Long Distance Flying

    Two years ago my wife and I flew commercial to Anguilla to spend
Christmas and New Year’s with our daughter’s family at a cozy condo on
the north shore.

    The American Airlines flight down would be some six hours,
passing through San Juan for customs and a short hop to St. Maarten and
then by ferry to Anguilla. The Anguilla airport was being lengthened
hence the bob and weave through St. Maarten.

    No sweat.

    Yet, it was! It took us eighteen and a half hours down and
twenty-seven back. One day on the return we stood in various lines for
seven hours and twenty-two minutes. This Journey from Hell was due to a
combination of Carib. laid-backness, random job actions and
dysfunctional communications.

    Not again!

                Then last year in mid December last year my wife asked
me, "How’s the plane? Just got an intermediate and the new engine’s
broken in nicely? Okay, let’s fly down to Anguilla; the grandbabies are
moaning that we aren’t gonna come."

    No sweat. We keep our Skylane RG at Skyacres near Poughkeepsie
New York.

                The route of flight down was: 44N to Savannah, to Stuart
FL, to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and in to Anguilla
International. Total flight time: 12:32. The route back was: Anguilla,
Grand Turk, Palm Beach International, 44N. Flight time: 11:34. (We do
have 89 usable gallon tanks so 5:30 has never been daunting for us.) The
longest leg was to Savannah for 5:15 and Stuart to Puerto Plata was
5:00. Longest over water: 1:45. Three days down and two days back. This
year we’ll do it again but will stay longer in Grand Turk and Florida.

    I realize many flying folks are leery of making such an
over-the-water, post-911 bureaucracy-ridden trip.

    Let me persuade you to do it.

    The post-911 environment is in your favor. Communications at the
end of the Bahamas used to be somewhat ragged before 911, but now we
encountered black-out for only ten minutes between Stella Maris and
Grand Turk.

               And there’s a minimum of bureaucracy. I was erroneously
lead to believe by the friendly AOPA that I must have a special document
from the Transportation Security Agency showing dates and times for
every stop down and back – which could not be changed once engraved in
stone. But that’s only if you fly Part. 135. (I flashed my sacred
document to several TSA officers and none of them had ever seen the
thing or knew what it was.)

               Needless to say, you ought to buy over the Internet your
Customs Sticker and download several return forms. We have always found
PBI customs on return very squared away. AOPA has bunches of Carib. trip
publications and for the Carib. there’s the uselful Bahamas & Caribbean
Pilot’s Guide (800-521-2120, www.flytheislands.com.)

    Fuel was not all that expensive. At Puerto Plata it was $4.35 a
gallon (cash only) and in Anguilla (which now has 100-LL) it was $4.65
(Visa accepted) – that’s last year, mind you. Word of advice, always
call to be sure fuel of your choice is available and be ready to pay
cash for a possible discount.
    
    We were treated like VIPs everywhere we went outside the
country. Before leaving Anguilla on January 2 I was told it would be a
zoo – you have to file some kind of flight plan in the Carib. and I was
advised to say ‘Happy New Year’ in twisted Dutch to get my clearance
from the St. Maarten controller who handles Anguilla. I was out in
fifteen minutes much to the flipping consternation of four exec-jet
pilots waiting for their clearances.

    I always fly IFR in the Caribbean and ascend to 10,000 or 11,000
for long glide capability.

    Charts and approaches? Jeppesen’s Caribbean package has them all
and Jepp can also book you over Cuba if that’s the thrill you’ve always
been seeking. Garmin GPS’s of course have all the data. XM satellite
Aviation Wx does not, sadly, reach more than 90 miles south of Nassau.

                  Survival gear? There’s a government-mandated series of
items, but we went overboard – so to speak – and added to it some common
sense things.

                 We own the mandatory raft which we have checked out
every two years, but you can rent them from several places in Florida,
especially Fort Pierce (Google for this.) We always put on our life
vests before entering the cockpit – who wants to search for the things
when that first stutter is heard?

