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From the beginning booking the trip was a breeze and thanks to the info on the website and guidance from Oli getting all the insurance and documentation in place was stress free, we even got money back from our insurance on return!
Despite being delayed on arrival and not making it to Indian River till later at night, Stephen gave us the warmest of welcomes and explained how the check out would work in the morning. Despite the weather being unsuitable to fly for a few hours on the first day, Tony worked around it, got the temporary license issued and took us through everything we needed to know so we were all checked out and felt comfortable very quickly indeed. Thanks to Tony for also being on the end of the phone throughout the trip – his advice and experience as invaluable at times, as was Stephens.
We spent our holiday flying a wonderful aircraft (The best example I’ve had the pleasure of flying) and really enjoyed coming back to Indian River every day, the apartment was lovely and spacious and allowed us to relax whilst planning for the next day with ease. With everything we needed on hand we were able to get away early without any rush in the mornings, and with the TV & Wifi we felt the set up was great.
I dare not try and list all the things we got up to for fear of forgetting something but as quick as a flash the two weeks were over. Hard to believe we’d flown 50 hours, visited all 4 corners of Florida, had Airboat Rides, met an F-14 legend, flown down to Key West, enjoyed some unforgettable views and even flown down the Shuttle Landing Facility. It truly was the holiday of a lifetime.
My parents are already talking about wanting me to fly them around the Bahamas in style, so I think we might have to come back out to fly the Archer from Sebastian! Thanks once again and we will see you again soon.
Island hopping down the Bahamas and beyond in Harry the PA28 Archer, what a truly amazing holiday adventure Bob and friends had
They clocked up about 26 flying hours, landed at about 12 different airfields and flew about 2200 miles.
Brief details of holiday:
Sunday, loaded aircraft at Vero Beach and flew to Fort Lauderdale Executive. There we completed all paperwork and flew to Treasure Cay on Abaco island. From there we got a taxi and a ferry to Green Turtle Bay where we stayed in the delightful resort of Bluff house for three nights. One day whilst there we hired a small speed boat for the day. We used the boat to visit some lovely beaches and see the stingrays and wild pigs.
Wednesday, We departed Treasure Cay bound for Marsh harbour but bad weather in the airport vicinity forced our return to Treasure Cay. Not wishing to go back to Bluff House we stayed a night at Treasure Cay Marine Resort, a place we knew from last year. The extra night meant that evening we went to the Treasure Sands Club restaurant where last year we had the best meal of the holiday. This year it was just as good with excellent food in a lovely setting.
We returned to the airport and then flew the short 18 mile flight to Marsh Harbour for fuel. We then flew the much longer 2.5 hour flight to Stella Maris on Long Island. There we were staying in the wonderful Cape Santa Maria beach resort with a superb apartment right on the beach. There is another airfield right next to this resort called Santa Maria which we had considered landing at but decided against mainly due to the runway length. On examining the runway from the ground it was in very poor condition so we were thankful we had not tried to land there.
Friday, Still staying at our fab resort we decided to take the plane on a day trip to Pitts Town on Crooked Island.This airfield is right next to the sea and runway literally ends on the beach, hopefully you can see some pictures. Notice the picture of three of us standing in the terminal building! The place is very deserted and we had the beach to ourselves. The flight time was about an hour each way.
Saturday was time to leave our beautiful resort bound for the Turks and Caicos islands. Unfortunately the internet on the whole of Long Island had crashed and could not file flight plans check weather and importantly confirm our accommodation. However we flew for two hours to North Caicos with Stuart doing fantastic work on the radio, filing flight plans etc bearing in mind we were flying to a different country! The Turks and Caicos Islands are made up of many islands, some inhabited some not. We landed at North Caicos one of the quietest islands. The airport is little used, has no fuel and few staff. After landing and completing more paperwork we found that due to our previous internet problems the hotel we thought we had booked could not accept our booking. There is very little accommodation on North Caicos but fortunately we managed to find rooms at the Pelican Beach Hotel. We also managed to hire a rather old Jeep car. This hotel was little more rundown than some of our previous places but it hand a certain charm and was adjacent to the beach.
Sunday, We spent the day exploring North Caicos in our hired Jeep visiting some interesting huge caves and deserted beaches. Unfortunately in the afternoon we got a puncture which should not have been a problem with three fit mechanical minded men on board! Alas the spare wheel could not be removed from the back of the vehicle due to the wheels bolts having rusted through. Hence we had to wait for four hours for the owner to come and sort it out, no AA here but every passing motorist stopped to help and they all knew the car owner!
We returned to the deserted North Caicos airport where we saw no other landing aircraft and completed more paperwork and handed over more cash. Stuart then flew the 15 minute flight to “Providenciales” or “Provo” island. This airfield is a very busy international airport, you are really mixing it withe big boys! After landing in a ridiculous crosswind we spent more time at a hold than we did on the flight. Eventually we managed to taxi to Provo Air, our FBO facility. Provo island is totally different from North Caicos, more like going to a busy Mediterranean resort and we were staying at the famous Grace Bay Beach. Our Hotel this time was The Royal West Indies a fabulous hotel which had two swimming pools surrounded by lovely gardens and its own entrance to Grace Bay Beach.
