pilot Posts

Alligator and an Airplane – Going Viral on Social Media

  

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to have a post go viral on social media.  Literally, overnight.  Over two million people viewed my post in a matter of a few short days.  It happened to me when I least expected it, a simple photo with a short narrative, and BAM!  Viral happened.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at experiencing it first hand…

A good friend of mine texted me an interesting photo which had recently been taken at Orlando Executive Airport (KORL) overnight.  It was an unusual shot; a private airplane landed and unexpectedly collided with an alligator on the runway.  The 11-foot long, 500 lb alligator was instantly killed.  The pilot posed for a quick photo with a thumbs up next to the deceased alligator following this unfortunate incident.

I’ve flown for the past 22 years based in Florida and had never come across any wildlife on a runway aside from small birds – and certainly never an alligator.  I thought to myself, this is really wild; I’d love to share this with my pilot buddies online.  My friend gave me permission to post it so I attached the picture along with a quick write-up, “A local pilot hit an 11-foot alligator which was crossing runway 7/25 at Orlando Executive Airport (KORL). I was told the pilot was flying a Navajo and the gator jumped up and struck the wing during his landing. The gator was killed instantly and the aircraft sustained damage to the wing. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in all my years in aviation. Welcome to Florida, folks!”

Little did I know, my day was about to get a whole lot crazier than simply posting this photo.  In an instant, social media was the last thing on my mind.  A crazed gunman stormed the building next door to my office and took the lives of several of his former co-workers.  I was now in crisis mode, tending to the needs of my staff members and juggling interactions with police, rescue personnel and media outlets.  It was a horrible day and needless to say, checking my social media “likes” and “shares” wasn’t even remotely considered.  While chaos ensued in my physical world, unbeknownst to me, my alligator post was going viral online.

At 8:00am the next morning, my doorbell rang right as I was waking up.  It had been a long night with all that occurred at my office the prior day.  I walked to the door and opened it, only wearing a white tee shirt and a pair of boxers.  Standing in front of me was a TV reporter and a gigantic television camera, lights blaring springing into action.  I thought to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me, they really showed up at my house?  The reporter immediately asked something along the lines of, “Can you share your thoughts on this crazy story?”  I quickly replied with the same response I’d given to dozens of reporters the day before, I conveyed my thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families.  He stood there looking confused and asked, “What in the world are you talking about?”  I responded, “The shooting.”  He had a very surprised look on his face as he stood silent for a moment.  Another moment of confusion ensued as we both tried to quickly process what in the world each other was thinking.  He then explained that he didn’t know which shooting I was talking about and clarified that he was asking about my social media post which had gone viral.  Now I was really confused.  He followed up, “You know, the one about the airplane hitting the alligator.”

Now that our bad comedy skit had played out and we were on the same page, it was time to hop online to discover what happened with my alligator post.  I sat there with a look of awe and amazement as the likes and share counters climbed by the second.  The comments started flowing in one after the next.  I soon realized I needed to turn off the notifications on my phone as it was buzzing and dinging non-stop alerting me of activity.  While I was still in shock a reporter would track me down at my home for such a silly story, upon seeing all this craziness I agreed to do a brief on-camera interview – with a few conditions… I needed to put on pants.  And a real shirt.  And a take a quick shower.  And all that impromptu “knock on your door and catch your candid reaction” footage would never see the light of day!

The hours that followed were filled with amazement as I continued watching this wild viral social media hit unfold.  As the likes/shares continued climbing, my direct instant message box began to overflow with media inquires.  Literally dozens, which soon swelled to hundreds.  My office phone was inundated with calls from reporters.  Several of them even tracked down my e-mail address for a more direct shot at my inbox.  Soon I received a call from the Orlando Executive Airport FBO, a rather confused staff member said, “Uhhhh, Mr. Pierce… there’s a TV news crew here looking for you, what should I tell them?”  It was pure communication chaos coming at me from every direction.  After the few thoughtful and personally written replies, I realized I couldn’t keep up.  It was time for a form letter response which I wrote in record time.  I basically outlined what happened with answers to the common questions I’d been receiving and hit copy and paste hundreds of times.

Here’s the strangest part, friend requests started popping up.  At first just a small handful.  Then a dozen, two dozen, soon there were hundreds.  At some point along the way, it topped 1,000.  Who in the world were these people and why in the world would someone send me a friend request based upon seeing a social media post of mine?  I didn’t want to be rude (I’m sure there were some very nice people), but if I had accepted all of them, my social media feeds would have been completely littered with posts from people who I don’t even know.  That reminds me, if you sent me a legitimate request during that time, you may want to resend it, there’s a high chance it got nixed along with those from my other thousand plus “new friends.”

