Travel Posts

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

alaska-ketchikan-airborne-small

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.

alaska-to-us-size-comparison-small

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.

alaska-airborne-mountains-1-small alaska-airborne-mountains-2-small

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.

alaska-ground-brad-airport-n225hl-small

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.

alaska-ground-mountains-waterway-small

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!

Hello, Dubai! The Story Behind Brad’s Dubai Adventures

Dubai UAE Downtown Artwork

As I sit here on the balcony in Dubai overlooking the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I think to myself, how in the world did I get here?  The magnificent city, the friendships, the partnerships, the growth, the opportunities, and the limitless optimism towards a lifetime of dreams coming true.  The story of my Dubai adventures took years to make happen, but I’ll re-cap my journey as concisely as possible here.  Sit back, relax, and get ready to read about the wild adventure that’s taken me half way around the world time and time again.  The journey hasn’t been without challenges or obstacles, but I’ve loved every minute of the ride.

Several years ago, my primary business, Restaurant Equipment World, received a visitor from a Google search for the term “restaurant equipment”.  That visitor subsequently did an online chat with one of my young sales associates, simply asking a short series of general questions.  Next came the e-mail and order inquiry which was immediately brought to my attention.  The request?  Could we fill up two 747’s in 8 days with heavy restaurant equipment to be sent to the Middle East?  Surely this was fraudulent?  Surely this was a joke?  Surely we couldn’t have ever gotten this “lucky”.  As it turns out, luck is a matter of being at the right place at the right time and being well prepared to embrace the opportunity.  The total order was around $2 million US dollars, huge dollars at the time, but a huge risk as well.  I asked for a million dollar deposit to proceed.  This would undoubtedly separate the men from the boys to determine if this inquiry was legitimate.

A day passed and still no money, but there was regular communication from the customer which was a good sign.  The next day arrived and I was off to an industry meeting with several of my vendor partners.  I was excited about the prospect of this deal being legitimate, but too hesitant to share the good news with others for fear I’d be viewed as someone who was chasing a pipe dream.  Then it happened.  I’ll never forget the picture text message from my assistant – $1 million US dollars had just arrived in my account.  Wow, it’s real.  We’re really doing this.  I was quickly asked what to do now, my response was simple, “Ask for the next million dollars!”

The days that followed were wild and intense.  Our industry works on lead times of weeks and months, not days.  If we were going to pull off the impossible, I’d need to call in every favor from every manufacturer in our industry.  Turns out growing up in this industry and having friendships with President’s and CEO’s pays off in spades when the chips are down.  As luck would have it, I was already at a major industry buying conference at the time so much of the communications could take place face-to-face with our vendors.  This was a huge plus and ultimately would help to make for a successful outcome.  My sister (our VP) and I divided up responsibilities and engaged our vendors requesting immediate action.  One vendor in particular blew my mind with their handling of the situation.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t fulfill the order by my deadline.  Instead of accepting failure, the President of the factory personally called his competitors to determine industry capacity to meet my requirements.  I was amazed, appreciative, and honestly will send every bit of business I can to that company in the future.  A situation like this really shows you whom your true friends are in the industry.

Upon receiving firm deadline commitments, factories started churning out products.  We were providing our customer with a play-by-play of the progress of each item numerous times each day.  But wait, there was a holiday.  We’d gained an extra day to pull off this feat, or so I thought at the time.  We contacted our customer and asked if a day delay was acceptable due to the holiday.  I’ll never forget the response, “Weekends and holidays do not count.  A deadline is a deadline.  Deliver on time as promised or send back our money.”  I quickly learned the meaning of never giving excuses and always executing flawlessly with delivery schedules.

The deadline was looming and we still didn’t have the next million dollars.  Frantic calls to factories ensued with all hands on deck at my company.  While we’ve done plenty of large dollar orders, this one was different, this one smelled of opportunity and adventure.  I needed my best and brightest to all pitch in for a successful outcome.  Without exception, every single staff member stepped up to the plate and performed like rock stars.  I was so incredibly proud of my team.  As the final hours of the day before delivery counted down, we were all set with most products, aside from one major group of items.  Would we make it?  With the help of a valued partner, the answer was clearly affirmative.  The manufacturer sent one truckload of equipment out as they frantically raced to build the final pieces.  These weren’t small items by any means, they were full sized pieces of commercial cooking equipment.  To make their obligation, the vendor ended up shipping several massive crates on an airline flight to make the delivery on time.  I definitely owed them a lot of thanks and genuine appreciation.  Once again, a valued vendor partner would show me how much they valued our relationship by coming through when I needed them most.

