Aviation Posts

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.

 

Flying a Relief Flight to Haiti: A Life Changing Experience

haiti-relief-flight-walking-self-pic-small  Haiti Relief Flight Arrival Airborne

Earlier this year, I was browsing the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) website when I came across an intriguing post by Dr. Richard McGlaughlin (aka Doc McG).  Doc McG is a fellow Cirrus pilot who’s been flying his plane to Haiti to volunteer for a week each month for the past several years.  He’s well respected within our community and I always enjoy learning about the good work he does helping others.  This particular post had a different premise than simply sharing his thoughts and experiences – he and Luke Lyson from The Flight Academy were looking to raise some money, buy some medical supplies, and enlist a group of volunteers to fly a relief mission to Haiti.  He acknowledged that like with any great adventure, there would be risks.  Those risks would be mitigated by including expert flight instructors, a mechanic with spares to handle aircraft issues, doctors to keep us healthy, and world-class weather briefings.  While his entire post was inspiring, his conclusion was the most profound – “We will make sure you get down and back safely.  You may not come back quite the same.”  Those lines spoke to me, I knew at that moment, I would be joining the team of adventurers flying to Haiti.  This article will chronicle our adventure to share a glimpse into what we saw, how we felt, and most importantly, to highlight the people we wanted to help by accomplishing this mission.  You can view a larger image of any of the photos within this article by clicking on them.

Haiti Relief Flight Loading Airplane Haiti Relief Flight Weather Briefing

On Sunday, June 30, 2013, myself and 31 other volunteers flew 15 aircraft to Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE).  $100,000 in medical supplies (thanks to generous donations from COPA members), plus school supplies, clothing, musical instruments, toys and other items were loaded into our airplanes which would be destined for Port-au-Prince, Haiti the following morning.  We made our way over to a nearby hotel to meet for a dinner and to coordinate the mission as a group.  Luke, John and Helen from The Flight Academy walked everyone through the FAA international flight plan filing procedure, eAPIS filing (for US Customs) and explained all the relevant details of our mission.  Doc McG reached out on his cell phone to Chuck Watson (a fellow Cirrus pilot and a weather expert) who provided a detailed weather briefing as we gathered close to the phone listening intently.  Bad news, the weather wasn’t going to be good.  Our original departure time would likely put us into stormy weather, we’d need leave earlier than planned – shuttle buses would arrive beginning at 5:15am the next morning.  I was quickly motivated to get some rest as I knew the next day would arrive way too soon.

Haiti Relief Flight Group  Haiti Relief Flight View Arrival

July 1, 2013 – It’s “Go Time”.  Myself and my fellow group of volunteers gathered at Banyan Air Service for the final morning briefing before departure.  We were tired, but excitement and anticipation filled the room.  One after another, all 15 airplanes (14 Cirrus Aircraft and 1 Eclipse Jet) lifted off into the rainy skies above South Florida headed towards Haiti.  Our flight route took us down through the Bahamas past some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen.  Along the way, the Nexrad weather radar coverage on our airplane multi-function displays dropped out which was expected.  Normally, we’d be flying ahead into unknown conditions, but not today – we had Chuck the weather expert on speed dial.  I spoke to Chuck from my on-board Iridium satellite phone and received up-to-date weather information which I relayed to the group via an air-to-air radio frequency we were utilizing for communication.  The Eclipse Jet flew high above the rest of the group relaying their bird’s eye view as well which was very helpful.  Everything was working perfectly – the planes, the pilots, the weather insights – it was truly an experience in flying a mission coordinated with military precision.

Haiti Relief Flight Arrival  Haiti Relief Flight Supplies on Cart

A few short hours later, we safely landed at Toussaint Louverture International Airport (MTPP) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  My view of the world was about to change and I didn’t even realize it yet.  Our planes were unloaded and the supplies were whisked away, one step closer to getting into the hands of those in need.  The process of getting through customs, immigration, re-fueling aircraft and the airport in general took hours as they’re not accustom to a squadron of small planes arriving simultaneously.  Just as predicted, the skies opened up as we left the airport to board buses, leaving each of us hot and drenched.  I’d later realize that a little bit of rain to us was an annoyance, whereas to residents in this devastated country, rain can be deadly as it spreads disease and floods roads, it’s all about perspective.

