Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico

Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 1 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 2 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 3 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 4 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 5 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 6 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 7 Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico 8

When you fly as much as I do traveling throughout the country, it takes a lot to sit back and say “Wow, that was an amazing experience” reflecting on a flight.  This past weekend was one such experience flying from Orlando down to Puerto Rico in my Cirrus SR22 Aircraft, so I thought I’d share a blog post about it along with photos from my journey.

I left Orlando and flew directly to Exuma (MYEF) which took roughly 2 hrs.  The tower services were a bit strange in that they only serve in an “advisory” capacity, basically providing winds and nothing else.  Approaching the island was gorgeous despite some scattered clouds throughout the area.  There’s a 7,000 foot runway with only one turnoff (no taxiways) being about 5,000 feet down, so I’d recommend landing long – the condition of the runway itself was great.  The folks at Odyssey knew I was coming in ahead of time for a quick turn fuel stop ($7/gal) and pulled up the fuel truck as soon as I turned off the engine.  I walked into the FBO, a few minutes later was fueled and cleared customs ($50 fee – never talked to anyone other than the friendly person at the desk).  My expedited customs arrival/departure was due to e-mailing my passport and info ahead of time, didn’t even need to pull out my passport since they already had it.  I was airborne again about 20 minutes after I’d landed, a really quick turn.

Heading Southeast leaving Exuma was some of the prettiest flying I’ve ever done over water and islands.  The Turks and Caicos were especially pretty – that’s actually where I’d planned my fuel stop originally, but they wanted $150 for customs for the stop so I thought I’d save $100 enjoying the view from above.  Once I was South of the Turks and Caicos was where it got a bit more sparse.  You’re still communicating with Miami air traffic control, but there’s no land in sight for a long, long time as you cross hundreds of miles of open water.  Total flight time was around 3.5 hours, passing Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic along the way.  I had a maritime survival equipment onboard including a life raft (thanks to my friend Rich for inspiring that purchase), a marine radio, personal locator beacon (PLB), etc.  Despite being well prepared to take an unexpected cruise, I’m glad all that preparation was for nothing.  Just before reaching San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was switched over to their approach control from Miami.  I landed at Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport (TJIG) which is the executive airport about five miles from the commercial airport (TJSJ).  My landing was smooth as silk and the tower air traffic control services were flawless.  Since I’d stopped in the Bahamas, I was now considered an international flight returning to the US (even though I was in Puerto Rico).  My stop at the US Customs office took all of 2 minutes and was uneventful.  The FBO (Million Air) greeted me at customs, unloaded my bags, and towed the airplane next door to their facility.  Then they pulled up a brand new Mercedes and the line guy drove me about 10 minutes down the road to my hotel.  Amazing service to say the least!

I had several days of successful business conference meetings then it was time to return to Florida.  On my departure from Puerto Rico, I once again passed through Million Air and had another fantastic experience.  Smiling faces who were over-the-top helpful – truly one of the best FBO experiences I’ve ever had anywhere.  My IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan was filed and I was ready to go.  Here’s when I discovered a quirk compared to some of the other flying I’ve done in the states.  I filed fixes on the airways all the way back to Exuma.  Clearance rejected my flight plan however because they wanted the actual airway listed too.  Funny thing is the airway was a straight line between the two fixes, but I re-filed with the exact same route (this time spelling out the airway) which then made everyone happy.  My flight back to Exuma was equally as beautiful as on the way down.  This time there we no clouds though which made for even better views out the windows of my Cirrus.

It was late in the day as I landed in Exuma just before sunset.  No big deal, or so I thought.  I didn’t realize that when the clock struck 6:00, that meant there were no more departures – even though it was still perfectly clear daylight out.  The FBO attendant told me that I was stuck there for the night, unless I wanted to pay an extra $86 fee for an after hours departure.  So, at about 6:04, I paid my $86 and got my clearance to depart after hours – still with nothing more than a “wind check” advisory for my departure.  The way I figured it, my cost to stay overnight would have far exceeded the $86 so it was a no-brainer to pay it and chock it up to a lesson learned to fly earlier in the day.

I cleared US customs at their brand new customs facility at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE).  They customs agents there were fantastic!  They asked if I had any fruits, seeds, nuts, etc… right about that time I pulled out my snack bag I’d packed and realized I had a trail mix called “Fruit and Seed Mix”.  I’d just hit a double home run with my snack choice!  The customs agents were great and it wasn’t an issue as they were still sealed (and discarded) but did make for a good laugh.