The items were in place, we had delivered to the freight facility as promised.  I was at a conference in Austin at the time of delivery, so I temporarily abandoned my luggage in my rental car while I took off on a cross country flight to meet staff members of mine already at the delivery location.  This was an important order and it was imperative that myself and my team be personally involved to make sure everything was accounted for properly.  After all, at this point, I knew nothing about the folks at the freight facility we were working with on this order.  As it turns out, they are fantastic people who run a first class operation with a dedication to perfection.  Between my team and theirs, every crate was inventoried, counted, re-counted, and inspected.  Everything was perfect.  Life felt fantastic, we had pulled off a miracle.

While I was riding an emotional high of accomplishing such an impossible goal, we still had one slight problem – we were still lacking a million dollars.  It was go time, this was one of those moments in life you’ve got make a decision and take a risk if you want to reap the rewards.  Go big or go home.  I went big, really big.  I authorized the planes to be loaded full of equipment.  A tense day ensued, would we get paid, or was I the world’s biggest sucker?  Needless to say, the next million dollars arrived, right about the time the last pieces of equipment were being loaded heading to Dubai, on time, without excuses.  Victory at last!  We were home free.

I’ve never been an international traveler in the past.  That often surprises people who now know me for my global jet-setting on a regular basis.  I had only traveled to Canada and the Bahamas, but those hardly count as international since they speak our language and accept our money.  Heck, I had never even been to Europe.  On a wing and a prayer, it was time to head half way around the world to give a handshake and a thank you to our customer.  Flights took me to London and then onto Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I was a complete fish out of water, I had no idea what I was doing, no idea about local customs.  My only “formal” education about the Middle East was derived from quick Google searches waiting for flights at the airports.  The customer meeting was fantastic, though was quite short after traveling 37 hours to see them.  I was none-the-less greatly appreciative of their order and my new friends in the Middle East.  Upon arriving back at the hotel, good news awaited.  It turns out they didn’t order enough fryers.  $150,000 to be exact.  Could we help?  You betcha!  I thought to myself, “wow, I’ll be back next week to do this all over again if this is how things are done here.”  I didn’t realize the full value of being here in person to build relationships and say thanks until this very moment.  Later in my adventures, I’d learn this is key to doing business anywhere in the Middle East.  Relationships and reputations are everything, that makes this story especially fascinating since this first order didn’t follow the normal course of business in the region.

In the months and years that followed, so did more trips back and fourth to Dubai.  Each trip brought new business partners, new friendships, and more business.  Before long, customers began developing a deeper trust and started requesting items other than restaurant equipment.  First, it was electrical equipment.  Next came plumbing, then medical supplies, then auto parts, then our world exploded with the diversity of requests.  Not only were there industrial types of items, but also items such as video games, Christmas trees (shocking for the Middle East), decorations, fire fighting equipment, body bags (yes, you read that right, morbid, but true) – you name it, we were selling it.  Suddenly, Restaurant Equipment World didn’t seem like the right name for our organization now that we had become a general procurement company.  We own roughly 220 trademarked “World” names so wanted to stick with this theme.  Critical Supply World was born.  Critical Supply World would be my company that would provide everything and anything required by my customers.  The premise behind this company is doing everything fast.  Extremely fast.  Rapid procurement with no excuses, ever.  We delivery on time and within budget.  Always.

