About Yasmina Platt

Yasmina Platt serves as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's Central Southwest Regional Manager covering NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE and IA. She resides in Houston, TX and flies a Piper Archer. For regional updates and information, visit http://www.aopa.org/Advocacy/Airports-and-State-Advocacy/Central-Southwest

Successful Pinch Hitter in Houston

As you might remember… fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I planned and organized a Pinch Hitter course (non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, basic emergency procedures, etc) for the Houston area last Saturday, August 16th. For an earlier blog about this and more information, visit: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=1625 and http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.

We were initially happy to get 25-30 RSVPs because we did not know what to really expect but, when we got to 50, we had to set that as the limit. RSVPs and interest got to 70 strong so we now have a list of 20 flying companions for a future date and two cities, Fort Worth and Conroe, have also asked us for a course in their area. The interest and response was overwhelmingly positive and we were happy to see that!

We were very fortunate and thankful to recruit four other great Texas pilots/flight instructors along with their aircraft to help us present the material to the attendees: 1) Vickie Croston from Conroe, 2) Erin Cude from Victoria, 3) Mike Ely from Liberty, and 4) Mary Latimer from Vernon. We cannot thank them enough. They volunteered their time and money to come to the event. Thanks also go out to West Houston Airport for being a great host!

Attendees were provided with some goodies and materials to take home so they can review the concepts and topics discussed as well as learn more about any particular topics. One of those materials was the latest copy of the FAA Safety Briefing that happened to focused around flying companions.

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a "Flying Companion Guide to GA"

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a “Flying Companion Guide to GA”

We received great and encouraging post-course feedback from the 49 attendees. Here are some samples:

  • I wish I would have done this earlier
  • I look forward to taking some flight training and learn how to land the airplane in case of something happening to my girlfriend
  • I’m going to start training and become a private pilot
  • I’m going to enjoy flying more now that I understand how things work and feel more safe
  • Hope my husband lets me help him now, especially with radios and checklists

Based on our experience and their comments, we believe the course was successful and met its objectives. We believe all attendees were rewarded with a greater understanding of flying and general aviation, a more enjoyable time during future flights, and a greater sense of safety regardless of what their future plans call for. Sharing the joy and passion of flight with someone special to you can only have positive returns. Being an active participant in what’s going on can only increase the safety factor.


Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

So, if you are interested in a Pinch Hitter or know someone who is within the region, please send me an e-mail with your/their contact info so I can keep track and contact you/them when a course is scheduled close to you. My e-mail is yasmina.platt@aopa.org.

If you are interested in organizing a Pinch Hitter yourself in your area (and I encourage you to do so! :) ), I am also happy to talk with you and provide you with some important topics of discussions, things to consider when choosing a venue, tips, lessons learned, etc. Send me an e-mail to that above address and we can schedule a phone call.

Now, for all pilots… please remember to always make your passengers comfortable before, during, and after flying. Remember that they may not be used to flying in small airplanes like you are and they, for sure, do not know or understand the lingo or the procedures involved so, when able, try your best to explain it to them. Encourage them to ask questions and be involved in the process (unless they just prefer to just read a book or take a nap). Passengers are much more relaxed and comfortable riding in any type of transportation mode when they have information and know what to expect.

Need help creating your own passenger briefing? Here are a couple of links that can help: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Safety-Videos/Passenger-Safety-Briefing.aspx and http://flash.aopa.org/asf/volunteerpilots/app/content/pdf/ASI_PBF_Passenger%20Briefing%20Checklist.pdf

Upcoming Pinch Hitter in Houston

As I travel the region… I often hear that non-pilot flying companions (business associates or friends, for example)/spouses/significant others don’t often ride along in GA aircraft because they are not comfortable with flying or just are not very interested. Many who regularly fly with us do so, to some degree, under stress, never really enjoying the experience. Some are scared, others just nervous. Some question what if this or that (for example… can turbulence cause a wing to fall apart? how do you ensure that you don’t come in contact with another aircraft in flight?). And, for most, it just isn’t as much fun as it is for us and, when it isn’t fun for them, it probably isn’t as much fun for us either.

However, your flying companion can be a tremendous asset and, with training, flying can be safer, easier, and more enjoyable for all parties involved. So, fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I decided to organize a Pinch Hitter course in the Houston area where we live.