Haiti Relief Flight Cite Soleil House   Haiti Relief Flight Cite Soleil Street

The first part of our bus journey took us into the heart of Cité Soleil, one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere.  I’ve never in my life seen any place like it.  I’ve never even imagined living conditions could be so bad for so many people.  I was in shock, I think it’s safe to say everyone in our group was too.  Some of the roads were littered with piles of trash and debris stacked so high we had to turn around and take alternate routes or drive on the sidewalk.  Potholes filled the streets, some of which were several feet deep and would have brought us to an abrupt halt.  We were traveling down one road and boulders blocked our path.  A group of individuals approached the buses and my blood pressure hit an all time high.  I felt like this was the perfect setup for an ambush in an area known for kidnappings.  This was the first act of kindness I witnessed – here we are in a horrible slum, approached by numerous unknown individuals – and what did they do?  They helped the drivers navigate around the boulders to get us on our way safely.  They were good people who were born into living in a rough place, lesson learned.

Haiti Relief Flight St Mary Little Boy  Haiti Relief Flight St Mary Group Walking

We approached our first stop, St. Mary’s Hospital, Star of the Sea, located in Cité Soleil.  As we drove down the dirt road leading to the hospital, I looked out the window at a wide open field where shacks once stood.  It was filled with rocks and other debris.  There was a little boy sitting on the ground, alone, playing with rocks in the rain.  It was heartbreaking.  I literally get tears in my eyes just thinking about the image that’s engrained in my head.  The image above on the left side shows that sweet little boy playing.  He couldn’t have been more than a few years old, so innocent and so unaware that the things in life that are “normal” to him are unimaginable to others.  The good news is he has a chance in life, thanks to the amazing folks at the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti.  The foundation is led by Father Rick Frechette who greeted us with a warm, welcoming smile as we got off the buses.  Father Rick is truly inspiring, where other people see hopelessness, he sees hope and opportunity to change lives and make the world a better place.  This guy doesn’t know the meaning of the word impossible.  He lives by the mantra, “Do the next right thing, and something good will come of it. Next day, do it again.”  As I listened to him speak, children came running to greet us, we were quickly surrounded by loving children.  These children were smiling, energetic and very excited to interact with us.  We took a walk through the village built by St. Luke, women and children walking alongside of us.  It was a scene I’ve seen so many times in pictures and on television, only this time I was living it.  We toured the houses that had been built, and more that were under construction to replace even more shacks soon to be torn down.  We walked through the streets, the children were smiling and seemed full of life.  Many of them had torn clothing, several had no clothes at all.  This was one of many moments on the trip that I’ll carry with me throughout my life.  I was amazed by their happiness, I know they live a tough life, but for that moment, they were smiling and happy as they shared a view of their world with us.

Haiti Relief Flight Doc McG X-Ray  Haiti Relief Flight Kids Camera

Our walked continued into the hospital itself to view the facility.  Doc McG showed us a digital x-ray machine he’d previously delivered to the hospital.  Unfortunately it wasn’t working however due to being hit by a recent electrical surge caused by frequent unstable power.  The room was lined in a silver material for insulation along with a small portable air conditioner since they needed to maintain a climate-controlled environment for the machine to work properly.  This was the only part of the hospital with any air conditioning at all.  The rest of the hospital was hot and dark, yet the staff members were cheerful and caring as they attended to patients.  We also took a tour of another part of the hospital which housed Cholera patients.  Before entering and after leaving, we had to wash our hands and shoes in chlorinated water.  Anyone who’s ever visited a medical facility in the US is familiar with sanitation practices that normally involve running water, soap, a sink and towels.  In this case, there was simply a large tank of chlorinated water that dripped into a  tray on the ground surrounded by dirt – a make-shift sanitation station of sorts.  We spent some more time with the kids before leaving the facility.  I vividly remember watching two small children interact with one of the members of our group.  They posed for close-up pictures, then immediately would grab the camera to tilt it down to see images of themselves on the screen, giggling the entire time.  They loved it, it was a very special thing to see them experiencing such joy in seeing something like a digital picture that we take for granted.  Soon, a larger group of children joined in the picture taking and viewing fun.  Those children and the others around them brought the first smile to my face since I entered the country.  I was on a roller coaster of emotions, so touched by their smiles and kindness, so sad knowing that in a few minutes we’d be leaving them behind.  As we drove away from the facility, many of them followed behind the buses, chasing us down the driveway waving and continuing their unforgettable smiles.