On a trip like this the one thing that I’d stress is to make sure you’ve got all your US Customs eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) filings done ahead of time which just makes everything so much easier.  You’ve got to file your outbound US departure to Exuma, your inbound from Exuma to Puerto Rico, then the same in reverse on your return flights.  Between the US, Bahamas and Puerto Rico you’ll be clearing customs four times on the trip and file four eAPIS reports.  I use the FlashPass App on my iPad which makes it quick and easy to do.  It’s good to have the customs numbers for your intended airports handy too so you can give your US Customs Notices of Arrival as necessary.  Also, for anyone wishing to take this trip looking for alternate airports to file as well just in case a diversion becomes necessary – in the Bahamas you’ve got Stella Maris (MYLS) and in San Juan you’ve got Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (TJSJ).  Though it’s worthwhile noting at TJSJ, I was quoted $300-$600 for a ramp fee, but they wouldn’t be able to tell me exactly what it would really cost until I arrived.  Needless to say, I chose to go to the executive airport instead – and made an excellent choice choosing Million Air.  They communicated quickly with me over e-mail ahead of time and knew exactly what to expect in terms of fees and services provided.  If you go there, say hello to Juan the manager for me, really nice guy who runs a first class operation.  There’s also an excellent Cirrus Authorized Service Center on the field (Caribbean Aircraft Maintenance) in case you have any mechanical issues which need to be addressed.

Overall, this is one of those trips that goes down in the books as a truly great experience that reminds me of why I fly a Cirrus.  All the other folks at my conference took airlines down there.  I’m sure several thought I was crazy for flying myself – until I chatted about my adventure and showed them some pictures of my journey… then they wished they’d tagged along with me instead!  This is what living the Cirrus Life is all about, the experiences and joy it adds to our lives!

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re ever thinking of flying down to Puerto Rico and will be happy to chat further about my experience.  Definitely looking forward to taking another trip down there (and beyond) soon!

How a Fitness Tracker Changed My Lifestyle

How a Fitness Tracker Changed My Lifestyle

Many years ago I purchased my first fitness tracker, the original Jawbone Up.  I bought it almost as a novelty item – I’m a techie guy and this was the latest and greatest tech gadget so had to give it a shot.  It was annoying to wear, constantly getting caught on my bracelet, uncomfortable as I tried to sleep and a chore to charge and sync.  My fitness tracker experiment lasted a month or so at most.  It soon lived in my backpack with the idea that one day I’d get back to wearing it again…  That day never came.

Fast forward to 2015, I was hopping around online and came across the Jawbone Up Move.  This fitness tracker seemed to be the answer to all my prior complaints – wireless Bluetooth syncing and a six month battery that never needed charging topped the list of benefits.  So, I hit the buy button and two days later it arrived at my doorstep.  Once again, I was off to tracking my steps.  Here’s the thing, I realized just how sedentary I was on a regular basis.  I’m a guy who’s always on the go, 24/7 aside from a few hours of necessary sleep to recharge.  I realized that while I’m always “active” doing things, I wasn’t very physically active aside from weekends playing with my boys in the park.  My average day at the office consisted of 1,500 steps on a good day.

That was six months ago.  I’m still wearing my Jawbone Up Move daily, it’s comfortably clipped to the inside of my pants pocket everywhere I go.  It’s discreet, out of the way, and it just plain works with zero effort.  I love the app which is really the key to it all.  It makes me accountable to myself to hit my daily step goal.  In the past two months, I haven’t missed my goal even a single time.  I’m averaging around 12,000 steps per day, knocking it out of the ballpark with upwards of 16-18,000 steps on a great day.  Here’s the thing, it’s been a relatively easy transition from pathetic to walking several miles each day.  I’ve found I’m great at multitasking in terms of being able to walk and talk or walk and type e-mails.  Now, instead of sitting idle at my desk while taking a twenty minute call, I pop on my headset and chat while I walk.  I’ve just instantly added 2,000 steps to my day (I walk at a pace of 100 steps/min).  Same thing with catching up on e-mails, especially reading those that are just informational or those which only require a short response.  I can work through a handful of e-mails on my phone and simultaneously add a thousand or more steps to my daily count.  As an added bonus, I find I’m also focused without distraction as I walk along doing these other tasks.  A true win-win scenario.

In addition to my daytime walking routine, I’ve also found that I really enjoy the relaxation of a late night walk after the rest of the world has gone to sleep.  It allows me to reflect back on the day’s events and think through solutions to the challenges I face in the day ahead.  It’s a great routine for both my body and my mind that’s become something I look forward to each evening.