Tuesday we were loving our accommodation so we decided to stay another day spending time on the beach and the in the hotel pools.
Wednesday, back to the airport and after lots of paperwork we were off again! After a flight of about 2.5 hours during which we got to 10,000 feet we landed at Exuma, another busy international airport. From the airport we headed in another hired car to Grand Isle Resorts. This turned out to be a five star luxury resort where we were staying in a huge apartment. We each had our own bedrooms with ensuites and the property must have been worth millions! Loving our new resort we immediately decided to stay another night. This complex had its own pool and direct beach access, just an amazing place probably the most upmarket place of our holiday.
Thursday, we headed off in our hire car to find the isolated Tropic Of Cancer Beach. This turned out to difficult to find but another deserted beautiful beach.
Friday We left our fantastic resort and flew to to San Andros on Andos Island. This turned out to be a very run down airfield with few facilities and lots of flies! Our only reason for landing there was to clear customs and file a flight plan. We could not get out of there fast enough and soon took off bound for Florida. After another 1.5 hour flight we were landing back at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport. We cleared USA customs and refuelled before heading off for Vero Beach, landing there about an hour later. This should have been the end of our flying but as the aircraft was not being used the next day and we were not leaving until Sunday evening…. we hired the plane for another day.
Saturday We took off from Vero Beach bound for Cedar Key on the West coast of the Florida. Due to strong head winds the rather bumpy flight took two hours. This airfield is right by the sea and the runway fairly short, luckily we were not burdened with heavy luggage. A local taxi driver who listens to the airfield frequency met us and took us to the nearby town. This turned out to be rather charming with an old America feel about it. Returning to the airfield we did our last flight of the holiday back to Vero beach Stuart making the final safe landing.
Hopefully this has given you a brief summary of our flying holiday and might inspire you to visit Florida, the Bahamas or even The Turks and Caicos Islands.
The booking, licence and insurance processes were all made very clear by Oli and he was very quick at responding to any queries that we did have prior to departure. Stephen & Antonia were very welcoming upon arrival at Indian river, where the accommodation was spacious, clean & a great place to relax at the start or end of an adventure packed day. Sitting outside for breakfast watching the variety of aircraft take off right in front of you is a great buzz for any aviation enthusiast.
The check ride with Tony was not only very informative and beneficial but his enthusiasm and knowledge of flying is infectious. The aircraft itself was immaculate and well maintained. After this, our week was non stop flying to see as many places as we could manage in 20 hrs. To be able to fly to so many wonderful places; Kennedy Space Centre, Key West & Naples to name a few, in just a week is a complete contrast to flying in the UK. Amazing weather, no landing fees, great fly in restaurants and a system that welcomes GA flying, what a refreshing change!
We really did have the most amazing experience that previously we could only have dreamed of. It was so good that we have already booked to return next year and are counting down the days.
What more could you wish for on vacation, Pilots paradise most definitely delivered it all!
Thank you so very much
Paul and Sarah Moon
time flying with Pilots Paradise and with an aircraft that was
serviceable and fun to fly.
It was a unfortunate that your aircraft were fully booked for our second week. We didn’t acheive the hours we needed
in that week due to poor service and unreliable aircraft offered to us at a different rental company in Daytona, nevertheless
we had a great time in “Mikey”.
I would also like to extend my
gratitude to Stephen and Tony for all there help and advice in making
this trip a success for Aaron & Terrance and for sure when we return to
Florida we’ll call in to say hello.
For those still thinking about booking here’s some background info I hope will be useful. Stephen met me on arrival and gave me the guided tour of accommodation and the aircraft and the day after, I had the check-ride with Tony Pool, who was very helpful and knowledgeable. That took about 2 hours including flights to both uncontrolled/controlled airfields, including landing back at Indian River (and picking up my charts and AFD from Ft Pierce). Stephen and Tony have been really supportive and it’s great to know there is someone at the end of a phone if the need arises.
I spent the first 2 weeks or so just getting re-acquainted with US airspace and procedures and visiting the local airfields. I have based the aircraft out of Vero Beach as it fits in better with my needs (I go to the local gym which is pretty near the airport – also recommended if you’re so inclined). If you haven’t flown in the US before then it’s nothing to be intimidated by. Everyone is really friendly and helpful and once you’ve had a day or so at it you’ll be very comfortable with things (Tony also gives an excellent overview of what you need to know during the check-ride). I also bought an excellent paperback from Transair or Pooleys on VFR Radio Procedures in the USA.