Haiti Relief Flight Street Shop  Haiti Relief Flight Flooded Road

The next few hours were spent driving throughout Haiti.  The rain was fierce which led to even more flooding and chaos on the roads.  Cars, trucks and buses packed tightly together led to one traffic jam after the next.  We frequently had to turn around and take alternate routes as there simply was no way to get down some of the streets.  I looked out the window at the people, fascinated by their make-shift shops often times consisting of nothing more than a basket or wheelbarrow filled with goods to sell.  They were sitting in puddles, in the dirt, on the street, anywhere there was a few feet of open space you’d see someone or a group of people gathering.  I knew the whole city couldn’t be this bad, but to my dismay, it was – these people live in what can only be described as horrible conditions.  It is hell on earth.  Words, pictures, videos – none of those things even come remotely close to describing the horrible things that I saw throughout this journey.

Haiti Relief Flight St Damien Courtyard  Haiti Relief Flight St Damien Rooftop

Just as I fell back into my emotional slump feeling these people didn’t stand a chance, Doc McG lifted my spirits again with a visit to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital.  Upon driving through the front gates, I knew this was a very special place.  The grass was green, there were animal sculptures on the lawn, this was a place where children could feel safe, secure and comfortable while getting much needed care.  Our tour started on the rooftop, from there we could look out over the city.  It’s there that we re-grouped with Wynn Walent who’s an individual that’s been heavily involved with St. Luke for years.  He’s a young guy who’s an eloquent speaker that can tell you everything and anything you can imagine about the facilities, people, city, culture, building, everything.  You name it – this guy knows the answer.  He’s been personally involved in making many of the good things happen in Haiti and was an inspiration to us all.   We stood on the rooftop as he led us through a fascinating discussion pointing out items of interest throughout the area.  We continued our tour of the hospital which included a room that served as an orphanage.  That’s the only place some of the children there have ever known their entire lives.  As I stood in the doorway, a very young boy picked up a shoe and threw it to me as he smiled.  I picked it up and threw it back, landing by his feet.  He picked it up and threw it towards me again as he giggled.  A quick little game of catch with our improvised ball, just enough to send that roller coaster of emotions back to an all-time high again as I saw the joy he was experiencing.  We then proceeded to meet up with Father Rick again at his office and stayed to chat for a while.  The more time I spend around this guy, the more amazed I become.  He’s just radiates positive energy, I clung to every word that he spoke.  He’s a dreamer and a doer who I admire greatly.  We still had a busy evening ahead, so the buses departed once again for a short jaunt through the busy streets of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti Relief Flight St Luc Building  Haiti Relief Flight St Luc Operating Room

Our next stop was to tour St. Luc Family Hospital.  This is the home of Doc McG’s Gastroenterology lab he built that’s become part of his legacy of giving in Haiti.  We took a full tour of the hospital campus which was unbelievable.  Here we are in the middle of a third world country and there’s a fully functioning hospital complete with an intensive care unit and operating rooms.  It’s incredible to think of all the effort that went into building such capable facilities where they’re able to treat conditions that previously would have been death sentences.  All of our group was hot, tired and hungry, so we left St. Luc and headed towards the organization’s hotel where we’d be spending the night.

Haiti Relief Flight Hotel  Haiti Relief Flight Dinner

Our accommodations were modern structures which were clean and well-kept.  There was no air conditioning, but I don’t think any of us cared – after seeing the unthinkable living conditions experienced by others throughout the day, I was just thankful to have a roof over my head.  We were told these buildings replaced tents that previously stood in their place.  The hotel had a small kitchen and a gathering shelter where we could all spend time together chatting.  We felt safe and secure behind the tall walls and found comfort knowing we had an armed guard out front.  We took a quick jaunt across the street for dinner at a restaurant also run by the local people within the organization.  Several people spoke including Father Rick, Wynn Walent, and Jim Corcoran who joined us for the meal.  Once again, I was mesmerized by every word each of these wonderful individuals shared with us.  We learned how the organization employs people to work at the facility to make pasta, peanut butter, medical oxygen, cement blocks, bread and more.  They subsidize the cost of these items so that people can sell them to the poor, making a profit and working towards becoming self-sufficient.  This was a real-world implementation of the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  I was amazed, truly amazed and proud to be spending time with these remarkable people.