What is a Pinch Hitter? A course where non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, and basic emergency procedures. Here are the details of this upcoming course:

  • When: Saturday, August 16, 2014 (9 am – 5 pm). Rain or shine.
  • Where: West Houston Airport (KIWS); 18000 Groschke Rd; Houston, TX 77084.
  • Who: Any non-pilot who regularly flies in GA aircraft is a good candidate.
  • Objective: To introduce the non-pilot flying companions to flying an airplane. We will discuss the possibility of the pilot becoming incapacitated while in flight and the need for the non-pilot to take control of the airplane. When the non-pilot is well-versed in the operation of the aircraft, it enhances safety as well as increases the enjoyment of flight. Some of the topics to be covered will include: safety, basics of aerodynamics, aircraft instruments and parts, basic navigation and chart reading, checklists, radio usage and communications, GPS usage, traffic patterns and landing, and emergency procedures. We will also offer an open forum to answer all questions/concerns about flying and can help the participants get some actual flight training, if interested.
  • Cost: $25 (the cost of lunch and materials)
  • FMI: For a tentative agenda, more information and updates, visit http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.
  • Questions and RSVP: Contact me at yasmina.platt@aopa.org. Please RSVP by August 10th with the following information: 1) Name, 2) Contact info, 3) Your passenger experience in small (GA) aircraft, 4) Aircraft most often riding in, 5) Personal reasons for taking the course, and 6) Expectations of the course (what you want to learn).

Can’t make it on August 16th? No problem… here is AOPA’s Online Pinch Hitter: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/pinch_hitter/swf/flash.cfm

International Fly-in in Garray (Soria), Spain

It is probably no surprise to many of you that my husband and I attended a fly-in while on vacation recently. In previous blogs, I have mentioned how we always try to link our vacation with a little bit of aviation and flying to learn how general aviation (GA) works and is treated in other parts of the country and world. And, yes, we also enjoy seeing places and landscapes from a 3D perspective. Who doesn’t, right?

This time… we headed to my home country of Spain for 10 days to visit family, eat some good food, enjoy a little R&R, and experience traditional festivities during Soria’s fire walking festival (paso del fuego) in San Pedro de Manrique and annual festivities, called Fiestas de San Juan.

The map below shows you where Soria is located within Spain. It is about a 2 1/2 hr drive from Madrid (in the center of the country) to Soria.

Map of Spain with Soria's aerodrome

Map of Spain with Soria’s aerodrome

On Saturday, June 21st, Soria’s aerodrome/airport in Garray (only 7 or so km north of Soria) held a fly-in to introduce the newly re-opened and improved airport to the locals (called sorianos) and pilots. While the airport was opened in the early 20th century, the airport has not always been successful. The airport is owned by the province and managed by a private entity. A new management company, Airpull Aviation, took over the management and control of the airport on December 18th, 2013 for the next 10 years. Their goal is to make the airport attractive to pilots and the local community while ensuring its economic viability. My family had been updating me on the improvements made to the airport since the beginning of the year (resurfacing of the main and existing runway, a new runway, a bigger ramp, a restaurant, a fuel farm, a new roadway leading to the airport, etc.) so the fly-in was the perfect opportunity for me to see it for myself.

To be honest…. I was excited about it, but I truly expected a small event with a low turnout. To my pleasant surprise… the fly-in actually reminded me of a lot of fly-ins I attend here on behalf on AOPA and it was one of my highlights of the trip.

One side of the ramp

One side of the ramp, with a good mixture of aircraft

The airport has a restaurant/coffee shop (restaurante/cafeteria) inside the terminal with a couple of patios outside, where several locals where eating and talking while enjoying the sights of aircraft flying.

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal

Locals and pilots talking and watching airplanes

The airport also has a flight school that provides training, rental aircraft, skydiving, etc. The prices seem pretty competitive with other parts of Spain and Europe but, not suprisingly, not with those here in the States. To give you an idea… a 1979 Cessna C172 Skyhawk or a 1985 Piper Warrior II goes for 205 euros an hour wet with taxes (with or without a CFI – the charge is the same!). At the current exchange rate of about 1  = $1.36, that would be $279/hr. Flying club members can get them discounted at 160 /hr ($218/hr). Yes, then you have to pay user fees/landing fees separately.