On a practical note, all amenities (supermarket, laundry etc) are pretty close by, although I would recommend hiring a car for the stay. There is a great restaurant at Vero Beach airport called CJ Cannons and also the Okechobee airport restaurant where all of the locals fly into to eat (Open 6am – 3pm every day)
On the flying front, I’ve planned either a trip along the Keys to Key West or a flight up to the Florida Aviation Museum at Lakeland Linder and the Flying Tigers Museum at Kissimmee; depending on where Thor decides to strike his hammer tomorrow. Not a bad choice for a days flying.
Next was a trip to the Keys…I decided to take the ‘VFR Flyway’ route to the West of Miami etc. This is the route you’ll find on the back of the Miami Terminal chart and it gives waypoints for the suggested route that will keep you clear of controlled airspace below 3000′. The waypoints are mostly visual reporting points plus a point where Lat/Long are given. For those of you planning to use N82332 I’ve put a waypoint in the Garmin 430 as VGIO for these co-ordinates and also for Key Largo at the beginning of the Keys themselves. Easy as using the Direct-To function on the 430 and follow the magenta line (with a manual back-up PLOG of course …just in case!).
I got a standard briefing from FSS by phone using 1-800 WX-BRIEF (as well as using ADDS (http://www.aviationweather.gov/adds/) before hand. I found the ADDS system really good, particularly for keeping a track of developing weather during the day. If you go to Standard Briefing near the bottom of the left hand column on the ADDS opening page this will give you everything you need, including NOTAMS. Also don’t forget to check for TFR’s (Temp Flight Restrictions). Usually Disneyland is the only one for Florida but always best to check. As an aside another excellent site for planning/weather etc is Sky Vector (in case you haven’t heard of it… here’s the link. (http://skyvector.com/)
Having got the FSS briefing I then filed my VFR Flight Plan and was ready for the off, but not before hiring a life-vest from Sunjet FBO ($10 for the day). You can also hire life-rafts from them if you’re planning a longer over-water trip). If you haven’t filed a flight plan before there are loads of resources on the web to guide you through including a really clear one on the FAA site.
After take-off it was onto FSS to open the flight plan using a nearby VOR frequency. Remember to transmit on the R frequency and tune in your Nav frequency and turn up the volume so you can hear the FSS transmit back to you. Once opened, I then changed over to Miami Centre and requested Flight Following, which I have to say was a really excellent service. I was passed on to the various controllers on my route South and got plenty of useful traffic advisories (particularly around Homestead General which had around 15 aircraft in the vicinity). I was safely vectored around most of this by Centre with little drama. If you haven’t tried Flight Following before I would definitely recommend it. Very straightforward to use with very helpful helpful controllers. The flight down the Keys was absolutely stunning and I’d say is a must if you have the time.
The final two weeks were every bit as good as the first two and I managed to comfortably complete my 100 (well 103 hours actually) in the time, even with the daily thunderstorm activity in Aug/Sept.
One last point, that may be useful to anyone planning a trip for the first-time, is the self-service fuel pumps that you’ll find at most airports, and at some, the only option. The photo below is a fairly typical layout. After positioning the aircraft you should ground it by connecting the earth cable to a suitable point; the engine exhaust is good. When you start the ordering process at the pump console you’ll be prompted to confirm that you have done this. After swiping your credit card you’ll then be asked to select 100LL and then whether you want to order in gallons or dollars. You then select the maximum amount you may pump, but don’t worry, you don’t need to be exact. If you select 20 Gallons and only pump 18 you will only be charged for 18. You then confirm your order; input a tail number and then be shown how much this will cost. After confirming you’ll finally be asked to input a zip code for your credit card billing address. Now if you’re from outside the US (like me) you won’t have a US style Zip code. However, I discovered that simply inputing ‘12345’ works just fine and the payment goes through without a problem. The payment is then authorised, power is connected to the pump, and you turn it on and pump away. If you have selected a printed receipt (a good idea I think) this will be printed out at the console once you have finished pumping and turned off the pump. Also should mention that the self-service option is cheaper than having it pumped by the FBO staff…sometimes by quite a bit. Hope that info is helpful.
A great aircraft and a Garmin 430 to boot. The booking in/out process at the start/completion of the trip was very straightforward and I can’t thank Stephen and Antonia enough for their help and assistance during my stay. Thanks again also to Tony Pool for his help and guidance. If you haven’t been to the USA to fly before then it is nothing to be intimidated by, in fact quite the opposite. It is hard to put into words just how different an environment it is for flying, particularly for PPL’s flying mostly VFR. Just a brilliant experience not to be missed, and good to have someone at the end of a phone in case you need some help.
Well that’s my first trip over. 4 weeks. 103 hours. And further to my earlier post of my first two weeks…absolutely brilliant. More of that later. For anyone thinking of booking (do it!) and planning a trip to the Keys I thought I’d share a few points from my own flight there.
I would have no hesitation recommending it to anyone considering the trip, and have said to Oli that I’m happy for anyone to Private Message me if you’d like an independent view.
