Flying with others

SGB12932There comes a time when you take your first passengers up in an aircraft, and you, and only you, are responsible. Mine was on November 1st, 2009, in Florida, with my friend Allan Gottesman and Hannah Ben Levi-Vinas who works in his office at Gottesman, Bomser & Company, PA in Plantation, FL. Allan and I have been friends for a long time and we both serve as vice presidents for the FJMC. As VP's we go to a lot of meetings all over North America, and while I love to get into an airplane, Allan is "not so much."
I planned on a trip from Hollywood/North Perry (KHWO) in Hollywood, Florida where I had trained, to Homestead General Aviation Airport (X51) in Homestead, Florida. X51 is the southernmost public airport in the USA that is still on the continent. There are airports in Marathon and Key West, but they are on islands in the Gulf. My plans took 2 routes; first I planned for a route over the Everglades to the west of Miami, and second I planned a route that took me down the coast over the Beaches and Key Biscayne then to Homestead.
The reasoning was that the Beach route required some tricky planning to get through the complicated airspace near Miami International (MIA), which may not be open to me depending on the runways in use. Part of the Beach area is under Miami's Class B airspace, through which thou must not travel without permission. Being a newby, I didn't want to be taking too much on at one time and following instructions from Air Traffic Control, watching a map and flying the plane had the potential to overload me. My prime purpose was to fly the SGBplane, so the rest could be optional by taking the easier route over the Everglades, which does not require as much supervision. Having both routes planned made it easier because I then had options.
One of the great things about the ATC system is that while it is built around the "big guys", every aircraft is treated the same. So my small Cessna 172 with 3 people on board gets the same attention as that 747 you're strapped into with 375 other people on that package tour to Bulgaria. ATC's job is to keep them apart, and they do a great job at that. One of the options that a VFR pilot (Visual Flight Rules) has is "flight following".
First, let me explain some terms. VFR pilots are responsible for watching out their windows for traffic (other aircraft) and navigate with maps and some use of radio direction equipment (VORs). IFR pilots (Instrument Flight Rules) use their instruments for most of the flight and rely on the ATC system to keep themselves apart. Basically, if you fly in clouds where you can't see, someone has to help you out. SGBThat's why I can't go up when the weather is bad, but your 9:15 to Phoenix left on time.
Back to "flight following". If the controllers are not too busy, they will help out VFR pilots by offering them IFR type control. They tell you that you're off your intended course or altitude, they can allow you into places that you may not normally be allowed into and can make things very smooth when you are around a large airport or a busy area like Miami. So enough about the planning, on with the trip.
I was at Allan's office on Thursday and we had lunch with the staff. Allan was expressing a bit of trepidation, so to break the ice, I found the following passenger brief. As pilot-in-command, I am legally responsible for briefing the passengers about the safety features of the airplane and emergency procedures. I can ask the flight attendants to do it for me, but since I didn't have any, I need to do it myself. I found this on the 'net and read it to everyone at lunch.

  1. Welcome aboard IKC flight 0001 departing Hollywood/North Perry en route, with any luck at all, to Homestead, FL.
  2. Please make sure your seatbelt is on and that your seat is securely fastened to the fuselage.
  3. At this time, any personal items should be stowed securely in the trunk of your car, since there is no overhead compartment or space beneath your seat, to speak of.
  4. Please turn off all portable electronic devices, and keep them off until we have landed safely, or for the duration of the flight, whichever comes first.
  5. Smoking is not permitted inside the cabin; smoking outside the cabin should be reported to the captain immediately.
  6. There is no beverage service during the flight, however, heavy drinking prior to takeoff is encouraged.
  7. We offer 2 types of inflight entertainment; the first being the wonderful views of scenic Florida swampland outside the aircraft, the second will consist of watching my desperate struggle to control the plane.
  8. Please keep your seat in the upright position, and since there are no tray/tables in the front or back of the plane, you can ignore that part completely.
  9. We'll be flying at an altitude of 2500 feet today, in theory. Should the plane's altitude drop precipitously, please check to ensure that I am awake and in the upright position.
  10. Lavatories are located at either end of the flight.
  11. Thank you for flying IKC, where we may not please, but we always aim.