I introduced myself to the guy who looked to be in charge of the event since he was carrying a portable handheld radio and was giving takeoff/landing/low flying permissions/clearances to the pilots flying. He immediately asked if I had any interest in flying. What do you think I said? “Of course! No need to ask! Thank you!” A few minutes later… my High School friend Lorena (who came to visit us from Zaragoza – 2 hrs drive time east of Soria) and I were in a Piper Warrior with CFI Eduardo at the controls heading out to the runway. I took the back seat and let my friend Lorena sit up front. It was her first flight in a small GA aircraft and I wanted her to experience it first hand. We had a fabulous flight and Lorena left the aircraft (and airport) wanting more and thinking about obtaining a private pilot license (or PPL as they call it in Europe). Mission accomplished!


Lorena, a happy flyer during her first GA flight

Departing the airport

Departing the airport



Garray airport in the distance

Low level pass with a C172

Low level pass with a C172


Passing the C172 as we do the low pass over the airport


Aerial of the airport


Town of Garray




CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

It’s funny how all the people who took “first time rides” left with a big grin on their face and nothing but complementary comments. “Amazing!, Wow!, Fantastic!, How fun!” are some of the things I overheard them say. Ahhhh the joys of flying general aviation aircraft…..

While there, I also spoke with Santi Marti, the airport’s general manager, to thank him for the event, his work with the airport, and get a summary of the day’s and year’s (to date) success. Approximately 500 people and 45 aircraft (airplanes, gyrocopters, ultralights, LSAs, etc) attended from around the country (Valencia, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Valladolid, Navarra, Soria, Toledo…) as well as four from France and one from Germany. Among the aircraft was an Antonov AN II from 1947.


Antonov AN II

Mr. Martin also gave me some great news. Their goal was to have at least 500 aircraft operations in 2014 but they have already exceeded that in only the first few months of service and that’s with Spain’s current recession. Soria’s airport does have a good future ahead… :) The province and the local media have provided a lot of support to the airport and I hope it continues that way.

The airport is located in a great area (centrally located, with beautiful scenery as you saw from my pictures above, and away from busy airspace), making it ideal for GA operations, to include gliding. Glider pilots say it may be the best area in Spain given its thermals, geology, and meteorological conditions.

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

But, if that wasn’t enough, the icing on the cake was to meet Victor Gaspar, an AOPA member who flew in from Bilbao, in northern Spain, in the RANS Coyote II he built seven years ago. He is also currently building a second aircraft, this time an RV-10, and he briefly explained to me some of the issues he is running into with the Agencia Española de Seguridad Aérea (AESA), the “Spanish FAA” and a sub-agency of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as he chooses an engine for his new aircraft. They don’t allow it to have the engine that the kit aircraft is designed for because it has too many horsepower according to current Spanish regulation.

A past Air Venture attendee, he expressed his gratitude towards AOPA and EAA. Without AOPA, general aviation wouldn’t be what it is, he said.

AOPA member Victor Gaspar, my husband Jared and I

With my husband Jared and Victor Gaspar, proudly wearing his AOPA hat

Did I get you excited about flying to Europe or within Europe? If so, here is a website the airport recommends to obtain weather, notams, flight planning info, etc: http://flyingineurope.be/

The airport in Tudela, Navarra is now on my list to visit during my next trip to Spain. =)

I had a dream!

A lot of people (I would even venture to say “most people”) have dreams… some reachable, some unreachable. I could tell you that my ultimate dream would be to fly to the moon but, unfortunately, that is not a realistic dream for more reasons than one. Instead, I rather think of dreams as big goals and desires – things that you can achieve if you work hard at it, stay on task, and persevere.

Some people dream of their wedding, owning a big house and a nice car, or maybe buying a boat. Others dream of what they want to be or do. As a kid, I always remember thinking of one dream… to fly one day. It took all of those things that I mentioned earlier and more but, boy, was it worth it!

General aviation flying is something special that I wish more people could experience. The Oxford Dictionary defines “takeoff” as “the action of becoming airborne.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the moment when an airplane, helicopter, etc., leaves the ground and begins to fly.” Those are very factual and physics-based definitions. There is so much more to it… taking off (especially during the first solo) is something magical; it’s a feeling of enjoyment, adventure, freedom, power, empowerment, majesty, and departure from depressing world news among others.

Flying itself is also more than the physical part of it. It’s also about the wonderful people you meet, the events (fly-ins, airshow, air races, air routes…) you can participate in and attend, the destinations you visit, the 3D views you enjoy, the experiences you live and so forth. It brings some cool options and opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy it.