Am I booking again. You bet. Fly safe!
I booked 7 days in one of their PA-28 aircraft and based myself at their Indian River Property. The facilities here were perfect for a week’s flying holiday, with everything on hand including our own aircraft for the week just 10 paces from our accommodation.
My main concerns were what the checkride would be like and how I would find flying in foreign airspace. I only had around 180 hours flying experience very little of which was in a PA-28 and hardly any grass operations whatsoever.
I needn’t have worried however, after an excellent ground briefing with Tony Pool (Who has excellent local knowledge) we were off to do some flying. Tony made me feel at ease straight away and the checkride was nothing more complicated than basic flying skills. Tony did an excellent job of making me feel confident with the aircraft and the local procedures.
Flying in the USA was some of the simplest flying I have ever done. ATC is so straight forward and the flight following service is a dream. I can honestly say that we had no problem with airspace or speaking to ATC, and within an hour felt very comfortable navigating our way around.
During our stay we visited some fantastic places including, Daytona Beach, Venice, The Everglades and Winter Haven (to fly a Boeing Stearman) to mention just a few. We easily managed 20 hours flying in 6 days, something I have never been able to do here in the UK. All the people at the FBOs are friendly and best of all we never paid a landing fee!
We had a fantastic time during our stay, and we are already looking at returning again to continue our adventure.
For anyone whose passion is flying and considering this as a holiday, stop thinking about it and do it! It will be one of the best things you ever do!
What we liked :
- Value for money (you get what you pay for)
- Easy booking process
- Fast licence validation and check ride process
- Independency and complete freedom in respect of flying (Where to go, when to go)
- Highly professional support, if needed
- Cosy home, ideal for a couple, equipped with what you need, WIFI connection a great plus
- Well maintained aircraft with sufficient hours available (good planning)
- If needed, easy access to maintenance support for minor issues
- Ideal base for flights to the Bahamas (airplane equipped with the necessary Decal sticker
What you might want to know as a pilot:
Generally speaking, flying in the USA is very simple compared to Europe. A good command of spoken and oral English however is a must. Radio communication messages are very short and fast, but very efficient.
- Simple airspace structure
- Little restrictions
- No landing fees!!
- Fuel easy available (self-service by credit card) at a reasonable price
- Efficient flight support service (flight planning, weather) by phone or internet
- Aerodrome information, some charts and trip suggestions available in your home
- Additional charts can be purchased at Fort Pierce airport (Tiki restaurant)
- All relevant information for flights to the Bahamas also available at Tiki
To be observed:
- Additional costs for renters and borrowers insurance coverage (approx. $ 300 /pilot)
- You will need a rental car
More about Marianne:
The Swiss Association of Women Pilots which is a non profit organization. It has been founded by some passionate women pilots in the year 2010, in commemoration of 100 years of Swiss Aviation history. The objectives are;
- establish relationship between women pilots
- develop contacts between the members
- support all kind of projects in relation with aviation
Please visit www.womenpilots.ch
“Definitely a Pilot’s Paradise, but turned out to be a paradise for passengers as well”
“Immaculate plane and facilities”
“Definitely the best PA28 I have ever flown”
“Dream about a Pilots Paradise, then go there”
“Voted best holiday by the whole family”
“Oli, Stephen and Antonia were perfect hosts. Assistance without interference.”
“Flying to get breakfast seems was much easier than driving”
“My daughter, Eve at 17, had just got her PPL – Pilots Paradise is the best place to build hours”
“My daughter had just got her PPL in UK, learning on PA28s. So what better place to consider a family holiday over Christmas 2012, Pilots Paradise seemed to tick the boxes. Oli and Stephen helped us with FAA certificate for my daughter and after a few circuits, we were all checked out on the first day. We had the plane and accommodation for two weeks, but actually flew to Bahamas for the week over Christmas itself. Florida is easy flying, Bahamas is even easier – a single frequency for all the “Out Islands”. We stayed in Cat Island, but flew to lunch to many other equally nice islands. Florida highlights included flying out for breakfast, flying to Winter Haven to sample Jack Browns Seaplane Base (you can taxi to their carpark), Centre, Everglades and lots of coast and Keys. The whole family – including the two passengers had a fantastic holiday.” Martin & Ruth, Joe & Eve
I recently experienced this “dream” on a holiday in Florida courtesy of Pilots’ Paradise. A family concern that encourages one to live the dream, for a fun flying experience or a more serious hour building project, but nevertheless a very satisfying experience. One of those rare occasions when you can say, what you get is what it says on the tin.
Exclusive use of one of the best PA28 Warriors I have ever had the pleasure to fly and a superb Studio apartment with an adjacent swimming pool for the nearest and dearest.
All in all seven days of pilot heaven, with 11 hrs of pure joy, and another 14 different airfields visited, with further memories of flying in Florida’s weather to add to the memories database.