Haiti Relief Flight Kitchen  Haiti Relief Flight Bed Bug Net

We returned to our hotel and spent hours chatting under the common shelter.  We were sharing our thoughts about the things we’d seen and experienced throughout the day.  Our group of 32 strangers had become good friends already as if we’d known one another our whole lives.  We talked, told stories, learned more about the great programs and initiatives in the area from Doc McG, it was a perfect relaxing evening.  The hotel had WiFi so we were all able to check the weather and plan our flights for the following morning.  Around midnight, I retired to my assigned room, exhausted and still sweaty from the long day and intense heat.  This was my first experience ever sleeping with a bug net over the bed which was a bit annoying, but beat the alternative of possibly being bit by malaria carrying insects.  I didn’t sleep well, I had too much on my mind to process.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, saddened by the things I’d seen, yet inspired by the acts of kindness and good work that’s been done to change the country for the better.

Haiti Relief Flight Church Outside  Haiti Relief Flight Church Inside

The following morning started early once again.  We had a funeral to attend for several individuals who passed away the prior day.  We loaded up in the back of pickup trucks by 6:45am and were off to Mass.  Wynn prepared us for the service by mentioning that the people were likely to get loud and emotional.  I’ve been to plenty of funerals in my life, I thought I was prepared mentally and emotionally, I was wrong.  We walked into the small church containing walls packed with mourners sitting on a small bench that lined the room.  In the center of the room, there lay several deceased individuals wrapped up in towels.  As we walked past the bodies and practically stepped over them on the way in, my heart sank.  This was unlike anything I’d ever experienced – that seems to be a recurring theme throughout this journey.  The mass was held in what I suspect was Creole language so I couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was beautifully done none-the-less.  Emotions ran high, both for each of us and for the mourners.  I felt my eyes start to water, using all of my might to hold back the tears.  My emotional roller coaster was once again taking a steep dive.  I hit my lowest point when the singing began, loud cries and emotional yelling rang out from the mourners as the bodies were lifted from the floor to depart for their graves.  Father Rick and his team had done this way too many times before.  They were poised and professional, continuing their singing as they respected the dead giving them an honorable burial.  We walked from the church alongside the bodies being placed onto the back of a truck to be driven around back to the burial site.  I looked into the eyes of several members of our group, everyone was stone cold, completely in shock from the experience we’d just shared.  There were no smiles, no laughter, no celebration of life, this was a sad and emotional morning for us all.  We spent some more time with the staff at the adjacent hospital and said our farewells before departing.

Haiti Relief Flight Driving to Airport 1  Haiti Relief Flight Driving to Airport 3

I felt like we’d been in Haiti for weeks as we drove towards the airport for our departure, in reality we’d only been on the ground in this devastated country for less than 24 hours.  We’d visited so many places, seen so many things, experienced so many emotions, there was so much packed into that short period of time.  The experiences were occurring in such rapid succession my mind couldn’t keep up with processing all that I was feeling.  Soon we arrived back at the airport to begin our journey home.  We’d be flying 3.5 hours back to Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE) across the Bahamian waters once again.

Haiti Relief Flight Departure Low  Haiti Relief Flight Departure High

I lined up my Cirrus SR22 Aircraft at the end of Runway 10 and slowly pushed the throttle forward.  In a matter of seconds my wheels were lifting off the ground and I was soaring high above the city.  I watched and listened as my fellow pilots lifted off from the airport as well, one after another.  As I gazed down upon the city below, it looked like a nice, normal, clean city from a few thousand feet above.  From my viewpoint, you’d never know there were horrendous living conditions lurking below.  I was squarely focused on flying safely, yet felt saddened and guilty to be leaving this land behind.  They still need so much help and have such a tough journey ahead to break free from living a life of poverty.  Yet, I also thought about Father Rick, Wynn, Jim, and the other great folks who were still there on the ground, doing the great work they do every single day to make a difference – doing the next right thing.  That brought a smile to my face knowing there was hope for the future of these resilient people.

