It’s no secret to pilots that fall is a great time of year to fly. The temperature is crisp, the air is clear, and there’s an overall decrease in convective activity. Summer travelers have returned home, and kids are back to school, which means that your favorite vacation spots can be enjoyed without the crowds.
“Autumn is the perfect time to fly to southern Texas,” says a guest of Lajitas, the Ultimate Hideout. “I’m not drenched in sweat by the time I taxi to the tiedown. The intense summer heat is over, and I can enjoy outdoor activities.” Spread out over a whopping 25,000 acres near Big Bend National Park, the ranch features an equestrian center, a golf course along the Rio Grande (one hole even plays across international borders into Mexico) and cowboy-adorned guest rooms. Pilots arrive via a 7,200-foot runway at 2,617 feet MSL.
Flying to the aviation community of Mountain Air in North Carolina is especially rewarding during the fall months when the foliage of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains erupts in vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Visits are limited to pilots shopping for real estate, but why not? A private 2,900-foot paved mountaintop strip (at 4,432 feet MSL) could be at your future doorstep. On-site activities include hiking, swimming, golfing and just enjoying the panoramic views.
Before you take to the skies, it’s well worth the effort to research your destination—and there’s a wide variety of material available to help you do just that. Alta Research publishes northwest and southwest versions of its Flyer’s Recreation Guide. Both books, written by pilot Reed White, contain factual information on selected airports and services, as well as lodging and transportation options. Black-and-white aerial and ground photographs are brought to life with interviews with locals and entertaining stories from Reed’s travels. Regarding Lake Havasu, Reed writes “After my third margarita, I think, ‘This is a bizarre scene; I’m beginning to like it.’”
For fall travel, Reed recommends Columbia, a small California town that re-creates the old gold mining days, and Santa Fe, N.M., with its adobe architecture and tasty Southwest cuisine. “In the fall, most destinations ought to be pretty nice, with not as many people around,” says Reed. “Things change, so give a call before you go to make sure the businesses you want to visit still exist.” His guides can be ordered for $17.95 (northwest) and $19.95 (southwest) from www.alta-research.com, www.sportys.com or www.amazon.com.
Bush pilot and traveler Galen Hanselman has authored three humorous and informative guidebooks. Fly the Big Sky! ($49.95) and Fly Idaho! ($39.95) each detail more than 70 airstrips and include additional information on mountain flying and backcountry camping. Air Baja! ($49.95) flies you to 100 airstrips south of the border. Each book offers two color aerial photos per strip (a general overview and the final approach) as well as airport diagrams and field information. The text is filled with comical anecdotes that cover it all: tales of the good (being taught to fish by “The Shark Lady”), the unusual (camping to the sounds of “expelled whale breath and howling coyotes”) and the bad (the “occasional belch of sewer gas” from plumbing gone wrong).
If you prefer hard facts only, Aerodine’s Pilot Travel Guide is a sort of Yellow Pages for aviators, with more than 1,000 pages filled with airport data and brief descriptions of fly-in restaurants across the country. There are few airstrip photos, but the book serves as a useful reference. Because the last edition is from 1997 (the publishers are considering updating it soon), be sure to call ahead to verify any information.
One of the more visually appealing guides is the Western U.S. Pilot’s Guide ($39.95), assembled by John and Betty Obradovich of Pilot Publishing. Along with color photographs and maps,
the book provides details on more than 200 airports, including those in Hawaii (with information on where to rent a plane if you can’t get yours there). Also featured are local attractions, accommodations and dining options, and a section with mountain-flying tips.
Pilot Publishing’s other book, the 2006 Bahamas & Caribbean Pilot’s Guide ($49.95), has everything you need to know for an island getaway, from what aircraft equipment to carry (such as a portable VHF marine radio) to what paperwork to expect (such as a cruising permit and arrival report). There are checklists to follow and color photos with airport facts. A survival section dictates which gear is mandatory, how to determine which tropical plants are edible and how to execute an emergency landing into ocean swells.
Another useful guide when flying into Mexico is the Pilot’s Guide To Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, published by Caribbean Sky Tours. The most recent release is the 2006 Winter/Spring edition, which comes in a binder format organized with labeled tabs for quick reference. It includes requirements and procedures for flying into and back from Mexico, sample documents such as international flight plans and entry permits, and useful numbers in the event of an incident or need for repair. Color photos and ramp layouts depict more than 25 destinations, but of most use after a long flight might be the maps to the bathroom.
If all these details sound more like work than fun, there are several tour operators to help. Baja Bush Pilots organizes trips to Mexico and Central America; they’ve got several trips planned this fall to Mexico’s Copper Canyon and the Baja Peninsula. More than 4,000 members benefit from an online community at www.bajabushpilots.com, where information is exchanged and questions are answered. Airports Of Mexico, by Arnold Senterfitt (founder of the group) and John McCormick (current owner of Baja Bush Pilots), provides airport data, diagrams and black-and-white aerial photos ($69.95).
Air Journeys, led by Thierry Pouille, offers all-inclusive fully guided trips to faraway destinations such as Iceland and Brazil. This fall, group trips are scheduled to the Bahamas and Central America. More independent aviators can arrange a “custom journey.” You’ll set off on your own, with Air Journey acting as a concierge, handling reservations, paperwork and your itinerary. An online forum at www.airjourney.com allows pilots to chat with others who have made the same flights.
Whether you venture out on your own or as part of a tour, take advantage of all available resources when planning your trip. But don’t delay! Head to the airport before the days grow darker and the snow starts to fall.
Caribbean Sky Tours
Flyer’s Recreation Guide
Baja Bush Pilots
Lajitas, the Ultimate Hideout