On a day when we remember MLK’s dream of equality, today is a good day to review and celebrate our own dreams. And, for me, today is a good day to celebrate the achievement of my dream with its main enablers – my parents. I could not think of a better way to celebrate it than to take them up flying for the weekend so I could share my dream and passion with them.

So… I had a dream that one day I would fly and it feels amazing to have achieved it. Now I’m working on my next dream because I believe in bettering yourself… looking further and challenging yourself within your limits and reach.

What’s your dream? Whatever it is, I encourage you to keep going through the fun times and the hard times. I especially encourage those of you who wish to fly and join the PIC ranks.

Listing of Aviation Programs at Middle and High Schools

Interested in a career in aviation? Your kid is the one who is interested? Your grandkid, friend, or neighbor is interested but don’t know where to start? Looking for a middle or high school to get her/him started? Live in the Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, IA)? Well, you came to the right place.

AOPA’s Flight Training magazine publishes an annual College Aviation Directory with a list of colleges and universities with aviation programs. Here is next year’s (2014’s): http://flighttraining.aopa.org/magazine/2013/December/1312f_college%20directory2.pdf. Flight Training’s College Aviation Directory is the largest, most comprehensive database available anywhere.

You can also search the interactive College Aviation Directory by state and type of program (pilot training, maintenance, ATC… and associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s) here: http://flighttraining.aopa.org/learntofly/school/aviation_colleges/

By the time a teenager gets to college, he/she usually knows what he/she wants to do as a career and the path to follow. Therefore, I believe it is far more important to attract students to aviation from a younger age. Realizing that a similar listing of schools does not exist for programs below college level, I have started to compile a listing of pre-college aviation programs at schools in the AOPA Central Southwest Region.

I have been wanting to compile this list for quite some time. I am a graduate of Sterling H.S.’s aviation program in Houston, TX. I think I mentioned this in my “10 year flying anniversary” blog last year. I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a toddler. Therefore, during my junior year in High School, in preparation for college, I started researching how I could start flying and what it would take since no one around me knew anything about it or knew how to help me. Google and the AOPA website were my best friends. They were highly used and abused :) However, one day, I ended up in Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) website because my sister was looking for a school with an arts program she had heard about (what we now know as the High School for the Performing and Visual arts or HSPVA, which she attended) and, under the list of “vanguard” or “magnet” programs, I saw “aviation.” Uh huh, magic word! I was very lucky to find it and, after having graduated from the program years ago, I still find it amusing that most pilots or people in aviation in the Houston area have not even heard about it.

Anyway, that’s my long story for wanting to create this list. I want to make it a little easier for kids and parents to find schools with aviation programs in their areas, especially for those with no ties to aviation. Hope it is helpful.

Listing of Pre-College Aviation Programs

This list might not be inclusive of all such programs so, if you know of any missing, or if you have more information about any of the programs currently listed, please e-mail me (yasmina.platt@aopa.org) or reply to this blog.

Aviation History at Glenwood Cemetery

Today was a grey and cold day in Houston so my husband Jared and I decided it would be nice to visit the Glenwood and Washington Cementeries and visit the graves of some famous people, especially those with ties to aviation.

The first grave we were most excited about was Howard Hughes, Jr’s. I know all of you know who Mr. Hughes was but here is a brief bio from the cemetery’s website as a refresher:

Hughes, Jr., Howard R. (1905-1976)
Billionaire and man of legendary accomplishments in business, aviation and film making. He assumed control of the Hughes Tool Company at the age of 19, following his father’s death. In the late 1920s he moved to Hollywood. His best-remembered films are the epic Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Outlaw (1941). During WWII and the decade that followed, he pursued his fascination with aviation, forming Hughes Aviation and receiving government contracts for development and manufacture of aircraft (including the wooden flying boat dubbed “The Spruce Goose”). In 1956 he acquired TWA and pushed it into the jet age. By the late 1960s, he was becoming increasingly reclusive, eventually running his business empire from a penthouse atop the Dessert Inn in Las Vegas. He died on a flight from Acapulco to Houston.”

Most non-aviation enthusiasts know about Howard from the 2004 movie “The Aviator,” played by Leonardo DiCaprio (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338751/).

