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

    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

    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
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