In terms of the sleep tracking functionality, this tracker honestly hasn’t changed my sleep habits at all, but I still enjoy using it each night.  The things that I’ve learned are (1) I’m a really solid sleeper – and (2) I don’t get enough of it.  My sleep cycles are virtually textbook perfect with my body alternating between light and deep sleep.  I discovered that I fall asleep in minutes, it’s clear when I slow down and lay down I’m out like a light.  I honestly don’t have the desire to change the length of time I sleep each night.  I’ve got a million and one things happening in life and I don’t want to miss a moment of it sleeping life away.

Now-a-days I’m looking great and I’m feeling great too.  I’m not meaning to sound conceded, but I’ve truly never looked better in my entire life.  The funny thing is I didn’t look bad before I started this new lifestyle routine, I’ve always been in good shape and been happy with my height to weight ratio.  Turns out dropping 10 lbs (literally) was an even better fit for my body.  It almost came as a surprise that I’d lost the weight, it wasn’t even intentional, it just happened.  Makes sense though, a friend of mine recently lost a ton of weight – to the point I mistakenly thought he’d gotten surgery.  He explained to me that it was all a matter of simple math: move more and eat less equals less weight.  Well, I’m moving more but have skipped the eating less part, I love great food way too much.  Probably a good thing or I’d be considerably underweight with all I’m moving these days.

If you’re interested in buying the same model fitness tracker I use to try it for yourself, don’t be confused by all the different models and brands.  This one is simply called the “Jawbone Up Move” and is sold virtually everyone online and locally at a lot of retailers.  People mistakenly refer to my device a “FitBit”, but that’s actually a completely different brand.  Nothing against FitBit, they’re the household brand name in these devices, but their software pales in comparison to Jawbone’s.  Since the phone app software is the single biggest area where I interact with the device each day (which strongly motivates me), I wanted the best, cleanest and easiest to use platform available.  Jawbone is the clear cut winner in this regard.  A great app matched with a great device has made for a fantastic user experience which I highly recommend to others.

One last caveat, these fitness trackers aren’t just $50 each.  Yes, that’s the price for the FIRST one you buy.  Then when that one falls off your belt, pants, etc., you need to fork over another $50 for a replacement.  When another one mysteriously falls off of an aircraft wing (oops), there’s another $50 spent.  Eventually you’ll be spending $50 for Jawbone #6 after the fifth one finds a new home on the floor of a crowded concert never to be seen again.  To all those who got free Jawbone’s courtesy of me, you’re welcome.  I’ve probably spent around $300 on these little devices.  That being said, are they worth it?  Every single penny.  I’m already looking forward to my brand spanking new one…  I’m thinking by around February my current one will take leap of faith off of my pocket to find its new owner.  Hopefully it will add another 10,000 steps to their daily routine too – it may end up being the best treasure they ever find!

Brad’s 2015 Was An Amazing Year!

Brad Pierce Cirrus Event Brad Pierce Speaking Brad Pierce NRA Show Brad Pierce Bahamas Boy Trip Brad Pierce Cirrus Cockpit Brad Pierce Milan, Italy

This time of year I always enjoy reflecting on the events that shaped the past year of my life.  In a nutshell, 2015 was simply AMAZING!  I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines, but this past year I was especially engaged in the game of making the most of every moment in life.

My year started out with a trip up to the Cirrus Aircraft factory in Duluth, MN to surprise all the great folks who make such a phenomenal company thrive.  I was accompanied by country music superstar Dierks Bentley, baseball hall of famer Ken Griffey Jr. and Red Bull airshow champion pilot Mike Goulian.  We all spoke passionately about our love for their products and how they’d changed our lives.  Dierks stole the show by playing hands-down the best acoustical concert I’ve ever heard in my life.  Afterward, we toured the factory and saw the Cirrus SF50 Personal Jet coming to life.  Each of us are position holders eager to take delivery of our own new jet powered birds so it was especially exciting to see the production facility humming along so strong.  An incredible adventure which really kicked off the year in a big bold way.  A few months later, we even got to re-live the experience doing it all over again for an equally amazing Cirrus Life event to kick off EAA Airventure at Oshkosh.

