September 2011 Posts

Aspen Dreams: Flying the Rocky Mountains


More than 20 years ago, I took my first trip to Aspen.  It’s a magical place where everyday life feels like a distant place, like you’re experiencing living in a bubble a million miles away.  It’s a place where fantasy is reality, where everything is perfect and life is good.  At the start of my first visit, I vividly remember sitting in my airline seat feeling the rush of the steep descent over the mountain ridge into the valley for landing.  Each year, I would return to Aspen, always looking forward to the landing experience signaling the start of an amazing visit.  Roughly 15 years ago, I began flying a small Cessna 152.  From the first moment I stepped into the cockpit, I always dreamed of landing in Aspen with me at the controls.  I eventually was able to purchase a 172SP and later, a normally aspirated Cirrus SR22 aircraft.  The Aspen dream was still alive and well, but I simply didn’t feel comfortable doing any sort of actual mountain flying.

At the end of 2009, the opportunity presented itself for me to purchase a new Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft for my business.  My current Cirrus was phenomenal in every way, but I still found myself only flying in the Eastern half of the US.  I imagined what additional doors could be opened for my business if only I could fly in mountainous terrain with confidence – the entire US would be within my reach to fly myself, better serve my customers and grow my business.  I took delivery of a shiny new red and white Cirrus with a state-of-the-art Garmin Perspective avionics suite.  The plane was loaded with every feature available, notably for the sake of this story, a synthetic vision system with an impressive terrain avoidance system.  These systems would prove to be especially useful in the mountainous terrain where I desired to fly.

I knew that mountain flying was inherently dangerous.  As a flat-lander pilot, I would never imagine taking on the challenge of mountain flying without solid instruction.  I turned to the helpful community members from the Cirrus Owners & Pilot’s Association (COPA) for their recommendations.  Within minutes, numerous members responded and indicated their top choice for world class mountain training was Independence Aviation based at Denver’s Centennial Airport (KAPA).  I spoke with Chuck and Bob who were both very friendly and worked with my schedule to ensure proper training time was allocated.  A few days later, I was receiving my first taste of mountain flight training with Chuck as we begun ground training.  He dispensed an impressively vast amount of knowledge which had been accrued through his many years of experience.  Early the next morning, we met at the Centennial Airport for my first actual flight into the Rocky Mountains with me at the controls.

As we departed Denver, I knew my flying life was about to change.  We activated the on-board oxygen system almost immediately after departure, which was unusual compared to my normal flying routine.  I’ve used oxygen systems in the past, but rarely for long periods of time at high altitudes where we’d be flying that day.  As we crossed over the front range of the Rocky Mountains, my eyes practically bulged out of their sockets as I glared in awe at the beautiful sight ahead.  I realized I was really doing this, I was finally flying the Rocky Mountains.  We flew for another half hour and soon were approaching our first stop… Aspen, Colorado!

As we approached the ridge next to Aspen, I was excited, nervous, cautious, you name an emotion, I felt it that moment.  Although emotions ran like a raging river through my mind, it’s also important to note that I felt very safe with a very experienced mountain aviator by my side.  As my Cirrus soared quickly across the ridge and we began our descent into the valley, I finally heard those magical words I had waited so long to hear… “Cirrus November 225 Hotel Lima, Aspen Tower, Cleared to Land”.  The descent was steep, even steeper than I had ever experienced flying commercially.  Chuck reassured me I was on the right path and doing just fine the entire time.  He has a very calm demeanor which allowed me to relax, yet also perform at my finest as he guided me through the approach.  As we descended into the valley, the amazing view of the mountain walls filled my windows which was so foreign to anything I had ever experienced in all my years of flying.  As I continued the approach, I listened with eager anticipation waiting for my Garmin Perspective system to verbally announced the 500 foot altitude call out.  Soon, the Garmin call out roared through my headset and my face lit up with a giant smile knowing we were so close.  I crossed the road on my short final approach into the airport.  My moment of glory was becoming a reality.  Moments later, the wheels of my Cirrus SR22 were gently touching down at Aspen Airport for the first time ever with me at the controls.  I wanted to dance, to cheer, to proclaim to the world I did it!  I had landed at one of the most challenging mountain airports in the country… Aspen, Colorado!