Not a young budding aviator, rather one at the other end of the spectrum, 74 years young, but still catered for as any other would be Florida flyer. A truly £ for £ value flying experience.
So many thanks for Oli for arranging it, and Stephen and Antonia for the practicalities of making it happen.
We were warmly greeted on our arrival by Stephen who showed us to our excellent accommodation beside the 790m grass strip and adjacent to the hangar. Of the two aircraft available, we opted for N82332 (their latest acquisition) an immaculate, well equipped, 2002 Warrior II and certainly the most modern and best PA28 I have ever flown.
A check ride with Stephen was arranged for the following day. Stephen is a knowledgeable and highly experienced instructor with the ability to put you at ease while pointing out your errors and bad habits yet leaving your ego more or less intact — a skill not shared by all instructors! With the checkout completed, the aircraft was ours for the week — marvellous!
Although US airspace classification and VFR communication procedures differ somewhat from the UK, flying in the US is generally very straightforward and with the friendly and helpful attitude of all the ATC with whom we had contact there was never a sense of intimidation, even in busy airspace.
The highlight of our holiday was undoubtedly our trip down to Key West. Outbound, we opted for the offshore, low-level route (cleared through the Miami Class Bravo at ‘not above 500 feet’) — an exhilarating experience. At Stephen’s suggestion we stopped at Marathon and had lunch at The Island Fish Company, a beautiful waterside restaurant with excellent food. We spent the night in Key West and flew back the following day, this time at 2000 feet, being vectored directly overhead Ft Lauderdale and Palm Beach International airports — an equally enjoyable experience. Back at Indian River, having breakfast on the patio in the warm Florida sunshine with the aircraft parked a few feet away and another day’s flying in prospect takes some beating. A pilot’s paradise? Well, yes, that just about sums it up!
I met Gareth back in 2007 at Deeside gliding club in Aboyne, during the week of the mountain soaring championships. I think that it is fair to say that I am an incredibly lucky lady that my husband loves flying almost as much as I do. Not only that, but it was his idea to have a flying honeymoon. Needless to say, no persuasion was needed on my part. To make the most of it we decided to take 5 weeks away, after all, your honeymoon is supposed to be a once in a lifetime break away.
After a lot of internet searching, we came across Pilots’ paradise based in Florida, a fledgling business at the time (October/November 2010) that offered accommodation, transfer from the airport and aircraft hire all at a very reasonable cost. The creator of the company, Oliver Fisher, who is a Royal Air Force and GA pilot himself, is based in the UK. Being a fairly green PPL holder at the time I found having someone you could phone who knows about flying, the differences with flying in the USA and the local area where you are based was a real advantage. Oli’s dad Stephen was our contact in Florida, a very experienced instructor and pilot himself.
Our base was to be ‘Indian River Aerodrome’, a residential airpark with a 792m grass strip that lays approximately 6nm south west of Vero Beach. The accommodation is in the form of a studio apartment which is only a few metres from the hanger that faces straight on to the runway. Having such immediate access to your aircraft and living next to the runway was certainly our idea of a pilot’s dream.
The deal at the time was $54 per hour, dry. A minimum of 10hrs flying a week, or in our case 50 hours over the 5 week period, which in Florida is not a hard task. At the time the fuel cost was between $3.56 and $6 a US gallon. The aircraft was a very nicely kept piper warrior, and the best part for me was that the aircraft was exclusively ours for the duration of our honeymoon.
As you can imagine with the trip being abroad there was a little pre honeymoon planning required before our adventure was to get under way. We required the CAA to verify my flying licence to the FAA. We arranged an appointment slot in the FAA office in Orlando, that followed my flight check out with Stephen to get the temporary FAA certificate that would allow me to fly in the USA. You also require a visa to get into the USA – because we were going as part of a holiday package we managed to do this part online in a matter of minutes.
What drew us to Florida was the plethora of airfields and places of interest to visit both within and outside of the state, the airfields having no landing fees, and its proximity to the Bahamas. By not having to pay landing fees, it allowed us to keep the costs down during our trip, or my way of looking at it … more pennies for actually flying.
We chose to go for the last week in October and for the whole of November, a time of year that would reduce the risk of our encountering hurricanes. There are so many places we could talk about but I will highlight a few of our favourites.
Our first trips were fairly local and we soon discovered the airport Tiki at Okeechobee which would be a frequent haunt for breakfast during our time there. Only about 15-20 minutes flight from the apartment, it is a municipal airfield, essentially maintained by the council that lies just north of Lake Okeechobee. It was a very popular place for pilots to go to, especially at the weekend and it was always worth the wait for a table. There was always an interesting mix of aircraft that would fly in, even including a few experimental types. Although it has to be said that it was very surreal to see people flying in for breakfast in a citation jet, or a gulfstream. It is definitely a place that made you feel like you were a part of a small community and it made me realise that a lot of people in the U.S not only fly for fun, but as a form of commuter transport.
