"…So there I was, in the middle of the Florida Everglades in the dark…. with no instrument rating and no street lights nor horizon to reference. Did I mention it’s a new airplane I just bought?
It’s one of those few times (thankfully) that I still ponder, wondering if I should have handled things differently.
My name is Brendan O’Mara, and I am the co-founder of CRAZEDpilot.com
, a manufacturer and retailer of Aircraft and Pilot Gear. We had recently purchased a Piper Saratoga in Miami and had just departed from Tamiami Executive, just south of Miami.
It’s a beautiful plane, well equipped for our missions for both business and pleasure. My wife and I are expecting our first little pilot, a baby girl this July. We knew that our Kitfox bushplane was not going to cut it for our growing family, and it’s one long trip in a Kitfox to take inventory to OSH!
It was only 7pm when we left in the Piper Saratoga with our camp gear aboard – the overcast was sufficiently high for safe VFR conditions. Since we were fully equipped for camping, our goal was to get out of the expensive Miami area and camp on any old quiet airport tarmac we could find.
Due west of Miami is a long, seemingly abandoned (but open) airstrip called Dade-Collier, KTNT. We landed at about 45 minutes before dark – just me and my business partner (and father) Dan who was Co-Pilot on this once in a lifetime cross-country trek. I had now logged 3 hours in this new plane by this moment in time, and I was ready to put my feet up to watch the sun go down.
Just as twilight approached it was clear there actually was someone on the airfield – no idea what their official capacity was but they had no interest in our excuse that it was dark soon or the weather approaching from the north, we were told clearly, and I quote...
“I don’t care what you do with your plane – but you two….. both of you are going to be over THAT FENCE by Midnight”.
Yes, he meant alligators or not. We were faced with one of those go / no-go decisions in aviation. There was still some light, we were many miles from any habitation that we had seen from the air, and the alligators didn’t sound like a very good idea – so no time to argue with the guy, we opted to get airborne and backtrack, heading off over the Everglades.
I pointed the plane and the Garmin 530W towards the airstrip where I had done my transition training the previous day, a busy little airport south of Miami called Homestead X51. I called UNICOM and requested the lights be brought up for us, and I set the GPS steering autopilot to get us there with altitude hold. I knew we were equipped with a good autopilot so all of this aided in our decision to get out of the swamps.
There was nothing more fulfilling than seeing those runway lights and setting up the approach. We landed, and taxied into a dark corner of the airport – we did not want to be run off again! We did not even exit the plane – we leaned the seats back and just slept right there – tried to anyway.
The storm came that night, wind and rain dripping through the lock mechanism on Dan’s face and without being tied down we got more than a gentle rock, it sure did not put anyone to sleep!
All night I definitely wondered what it was that made people want to do this cross-country stuff, with the start we had I was thinking I had bit off more than I really wanted to chew right about then. When daylight came we sheepishly walked up to the FBO and the nice guy asked what time we had come in and he said, “well heck, you should have called the number on the door! You could have stayed inside the FBO, or hey you could have come stayed at our place! Well common over here and join us now, my wife is making breakfast!”
Well that was sure a change from the treatment we had at Dade-Collier. Maybe Floridians reading this would somehow know better regarding this airport, but I’ve never been run off a sleepy public airport like that…..
The breakfast on Day 2 of our 5 day trip home to Oregon was the start of one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken, and to share it with my father will be a memory neither of us will forget.
The power of aviation as private transportation coupled with the great people we get to meet or have as customers in the aviation gear business really never fails to amaze me! It’s such a great community – we ran into FBO’s where we stayed on couches, free food, frequent crew cars, friendly small town fuel stops, amazing views of the south, and all in our own private airplane. Who can beat that?"
Brendan O’Mara, Co-Founder
Aircraft & Pilot Gear
And this is why we fly!
What's your most memorable cross-country?
I'm in China today, the land of no blogging, and heading to the U.S. soon, arriving on Saturday. If you don't see your comment, I will post them when I return.
Enjoy the Journey...
Author of Flight For Control
and Flight For Safety
If you haven't read them...it's time!