According to the cemetery’s website, the Howard Hughes family plot is one of the most frequently visited sites at Glenwood. I’m very happy to hear that; I’m happy to hear that some people care about aviation history. Even though his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle became very apparent later in life, caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder and chronic pain, Mr. Hughes should be remembered by his aviation entrepreneurship as well as his piloting and engineering skills.

Grave of the Hughes Family

Grave of the Hughes Family

Grave of Howard Hughes, Jr and his two parents

Grave of Howard Hughes, Jr and his two parents

We were also interested in seeing William P. Hobby’s grave. He was Governor of Texas for a few years but, most importantly (for us, anyway), Houston’s second commercial airport (KHOU – William P. Hobby Airport) is named after him. I may be wrong here, but it is my understanding that this is the timeline of the airport’s name over the years:

– W.T. Carter Field in 1927 when it was a private landing field in a 600-acre (240 ha) pasture

– When the City of Houston acquired it in 1937, they changed the name to Houston Municipal Airport

– In July, 1938, after setting a new speed record flying his Lockheed 14 Super Electra around the world, Howard Hughes visited Houston for a 3 day celebration. During a banquet at the Rice Hotel, the City announced that Houston Municipal Airport was to be renamed Howard Hughes Municipal Airport. A few months later (about 4 months), the City learned that the airport will be disqualified for Federal grant money if it is named after a living person and the name was changed back to Houston Municipal Airport. (source: 1940 Air Terminal)

– Renamed Houston International Airport in 1954

– And renamed to its current name (William P. Hobby Airport) in 1967

Grave of William P. Hobby and his two wives

Grave of William P. Hobby and his two wives

Grave of William P. Hobby

Grave of William P. Hobby

I am not exactly sure what William P. Hobby’s involvement with the airport was, but Howard Hughes was responsible for several improvements to the airport, including its first control tower in 1938, in addition to being the era’s most influential aviator and a user of the airfield. If any of you know what Mr. Hobby’s involvement with the airport was, I’d like to know; please e-mail me or post a reply to this blog. I do not want to ignore Mr. Hobby’s accomplishments; however, I think I would prefer the airport to be named after Howard Hughes once again. Mr. Hobby has a local school named after him (William P. Hobby Elementary School – http://www.houstonisd.org/HobbyES). Mr. Hughes only has a restaurant/bar named after him – Hughes Hangar (http://hugheshangar.com/) – and, as a private enterprise, it could close and we could lose it. Hobby Airport is also the place where my husband and I met so it definetely has a special place in our hearts. =)

If you are interested in learning more about KHOU’s history, the 1940 Air Terminal Museum does a fabulous job of capturing it. I would suggest that you visit them sometime. It is pretty impressive. Here is their website: http://www.1940airterminal.org/history/timeline/.

For more information about the cemetery, visit their website at http://www.glenwoodcemetery.org/. If you click on “About Glenwood,” you can learn more about the cemetery and the significant and important people buried there. By clicking on “Visiting,” you can find a map of the cemetery.

We will be back to take a guided walking tour when my husband recovers from his running injury. I’ll update this if we learn some more interesting information.

Social Media in Central Southwest Region

In addition to several “friendly airports,” there are also quite a few airports, museums, and organizations in the Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA) that are active in social media. Click on the link below to see the list I have compiled to date but I welcome any additional ones I may have missed.

Twitter and Facebook Accounts in Central Southwest Region

If you have a Twitter account, you can quickly follow all the “listings or Twitter accounts” (sorry, I don’t know the appropriate Twitter nomenclature) in your state by going to the regional Twitter profile (https://twitter.com/aopacentralsw) and clicking on “Lists.” Once you log in with your account information (if you are not logged in already), you will see a list for each of the state, titled “Aviation in New Mexico,” “Aviation in Texas,” and so forth. Rather than typing each one of the Twitter names from this blog, you can view them all very quickly on each of the lists and follow who you want.

Thanks to Jim Rivere from www.LaAviator.com (and AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer for St. John the Baptist Parish Airport (1L0)), we now also have a list of Facebook pages for airports and aviation businesses in Louisiana. I have also been able to find a couple in Iowa.

Friendly Airports in the Central Southwest Region

Looking for an airport to grab a $100 hamburger? Want to visit an aviation museum? How about camping by your airplane? Just simply want to visit an airport to watch airplanes take off and land? We may consider these “friendly airports” and I have started to compile a list of them within our Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA).

List of friendly airports in Central Southwest Region

Note: The information above is only as good as the sources provided. Please confirm before using.