I’ve always done a whole lot of shows and conventions, but this year I really took my engagement of the industry to a whole new level.  I began by attended the NAFEM Show in California – and it was awesome!   I always go into the show thinking there’s no way they can outdo their past performance – yet, they continually prove me wrong and raise the bar to a whole new level.  NAFEM’s executive leadership team presented me with a Doctorate of Foodservice degree – I was beyond honored and humbled to say the very least!  This show reminded me of why I love my industry so much, it’s made of up of so many great people whom I’m proud to call friends.

My next show was a visit to the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.  I’ve attended for years, but this year was a bit different.  As I walked into the show, right there in the center foyer, I found myself standing below a gigantic photo of my myself on a sign hanging above.  Next, I moved on to badge pickup area, once again, there I was, bigger than life.  For months the organization had used my image in magazine ads, mailers and e-mail campaigns, but it was fun to see my portrait prominently displayed throughout the show itself as well.  The team at the National Restaurant Association has been incredible to work with and I think so highly of them all.  It’s a fantastic show and if you haven’t ever been, I strongly recommend you plan on it this year… you may even see a familiar face on a sign or two at the show!

Moving on to other shows/conventions, I also attended CMAA, FEDA, SEFA, CFESA, NBAA, EAA, ASHORE, HOST, APGA, ESC, FPGA and many, many others in various industries.  One notable addition to my normal convention circuit was the addition of the the HOST Show in Milan, Italy.  The show was out-of-this-world gigantic – to give you an idea of the scale, the sidewalk connecting all the pavilions stretched a full mile long.  Such an incredible experience filled with extremely productive meetings.  I certainly plan to make this show one I attend regularly.  As an added bonus in the after-hours time, it was so much fun spending R&R time with industry friends enjoying some fantastic Italian wine and food.  We even had an opportunity to visit the World’s Fair together which was conveniently located right next door.  I’m so incredibly thankful for the Italy America Chamber of Commerce for their gracious hospitality in making making this trip possible.

This year I was also on stage in the spotlight giving more speeches than ever before in my life.  I’ve really gotten into a solid grove and love sharing my thoughts and knowledge with an audience.  The best part for me is when folks come up afterwards and share their thoughts about what I’ve said during my speech.  This was amplified exponentially after concluding a speech on personal branding and achieving goals I’d just presented to a few hundred SEFA folks.  One person came up to me at dinner that night and gave me a hand written note about how I’d just changed their life with my motivational words.  Wow.  What an impact.  That was worth a million dollars in how great it made me feel knowing I’d been able to help shape the future of someone’s life for the better.  In additional to my motivational speaking, I also gave many professional speeches throughout the year in the foodservice and aviation industries as well as others.  One particular highlight was speaking on behalf of the US Commerce Department regarding e-commerce and exporting.  I truly love this country and it’s an honor to work with such a great organization who does so much to help small businesses succeed on a global scale.  Along with all this speaking, I also did a whole lot of video shoots, magazine photo shoots and interviews.  I’ve become very comfortable in the public spotlight and really enjoy engaging all of these media opportunities.

In addition to my work activities, a huge personal highlight of my year was the Bahamas Boy Trip Part VI.  This trip is an annual tradition where I spent a week of fun in the sun with my two little buddies.  No cell phone, no e-mail, completely disconnected from the world dedicating all my time and energy to spending quality little boy time together with my twins.  They get as much candy as they can fit into a shopping cart, stay up late, jump on beds, no rules, just right!  We laugh and play from dusk until dawn and beyond – and this year, we even got a little more adventurous and walked in the shark tank (literally).  It was especially fun to see ourselves on the in-house TV channel in an advertisement showing activities at the Atlantis Resort.  You may have even seen us on national TV as well this past year, our commercials were running on more major TV networks than I could even count (CNN, HGTV, Discovery, National Geographic, Cartoon Network and many others).  It was so cool to be watching TV at home or on the road and recognize ourselves on the screen during commercial breaks.  I’ll be writing another blog post all about our Bahamas Boy Trip adventures in the near future, including a behind-the-scenes look at the filming we did there.