Haiti Relief Flight Return Bahamas  Haiti Relief Flight Crossing into US

The flight back to Ft. Lauderdale was largely uneventful.  We flew in close proximity to one another throughout the journey.  I was the lead plane so I provided weather updates and tactical storm dodging information to the others.  My fellow aviators are all skilled and competent pilots, but sometimes it’s nice to have a heads up whether the clouds ahead are going to be rough and turbulent or smooth sailing.  The Eclipse Jet was a bit behind leaving later than the rest of the group, but caught up quickly and provided valuable insights regarding storm activity and cloud tops.  A line of strong thunderstorms blocked our path but we developed a plan and were able to circumnavigate the threats.  Roughly three and a half hours after lift-off, the wheels of my Cirrus Aircraft safely touched down on the runway back in the United States.  By my flying standards, it was a short trip, yet it felt like a world away from the place where I’d been.  Lights, air conditioning, running water, food, medical care, all of the things we take for granted were in abundance once again.  The Customs and Border staff were friendly and accommodating, clearing each plane and passengers back into the United States quickly.  Our journey was complete.  We had successfully returned to where we began this adventure, safe and sound, just like Doc McG promised.

Haiti Relief Flight Brad Pierce Cockpit  Haiti Relief Flight Map Hat

In the beginning of this post I mentioned Doc McG’s quote, “You may not come back quite the same.”  Doc McG was right.  My life and how I view the world has been changed forever.

You can learn more about St. Luke Foundation for Haiti by visiting their website at http://www.stlukehaiti.org.

You can also view an inspirational video featuring Fr. Rick and many of the places we visited:

Special thanks to all who made this amazing life experience possible:  Dr. Richard McGlaughlin, Luke Lyson and his team from The Flight Academy (John Fiscus and Helen Cernik), Chuck Watson for providing weather updates, Jim Barker from Aviation Resources, Father Rick Frechette, Wynn Walent, Jim Corcoran, Nathalie Colas, the staff and volunteers at St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, Banyan Air Service, the generous COPA donors who provided financial resources, my fellow adventurers, and the brave pilots who flew everyone to Haiti and back home safely.  God bless you all and God bless the people of Haiti.

Brad’s Mini Flying Wild Alaska Adventure

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Alaska, the Final Frontier.  For years I’ve dreamed about flying to Alaska, experiencing the scenic beauty of such a magnificent place from high above.  After completing my quest of landing in all 48 continental United States, Alaska was on my radar for places that I wanted to visit in my Cirrus SR22 Turbo Aircraft.  Over the past years, I’ve been speaking with numerous people ranging from casual flyers to business associates to flight instructors who’ve flown to the area.  I’ve also had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with several of the real Alaksa pilots from the television series, Flying Wild Alaska, to get even more perspective on the region.  I love flying, I’m a capable and well trained pilot, but flying to Alaska with its’ unforgiving terrain and rapidly shifting weather conditions scared me.  Getting perspectives from a wide group of trusted advisers gave me the confidence I needed to actually make the trip happen.

When I first contemplated visiting Alaska, I figured that I’d head up to Anchorage for a quick weekend visit.  Upon looking at a map and doing some quick flight calculations, I realized that Anchorage was much more than a weekend trip.  Alaska is quite frankly, huge.  Take a look at the comparison map I’ve included below to see the size of the state in comparison to the continental US.  The map is click-able to make it larger.

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Now that I’d ruled out Anchorage as my intended destination due to distance, further research led to me the small fishing and logging town of Ketchikan, Alaska.  I’d be able to fly directly from the Northwest US and make the trip non-stop in around 3.5 hours with plenty of reserve fuel in case of an unintended diversion.  The next question was when I’d actually make the trip.  I didn’t have a specific time frame in mind, other than knowing that I’d like to visit in the summer when weather would most likely be favorable.  Given that I travel throughout the US often, I knew I’d be in the Northwest several times and would just wait for the perfect opportunity to present itself.  One thing that’s resonated throughout all my discussions with my flying mentors and advisers regarding flying in Alaska is that patience is a virtue, you can’t be on a specific schedule when attempting such a feat.  I found myself in Seattle one weekend and the weather looked terrific.  I was within range, the forecast was calling for nice weather for the next two days, it was go time.  Upon departing Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, my Alaskan Flying Adventure had begin.