It did put everyone into a light mood and Allan began to look forward to the adventure. Hannah was busting him a bit on FaceBook but bright and early on Sunday morning, November 1, they were both at the airport. We took a look around the plane, they took some photos and we climbed in, got the seatbelts fastened, the bags stowed and were ready to go. My actual pre-flight brief went like this:

  1. Please keep your seat belt on at all times and your seat in the upright position.
  2. Hand Controls - At some point during the flight I will show you how to control the airplane using the controls. It’s easy and you will find it to be a lot of fun. Otherwise, don't touch 'em.
  3. Rudders - Please note the rudder peddles on the floor in front of you. Keep you feet away from them at ALL times. They are used both in the air and on the ground for steering the airplane and the tops of the rudders are the brakes.
  4. Communications - Feel free to talk to me. However, during take off, landing and times when I am talking to the ATC, please refrain from speaking. However, if you see a problem, please don’t hold back.
  5. Lookout - let me know if you see another aircraft. Your second set of eyes makes my job easier.
  6. In an emergency, just before we land I will ask you to open the door lock. The door will open slightly. This will ensure that the locks will not jam. In the unlikely event of an emergency landing, wait until we stop moving and then exit immediately proceeding towards the rear of the aircraft. I will be racing you to a point approximately 100 yards behind us.
  7. Survival Equipment - fire extinguisher and first aid kit
  8. Comfort - are you comfortable?
  9. No Smoking

So I started good old N12932 up, did all my preflight check lists and off we went. On take-off from HWO, I asked the controller for clearance to the beach and then south with "flight following". They accepted my request, and sent me off to Miami control. Changed the frequency on the radio, called them up and they gave me a unique transponder code so they could follow me on the radar. Normally in VFR we dial in 1200, but he gave me 0166 to use. The transponder fires back a coded response to the radar that they use and tells them my altitude too. Using their equipment, they can follow me and let me know of anything I should be seeing or doing along the route.
We climbed to 1200' headed south about a 1/4 mile off shore and had a wonderful view of the city and the ocean. The colours were incredible and the view magnificent. It was way too early for Haulover Beach, but the air was so clear we could have seen a dimple on a baby. A perfect day to fly.
Down the coast we went, flying over all the Miami Beaches until we crossed a bit of water to Key Biscayne and then headed over the Bay towards Homestead. Usually when you fly over water, the engine begins to make funny noises (or at least you hear them!), so I asked for an got clearance for 2500'. There were some clouds just above that so we held altitude at 2000 after telling Miami Departure that we'd reached the height we could use.
Followed the landmarks over the coast (feet dry at "Chicken Point"), then aimed at an 1842' tall radio tower that marked the outside edge of the Homestead Airforce base restricted area. Maimi asked me if we saw it - I had since the coast - and told them we had it in sight and were going around to the right. Came around after the tower, pointing to the south west and we saw X51. I made our call on the Unicom (an radio system used in areas where there is no control - you call out to everyone flying what you intend to do and then, unless someone objects - you do it). I went past the airport over the swamp (Beautiful Florida Everglades) and got into position on a long final approach to land and made a very nice "greaser" at X51. We got out of the plane to use the facilities - we don't have them on board and #10 of the first briefing is true.
After a drink of water and a couple of minutes of rest, a quick preflight of the airplane, we got back into the plane for our return. This time we went over the 'Glades and Allan even took a couple of seconds of "stick time". He learned that pushing in makes the trees and swamp grow bigger, and pulling back makes the sky larger. Navigation over the BFE is always fun, it is pretty featureless other than the canals which look pretty much alike. Our turn in point is a trailer park and we called HWO for landing clearance. We came straight in to HWO, another "greaser" and taxi back to the "terminal".
We were about 1 1/2 hours in the air and it was all in all a great morning and everyone enjoyed the journey.
The only problem was after we landed when Allan found the wing flap with his head. Ouch! But it didn't leave a mark - with Allan, it would show.
Thanks to Allan and Hannah for trusting me. One of our friends wondered if Allan might get the "bug" and learn to fly now. I don't think so, but now, "not so much" is "not so bad".


Modified March 25 2024
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