You can always find more information regarding fly-in restaurant locations on “The $100 Hamburger” book and website: http://www.100dollarhamburger.com/

For more on-airport camping or nearby camping facilities, you might find the American Air Campers Association (AACA) helpful: http://aaca.pilotgetaways.com/

Additional feature destinations, weekend getaways, romantic getaways, and escapes can be found at: http://pilotgetaways.com/article-index-map

1/15/2015 update: Editors of AOPA’s Pilot Magazine have created their one “Aerial Adventures: 99s Way to Fly” eBook and it has lots of great ideas for additional getaways, routes and airborne challenges as well. You can get a copy from Apple’s iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook stores. Learn more here: http://www.aopa.org/Products-and-Services/AOPA-eBooks.

2/12/2015 update: And, what if you need a courtesy car? How do you know if the airport you’re going to has one? No worries. Now, there’s an app for that… It’s called “Airport Courtesy Cars” (duh! haha) and can be downloaded for both iPhones and Androids. You can find them by state or with a map feature. Learn more about it here.

I want to thank the state aviation offices in the nine states for their help identifying some of these airports. However, please send me any suggestions and/or items that should be added to this list… an airport close to you or one that you have visited that provides access for both the flying community and surrounding community by way of picnic tables, a viewing area, a seating area, a restaurant, a park, etc as a way to show to the community the value of the airport, the types of operations that go on, spark kids’ interest in aviation, and so on. The more robust the list is, the better.

Still need or want more reasons to fly and visit different community airports? Read http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2012/May/10/Add-up-the-reasons-to-fly to learn about incentive programs to encourage pilots to explore different airports around them while getting prizes.

Now go out and fly! Enjoy your community airports!!

Flying Vacation to the Florida Keys

Have you ever taken a long cross country (say, a two or more leg cross country trip)? Maybe to go to Oshkosh or on a business trip? What about taking a flying vacation? If you have not, I encourage you to. I’ll share a trip my husband and I just came back from. As I mentioned in at least one other blog entry, my husband and I enjoy including some form of general aviation in our vacations. It’s just “plane fun.” Sometimes it is by renting an airplane for a local flight around a city, others involve skydiving or taking a glider ride… but this time, we decided to take a complete “flying vacation.”

My husband Jared and I flew to the Florida Keys from our home base in Houston, Texas, and it was a great trip. We flew low and slow a total of 20.1 hours roundtrip in a C172N and we absolutely loved every minute of it. My husband is an airline pilot so he is certainly used to long cross-country trips but this was essentially his first one in a general aviation aircraft.

We really could not have made it to all the areas we visited if it wasn’t for general aviation aircraft and we did it at our own pace and schedule, stopping where we wanted to and when we wanted to, and the best of all… all in 3D and mostly with good weather. We visited beautiful parts of the country during our week off. Although the terrain was mostly flat given the states we visited (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL), it was interesting to see the different types of agriculture, land, swamps, islands, rivers, sunsets (no, we did not fly early enough to see sunrises… we were on vacation after all…), water colors, sand colors, etc. not to mention the weather patterns, too. We also enjoyed spotting and identifying airports along the way.

The 172 we flew burned about 10 gallons an hour. With a 40 gallon tank, we calculated we were comfortable flying it a maximum of three hours a leg. That being said and given the winds aloft, our route there was EFD – PNS (our longest leg), PNS – LAL, and LAL – FD51. This alone accounted for 9.3 hours of flying.

We left Saturday, October 19, after I participated in Conroe, TX’s Challenge Air event, an event designed to build self-esteem and confidence in children and youth with special needs through the experience of flight. I really enjoyed my time with the kids at the event… it is just great to see the “before and after” taking the flight. Challenge Air was recently the recipient of one of AOPA’s Giving Back grants, too: http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2013/September/18/Giving-Back-grant-recipients.aspx. Because we left Houston quite late in the afternoon, we decided to fly just one leg and spend the night in Pensacola, FL. By the way… Pensacola Aviation Center gives $0.25 fuel discounts to AOPA members. It felt great to be an AOPA member!