The flight towards Alaska was breathtaking and magnificent.  There’s no other way to describe it.  For miles and miles in every direction the beauty of the landscape was remarkable.  The mountains and waterways throughout British Columbia are truly a sight to see.  As my aircraft soared through the clear blue sky towards its’ destination, gigantic cruise ships passed below taking passengers to and from the place I was so eager to visit.  The following two pictures were taken during this part of the journey.  As with all images in this post, they’re both click-able to make larger for an even better view.

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Finally, after three hours in the air, I watched the map on the multi-functional display (MFD) in my airplane as it crossed from Canada into Alaska.  I simply couldn’t be more excited.  My dream of this adventure was becoming a reality.  Sure, it started several hours earlier, but actually seeing the little airplane on the map cross the dotted line signifying entry into the state brought it all to life.  Shortly after entering Alaskan airspace, I began preparing for landing in  Ketchikan.  I was still on high alert knowing that despite the beauty, danger lurked in the mountain winds as I descended closer to the valley.  Fortunately, I’ve been trained well by Rocky Mountain experts in Colorado so feel confident in my mountain flying ability along with a healthy respect for the associated challenges.  Even though the skies were clear blue that day, I had my instrument approach plates ready, I’d studied every detail, I was ready to make a safe landing at my destination.  After circling the small airport island across the waterway from the city of Ketchikan, I descended into the valley and lined up for the runway.  I noticed numerous float planes hundreds of feet below me landing and taking off from the Tongass Narrows waterway which was an interesting sight.  My aircraft’s magic box called out my 500 foot altitude indicator telling me I was moments away from accomplishing landing in my 49th state in the US.  The landing was magnificent, absolutely smooth and perfect just as I’d imagined it would be after such a relaxing and majestic flight.  The following picture was taken on the ground at Ketchikan International Airport (KTN / PAKT) standing in front of my Cirrus Aircraft, N225HL.

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That day and evening were spent exploring Ketchikan and visiting with numerous local customers.  Yes, you read that right, local customers.  My company has over 100,000 customers throughout the country, including several that happen to live in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Whenever I’m traveling, I always make it a point to stop in to local establishments to simply say “thank you” for the business they’ve done with my company.  Needless to say, many of these customers were shocked and surprised.  They figured that they were buying from some faceless corporation with an online site, yet there I was, live and in person, shaking hands and thanking them for their business.  It was nice to meet some new friends and solidify business relationships that aren’t on my normal beaten path.

The scenery throughout the city was just as incredible as what I’d experienced from above.  Trees, mountains, waterways, just the right amount of snowfall on the mountain peaks, every direction shouted out nature, beauty and serenity.  I captured the picture below just before sunset overlooking the Tongrass Narrows waterway which separates Revillagigedo Island (City of Ketchikan) from Gravina Island (Ketchikan Airport).  You’ve probably heard the saying, pictures don’t do it justice, in this case, that couldn’t be more accurate.  This place was simply amazing.

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My mini Alaskan flying adventure had come to an end way too soon as the following day wore on into the afternoon.  I still had a meeting to attend in Dallas and given the distance needing to be covered, it was time to leave Alaska behind.  I’d accomplished my goal of landing in yet another state, but I simply didn’t want to leave, despite my necessity to do so.  I checked the weather and determined it was still safe and clear, so departed for the journey back South towards Seattle.

Did I say the weather was clear?  Well, it was clear when I departed, and it was forecast to be clear throughout the flight.  The funny thing about flying in Alaska is how quickly the weather can change.  I’d heard this a dozen times in my discussions with others, but I still didn’t quite “get it” until experiencing it first-hand.  The first two hours of journey were smooth with clear blue skies.  Then, it happened.  Clouds started to roll in, mountains were becoming seas of white, with peaks protruding as a frightful reminder of the rugged conditions below.