What struck us in the early days of flying in Florida was how GA friendly it was. Not only was there no any landing fees, you had self-service, pay by card fuel pumps so you could top up the tanks at any time. At most FBOs (fixed base operators) you could borrow a car for an hour or so to pop into the town for a browse around the area or they would arrange a car hire for you. It felt like there was a lot of freedom for us to pick up the map and start exploring. Flying in the morning tended to be less thermic and we were always aware of the triggers for CBs. As my confidence grew, we went a little further afield.
The everglades offered a new airfield and the chance to get up close with the alligators. I don’t think that we were convinced it was a good idea for the guide to hit the alligator on the nose as he was telling us that it can jump 3 times its own body length without touching the ground. But I am happy to say we all escaped harm.
Pahokee was a small town on the east side of the Okeechobee lake that we stayed at to see the sunset, our accommodation was a small log cabin called the tadpole. It was amazing when you stood and looked out over the lake; it is so big you would think that you are looking at the sea. I have to say the sunset did not disappoint.
On the days that we did not fly we still had plenty to do, we shot handguns for the first time, visited Ormond Beach, went to the cinema, spent Veterans Day at Stuart airshow, looked at the TICO aviation museum, and took tours at Cape Canaveral with NASA amongst other things. Unfortunately although both the rocket and the shuttle were due to launch whilst we were in Florida, both got delayed due to technical issues. It was still spectacular to see it set up for launch day.
One of the greatest highlights of our honeymoon was getting the chance to fly down to Turks and the Bahamas. Our initial plan had been to have a Caribbean check flight with Stephen, however Oli had received a phone call from 2 pilots, Dan Arlett and Adam Dobson who were looking for an aircraft to hire to take to the Bahamas. Both of them had a lot of flying experience, Adam was a PPL with IMC and Dan was an RAF CFS QFI on Hawk and Tornado F3. They also had been to the Bahamas multiple times before. It was proposed that we get in touch with each other to possibly do the trip together if both parties agreed. This is how we came to spend one week of our honeymoon with Dan and Adam.
We couldn’t have been more relieved to say that we all hit it off straight away, 7 hours flying together could have been a really awkward otherwise.
The first time we met was the night before our trip in order to do the flight planning, mass and balance, fuel calculation, submitting our flight plan and e-APIS which is the passenger manifest that you do online. Our luggage was very scant in order to stay within the limits, slimmed down from the initial packing. I had already picked up the import/export paperwork and general declaration forms that would be required by the aircraft for leaving the USA, entering the Bahamas, leaving the Bahamas and entering Turks as you essentially have to export the aircraft from where you are and import it to where you are going. Dan and Adam had advised us to take a supply of small dollar bills to pay the fees along the way, not all places took card payments. It is a good idea to double check that the airfields you intend to land at have the appropriate fuel – the Bahamas and Caribbean pilots guide is very useful to have when planning and it is generally updated yearly. Safety equipment was hired from Fort Pierce airfield and picked up the day before and with it also being a customs airfield I managed to pick up the paperwork we would be required to use. It is important to note that your initial landing point in the Bahamas must also be at a customs airfield.
The initial plan was to fly to North Eluthera, then on to Exuma followed by Providenciales in Turks.
We decided that Dan would be in the right hand seat with Gareth and Adam in the back and I would be taking point as P1. I found it quite comforting to have someone with so much experience up front with me and I was looking forward to seeing what I would learn from the trip. Before departure we discussed what each person’s role would be in the event of an emergency or ditching so that there would be no ambiguity should the worst occur. With butterflies in my stomach and the weather on our side we set off first thing in the morning.
The first leg did not quite go according to plan unfortunately with a call of nature needed. A quick look at the chart and plates and an alternative customs airport that was closer to us was chosen. An embarrassing call to air traffic asking to divert for a comfort stop and a request that they close our active flight plan saw us landing at Freeport international in Grand Bahama. Our baggage was unloaded and checked, the aircraft left open for customs to look at, fees paid, documents checked, fuel topped up, a new flight plan filed and we were once again ready to depart. Feeling a little more relaxed we headed for Exuma International. What strikes you when flying in the Bahamas is the number of islands that make it up and after the initial water crossing you can follow a route that will keep you close to the islands, many of which have runways. We chose to fly past Nassau to keep us on a direct route, this leg taking 2.5 hours, gave us plenty of time to appreciate the beauty and colours around us. We even had our own soundtrack playing courtesy of Adam playing music through his headset and it was one of those days where you wonder why everyone doesn’t go flying and you can’t help but have a grin on your face. Even to this day when I hear certain tunes on the radio it takes me back to those very happy days cruising over the Bahamas. Our final leg that day took us to Providenciales in Turks, and with a total flight time of 7 hours, a well-deserved rest.