The next day, we flew the rest of the way to our destination airport by way of Lakeland, home of Sun ‘n fun, where were stopped for lunch at the on-site restaurant. The flight down from Lakeland was quite spectacular: over the Everglades and down the Keys. Our destination airport was FD51 – Summerland Key Cove, a private airport between Marathon and Key West, which may be the only airport in the world where airplanes and flying is on one side of the house and salt water boating on the other. Pretty sweet, right? I loved that little (literally) airport! The runway is 2,550 ft long but only 26 ft wide. Making the numbers was rather important here! Also important was to watch for the balloon in R-2916.

(Note: Abel Island in Guttenberg, IA also has airplanes on one side of the homes and fresh water and boating on the other: http://www.abelisland.com/)

FD51 – Summerland Key Cove Airport

FD51 – Summerland Key Cove Airport

Runway 30 at FD51 and the high altitude balloon in the distance

Runway 30 at FD51 and the high altitude balloon in the distance

A friend of ours let us use his beautiful house at the airport and the experience of flying into the house was phenomenal. One day… we’ll live on an airport community.

Friend’s house at FD51

Friend’s house at FD51

Here are a few pictures from our flights there:

Acadiana Regional Airport (ARA) in Louisiana with its runway and sealane

Acadiana Regional Airport (ARA) in Louisiana with its runway and sealane

Sunset over Mississippi

Sunset over Mississippi

Flying north of Destin

Flying north of Destin

The fairly new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, FL

The fairly new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, FL

And the old, now closed, Panama City airport

And the old, now closed, Panama City airport





Florida Keys

Florida Keys

The rest of the week, between our arrival and our departure, was your typical Florida vacation. My husband also took me to the Sugarloaf airport where they conduct skydiving operations and the Conch Flyer restaurant at the Key West International Airport (EYW) to watch airplanes. And, the day prior to our departure, we were walking around downtown Key West when we hear a fast moving airplane… we look up (what else would pilots do, right?) and it was no one else than Skip Stewart’s airplane! Alright! =) I contacted Skip via Facebook and he told us his ferry pilot Raymond Cabanas was just having a little fun. Awesome!

Conch Flyer restaurant at KEYW

Conch Flyer restaurant at KEYW

Aviation décor inside the Conch Flyer restaurant

Aviation décor inside the Conch Flyer restaurant

The only regret I have from our trip to the Keys was not flying a seaplane but the winds picked up tremendously towards the end of our stay.

Our route back was FD51 – MTH – BKV – DTW – LFT – EFD. That amounted to 10.8 flying hours. FD51 does not have fuel onsite so we had to relocate to MTH – Marathon to fill up. While we were there, we went to lunch, quickly visited the EAA Air Museum, and then headed to BKV – Hernando County Airport.

The controller at BKV was the sweetest controller. Upon departure, we asked if we could overfly the approach end of runway 3 to take a picture of a corn maze. He asked how it looked from the air and we joked with him that we had the exit plan. He called us cheaters, ha! =) He also asked us how long the flight to Destin was and we told him “two hours.” He is going to make that flight himself soon, he added. It beats the almost six hour drive and I do not believe there is a direct flight from Tampa (closest commercial airport to Hernando County) and Destin (and, even if there is, that is not to DTS but rather to VPS which is quite far from downtown Destin and the beach).

Corn maze at BKV

Corn maze at BKV

Oh, by the way, did you know that Zephyrhills, FL makes its own natural spring water?

2013-10-26 22.17.11

We arrived in Destin right after sunset, just in time for dinner with one of our pilot friends there. A nice walk on the beach the next morning and we head to LFT – Lafayette, LA for one of the best Cajun restaurants – Prejean’s.

Our destination airport, Ellington Field (EFD), was having the Wings over Houston airshow that day so we waited in LFT long enough to ensure that we would arrive in EFD past 5 pm when the airport opened. Well, that was not a problem. We had such terrible headwinds on the last leg that we barely hit 100 kts of groundspeed on descent! Ouch!

Here are a few pictures from our trip back:

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Orange trees in Florida

Orange trees in Florida

Sunset approaching Destin

Sunset approaching Destin


Amazing Florida water and the airplane’s shadow


Coast of Florida


Difference in water color and depth


Arrow close to the LA and TX border


Approaching Houston

We truly had a great trip and general aviation and flying was really what made it all worth it and fun.

I will also tell you that, through Twitter, I tried to show the value of our trip to the local community where we stopped because, as you can imagine, we spent quite a bit of money on fuel, lodging, food, ground transportation, etc and that has a great impact to the local economy. Here is an example of that work after the completion of our trip. I sent tweets to the governors of TX, LA and FL as well as Florida’s Office of Tourism, Lafayette’s (Louisiana) official source for tourism, and Lafeyette’s City-Parish President. If nothing else, my intention was to bring general aviation to their attention and what an airplane flying in brings to their community besides noise.