                 I also take a divers waterproof bag with a spare GPS,
radio, spotlight and lots of batteries, a First-Aid kit including space
blankets, blow-up splints and fishing tackle, Ready-To-Eat meals for
four days (Mac and Cheese is the best) and from any dive shop special
mini-containers of water in plastic bags which my wife and I distribute
throughout our survival gear and our pockets. The theory is that the
more mini-containers you have the more will survive any float-away or
puncture.

    We perform a few on-the-ground practices getting the survival
gear ready before leaving – who grabs what and the like.

    Equipment? I always take extra tire tubes and a jack to lift my
plane plus cotter pins to put back the clam-shell wheel. But that’s when
I go to the outback. In the major places there is service (although I
would wonder about annuals and serious fixings like that.)

    This coming trip I will take two more pieces of gear, a pair of
Telex Stratus 50 Digital ANR headsets. SkyGeek asked me to check a pair
out.

    I have owned for some years David Clark’s ANR and have used a
top-flight Bose headset and know how stunningly less tired one is with a
solid noise reduction system .

                But I was unprepared for the Digital stuff. When I
flicked the switch, I thought for a second that the engine had stopped.
When I did run-up, I took the headset off to hear the engine sounds.
When I leaned at altitude, I took ’em off, too, to hear the right
burbles before enriching. I only did that once though.

                I bought a pair ASAP.

                These headsets have it all. They are softer than the
storied Princess-and-a-Pea mattresses — no more Inquisition torture
routine with these spiffy Telex’s. They have a built-in MP3 player and
Cellular
phone hook-up, Mono and Stereo modes, AA batteries plus a power
cord to the cig. lighter. You can even obtain an attachment for a small
light that ignites when you talk or breathe heavily looking at your
approach plate (doesn’t everybody breathe heavily on approach?) I have a
screw-in attachment for a MagLight and it worked fine once I drilled the
proper sized hole through the headset plastic.

                Downsides? None.

                The ‘sounds of silence’ you get from these Telex
Digitals are magnificent!

Tom Hoving
October 26, 2006

NexRad Pleasures

from guest blogger Thomas Hoving

I am seventy-five years of age and got my private in 1985 when I was fifty four. I have single engine land instrument and commercial ratings and have logged over 5700 hours since 1985 with 2500 in actual IFR. For the past twelve years I have owned a 1979 Cessna 182 RG Turbo with Robertson STOL. I built a Falcon XP kit plane and flew it for 16 years and have also owned a Piper cub and a Husky.

I fly an average of 300 hours a year all over the nation and to places like Belize, Anguilla, the Caymans and the Bahamas. I am a writer and travel across the country plugging my books. Since 9-11 I have never taken a domestic commercial carrier.

I wouldn’t fly without NexRad. I shake my head wondering how I managed through all that scag and around those enveloping t-storms or avoiding Convective Sigmets before the happy advent of NexRad. I remember vividly trying to draw where some Convective Sigmet was out near Dubuque with the plane bucking five hundred feet up and down while the 122.00 recording intoned, "From 40 miles south of BAR to thirty-five miles northwest of GRD, to . . . " Having no idea where those VORs were – being weather stations. Fearful, too, of blundering into the core of the Sigmet. Sure, I had one of those primitive 3M Storm Scopes, but I never knew if the storms were sneaking up behind me.

I started with Low Earth Orbiting weather when the system was first introduced six years or so ago. I switched out of that slow-as-molasses rig as soon as Airgator-Navair advertised a turn-key PDA operation. I flew for two years using Airgator-Navair’s iPaq PDA and navigated my way around plenty of dangerous cells. Once the controllers heard I wanted an amendment to this or that intersection and must be doing it to avoid cells, they’d ask me what I had. When they found out, they’d ask me if it was okay to vector me to a certain area to check out a clear route for commercial jets. I could tell them the width of the hole and the speed and direction of the cells. I got a kick when I heard one Continental heavy growl to the controller, "You mean I’m getting this from a Cessna?" I kept quiet.

A couple of summers ago in Iowa I asked Center to let me go left and then more left and then right and then left again as I wended my way twenty-five miles from several red-purplish cells (meaning possible tornados.) When I was clear, the controller said, "We just had a vote here in Center." I was confused – was this some nutty Iowa political caucus and, if so, what did it have to do with me? He clarified the statement by saying, "A vote, that is, on what weather equipment you have." When I told him, he said, "We figured."