We stayed at Club Med and opted for all inclusive. It was nice to have a few days down-time, enjoying the sunshine, sailing hobby cats, dancing the night away, and there was even a little circus action by the boys in the form of a trapeze lesson. A few days later, whilst keeping an eye on the weather for the flight back it became apparent that the return flight was going to be postponed. Despite our best efforts to miss the hurricane season, hurricane Tomas was heading our way via Haiti. The airport was to be shut and the hotel on lock down. When we first contacted the airport to see if we could get hanger space for the aircraft we were told that there was no room, however thanks to some smooth talking by Adam and a $100 bribe, we managed to secure a spot – one less thing to give us concern. Dan suggested that we change rooms to the first floor in case of a storm surge, a request that the hotel obliged with. The hurricane was due to arrive early morning, dinner finished early and every person was given a white box containing food and water for breakfast and a torch. Curfew was set for everyone to be in their room. Luckily for us the path of the hurricane changed slightly so there was a lot of rain and an increase in wind strength but no real damage to the Island. Haiti was not so fortunate and bore the brunt of it. We were glad that we had been spared the destruction.
Once the airport was opened again we started the journey back to the mainland, the weather not as bright in the aftermath. We were bound for Exuma International as our airport of entry and then on to Staniel Cay, a favourite of both sailors and aviators, for lunch at the yacht club. This is the Island that James Bond was filmed and you can see the thunderball cave easily from the air. If you have time to stop you can hire a boat and swim in the cave. Following lunch we headed for Nassau. It is a busy airfield and we were vectored in for an approach and asked to keep up the speed and land long for the jet that was approaching behind us. We chose to stay at the Atlantis hotel. An impressive and imposing complex with the largest aquarium I have ever seen, holding all sorts of aquatic animals from the small, to rays and sharks. The hotel also has a large casino and several restaurants. Our final leg of the trip was to fly back to the USA and into Fort Pierce. It’s the same drill with customs, you leave the aircraft open, have all your documentation ready and unload your bags for them to check. In all we did around 14 hours of flying and had a week to remember but we barely scratched the surface of the Bahamas.
Towards the end of our honeymoon we took the trip down to the Florida Keys. We decided to pop into the everglades on the way down to get fuel and say hi as they had been so welcoming during our previous visit. We had been told about another Tiki near Marathon airport with a great reputation for good food and a nice view of the water, so another stop off was in order to fuel the pilots. On the way down you pass a local legend, Fat Albert, a tethered aerostat radar system with a danger area around it as the cable can extend up to 14000ft. Co-ordinating with key west navy after departure we were requested to remain 2 miles off the coast and remain at our altitude and just as we were being told about departing traffic, a jet passed right under us – not your everyday view.
Key West is quite a colourful place. We were picked up from the airport by our taxi which included Mango the parrot, who sat out during the ride, often hanging upside down from the driver’s hand. At our bed and breakfast, Knowles house, we met another young honeymoon couple, Jarred and Lauren from Louisiana whom we became friends with. I undertook my first ever Jet Ski ride, and when the guide gave us 10 minutes to “ride it like you stole it” Gareth took it to heart and despite my best efforts to hold on tight we ended up off the machine and soaked to the bone. It was also the first time I had ridden a bike with a back pedal brake, as we had hired them to take a tour of the island. Gareth suggested that we take Jarred and Lauren up in the warrior as they had never been in a light aircraft before and I was happy to oblige. We took a short trip around the island and over to Marathon to the Tikki for lunch. I really enjoyed being able to do something a little different for them that maybe added to their honeymoon memories.
Taking Oli’s advice for our routing back to Indian River we went up the coast past Miami, with our clearance of not above 500ft and remain over the water. It is definitely a spectacular route home, all be it a very busy one. You have to keep your eyes peeled for all the other low level traffic and the occasional banner tower, but it will be a view of Miami that you won’t forget in a hurry, and every time that you see the opening sequence of CSI Miami it will take you back to it.
Our final day seemed to come around really quickly. We settled our bill at Vero beach for the times we parked overnight and took fuel, and the very kind people there only charged us fuel as we were the ‘lovely honeymoon couple from the UK’. We took a final flight to Okeechobee for breakfast and to top up to tabs before having to get packed up and on the road for Orlando and our return home. 5 weeks away, 57.5 hours flying, a truck load of fantastic memories, and some new friends meant that our honeymoon was everything that we had set out to achieve – something that we will never forget. Would we do it again? Without a doubt we would love to, although now that I have more experience and a CPL IR I would challenge myself to go a little further. I highly recommend you to give it a go, whether it is for a week or a month, the above is just a small snippet of the things we did and you will have plenty to keep you occupied if flying or having some down time; staying local or going further afield.
