Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Further West - Arizona

First of all sorry for the delay but I've experienced some problems with the internet connections in the hotels I've been to and was not able to upload new posts, which I had already written, so here it goes!
View from the left back window enroute to
Laurel Field, Mississipi.
The Crew after sunset, inbound Stephenville.
After a well rested night in Stephenville,TX, we woke up early the next day to get the most out of our flying day and to reach our destination, Tucson before sunset. Tucson is located in Arizona and it would take us 7 hours of flight to get there. This place was chosen because the other day when we went to Spruce Creek a former American Airlines pilot recommended us to go there and check out the Pima Air and Space Museum, one of the biggest aircraft museum in the USA.
As we got to the airport on our courtesy car, an old Police Interceptor which was once a real police car and after being stripped out was now doing the job of a courtesy car for the local airport, we quickly loaded and refueled the aeroplanes but as soon as we started the exterior inspection on one of the Cessnas we noticed that the right main tire was flat. Not a big deal as we contacted the local maintenance hangar and the guys promptly inflated the tire without any charge. That event delayed our departure slightly but once we were on the air to our destination Sierra Blanca, located in New Mexico, everything was going smooth and easy and our expectations were high since this would be our first "mountain flying" experience.
View from the left wing, as we cross the peak at 11000 feet (3300 meters).
Refueling at Sierra Blanca.
Sierra Blanca is a neat airport located at 6800ft (2000 meters) above mean sea level enclosed within a wide valley, just outside of Roswell, NM (By the way, I did not see any ETs!). This would be just a refueling stop to continue our flight down to Tucson. After stretching our legs and looking around we set sail to Tucson but instead of doing a dull flight and since it was such a nice sunny day we decided to fly slightly North to check out the mountains and scenery together with the other aircraft. When I mean together I mean flying in formation! Check it out...
Getting Close!
Zooming the guys!
Coordinated right turn.
Breaking off Formation - 1.
Breaking off Formation - 2.
Breaking off Formation - 3.
The flight ended in the best possible way, for the first time we were able to land in formation and we did so at the invite of the controller in the Tucson International Airport. It was quite an eventful day with lots of flying and new experiences which naturally drained our energies out and so it was only wise to go to bed and rest, since the next day would be even more exciting!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trip to The West - Destination Las Vegas

Dear readers, today a new adventure began, I’m currently on a Cessna 172 at 10500’ flying inbound Stephenville, Texas. Last Friday the 20th of November my long time friend Francisco arrived at Orlando to spend a few days with us. We got there and picked him up at the airport on 2 convertible Ford Mustangs which we drove back to the terminal where our Cessnas were parked for our flight back to Daytona. While on the move back to Daytona we got into a conversation about where we should fly to so that Francisco could experience the most of is trip. The route we decided upon after Francisco’s insistance shall take us to the West into the great american Desert and Mountains flying over Georgia, Alabama, Mississipi, Louisiana and stopping at Texas, Arizona and Nevada. The great landmarks to visit include the Grand Canyon, The Death Valley, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

Planed stops along the route to Las Vegas (click HERE to follow to google maps).

The planed route will give us approximately 50 hours flying roundtrip time and more than 5000 nautical miles (nm) of ground distance, all that to be done in around 6 days. Regarding the stops depicted above, there might still be a few changes, mainly on the Grand Canyon Area, where we want to do a few touch and goes and landings on peculiar strips which have not yet been chosen.
After doing all the planing and since the weather was not in its best conditions we decided to set sail Monday, the 23rd of November. And now here we are, the first leg of our journey was about 480nm long and took us from Daytona to Laurel Field in the Mississipi in 4h55min. After a pit stop to refuel and stretch our legs we are now on our second leg of today’s trip which is taking us to Stephenville in Texas. Curently Francisco is the Captain, flying left hand seat on the Cessna, taking care of all the flying and navigation. It will take us about 4h and 30min to go along the 450nm that set both places apart and we are estimating Stephenville at 10pm, local time. By the time we arrive we shall have a car with keys on the ignition that we’ll use to go to the hotel to grab something to eat and have a good night´s sleep because tomorrow we will have another long day.
I’ll keep you all posted and photos shall follow in a near future and as the guys have been saying, this might whell be the journey of a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Go West - Key West