After too many trips to count and solid relationships flourishing, it was time to take things to the next level.  I needed to get a local business license and open up an office in Dubai.  I’ve formed companies domestically in the US, so I really didn’t think this would be a big challenge.  Boy, was I wrong.  Eleven months later, countless phone calls, e-mails, stamps, signatures, banking matters, attestations and everything else imaginable, we had finally done it.  I often tell people what takes 10 minutes in the US takes 10 days in the UAE when it comes to business formation and getting the related services set up.  Finally, we were now a company with a business license in the UAE.  I can’t take credit for this process alone though, it was the work of many people on my staff as well as great friends in the Middle East.  This was truly a team effort which has led to the opening of Pierce Sales Company, Inc. (FTZ Branch) – derived from the name of the parent corporation of both Restaurant Equipment World and Critical Supply World.

So here I am, all these years later, sitting here on a relaxing weekend afternoon looking at the amazing skyline of downtown Dubai, getting ready for a busy week meeting with customers, vendors and business partners.  I’ve become a resident of Dubai, although my full time home is still in the United States.  Travel back and fourth from the states seems routine, even the 16+ hour Emirates Airlines plane ride each way seems “normal” to me at this point.  The local culture and interactions with Emirati’s and ex-pats from other countries seems routine and comfortable to me as well.  I’ve made great friends and people whom I trust and respect throughout the region.  Business is done with honor and respect, it’s not unusual to do high dollar deals with a handshake and a promise.  People’s word here means something and that’s a great way to do business and build relationships.  Simply put, I love the city, I love the warm and friendly people, and I love how business is conducted with valued partners throughout the MENA (Middle East Northern African) region.

So, there you’ve got it.  The story behind my Dubai adventures.  A lot has changed from those early days, but Dubai still holds a magical place in my heart and has changed my life forever.

* Be sure to click on the picture at the top of this post for an artist’s rendition of the brilliant Dubai skyline.  It’s truly amazing knowing that not too many years ago, this was all desert.

Join Brad at Gulfood 2013 in Dubai, UAE

Gulfood 2013 Dubai UAE Logo

I’ll be leaving the states in a few days to attend Gulfood 2013 in Dubai, UAE.  For those of you not familiar with Gulfood, it’s the world’s biggest annual food and hospitality show.  This show is timed right on the heels of NAFEM which was fantastic.  It will be fascinating to see the global outlook for the industry to compare with the positive vibes in the air I’ve been experiencing domestically.

I’ve attended this show numerous times in past years and all I can say is “wow”.  It’s an unbelievable sight for a tradeshow.  The exhibit halls feel like they go on and on for miles.  Literally, anything and everything foodservice is on display.  You can source smallwares and heavy equipment, build a food production facility, buy packaging and machinery, discover ingredients from around the world, and anything else foodservice related you can imagine.

If you’re attending the show, feel free to send me a note so we can arrange a time to get together.  The actual show dates are February 25th-28th, but I’ll be in town and available for meetings before and after those dates as well.

Here’s to a great Gulfood 2013 show in Dubai!

Join Brad at the 2012 AOPA Aviation Summit in Palm Springs

I’ve been asked to speak again at this year’s 2012 AOPA Aviation Summit which will be held October 11-13th in Palm Springs, California.

I’ll be a panelist on an educational seminar entitled “Light Business Airplane Conference: Mission Critical: Using Aviation to Grow Your Business”This seminar is being presented as a collaboration between the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).  It will be moderated by Mike Nichols who is the Vice President of Operations, Education, and Economics for NBAA.

The focus of this seminar pertains to using general aviation airplanes for your business needs.  Myself and the other panelists will explain exactly how we’ve used our airplanes to grow our companies and enhance our lives.  I can honestly say that our company wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for our Turbo SR22 Cirrus Aircraft and the huge advantage it’s provided to us over our competition.  Information presented will be packed with real world experience showing how using GA in your business is not only possible, but will be a game changer for your organization.  There will also be plenty of time for Q&A to get answers from panelists and the NBAA regarding business aviation usage.

Mark your calender to spend October 11-13th in Palm Springs, California with myself and other aviation enthusiasts and professionals for a fantastic event you won’t want to miss.  My particular panel session will be held on Saturday, October 13, 2012 from 10:30 AM – 11:45 AM in the Mojave room at the convention center.

You can register for the 2012 AOPA Aviation Summit by visiting http://www.aopa.org/summit/.

You can learn more about the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) by visiting http://www.nbaa.org/.