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As my Cirrus continued towards Seattle, the clouds began creeping closer and closer until I found my aircraft engulfed in them.  Headwinds increased, slowing down the journey considerably.  Turbulence began occurring, light at first, then progressively more and more aggressively.  Radar coverage was limited, so air traffic control couldn’t do much in the way of helping determine a better course to avoid the weather.  Rain began to fall which brought with it concern for freezing rain, something that I choose to avoid at all costs.  My attention was intensely focused on the outside temperature reading which was quickly approaching the freezing point.  I couldn’t go any lower to find warmer air due to the mountainous terrain in the area.  Fortunately, my Cirrus Aircraft is equipped with a system called FIKI which stands for Flight into Known Icing.  This is a fantastic de-icing system that I’ve used on numerous occasions, yet I actively try to avoid icing encounters whenever possible.  I primed the system to ensure it was ready to go at the first sign of icing occurring on the airframe.  While I did pick up a small amount of icing over the course of the next hour, it was minimal and very manageable.  While this could be an unsettling experience to some pilots, I was still feeling confident with the journey.  I had plenty of TKS (de-icing) fluid on board that would last all the way to Seattle if necessary, I also had a Plan B.  Remember that waterway below I mentioned when writing about my journey towards Alaska?  That same waterway was now right below me.  Before leaving Seattle, in an abundance of caution, I subscribed to Jeppesen airplane charts for my multi-function display that covered all of North America, including Canada.  Despite altitude restrictions for mountainous terrain in the area, my Plan B, a worst-case scenario, was simply to descend down and fly the waterway back towards Vancouver and onward to Seattle.  Fortunately, my Cirrus performed like a rock star as always and allowed me to safely stay at altitude while I passed through the clouds and rain.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I was relieved to have completed my “Mini Flying Wild Alaska Adventure” successfully.  It concluded with a picture perfect landing at Boeing Field amidst the glow of the city lights surround the area.  While my time in Alaska was short, hence the “mini” in the post title, it was amazing.  It was truly amazing in every way, shape and form imaginable.

My Alaskan Flying Adventures will certainly continue, next time for a much more extensive visit when I venture back to there for more exploring this summer.  I’ve had a small taste of what it’s like to fly in the region and I absolutely love it.  The scenery, the beauty, and the views that constantly took my breath away, this is a place like no other.  It is truly the Final Frontier, and the place where I look forward to visiting many times in the future.

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Thank you, Alaska.  You’re one of a kind with your natural beauty and perfection.   I’ll see you on my next Alaskan Adventure!

Brad’s NBAA No Plane No Gain Print Advertisement

“To compete with Goliath, David used a slingshot. I rely on a business airplane.” – Brad Pierce

I’m currently participating in the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) No Plane No Gain advertising campaign. It’s truly been an honor to be included in this fantastic initiative which highlights the vital role business aviation plays everyday across our great nation. The advertising campaign features well known individuals such as Warren Buffet, Arnold Palmer, and Neil Armstrong, along with several regular everyday folks like myself who use business aviation effectively in our businesses.

While I run a small business based in Orlando, Florida, my customers are located throughout the country. At a time when e-mail, instant messaging, and video chats have become the norm, it’s more important than ever that I meet with my customers face-to-face. The value of a firm handshake and being able to look valued customers and vendor partners in the eye has never been greater than now. There is no substitute when you care about your customers and want to give them the best service imaginable. In order to compete and succeed against larger competitors, we need to be laser-focused, nimble and seize opportunities without the typical delays and inefficiencies of commercial airline travel. The best tool in my arsenal for competing effectively is my Cirrus SR22 Turbo Aircraft. It allows us to quickly, safely and efficiently get more business done in less time and continually helps to grow my business. More business means more job creation, more growth for my employees, and the ability to deliver world class service to my customers. Business aviation works for my company, my employees and my customers. Business aviation works for America.

View Brad Pierce’s NBAA No Plane No Gain Print Advertisement:   PDF VersionJPG Version

You can also view the entire collection of No Plane No Gain Print Advertisements by visiting NBAA’s No Plane No Gain website.

Several of these ads will also be published and distributed in various print media publications including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Roll Call, The Hill and Politico.

The No Plane No Gain advertising campaign is a a joint undertaking of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).