Looking back at where I’ve traveled, I visited a total of 22 states (several of them many times) and several countries this year.  Less than my usual count, but I spent extended time in several locations at events so it makes sense.  My Cirrus Aircraft performed flawlessly, safely and efficiently moving me between each of my destinations in record time.  Needless to say, I gave the airplane a great workout along the way.  I spent hundreds of hours in the cockpit and at times was in a dozen or more cities and states over the course of a single trip.  During one particularly busy time, I had six speeches in six days in six different states spread throughout the US.  Try doing that without a private aircraft.  What can I say, I simply couldn’t keep the demanding schedule I live without this phenomenal business asset.  I’ve affectionately termed my utilization of this hyper-productive tool as “Doing Business at the Speed of Flight”.  Best of all, I also was able to have some fun and see some amazing sights along the way too.  One particular achievement was landing a Cirrus in Hawaii during a spontaneous trip I took in May – my 50th state landing!  This makes me one of the few people (possibly the only person) to successfully land a Cirrus Aircraft in all 50 states in the United States.  You can read more about this accomplishment in another blog post wrote by clicking here.  I was also an Angel Flight Pilot of the Year Honoree, it felt beyond incredible to receive recognition from such a wonderful organization that’s so near and dear to my heart.  Throughout the year, I flew frequently from sea to shining sea between the East and West coasts enjoying the unique landscapes that make up this great country.  I especially enjoyed my many flights over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado – the most beautiful spot on earth in my opinion.  It’s incredible to realize all these adventures became a reality with just a set of wings and a short mile of runway.  I’ve already got my first 14 flights covering 8 states planned for next year – and that’s just my travel in January.  By next December, who knows the places these wings will have taken me… One thing’s for sure, I’m certainly looking forward to enjoying the adventures ahead!

Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank my customers, friends, business associates, staff members, vendors and family.  I’m incredibly successful at all that I do in life, but I realize it’s these folks who make it all possible.  I’m beyond thankful for all the support so many people have given me not only this past year, but throughout my life.  If you’re one of those people who’ve always believed in me and are reading this blog, thank you.  I’m eternally grateful for all that you do to enrich my life and make me a better person.

That wraps it up, Brad’s 2015 year in review.  It’s truly been an AMAZING year that’s been wildly successful by every measure imaginable.  I’m even more excited about engaging 2016 as I set my sights even higher.  I’ll be living more of life’s adventures as I continue focusing on turning all my goals into a solid wins.  Best wishes to each of you as you start off the 2016 New Year in a big way.  I’ll conclude this post the same as I’ve ended every single speech I’ve given this past year…

“Life’s short.  Live life to the fullest and enjoy every second of the ride!”

Living the Cirrus Life Landing in All 50 States

Brad Pierce Living the Cirrus Life Landing in All 50 States Photo Map

Click the image above or click here for a larger version version of my flight map.

It’s official, I’ve now landed a Cirrus Aircraft in ALL 50 STATES in the USA!  This bucket list adventure has been years in the making, beginning with my first successful touchdown during factory training in Duluth, Minnesota.  Nearly 2,000 landings later, it’s fitting to have made my final victory landing in paradise – Maui, Hawaii.

When I started this adventure, the goal of landing in all 50 states wasn’t even on my radar.  I was a rookie pilot transitioning from a Cessna 172SP which I hadn’t even flown outside my home state of Florida.  I was accustomed to flying low and slow and didn’t even realize all that I was missing.  Everything changed when I took delivery of a new Cirrus SR22 Aircraft in 2005.  My new aircraft was a stark contrast to my Cessna – it was modern, sleek and had speeds which made it ideal for longer distance travel.  Even the tail number was a perfect fit, N225HL, named after my twin boys Hunter and Landon who were born on 2/25.  As I departed Duluth with a safety pilot instructor by my side, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to discover the joy of flying our great country.

Initially, I flew my Cirrus around the State of Florida just as I’d always done with other aircraft.  Then one day I had a conference in Atlanta.  I had ample time to make the trip, so I figured, why not take the Cirrus?  As I touched down in Atlanta, I glanced at my watch and realized my planned commercial flight would just be leaving the gate for departure, yet I was already safely on the ground at my destination – Eureka!  I’d discovered a whole new way to travel that would make commercial air travel a thing of the past.  I wasn’t just flying an airplane, I was flying a time machine that would allow me to outperform my competitors by effectively adding more useful hours each day.  As more business opportunities arose, I completed more and more flights in my Cirrus.  Soon I’d traveled to Chicago, Nashville, Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Antonio and more.  I was adding states to my list virtually as fast as I could fly to each of them.  After about a dozen states were completed, I downloaded one of those old RV camper maps, coloring each state green upon successfully landing.  It was a fun visualization of all the places where I’d flown to in my airplane.

