general aviation Posts

Flying the Cirrus Aircraft Vision Jet (SF50)



I recently had the opportunity to take a demo flight in the new Cirrus Vision Jet!  The Vision Jet (aka Cirrus SF50) is the world’s first truly personal jet aircraft and comes equipped with the whole airplane Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) for enhanced safety.  If I had to describe the Vision Jet in one word it would undoubtedly be… AMAZING!  Everything from the airframe design, performance and ease of flying to the stellar interior and Garmin avionics suite, the Vision Jet is an absolutely perfect airplane!  I hold delivery position #75 and couldn’t be more thrilled with taking delivery of my very own Vision Jet in the near future!

I’ll walk through the demo flight and experience sharing my thoughts along the way, as well as comparing it to my current Cirrus SR22 Turbo Aircraft.  I’ve flown my SR22 thousands of hours throughout the United States and beyond so am very comfortable with my piloting skills, though in all honesty, I believe that a pilot with far fewer hours would have no problem transitioning to this new jet.  They’ve simply made the systems very intuitive in big part to automation and presentation of systems which they worked with Garmin International to accomplish.

Let’s get going with the flight!  I arrived at the Orlando Executive Airport in the morning and was greeted by a group of welcoming Cirrus Aircraft team members, many of whom are also long time friends.  On the ramp there were three Cirrus Vision Jets, all different paint schemes with different interiors to give a sense of choices available.  I’d be flying the demo flight with Justin who’s part of Cirrus Aircraft’s jet demo team – he’s based out of Denver and is an extremely skilled pilot as well as an absolutely phenomenal guy.  We loaded up into a brand new Vision Jet and the first thing I noticed was the layout of the cockpit.  Cirrus knew they would have many folks like me transitioning from the SR22 aircraft, so had the foresight to strategically place critical controls in identical positions as the SR22 – throttle, flaps, switches – you name it, when your muscle memory kicks in, the controls are right where you expect them to be.  Glancing back over my shoulder was the passenger seating area, perfectly designed and ultra comfortable for all on board.  There’s was a surprising amount of roominess in the back – massively more than an SR22, featuring five seats instead of two.  The interior really felt on par with the interior of a small Citation or Learjet.  They seemed to achieve this feel by implementing a bubble-like design, creating a wide interior feel.

It was time to fire up the bird and Justin helped guide me through the steps.  There’s an excellent start-up check-list on the integrated Garmin Perspective Touch displays which ensures the pilot runs through all of the necessary items without missing any critical items.  We ran through this sequence and I learned how to do a full weight and balance with the system, determine take-off distance, fuel burn and many other elements relevant to the flight.  The process of lighting up the turbine engine couldn’t have been more simple.  I felt like the process was as simple as starting a car… turn the switch to “Run” and hit the “Start” button.  Everything from that point forward was automated, the system runs through all the necessary starting procedures and automatically terminates and shut down if there’s any problems detected along the way.  I’ll pause for a moment here to mention the sound of that jet engine starting…  The Cirrus Vision Jet is powered by a Williams International FJ33-5A turbofan engine and the whirl of it starting up is something special – it’s an absolute symphony of sounds to any pilot’s ears.  The jet engine roared to life and we were ready to taxi out to the runway.  The first thing I noticed when I pushed the throttle forward and began to taxi is how easily it self-centered once I lined it up on the taxiway.  I love my SR22, but taxiing can be more challenging simply due to the propeller rotation, as with any piston powered airplane.  The Vision Jet taxied with ease and I had no issues smoothly making multiple turns navigating to our assigned runway.

We lined up and were cleared for take-off, this was the moment I’ve been waiting for all these years.  When the tower cleared our Vision Jet for take-off, I knew something really amazing was about to happen as we took flight for the very first time.  I advanced the throttle forward and we began racing down the runway.  The control yoke is initially much heavier than the SR22 (due to not utilizing the same spring cartridge system), but as the speed increased, the controls naturally moved to a neutral position.  They quickly felt much lighter and very much like those in the SR22.  We lifted off quickly and Justin called for me to raise the gear.  A quick grasp of the gear handle and the wheels tucked nicely below us into the belly of the aircraft.  Next up, it was time to raise the flaps, instantly I reached right where I always had in my SR22 and felt the familiar flap switch.  Such a simple, yet profoundly ingenious process for Cirrus to ensure these items were right where so many of us Cirrus pilots expect them to be located.  We were climbing quickly and I was grinning ear to ear, it was as if it was my first time ever riding in or flying an airplane – it was that spectacular!  The huge windows provided an incredible view of the world outside, I felt like I was one with the sky with such an enormously wide perspective of my surroundings.