Since that first landing mountain airport landing, I’ve done more mountain training and have loved every second of it.  I promised myself I wouldn’t even dare attempt landing at any mountain airport without an instructor until I was completely confident in my own abilities.  In addition to the actual mountain flying instruction, I also did a lot of reading, most notably Sparky Imeson’s Mountain Flying Bible which I highly recommend.  I eventually gained enough knowledge and experience where I finally felt comfortable flying myself into mountain airports, including most notably, Aspen Airport.

As we fast forward to today, I’m now an avid mountain flyer and get to fly the Rocky Mountains frequently.  Whenever I fly the Rockies, I feel like a freshly minted pilot, feeling the “magical feeling” of flight as I glide above such incredible terrain.  Learning to fly in such an unforgiving environment has made me an even better, safer pilot.  It’s taught me to hone my skills and pay even closer attention to external effects such as winds, weather, and icing – not only in the mountains, but everywhere that I fly.  In case you missed it, I recently landed my Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft in all 48 lower continental United States and can certainly testify that my mountain flight training and experience helped to make that possible.  I now routinely make coast-to-coast business trips to visit customers in all regions of the country, including many mountainous areas.  Even when I’m simply flying over the mountains such as on a recent trip between San Francisco and Denver, I have a sense of confidence knowing that if I need to land at a mountain airport, I’m capable of doing so – I’m prepared for the challenge, my aircraft is properly equipped for the challenge, and I can accomplish the landing safely.

If you’re even remotely thinking of learning to fly in the mountains, do it!  I can say without an ounce of hesitation that it’s the most beautiful and most satisfying flying experience anywhere in the country.  If you’re headed out West, also be sure to visit the great folks at XJet FBO located at Centennial Airport (KAPA) in Denver.  I visit them frequently and have always had phenomenal experiences before making my journey into the mountains or towards the Western states beyond.

Aspen, Colorado.  Magic, memories, bright sunshiny days, sparkle filled moonlit skies, a perfect utopian city nestled into the most beautiful mountain valley in America.  It’s also the place where I live life to the fullest, experiencing my Aspen Dreams:  Flying the Rocky Mountains.


Brad’s NBAA Flight Plan Interview: Industry United in Thwarting Latest User Fee Threat

General aviation taxes.  They’re collected each time I fly.  From the moment I start the engine of my Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft until the moment the blades stop spinning, taxes are being collected via the use of an aviation fuel tax.  If I fly a long trip where I’m likely going to be using more air traffic services, I burn more fuel, and therefore I pay more taxes.  If I make a quick hop to see a customer closer to home, I’ll likely use less air traffic services, burn less fuel, and therefore I pay less.  Simple.  Effective.  Proven.  It’s perhaps the most brilliant fair tax in effect today by our federal government.

What disturbs me is the recent proposal by the Obama administration to implement a new type of user fee which would negatively affect the general aviation community.  The proposal calls for a $100 fee to be paid for each business flight.  That means whether I’m flying to Miami or Memphis, I’d pay the same fee.  This simply makes no sense since there’s no correlation between my actual aircraft usage and the amount of revenue collected.  To make matters even worse, a whole new bureaucracy would need to be created (and paid for) simply to collect these new “use taxes.”  This is a bad solution to a problem that’s already been solved.  The current system isn’t broken, so let’s quit trying to fix it.

Beyond the unfair nature of the proposed user fees, I think it’s also important to note the negative effect these fees will have on our economy.  Take for instance my own company’s use of our general aviation aircraft.  We use our Turbo Cirrus SR22 to visit customers throughout the country.  It allows us to visit multiple customers in a single day, often turning three days of travel into one.  We’re able to see more customers, make more sales, grow our business, hire more employees, and better serve our customers so they can grow their businesses.  It’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved.  Our Cirrus has allowed my small business to grow which has a positive effect on the economy.  If these new user fees are enacted, it will mean a substantial increase in costs to our company.  This will stifle our growth, thereby stifling our contribution to our community and to the economy.  Our company isn’t unique, there are thousands of others just like us throughout the country who rely on general aviation which will be harmed by this proposal.  This proposal is simply bad for general aviation, bad for business and bad for our economy.

I recently spoke with Pete Combs, host of the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) Flight Plan Podcast series, to voice my concerns.  He wrote a great article explaining the numerous flaws of the new user fee proposal, along with an audio interview which includes excerpts from our conversation.