On arrival Stephen and Antonia settled us in, gave us the tour of the property, and explained how things work. The aircraft check-out was quickly completed later in the afternoon as well as a familiarisation of the local area. The airfield is fantastic, very laid-back and while, initially, it feels a little short you soon get used to it. Flying in the USA is much simpler than the complications of UK/Europe with much less restricted airspace, controllers who will go out of their way to help you through restricted airspace, and a pre-flight briefing service that (in a single phone call) gives you everything you need.
The accomodation is perfect for a couple and has plenty of personal touches which make it much nicer than a standard hotel room. Sitting on the patio and watching the local aircraft taking off while eating your breakfast, or enjoying a afternoon post-flying beer, were both highlights for us. The Swimming pool was great for post flight relaxing and being close to Vero Beach ensures a balanced holiday for any ‘non-flying’ partners. The Aircraft is truly immaculate and clearly a cherished family ‘toy’.
We explored most of Southern Florida. Highlights that I’d recommend would be:
— Key West (inc the low level Miami beach route)
— Cedar Key (Great chilled out atmosphere and lovely sea-food – hire golf karts at the aiport or call the local taxi on the Unicom freq)
— Everglades City (great seafood and airboat rides – borrow bikes at the airfield)
— River Ranch Resort (great steak and Rodeo/Cowboy watching)
— Okeechobee (great breakfast and very cheap fuel)
— Winter Haven (great restaurant and only £50 for 30mins lake hopping in a Cub on floats)
Web-sites that I found useful are www.skyvector.com (for online sectionals) and www.airnav.com (for airfield info and reviews).
I’d highly recommend this as either a great introduction to flying in the USA or just enjoying a flying holiday in a little slice of Pilots’ Paradise.
The first hurdle was obtaining the insurance, as most insurance firms deal in 12 month policies, however Avemco was a name provided by Oli and they insured myself and daughter for what we wanted during the whole week.
Driving instructions were simple from Orlando Airport and we arrived painlessly about 2 hours after arriving at the aerodrome, a beautiful, idyllic, setting about 10 miles from Vero beach, Oli’s dad settled us into our villa and showed me the aeroplane and the local maps etc. The following day I had a local familiarization with Stephen and we were handed the keys to a very nice example of a Piper Warrior. Not a blemish in sight from what I could see. Coupled with the fact Stephen knew more about flying the warrior and its maintenance than most, I knew it had been well looked after.
Our visits took us as far as Titusville to visit the Space shuttle, we flew into Kissimee and hired a car for 2 days to visit Disney/Universal, Airboating on the Everglades took up most of one of the other days, with the rest flying along the beach and sampling the many good restaurants on the various airfields dotted around.
As confidence grew I quite happily plucked up the courage to talk to the many excellent radar controllers for flight following, and was amazed at the fact landing fees are free and the very friendly FBO’s who look after you when you land somewhere new.
I would highly recommend it to any pilot whether new or experienced, it’s a very affordable way of consolidating your flying, once you’ve flown in and out a few times, short field techniques become second nature, and it certainly won’t feel as short as the pictures show. There is plenty to do for the family nearby and car hire is about $40 per day from many of the airports nearby to explore. Even if you don’t want to fly everyday, its yours to use whenever.
We will certainly be back with the intention of flying the ‘Keys’ or further afield, armed with a couple of maps you can explore wherever you like, and it certainly in my case, made an 11 year old want to discover flying a lot more!!
Considering practicalities during the booking process we found renters insurance a must, as it is standard practise in the USA. It could have been rather confusing but after research it turned out that the simplest way of obtaining the correct amount and type of cover was by being put on our insurance policy. We did this by giving Oli (our UK contact) some basic details and he did all the paperwork for us – sorted!
I had not flown solo in the USA before and, although current and experienced on light aircraft in the UK, I found the checkout a daunting challenge.
Stephen, the instructor, was quick to put me at my ease with a morning fielding my questions, talking me through the nuances of flying in Florida, and imparting invaluable information.
My two hour check ride became a welcome two hour lesson from a highly experienced instructor and I gratefully accepted the offer of another couple of hours instruction with Stephen.
By the end of the flight I was reassured of my capabilities to venture out and explore Florida with my wife who is also learning to fly.
We weren’t really sure where would be good to visit. A chat with Stephen and a look at the visitors’ guide gave us lots of suggested destinations as well as route and activity information. Our flights included a memorable visit to Titusville (Space Centre), another to Sarasota, and a good breakfast in Okeechobee. The aircraft was a delight to fly and is one of the best examples of a Warrior I have flown, not your average club Warrior!
We thoroughly enjoyed our flying holiday, in fact so much so, that we are coming back again within the year and my wife is hoping to have her pilot’s licence by then. The accommodation was very pleasant and the hosts could not have been more inviting or helpful. I feel this really is an experience that cannot be found anywhere else. To be able to use a well looked after aeroplane, and be guided through flying in Florida with expert instruction, is an unrivalled package. We were thinking about keeping Pilot’s Paradise a secret so that we could have it to ourselves, but that would be denying fellow aviation enthusiasts the holiday of a lifetime.