We climbed to an altitude of 14,000 feet and got what’s called a “block altitude” which allowed us to do maneuvers between 10,000 and 14,000 feet.  These are common for demo flights so that we would be able to do various maneuvers without conflicting with other traffic in the area.  We first just cruised along and I was incredibly impressed with the smooth flight characteristics of this aircraft.  From take-off to reaching altitude and leveling off, it was incredibly quite, smooth and extremely easy to maneuver.  When we throttled back the power even more for a cruise power setting (accomplished by simply pulling back the throttle lever), the aircraft got even quieter.  In the SR22, headsets for pilots and passengers alike stay on from start up to shut down due to the nature of a propeller driven engine.  In the Vision Jet, passengers can certainly comfortably take off their headsets if they wish and can easily have conversations with one another.  After a bit of cruise time and being shown the various systems, it was time to do some maneuvers.  The first were turns simply to get a feel for how the plane handles.  I turned left, right, up, down – every control yoke input felt very natural, very much like flying the SR22.  The airplane was instantly responsive to changes and so incredibly easy to fly – it literally felt like it was riding on rails since the turns were so smooth and precise.  I had absolutely no problem doing maneuvers to ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) standards, yet had only been at the controls for a few short minutes.  I know a whole lot of work went into the design of the flight control system and can confirm that the engineering team tasked with this design absolutely nailed it.  Next we moved on to slow flight, where the controls remained incredibly responsive and easy to fly even at critically low speeds, just like the SR22.  We slowed further for demonstration of an approach to a stall (stall speed is 67 knots) – the control yoke instantly began shaking quickly, this is by design and is referred to as a “stick shaker” which gets a pilots attention to take corrective action immediately.  Thought we didn’t experience it, I was told that if we slowed down further the airplane would have jammed the control yoke forward to self-correct the stall condition before it worsened.  As always, Cirrus and Garmin never cease to amaze me with their forward thinking approach to safety they’ve implemented across their entire product lines.

We’d had a whole lot of fun in the air and it was time to demonstrate the landing characteristics of the Vision Jet… the only problem was that we were still up at 14,000 feet, yet the airport was only a few miles away.  We were headed to Lakeland Airport for our first landing and asked air traffic control for a rapid descent, this was purposely done to show how well the airplane could slow down and descend quickly if needed.  I fly into places like Aspen, Colorado where I need to drop from 19,000 to 8,000 feet in a very short period of time, so I was keenly interested in how the jet would handle such a maneuver.  I’ve unofficially termed this procedure as doing an “Aspen Approach” regardless of the locale.  My jaw practically dropped when I realized how quickly we were able to slow down and descend, it was as if we had pushed a button on an elevator were instantly transformed to a lower altitude.  I was once again amazed and memorized by yet another incredible operating characteristic of this beautiful aircraft.

The approach to landing was extremely smooth and very much like that of my SR22.  Speeds were very comparable and the avionics guidance was fantastic, especially from a standpoint of situational awareness with the airplane superimposed on one of the Garmin flight displays.  I felt like with very little additional training for proficiency I could confidently shoot an instrument condition landing successfully.  Of course, I’ll certainly put in quite a lot of hours before attempting such a feat, but it felt good to know the system was so intuitive even prior to receiving formal training.  Now it was time to actually land, we crossed the threshold of the runway and Justin talked me through the touchdown sequence of events… and touchdown!  No thump, no jolt, no screech… just the wheels gently reconnecting with the earth.  I literally asked if we were on the ground, it was that insanely smooth.  I was (yet again) shocked, it was perhaps the smoothest landing I’ve ever felt in any airplane I’ve ever flown.  The trailing link landing gear was a huge help in making the landing so stellar, but wow… I’ve flown in a lot of jets with the same type of landing gear, but have never experienced such phenomenal landing characteristics in any other airplane.

We taxied back to the start of the runway and lifted off again for a short flight back to Orlando Executive Airport.  My second take-off felt even more natural than the first, I was already feeling very much at home at controls of this beautiful aircraft.  I also felt like I was really starting to become proficient at the buttonology of the Garmin avionics as well.  The avionics suite is made up of gigantic screens that can be mixed and matched to show whatever information is most relevant to the pilot.  Everything is controlled by touch sensitive controller units which function perfectly.  It was really enjoyable to recognize how much of the buttonology I’d retained even from the first to the second flight going through all of the sequences from take-off through landing once again.  As an interesting side-note, there was a Cirrus event later that evening and I showed a friend in attendance all of the features and functions of the avionics suite.  He asked how long I’d been using the system, which I smiled and admitted I’d just learned that same day – it’s simply that intuitive!  Back to the flight, this second leg was just as enjoyable as the first and we were soon on our approach to Orlando Executive Airport.  Once again, I slowed down to SR22 speeds and easily lined up on the approach.  Then it happened… the realization that our last “too perfect” landing wasn’t an anomaly – this one was absolutely just as perfectly smooth as well.  The manner in which the Vision Jet lands is sure to make every pilot smile and every passenger feel like they’ve got the best pilot in the world at the controls!