You can read a full article, Industry United in Thwarting Latest User Fee Threat by clicking here.   At the bottom of the article there’s the full audio portion of the interview.  I’ve also included a link directly to the audio interview here for your convenience.

Read the Full Article at the NBAA Site:  Industry United in Thwarting Latest User Fee Threat
Listen to the Full Audio Interview:  Listen Now

Brad’s Flying Adventure Across America

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

I’ve recently landed my Turbo Cirrus SR22 Aircraft in all 48 lower United States which was quite an amazing adventure.  Along the way I attended countless business meetings, conferences and events… and I had an absolutely incredible time every step of the way!  There is simply no better, safer, or more comfortable way to travel and see the country than from a state-of-the-art general aviation aircraft.  Those of you who’ve followed my progression from a rookie pilot who did touch-and-goes on the weekends to an avid coast-to-coast flyer have likely heard me ask the rhetorical question, “Where can you find a product that changes your life?  That truly changes every aspect of what you do and who you are?”.  It’s an easy thing to come up with a memorable catchphrase, yet it’s another thing entirely to actually experience the benefits of it.  The Cirrus Aircraft is that product and it truly is phenomenal!  There’s no doubt in my mind if it weren’t for this airplane I would have never been able to see so many amazing sights or accomplish so many great things throughout the country.  I’ve built stronger relationships by being face-to-face with my customers and suppliers, grown my business significantly, lived a better and more fulfilling personal life and have had the pleasure of waking up each morning loving what I do.  It truly feel like I’m living a dream each and every time I take to the skies and experience the joy of flight!

I captured my journey in photographs along the way which I’ve put into the collage you see above.  I tried to incorporate unique elements into a number of the states from the images taken from high above in my Cirrus.  Feel free to explore the large version and you’ll likely recognize a few spots.  You can view various photo sizes of my flight map below (an original 61mb high resolution version is also available upon request):

Small (63k)
Medium (338k)
Large (7.6mb)

While this has been an great adventure, the most spectacular part of it all is I get to visit many of these places again and again, each time being just as magnificent as the last.  Thank you to all of my customers, suppliers, family, friends and co-workers who have been with me along the way.  Without you, and without the wonderful people at Cirrus Aircraft, my spectacular maintenance team at Air Orlando Maintenance, the great folks at NBAA and AOPA who work tirelessly to represent the positive impact of general aviation, and the friendly faces at Showalter Flying Service who always welcome me home with a smile after each of my journeys, none of this would have been possible.  I’m certainly very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given and cherish every memory made along the way.

Brad’s NBAA Flight Plan Interview: Does Being a Pilot Make You a Better CEO?

I recently had the privilege of flying with Pete Combs who creates the Flight Plan Podcast series for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).  As we cruised several thousand feet above the mountains in Northern Georgia, he conducted an airborne interview regarding my thoughts on a recent study about CEO’s who are also pilots.  The study itself was very interesting, indicating that CEO’s who are pilots take more risks in business, and often times have more success because of their higher risk tolerance.  While I agree with the premise of the conclusion, I think there may be one additional element that leads to this success.  Sure, pilots inherently take more risks than others, but they also tend to be masters of risk management.  This risk management begins with a thorough pre-flight, continues with completing checklists before the engine is even started, and is present during every single phase of the flight itself.  There’s a constant thought process of, “what am I going to do if xyz occurs.”  This thought process concerning risk management occurs in the very same manner with business operations I encounter daily.  I’m apt to take calculated risks to grow my business, yet at the same time in the back of my mind I’ve got a plan B, plan C, and in many cases even a plan D for the worst case scenario.  Therefore, I think that it’s more than just a higher risk tolerance that makes CEO’s who are pilots more successful, but rather a higher degree of risk management ability as well which is reinforced every time a CEO steps into the cockpit or the boardroom.

You can read a full article, Does Being a Pilot Make You a Better CEO? by clicking here.   At the bottom of the article there’s the full audio portion of the interview.  I’ve also included a link directly to the audio interview here for your convenience.

Read the Full Article at the NBAA Site:  Does Being a Pilot Make You a Better CEO?
Listen to the Full Audio Interview:  Listen Now