View from the Pier Bar at Key West by the sunset.
As a few of you guys might already know I've been down to the Keys during the end of September for the first time while the sun was high and the temperatures were hitting 35ºC and the beach was just awesome. After the first time almost two months have passed and along came the Winter which made the Keys look like a distant, old dream. But last week, as our friends were around and since they were out from a cloudy, dull winter back in Europe we decided to satisfy their biggest desire and lead them SouthWest, down to the Florida Keys Islands.
Unfortunately the weather was not as good as expected and low overcast ceilings with rain and gusty winds amid made the trip impossible during the first days and by Thursday we had almost given up on the idea of going down to "paradise". Still, Friday morning came up with a crystal clear blue sky, calm winds and temperatures of around 25ºC. With these great conditions available we hurried to the airport and got 2 aeroplanes and even lost our minds for a moment and decided to rent 2 C172SP G1000 to enjoy the most of the experience as possible and give the first flight chance on a G1000 glass cockpit to our friends.
Walkaround and refuel was complete in a matter of 15 minutes and after getting the guys at controls, flying left-hand seat (they are pilots, it was only fair to let them fly for themselves and experience the flight in the first hand) we took off from Daytona bound to Homestead, a small local airport close to Miami, which was chosen as a fuel stop due to its nice fuel price (much cheaper than the Keys). This leg was flown with the Auto Pilot ON, making full use of the G1000 capabilities - which included Flight Level Change for en route climb to 9500ft, Vnav profile descent into destination and GPS Flight Plan navigation - just like an airliner.
After Homestead we moved further South to Key Largo, the first island that makes the Keys and decided to start a scenic tour from there to Key West at low altitude, flying VFR by hand. And so we did, taking pictures of the scenery and enjoying the amazing coloured waters. But after a while we noticed that something was missing... "Wait a minute! We have 2 aircraft, we should be enjoying this tour all together!" One of us got on the radio and quickly solved the problem saying: "Hey guys, wait up and we will get together and fly in formation down to Key West! Maybe we will even be able to get some nice pics on the way!"
The result is better described by these photos below other than by text!
General View of the scenario en route.
Check out the shadows that the aircraft were casting as we were approaching each other.
Head photo taken from our right wing.
Catching up with the guys, slightly above their altitude.
Spot the US1 down there!
Once we got to Key West we hastily moved to the beach to take some baths and lay on the sun watching the speed boats race go by across the shore (it was speedboat race's weekend at Key West)! This felt beautifully regarding it was winter and just a week before it had been raining!
As the evening came it was time to grab something to eat by the dock to the north of the beach and so we walked through the streets and got there just in time to enjoy the sunset over a few drinks and snacks. Once we were satisfied we strolled down Duval Street, which is the main street in Key West, where the Speedboats' parade was being held. At the end of the street we got to the Southernmost Point of the continental USA which is perhaps the biggest icon in Key West.
The gang together at the Pier Bar.
Southernmost Point of Continental USA.
The Team all together after a great day!
After such a great day we jumped on the Cessnas for a 4 hour flight back do Daytona, this time on a more direct route only stopping to refuel at Airglades Airport, which is close to the well known Okeechobee Lake. On those four hours we were still able to do an RNAV Approach, an ILS and a handful of touch and goes. Our friends got to our place with only one hour to prepare the bags, eat something and take a bath, after that they were back on the road to Orlando for their flight back to the Old Continent.
Extra: For those interested in a video compilation summing up the flight check out this one made by my friend Vieira,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Friends' Arrival

Been having bad weather for a couple of days which delayed flying a little bit and furthermore all the aircraft got into 100 hour checks last week which made my life quite dull. Nevertheless to get some excitement into my life and keep my spirit high we got two friends over last week right from across the Atlantic. They got to Orlando International airport on a Jet Blue flight from New York where they previously arrived from Lisbon on an Airbus A330. They got pretty late into Orlando and had already flown 9 hours and two legs so in order to save them some time on the journey to Daytona we decided to fly and pick them up at Orlando International. Since all aircraft were in maintenance we had to take a Cessna 182T G1000 together with a C172SP. I was flying left hand seat to Orlando on the 182 and then back right hand seat on the 172. We arrived in Orlando 10 minutes past their landing time and after leaving the aircraft on the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) we rushed to the main terminal to pick them up on a designated van we got on the FBO.

Our Aircraft on the ground at Orlando.
After 9 hours flying they still had to fly 45 minutes more to Daytona on these small machines, lucky them, they had 2 designated pilots to fly them to their final destination!
We got back and loaded the planes just in time to get on the air prior to 1A.M.. After a short hop and an uneventful flight we got to our place at around 2A.M.. It sounds kind of late but for us it was like early morning and we still had time to enjoy a fresh bottle of red Portuguese wine brought by our friends as a gift. For us it was a simple flight but unique flight, but for them the adventure had just begun with a 1 hour night flight on a Cessna for the first time.
They spent the last week with us and during those 7 days they "logged" almost 18 hours flight time and had quite a few surprises and adventures, from flying VFR at night, to flying full IFR under rain and even shooting ILS approaches or doing formation flying at 500 feet enroute to Key West.
I just posted this to explain why I've been away last week and to get you ready for the next post describing the adventures during our last week. I will include photos and probably video footage to enrich the next post!