The days ahead drew even more attention, the story was no longer confined to our borders, there were television and newspaper articles from Europe, Asia, Russia, Africa, Australia and beyond – worldwide media attention – hundreds and hundreds of outlets all reporting on my post.  I scoured Google News and discovered articles in German, French, Russian, Arabic and virtually every other language.  All the media giants featured it prominently – Fox News, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, USA Today – you name it, virtually every publication and news station covered it – including hundreds of local affiliate stations.  Perhaps the most entertaining coverage was done by a well known tabloid with the title, “Giant alligator killed trying to EAT plane as it lands.”  I never in a million years would have guessed I’d end up in such a publication, but the sheer craziness of their headline certainly gave me a good laugh.

It was exciting to read all the various new stories as they popped up in my new feed alert.  I found it interesting even with a basic story like mine how often the facts weren’t always presented accurately.  In more incidences that I can count, I was inaccurately cited as being the pilot of the aircraft.  I was also improperly credited as being the photographer on the scene (which I made clear was not the case).  The coverage inaccuracies led to many calls from concerned friends and business associates.  Even to this day, I occasionally have people in conversations mention, “that time you hit the alligator with your airplane.”  I’m confident the news media and reporters weren’t intentionally trying to misrepresent the facts; they were all just racing to get the story out quickly trying to beat hundreds of competing outlets who were doing the same.

Fast forward to a few days later… it all ended.  Dead stop.  My viral social media post had died.  People’s attention had shifted to watching the next dancing baby or funny cat video as my fifteen minutes of online fame expired.  The likes waned, the shares trickled and people went on with their daily lives.  It was as though someone flipped a light switch, literally bringing all post activity to a screeching halt.

Overall, my alligator on the runway post had been liked/shared thousands of times reaching more than 2 million people.  It was a wild, crazy, insightful ride seeing first hand how a viral post grows in the world of social media.  I’m still fascinated by how incredibly cool of an experience it was to watch it play out live as it happened.  Landings in Orlando will never be the same… New short-final checklist item:  Confirm no alligators on the runway.

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’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!”

Departing a Presidential TFR Airport

Departing a Presidential TFR Airport

This past week I arrived at Chicago’s Midway Airport and was informed the President would be in town with a TFR (temporary flight restriction) in place the entire weekend – including when I planned to depart Saturday morning.  I quickly experienced the “looks like I’ll be stuck here” feeling then the CSR at Atlantic Aviation mentioned there was a gateway procedure in effect that would allow me to still depart following a TSA security check.  Apparently, these TSA gateway procedures aren’t implemented often, but when the President is going to be in the same area for multiple days they try to put them in place.  I was relieved, but still didn’t know what to expect, so thought I’d share the experience with you.

At least 24 hours before the planned flight, you need to call a local TSA number to get a departure reservation (though they later told me they try to accommodate even last minute requests whenever possible).  They ask your name, tail number, passengers, etc.  It’s a quick and easy process.  Surprisingly, they don’t ask for your social security number, pilot’s license number or any real identifying information.  I then filed a flight plan just like normal, no special codes or anything required.

I arrived Saturday morning at 10:30am and was met by three TSA agents in a conference room they’d set up at the Atlantic Aviation FBO.  I was scanned with a metal detector wand while another agent inspected my bags.  A third agent ran a quick background check on the computer system using my driver’s license.  Again, no social security number, pilots license nor anything else was needed.  The process took all of three minutes.  After that was complete, an agent walked out to the plane with me and took a quick look inside, then photographed the aircraft.  He advised me that he would give the tower and TRACON a call to confirm that I’d been cleared by the TSA for the flight.

The entire process took a total of less than 10 minutes, including the long walk to the plane.  I found the TSA agents to be polite, professional and very friendly.  While I initially didn’t know what to expect, the process was no where near as burdensome nor bureaucratic as I’d anticipated.  These folks did a good job and made the security experience go very smoothly.

My A-game was in full effect for my departure knowing there were surely lots of eyeballs watching me.  ATC procedures were just like any other flight leaving the busy Chicago airspace.  A few minutes later, I’d departed the TFR and was safely on my way home to see my two little boys for the weekend!

Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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