Over the next few years, I continued to use my Cirrus for trips on a weekly basis – yet, my map was completely lopsided.  Nearly the entire Eastern half of the US had been flown while the Western half of the US remained blindingly white (unlanded).  The Rocky Mountains created a formidable barrier.  Along came my next plane, a brand new Cirrus Turbo SR22 Aircraft with a beautiful red and white paint job and all the bells and whistles.  The Cirrus sales rep asked how important it was to transfer my N225HL tail number to my new aircraft – I assured him this was a “must have” item – the adventurous spirit of my two little buddies was definitely going to be accompanying me every step of the way.  I watched in awe as my new and improved Cirrus rolled off the production line to greet me.  My new aircraft had FIKI (flight into known icing), built-in oxygen (for higher altitude flying), an Enhanced Vision System (EVS – night vision), the Garmin Perspective Avionics Suite (including synthetic vision to visualize terrain) – and of course, a turbo normalized engine which would provide the high performance needed for safe mountain flying.  Speed is life and I was now well equipped to utilize my bird as a true cross-country business machine.

While I had the aircraft performance needed to cross the great Rocky Mountains, I lacked the knowledge, skill and confidence to do so safely.  So, through the recommendations of good friends, I engaged the great folks at Independence Aviation in Centennial, Colorado (KAPA – Denver area) to begin mountain flight training.  A whole new world opened up immediately as I learned all about mountain flying operations including the unique wind and weather patterns that are so dramatically different than what occurs while flying the flatland’s.  I quickly became comfortable at the higher altitudes required to safely cross the highest of peaks and the view out the window was utterly amazing.  My first trip beyond the mountains took me to Oakland, California right outside of San Francisco.  I remember looking at my map upon touchdown and realized I’d just flown from Florida to California, my first true cross-country mission.  The sense of accomplishment I felt filled my body with a sense of pride that could only by rivaled by my first solo flight in an airplane roughly 20 years ago.

In the years that followed, the states naturally piled up one after the another while doing extensive business travel – or as I like to call it, conducting “Business at the Speed of Flight”.  I was bouncing between Florida and Illinois, Texas and Arizona, Colorado and California.  Before I knew it, I’d traveled to 42 states just by sheer coincidence, still not having a set goal of landing in all 50 states.  Flying from New York to Florida late one afternoon, the inspiration hit me, and I set a personal goal of landing in every state in America.  Delaware was one state in particular which had eluded me simply because I hadn’t had a business reason to land there… yet.  One day the opportunity presented itself and on my my inbound leg, the air traffic controller was especially relaxed and chatty with folks on the frequency.  I casually mentioned this landing being another notch on my 50 state goal and the radio quickly came to life with a commercial airline pilot chiming in.  He keyed up the mic and stated, “Southwest 123, with request”.  When the controller told him to go ahead with his request, the airline pilot remarked, “Yes, Sir.  Southwest 123 would like that Cirrus guy’s flight plan instead of ours – it sounds like a whole lot more fun!”.  Laughter followed and was one of those moments that made me realize the special and unique nature of what I was accomplishing.

I’d finally landed in all 48 states in the Continental United States and decided to turn my dull solid green map into something more vivid to celebrate the victory.  I painstakingly drudged through my vast collection of airborne photographs to create a map made of pictures, memories from my time soaring above each state across the country.  The end result was beautiful, truly a work of art.  On a number of occasions when I showed it to be people, I was asked the question, “What about Alaska and Hawaii?”  This question echoed in my own head as well… 48 states down, yet my journey wasn’t truly complete.  I’d accomplished flying to more places than most pilots even dream of visiting, but I don’t do anything in life only 96% of the way… hitting the 100% mark was the only viable option.  In early 2013, Alaska was checked off my list as I completed Brad’s Mini Flying Wild Alaska Adventure, which I wrote about in a prior blog post.  Nearly two years later, I safely touched down among the majestic scenery of Hawaii to claim victory landing in all 50 states.

My 50 state airplane adventure has been nothing short of amazing.  As I sit back to reflect and write this post today, I realize just how fortunate I’ve been to be able to accomplish such a goal.  There aren’t many people in this country who’ve visited all 50 states, and only a tiny fraction of those have had the joy of flying over and landing in every single one of them.  We live in an absolutely beautiful country, from the lush green trees covering the Eastern US to the well manicured farmland in the Midwest.  Further West introduces the snow capped mountains in the Central US which lead down to the perfectly chiseled rocks that make up the Southwest US.  Following the breathtaking Grand Canyon leads to the West coast where the land reaches the deep blue ocean.  Further North into Alaska is remote and gorgeous, and Hawaii is home to a paradise like no other place on earth.  Every bit of our country is amazing in its’ own unique way, and there’s no better way to see it than from the cockpit of a light aircraft soaring above this great land.  People have asked which state I liked best, that one is easy.  My favorite flying spot in the country is certainly Colorado – with its’ mountain peaks and enchanting valleys, it simply can’t be beat.  Alaska and Hawaii are both a close second and third place, but Colorado has won over my heart with its’ jaw-dropping views of the mountains throughout every season of the year.