NOAA’s Organizational Structure

I had been confused about the structure of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for quite some time so I decided to research it and write a blog about it for everybody’s benefit.

Here is a summary organizational chart I created to help visualize NOAA’s structure and then I summarize what each aviation-related division’s mission is below.

NOAA's Organizational Chart

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA is an Operating Unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce along with several other agencies, such as the Economics and Statistics Administration or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for example (http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/migrated/Department%20Organization%20Chart.pdf). NOAA has seven divisions:

  • Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service (NWS)
  • Fisheries
  • Satellites and Information
  • Research
  • Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
  • Office of Program Planning and Integration

As pilots, some of us obtain aviation weather services directly from the National Weather Service (NWS) while others get it through flight planning tools, such as AOPA’s FlyQ.

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS)

The NWS’ mission is to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.

NWS is divided into three areas: 1) Leadership and headquarter staff in Silver Spring, Maryland, 2) six regional offices, and 3) nine national centers.

NWS Regional Offices

The AOPA Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA) aligns with NWS’ Central (IA, KS, MO, NE among others) and Southern (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX among others) Regions.

The NWS Central Region office is located in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/. The NWS Southern Region office is located in Fort Worth, TX. This region is the most weather-active region in the nation and its nearly 1,000 employees are dedicated to the effective 24/7 delivery of weather, water and climatological forecasts, services and warnings. For more information, visit http://www.srh.noaa.gov/.

In addition, there are Center Weather Service Units (CWSUs) which were formed as a direct response to the Southern Airways flight 242 crash. The aircraft crashed near Atlanta, Georgia in 1978 due to a thunderstorm. Since that crash, 84 National Weather Service meteorologists directly support the aviation customer by providing detailed weather information 16 hours a day, 7 days a week from 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/artcc/) in several large metropolitan areas, such as Albuquerque (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zab/), Fort Worth (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zfw/), Houston (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zhu/), and Kansas City (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/cwsu/index.php?site=zkc) in the AOPA Central Southwest Region. CWSU meteorologists perform several functions, but none more important than the face-to-face on the spot briefings to air traffic controllers. These face-to-face briefings let the meteorologist convey a variety of weather information to air traffic controllers using science, past experiences and local knowledge. This is vital in helping FAA personnel safely and efficiently route traffic. Other functions of CWSU meteorologist’s include producing and disseminating Center Weather Advisories (CWAs) and Meteorological Impact Statements (MISs). For more information about CWSUs, visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov/aviation/pages/CWSU/CWSU.php.

NWS National Centers

One of the nine NWS National Centers is the Aviation Weather Center (AWC), which delivers consistent, timely and accurate aviation weather information. The AWC is housed in the Kansas City, MO Central Region office. As a pilot, this might be the site you are most familiar with when it comes to aviation weather and the National Weather Service: http://www.aviationweather.gov/. It provides written and visual information regarding weather observations (METARs, radar, satellite, etc.), advisories (SIGMETs, AIRMETs, etc.), and forecasts (TAFs, convection, turbulence, icing, winds and temperatures aloft, etc).

For more general information about NWS, visit: http://www.weather.gov/organization.

NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO)

NOAA ships and aircraft play a critical role in the collection of oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, and fisheries data. The NOAA fleet is managed and operated by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), an office composed of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps.

OMAO’s aircraft operate throughout the world providing a wide range of capabilities including hurricane reconnaissance and research, marine mammal and fisheries assessment, and coastal mapping. NOAA aircraft carry scientists and specialized instrument packages to conduct research for NOAA’s missions.

In addition to research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA’s mission, OMAO ships and aircraft provide immediate response capabilities for unpredictable events. For example, aerial images of disaster-torn areas—taken by NOAA aircraft—enabled residents and emergency workers to verify the condition of houses, bridges, and roads.

For more information about OMAO, visit: http://www.omao.noaa.gov/.

The following are a couple of summary pages about what I’ve been explaining from the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Services brochure.



BTW, since we are talking about services – Did you know that AWOS systems are limited to reporting cloud ceilings up to 12,000 feet?? Well, if you didn’t, now you do! =)