After conclusion of the demo flights, I thanked Justin for his absolutely stellar piloting and demo skills, flying with him was an incredible experience and I’d trust my life to him any day of the week.  He’s also just a heck of a nice guy too, if you’re ever in the Denver area and are interested in learning more about the SR22 or the Vision Jet, I’d highly recommend meeting him.  Of course, many of the folks reading this blog post are Central Florida locals, so in your case, I’ll be happy to introduce you to Charlie Hood who will take great care of you as well in this region.

After parting ways with Justin, I spent quite a bit more time with several other Cirrus team members reviewing paint schemes, color samples, interior leather options and discussing various optional equipment items. The standard airplane comes extremely well equipped, but I’ll surely be selection additional options including satellite phone communications, real-time weather radar, an entertainment display system, an enhanced vision system (night vision camera) and adding the enhanced cargo storage option that extends into the tail cone for carrying snow skis and other larger items.

While we obviously didn’t utilize the parachute system, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is the first civilian jet aircraft equipped with a whole-airplane Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).  This same system has been used 71 items on the Cirrus SR series aircraft in real-world conditions and has successfully saved 146 lives.  It’s a truly remarkable system, pull the red handle and a rocket launches a parachute which floats the entire airframe down to the ground safely.  In the SR22, the rocket launches immediately when the handle is pulled.  Cirrus further refined this system in the jet, when the red handle is pulled, the autopilot system automatically tries to get the airplane into an ideal launching configuration, manipulating speeds and other elements, then launches.  In the case of a catastrophic failure where these corrections can’t be accomplished within 10 seconds of the pull, the system launches automatically.  There are so many times in my flying career that I’ve gazed at terrain below and felt comfort knowing that in the event something unexpected happens, I’ve got a lifeline to keep me safe.  I’m thrilled the Vision Jet includes this same game changing safety enhancement.

Before I conclude this post, I would like to thank the great folks at Cirrus Aircraft for making the dream of a personal jet aircraft become a reality.  I consider so many of the fine people at this company personal friends and am so proud of all they’ve accomplished.  It’s truly been a team effort, from the engineering folks to the test flight teams to the people working in the factory and in the corporate offices.  Cirrus is filled with so many talented people whom I admire greatly.  They’re good people, they work hard, they care about their customers and they love the aviation industry.  My hat is off to all of them for accomplishing what will undoubtedly become one of the most successful products in the history of the aviation industry.  Well done my friends, very well done.  Thank you for all of your efforts, you’ve created a truly remarkable airplane!

The Cirrus Vision Jet is absolutely, positively, the best, most capable, most comfortable, most amazing personally flown jet aircraft on the planet.  I love every single aspect of this incredible aircraft and am so excited and proud to be a delivery position holder (#75).  This airplane is truly a game changer, both personally and for business usage.  The ways in which it will change my life and those around me are only limited by my imagination.  I’m absolutely ecstatic knowing that in the near future I’ll be taking delivery of a new Cirrus Vision Jet!

You can visit Cirrus Aircraft to learn more about the Vision Jet Here

You can download the Cirrus Vision Jet Brochure Here

You can download the Garmin Perspective Touch Brochure Here

Brad Pierce on Leadership Courage – 2017 NBAA Leadership Conference Video Interview

I was recently honored to participate in a video interview on the topic of Leadership Courage.  This video was presented to attendees at the 2017 NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) Leadership Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I’ve transcribed the contents of my interview below for your reference, though I’m keenly aware that the spoken word doesn’t always translate grammatically correctly to written text.

I hope that you’ll find inspiration in my thoughts to reach higher and to live your life in a courageous way!

— Video Transcript Start —

I’m Brad Pierce, I’m President and CEO of Restaurant Equipment World.  Our company serves over 100,000 customers in 110 countries and all 50 states domestically.  We sell everything from pots and pans up to and including the kitchen sink.  If it’s in a foodservice facility and it’s not food, chances are my company supplies it.

Aviation was a passion of mine even before joining the company.  I was spending a lot of time in the car traveling.  One day I decided well I’m going to take the airplane down to Fort Lauderdale… and flew a little Cessna at the same time, went to Fort Lauderdale, met with the customer, had a fantastic lunch and ended up actually closing the deal.  Flew back and I still had an afternoon that I could do more work.  I said, “huh, there’s something to this.”  I found that when I would go and see customers in person, that we would close the deals.  I often joke that when the wheels of my airplane touch the ground, the cash register rings, because it happens every single time.

You need to have courage in order to embrace change.  The business aviation aspect of our business is just something that is so critical and core to our growth.  Spending resources on what is quite frankly a very expensive proposition for a business, it takes courage to take that leap of faith to talk to family members, in our case the family business that’s perhaps the hardest board you can have is people that you’re related to.  To have the courage to stand up for what you know is right for the business.