It’s been an incredible journey flying and landing a Cirrus in all 50 states across America.  Despite traveling to many states dozens of times, I have to say, the view never gets old.  Each flight, I still discover new sights, have new experiences and am reminded of how fortunate I am for the opportunity to experience flying throughout the country.  The places I’ve gone, the people I’ve met, the things that I’ve done – I’ve cherished every single moment of the incredible adventure.  I’m elated to be living the Cirrus Life as I embrace my personal mantra of “Living life to the fullest and enjoying every second of the ride!”

Flying an Angel Flight to Help Save a Life

Brad Pierce Angel Flight MedEVAC Miami KMIA   Angel Flight Southeast Logo

It’s not often an individual gets the opportunity to help save a life, but for the great volunteers at Angel Flight Southeast this is a regular occurrence.  I’ve been a volunteer pilot for this charitable flying organization for many years now and have always been very impressed with the incredible results they’ve been able to achieve.  Most routine flights are scheduled ahead of time with plenty of notice to prepare.  My most recent mission, however, was far from routine.

It was 7:23pm on a Thursday night when the call came in for help.  The Angel Flight Southeast mission coordinator explained that two organs which were needed for a young girl in Orlando just became available in Miami.  They had already reached out to seven other pilots who were unable to fly the trip for one reason or another and had reached the end of their list (it’s sorted by airport proximity to the patient).  This particular organ had a “shelf life” of only four hours so there wasn’t a moment to spare.  I immediately responded “yes” as I rushed out the door to head towards the airport.  Along the way I called the good folks at Showalter Flying Service at Orlando Executive Airport and requested their assistance pulling my aircraft out of the hanger so it would be ready to go the moment I arrived.  I also made a confirmation call to my mission coordinator to ensure that Miami International Airport (KMIA) was the correct destination for my flight plan.  South Florida has numerous airports and I couldn’t risk delivering this patient to an incorrect destination.  KMIA was confirmed and my special MedEVAC flight plan was filed with the FAA.

I pulled into the airport knowing it was game day, this flight would be among the most important I’ve ever flown in my life.  Every aspect of this mission needed to be performed flawlessly.  I did a quick (yet thorough) pre-flight of my Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft and determined everything was in a safe condition for a flight.  Moments later my passengers arrived – a courageous young woman and her caring father.  I typically do more coddling of new passengers before taking flights, explaining every aspect of the flight to ease their comfort level.   Tonight was different however, we were racing time which was an expiring commodity so there was only time for the necessary safety briefing.  Before starting the engine however, the father turned to me and simply said “thank you” as he extended his hand.  I looked at him and replied, “I’m happy to help – my job tonight is to get you to Miami quickly and safely – yours is to relax and enjoy the flight.”   With those quick sentiments exchanged, it was “go time”.

As I turned the key my powerful aircraft engine roared to life.  I called up the clearance controller with my special mission call sign, “MedEVAC 225HL”.  Typically Angel Flights use the “Angel Flight” call sign which often leads to air traffic control issuing favorable flight routing. The MedEVAC call sign however essentially adds steroids to the term “favorable routing”.  I was cleared DIRECT TO MIAMI – never in my life would I have imagined such expedited routing though some of the busiest airspace in the country.  Needless to say, I quickly became a huge fan of the MedEVAC call sign.

Seconds later I was taxiing my aircraft to the active runway.  A quick (yet important) pre-takeoff checklist was performed and we were ready to launch.  I received an immediate take-off clearance from the tower and pushed the throttle forward as we rapidly began accelerating down the runway.  We were airborne!  Less than an hour after receiving the call for help we were launching into the night sky.  Years of need for these new organs had come down to a game of every minute counting.  We were given an expedited climb to our assigned altitude, only having to level off briefly to allow for a 747 to cross above our flight path.  Soon we were soaring along towards our destination.

