t believe it!” exclaimed Chris…
Ever wonder if you’re the only one apprehensive about launching on your first long light-plane journey?
A pilot buddy recently launched on a 1,000-mile cross-country.
Like most of us, he greeted his first extended light-plane journey with both excitement and trepidation.
He studied route and airspace, calculated fuel and weight-and-balance, took two written tests, and checked out in a Diamond DA-40. Although initially apprehensive, he phoned me exhilarated following solo landing practice.
“That was so much fun I can’t believe it!” he said, detailing each successive landing like a newly soloed pilot. “Now I’m stoked to fly that cross-country!”
My friend and his family live in southern New Mexico, 10 hours’ drive from relatives. When he mentioned that private flying would be perfect for such trips, his wife encouraged him to join the local aero club. This first mission would be to collect her and the kids from visiting her folks in Dallas…
For those wondering what a total solar eclipse might be like and whether it’s worth experiencing—believe me, it is—I thought you might enjoy revisiting the last one, which I flew to Canada to see back in 1979.
If you’re interested in traveling to see the eclipse along the path of totality, don’t delay in making reservations, and that includes reserving a day fly-in spot at even relatively remote airports. Yes, it’s four months away but lodging and airports are already filling up!
There’s nothing like flying to escape the beaten path. Returning from Massachusetts to Arizona, Jean and I steered for Warren and Melissa Smith’s private Atlanta, Illinois farm strip. Landing on grass is like alighting on a cloud, but you must always scout it first. Warren, an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector, shared details.
“It rained the other night, so I drove the strip in my car,” he said. “It’s in great shape, plus I confirmed the 2300-foot usable length with a wheel. Ideally, land from the south because there’s a 300-foot overrun at the north end–touch down upon clearing the corn. From the north, land past the metal “Hoblit Farms” building. In case of concerns, of course, divert to nearby Logan County Airport.”
We’d hoped to make Illinois nonstop, but headwinds dictated refueling at Logansport, Indiana. Despite bargain prices, I resisted topping tanks; it’s best to operate light on turf.
During our final one-hour leg, I reviewed soft-field procedures and runway requirements. Although 2300 feet is plenty for a Skylane, grass demands proper technique and lengthens takeoff roll…
We relaxed with our son Hannis and his fiancée Marissa on Richmond Pond in western Massachusetts, our fourth flying destination crossing the continent from Arizona.
Marissa’s folks Alex and Sabina had been consummate hosts, treating us to sightseeing, concerts, and savory meals. Alex even let me drive his vintage Miata sports car. In return, all he asked was to go flying. Alex had once taken lessons, but circumstances prevented him from finishing. Now he was eager to retake the controls. Once a pilot, always a pilot.
On the appointed morning, however, broken clouds shrouded the lush green mountaintops surrounding Pittsfield Municipal Airport, with no improvement expected. To our mutual disappointment, it wasn’t safe to fly.
Midday came, and as I toted luggage to Hannis and Marissa’s car for their drive home, sunlight momentarily silvered Richmond Pond. Quietly, I checked weather. Area ceilings were indeed thinning, and had risen off all but the highest peaks. What’s more, an amended forecast indicated continuing improvement. I asked Alex what was planned for the afternoon.
“Be aware of a Citation jet practicing instrument approaches, and numerous aircraft flying the Trois-Rivières traffic pattern,” cautioned Montreal Center after issuing our instrument clearance from Quebec back to the States.
Not until reaching the runway did Jean and I fully appreciate the implications. How could we determine when to take the runway with so much traffic chattering in a foreign tongue? We might as well be on another planet!
Every aspect of this flight to French Canada had been impacted by language…
You’d expect a flying carpet to deliver you to enchanted destinations. Well, 2,000 miles and fifteen flight hours from home over French Canada, Jean and I truly felt our steed’s magic. After clearing customs at Windsor, Ontario, we gazed down upon Toronto, Ottawa, and then, Montreal. Each resurrected memories of a long-ago youthful journey.
In 1971, I drove this route on a post-graduation road trip with two Chicago high-school buddies in my 1939 Chevy. After setting up camp in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, we picked up a hitchhiker named Marcel while cruising town. Lacking a common language, we couldn’t determine his destination, so he gestured us to a nearby tavern.
“If you’ll break camp and drive me 15 miles to Champlain,” Marcel offered via the bilingual bartender, “you can stay in the guest cottage behind my parents’ house.” We accepted, and while the others slept, Marcel and I “talked” late into the night via sketch pad and French-English dictionary. The next morning, I was startled awake by the horn blast of an oceangoing freighter. Having arrived in darkness, I never guessed the St. Lawrence Seaway was steps away.
I was recounting this story to Jean for the umpteenth time when Toronto Center issued a frequency change. Bienvenue au Québec! Air traffic control is bilingual in Quebec, so Montreal Center controllers swap seamlessly between French with Québécois pilots, and English with Anglophones like me. The mighty St. Lawrence River materialized off our right wing, and thirty minutes later converged with our course at our destination. Inbound to land at the uncontrolled airport, we heard the following transmission.
“Trafic Trois-Rivières, Cessna Un-Sept-Deux Golf Alpha Bravo Charlie, présentement sur Alpha, je m’aligne Piste Deux Trois pour un décollage immédiat.” Jean and I looked to each another, eyebrows raised. The pilot was obviously in the local traffic pattern, but where? I requested his position in English, but he answered in French. Eventually he managed the word, “takeoff,” but we never spotted the airplane. Clearly, great care would be required to safely operate here.
I was securing the Flying Carpet when two figures rushed from the terminal, arms outstretched. It was Marcel Duval, the very hitchhiker I picked up in 1971, and his captivating wife, Lise Marquis. Who’d have imagined that our chance friendship would endure for decades…
When a family wedding beckoned from Chicago, our first thought was to book airline tickets because it’s too far to fly for a weekend. But then Jean and I got to talking.
Think of all the sights to see and friends to visit within flying range of Chicago. And soon, Where shall we go this time? In short order, a weekend wedding trip blossomed into a full-fledged flying vacation to three states and Canada.
Canada! Consider your feelings when flying into a new-to-you state. Now make that destination Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and you’ve got one memorable trip.
This would be our first foreign border crossing by private aircraft since 9/11, and security procedures would accordingly be more complicated and stringent than before. I might have waited too long to start planning, if not for chatting a month before the trip with pilot Mark Harris who routinely flies into Mexico.
Every aircraft crossing US borders must have a current Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CPB) decal. These annual stickers cost only $27.50, but can take several weeks to receive. In addition, pilots must pre-file crew, passenger, aircraft, and itinerary information for each crossing via CPB’s “Electronic Advance Passenger Information System” (eAPIS) web site. While individual trip manifests can be filed as little as an hour before takeoff, the required pre-registration can take up to a week for email confirmation.
I’d also need a restricted radiotelephone operators permit for international travel, and a radio station license for the Flying Carpet. Canadian charts and GPS navigator database are of course required, and aircraft insurance certificate. Non-aviation planning included current passports, international cellphone and data service, informing our credit card issuers, and medical insurance coverage…