If we were to continue to do things the way that we were doing them, we would be irrelevant and not exist today.  When it came to using business aviation, I absolutely positively felt that this was the right path for our organization.

Leadership courage is doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.  It takes leadership courage to take calculated risks, to reach new heights, in your business, in your personal life.

I believe it takes courage to show up at the airport and race over when you have a call at 7 o’clock at night and they say, “Brad would you like to save a life tonight?”  Absolutely, absolutely positively.  It takes courage to blast off into the unknown.  That particular day, I raced to the airport and I said, “Where am I going?”  They said, “We have no idea, it’s somewhere in South Florida.”  I said, “Who am I taking?”  They said, “We don’t really know, we just know that there’s a match for an organ patient.”  I said, “Okay, sounds good to me.”

It takes courage to say “Yes” even when there are unknowns, because you know you’re doing something that is going to be worthwhile, that is going to turn out really, really well, despite… being a bit scary.  You have the courage to just go and do it, to say “Yes.”

Living life in a courageous way and doing the right thing always leads to phenomenal results.

— Video Transcript End –w

I would like to close by extending a very special thank you to Jet Professionals (a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Jet Aviation, a General Dynamics Company) for sponsoring my leadership courage profile video.  I’d also like to express a huge THANK YOU to conference co-chairs and truly fantastic people, Reggie Arsenault (Jeppesen, a Boeing Company) and Josh Mesinger (Mesinger Jet Sales), for an doing such an amazing job on the entire conference!

Brad’s 2016 Business Travel at the Speed of Flight

I absolutely love traveling for business!  There’s nothing more productive nor fulfilling than meeting customers and suppliers face-to-face.  Despite the proliferation of modern technologies (instant messaging, video conferencing, etc.), there’s absolutely no substitute for visiting a customer’s facilities, meeting their team members and observing their operations first-hand to understand how to help solve their challenges and serve their needs.  I’ve always felt that being able to look someone in the eye and give a firm handshake shows a genuine commitment and dedication to service.  While many of my competitors sit on the porch waiting for business to arrive, we go the extra mile to get out there and make business happen in a big way.  I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my business travel for the year 2016 to share some highlights with you.  I’ve accomplished all these trips in my Cirrus Aircraft, managing once again to avoid taking a single domestic airline flight this year – such a truly remarkable and unbelievably capable business tool!   Enjoy reading my list as you as I present a real-world perspective of what I like to call, “Doing Business at the Speed of Flight!”

  • Nights in Hotels: 200+
  • States Visit: 22
  • Countries Visited: 4
  • FBO Crew Cars: 30+
  • Rental Cars: 75+
  • Most Rental Cars in a Single Day: 3
  • Domestic Commercial Airline Flights Taken: Zero! (0)
  • Longest Continuous Trip Away from Home: 31 days straight
  • Most Frequent States Visited: Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas
  • Most Frequent Cities Visited: Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, Fort Worth
  • Longest Offshore Flight: 1,031 nm (Orlando, FL to San Juan, PR)
  • Longest Mountainous Flight: 732 nm (San Diego, CA to Denver, CO)
  • Furthest Distance Flown: 1,865 nm – KORL (Orlando, FL) to KSAN (San Diego, CA)
  • Favorite State Flown: Colorado (Rocky Mountain flying is amazing!)
  • Favorite Hotel: (tie) The James (Chicago, IL) and The Broadmoor (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Favorite Hotel Chain: Marriott (More specifically, the JW Marriott)
  • Most Productive Trip: Two week-long conferences and 14 military base visits
  • Most Beautiful Scenery: (tie) Colorado (mountains) and the Bahamas (ocean)
  • Latest Landing Time: 2am (Greenville, SC)
  • Earliest Departure Time: 6am (San Diego, CA)
  • Shortest State Visit: 15 minutes (quick-turn fuel stop)
  • Most Challenging Flight: DVT (Phoenix, AZ) to ABQ (Albuquere, NM) – Snow and ice
  • Most Challenging Landing: KNEW (New Orleans, LA) – Heavy rain and low ceilings
  • Most Beautiful Landing: MYEF (Exuma, Bahamas)
  • Shortest Flight Leg: 0.4 hours – GYB (Giddings, TX) to EDC (Austin, TX)
  • Longest Flight Leg: 5.3 hours – KAPA (Denver, CO) to KNEW (New Orleans, LA)

Looking back at all these flights, I’m reminded of all the wonderful places I visited and the amazing people I’ve met and spent time with in 2016.  I’m looking forward to even more incredible business travel adventures ahead in 2017.  There’s no doubt this past year I lived up to my motto, “Live Life to the Fullest and Enjoy Every Second of the Ride!”

Living the Cirrus Life Landing in All 50 States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!