I have tried several larger Navair-Airgator computers after the PDA, which I still keep as a complete back-up with current approach plates and enroute data. One was a Motion tablet with Windows XP. I would not recommend it because above 10,000 feet it turns off – the air is too thin for the cooling motors.

I now have a solid state NavPad computer which is not affected by altitude. It has a 5" by 6" screen and comes loaded with Windows XP.

The internal hard disk is only 4 Gigs but the machine takes a standard flash disk and I find that a 2 Gig disk handles everything I need (even a 450-page book I’m now writing.) Sandisk now offers a 8 Gig flashdisk.

Navair-Airgator supplies me the following: the NavPad computer with a keyboard, an XM satellite receiver, a GPS (which is so sensitive it will get seven satellites if you put it under the plane’s seat – or almost), a power source for 12 or 28 volts which runs everything on the plane from the cigarette lighter (Bluetooth is also there and the GPS has an 8-hour battery) and a nifty 4-hour battery for the XM satellite receiver. The latter is key, for you can receive all weather data while you’re packing the plane and doing the pre-fight. The NavPad comes loaded with a small-footprint virus detector which is free, has frequent automatic updates and which has never been hacked since it covers such a tiny segment of the market.

I subscribe to the top XM pilot weather, the full USA approach plate up-dates and Navair software package which comes every 28 days.

Navair AirgatorNavair-Airgator has a website from which I download all updates. You won’t forget because they send you an email reminder a day or two before the new data. That web site, which shows all the gear and prices, is: www.flynavair.com and the phone number is 914-666-5656. Amir Tirosch is the boss and he knows everything. Technical assistance is excellent and Matt Leonard will straighten out most glitches.

I use my NavPad as my kneeboard flight director. It has PhatPad (so I can use the stylus to write my clearances,) approach plates and a moving map with full weather programs. The XM weather is superior, including frontal systems and something called SCITS which shows the location, direction and speed of impending bad weather. Radar-Clouds and Cloud-Tops are useful. I find the METARS exceptionally valuable. I get the METARS on the back side of a frontal system I’m flying through to be sure of the conditions.

Recently I flew a Cessna 172 from East Hampton to Myrtle Beach, SC and we had my NavPad and a Garmin 396 on board. We had to navigate around several tough cells and then land long before our destination because of a Convective Sigmet. The pilot in command prefers the Garmin 396 because its small and portable and he can take it into a hotel and see what gives before taking off.

But on our flight he asked me several times if I could show him the NavPad weather closing in on us because of the large screen and the ability to scroll rapidly with the stylus. To me the NavPad was clearly the better system. Plus, I can’t write the next chapter of my new book – or these comments – on a Garmin 396. As for using the Garmen 396, in a hotel, I far prefer my AOPA Real-Time Flight Planner with weather overlay. I get it on my NavPad and can see all weather en route, all fixes and airports in Jeppeson charts and I can file, too.

NexRad got me into, not OUT of trouble once. I was flying from Chicago to Poughkeepsie and had to divert to Maryland and then proceed north because of a fast-moving West-East killer front with tornados inside it. I was some hundred miles from my destination at 11 thousand when I saw the symbol on NexRad that I thought meant an old lightning strike within light rain. I asked for 7,000 and when I got to the old strike, BLAMMO! I was hit by lightning. Blinded. Totally. A "Snow storm" of everything not tied down in the cockpit and back seat – more freaking kids’ water bottles than I knew existed. Then, SLAM! straight up for a good five hundred feet.

I groped for the Nearest button on my Garmin 430 and manufactured my voice into a casual, fear-free heavy-jockey’s drawl, and asked for an amendment to East Stroudsberg. Landed. Searched for the strike scar. Nothing. A few days later we found the needle-point pin prick on top of the cockpit. Oddly, I lost no avionics.

When I got home I read the NexRad manual and learned that what I thought was an old strike was one likely to happen.

Moral: read the manual, dummy.

Thomas Hoving