N619TP is back from the Caribbean and safely parked on the ramp at Palo Alto Airport. It has been an amazing experience and I am still digesting the learning from it. For the detailed write up check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
The approximate routing for the return trip is shown above. Total length of the trip is about 6,600 nautical miles (7,500 miles or 12,200 km). The flight had 14 segments, 6 to Punta Cana and 8 back. Heading west will take you more time because of headwinds (up to 40 knots) and customs when entering the US. Longest segment was 5.2 hours from Nassau to Punta Cana. Picking a route far south was the right choice as it kept us out of clouds with icing.
We expected that this would be the most interesting day of the trip, and it didn’t disappoint. The weather forecast indicated strong headwinds. This meant our original speed and route fuel would have been below the minimums we felt comfortable with. There are a few things you can do about this. Flying at higher altitudes reduces fuel usage, but anything above 12,500 feet requires us to be on Oxygen which I usually try to avoid. We can change the route, which puts us more over water. We can reduce power which gives us more endurance as long as the headwinds don’t increase. Or we can add a fuel stop which means either stopping in the Turks & Caicos (a UK territory) or an additional stop in the Dominican Republic and clearing customs without the support of our handler. We decided on a more direct route (flying more over water) and cruising at 65% power.
Today was a short segment from Orlando to Nassau, Bahamas. It was also my first international flight and first long overwater flight. Both involves preparation. For any flight leaving the US, you need to file an eAPIS declaration with the DHS listing passengers and crew. This all happens electronically and once you have signed up for the account is fairly quick. We filed 24 hours before and received authorization within an hour. For overwater flights in small planes, life vests for passengers and crew are mandatory. We are also carrying a life raft and satellite phone and the plane has a radio, an ELT, a satellite phone and the CAPS parachute system. Together, that gives us good odds even if we have to ditch.
Tuesday morning we headed to the airport, and had the fastest IFR departure of my life. San Antonio is enabled for PDC which means we received both our IFR clearance as well as the ATIS electronically in the Uber on the way to the airport. Million Air had already pulled up the plane. Thanks to PDC we didn’t have to call Clearance Delivery (we already had it). Taxi instructions were to the runway next to our ramp and tower gave us an immediate takeoff clearance. PDC is definitely the future, I wish they had this in Palo Alto.
To end the year, I am planning to do something slightly crazy. The idea is to fly our Cirrus SR22 (pictured below) to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and back. It’s a round trip time of 7,400 miles, by far the longest trip I have ever taken as a pilot. It’s also the most complex one due to flying in multiple countries, border crossings, customs, international airport operations. To keep me safe, Mark Erwin (my CFI) is coming along as co-pilot and as we are flying over water we are also bringing a life raft and a satellite phone.