The night was perfect.  The weather was beautiful with no clouds in sight and a we even had a little tailwind to help give us a bonus push.  Air traffic control continued working their magic ensuring other flight paths wouldn’t converge with ours so we could continue our direct heading towards Miami.  My passenger’s moods changed as we glided along.  Their thoughts and worries of the upcoming surgery eased and turned into ones filled with excitement and awe as they gazed out the window at the beautiful city lights below.   We began to chat as we sat on the magic carpet ride racing along over a mile above the earth.  Our conversation was wonderful, they were both incredibly friendly and I was thankful to be able to help such good people.  We chatted about life, school, career aspirations and more.  We also touched on details of the upcoming transplants, although I tried to let them drive that part of the conversation as I didn’t want to pry regarding her condition.  She was very happy to share though and I found it very interesting to learn about the long road she’d endured to get to this point.  Needless to say, hearing stories like this make you realize that the problems most people face in life are insignificant in the scheme of things.  I was inspired by both by her and her father – they were simply great people who were facing adversity with positive, uplifting attitudes.

Approximately 53 minutes after take-off it was time to bring this bird home.  Miami air traffic control arranged for an immediate approach so that no delays from inbound airline traffic would slow us down.  We lined up with the runway and I received my landing clearance as we descended towards the city and hospital below.  Winds were gusty so I expected a more challenging landing, yet it went as smoothly as every other aspect of the flight.  Two minutes after touchdown we were pulling onto the Landmark Aviation tarmac where numerous team members were gathered awaiting our arrival.  The staff at Landmark was fantastic welcoming my passengers, complete with a red carpet to make them feel like they were the most important guests in the world – which they were.

There wasn’t much time to be sentimental, yet my passengers and I expressed some quick thoughts as we walked through the doors towards their waiting transportation.  They thanked me again and I expressed what an honor it was to have the opportunity to fly them on this special evening.  I expressed that everything had gone perfectly that evening.  The mission coordination, timing, air traffic control, weather – everything.  I told them we should consider that a sign – a sign that tonight was meant to be and that her upcoming surgery would be successful as well.  I watched as their car raced away knowing my part of the mission was complete.  Less than two hours after the initial phone call came in, I had successfully transported a patient and her father more than 200 miles to their destination where vital organs were waiting to be transplanted.  Her life would now be in the hands of the skilled surgeons at the nearby hospital.

I took a moment to catch my breath before my return flight to Orlando.  I chatted with the fantastic mission coordination staff from Angel Flight Southeast who are the ones whom really made this all possible.  I gave them a thorough briefing on the details of the mission performance including expressing my gratitude for all that they do each day.  A short while later, I was lifting off once again, a bit lighter with no passengers, but with a heart filled with joy.  The flight back to Orlando was smooth and allowed for reflection of all that transpired over the past few hours.  The special nature of this mission really began to sink in.  Although I was no longer using the MedEVAC call-sign, air traffic control provided extra courtesy as a returning Angel Flight and allowed me to return home quickly which was appreciated.

As I reflect back on this flight, I can’t help but to think of the profound effect it had on my life.  I thought I was simply giving these passengers help in a time of need – the reality is they were giving me a lesson in life that no amount of money can buy.  They inspired me to look beyond the little problems in everyday life and to realize the things that are truly important.  Success is about having a good attitude, believing in yourself and being appreciative for what you have in life.  Keep up the hope no matter how dire the situation and good things will come to you.  This life lesson was the best Christmas gift I could have ever received.

If you’d like to learn more about the mission of Angel Flight Southeast, you can do so by clicking here.  Angel Flight Southeast is a non-profit organization comprised of volunteer pilots and earth angels who volunteer their time, resources, aircraft and fuel at no cost to the patients and families they transport.  I encourage you to learn more about their mission and consider supporting this fantastic organization.

Additional Follow-up Articles:

Brad Pierce Angel Flight Orlando Sentinel Transplant Article The Orlando Sentinel – “In a race for time, Clermont teen gets double-transplant” – Aubrie and Fritz’ story made the front page of The Orlando Sentinel on December 21, 2013.  It’s a fantastic article which goes into a lot more detail about Aubrie’s transplants than I was able to share here (due to patient confidentiality at the time I wrote this article).  I invite you to read this fascinating Orlando Sentinel article by clicking here.
Brad Pierce Angel Flight Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board Weekly Champ vs Chump
Click to Enlarge
The Orlando Sentinel – “The Editorial Board’s Weekly Champ” – A week later, I was named The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board’s Weekly Champ!  While I’m honored to receive such recognition, I was just a teeny part of a much bigger team who worked together to make this mission a success.  You can read this article by clicking here.

Thank you for all the wonderful comments and for your caring and compassion for this special family.  I know Aubrie is going to do great things in life and you’re all a part of her story.