“Spot Check OK. Latitude: 37.7445. Longitude: -97.224,” read a text message on my cell phone, and I knew that contributor Bill Stein had made it safely in his Edge 540 to Wichita, Kans., the final stop on his cross-country flight from Chicago, Ill. He was checking in using the Spot Satellite Messenger, a personal tracking device that lets users send out “OK” and “Help” messages via text and e-mail; if the situation is dire, Spot can activate emergency rescue services. During air show season, Bill flies many long legs over remote areas, ferrying from one show to the next. His experimental airplane doesn’t have an ELT, and he often enlists friends and family as a “homegrown flight watch.” They can watch his progress in real time via Spot’s tracking website, which overlays his flight path on an interactive Google Earth map. In this month’s “Tech Talk,” Bill discusses the ease of mind that pilots will appreciate if they need to deviate from a planned route for weather or other unforeseen reasons. (If only Spielberg had given E.T. a Spot, his alien family might have been spared some distress.) Provided the Spot device has a clear view of the sky, it should work anywhere covered by the Globalstar communications network. I took mine on a recent trip in a C-130 flown by the New York Air National Guard to Greenland (featured in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of our other aviation title, Pilot Journal), and successfully transmitted text messages to friends back home with my GPS coordinates on the ice cap in the Arctic Circle.
It would have been reassuring to have a Spot device on a flight I made several years ago with pilot Anderson Bell in his Cessna 172 from Santa Monica, Calif., to the off-the-beaten-path getaway that is Punta San Francisquito in Baja, Mexico. After clearing customs in San Felipe, we flew down the eastern coast of the Baja peninsula, along the Sea of Cortez and over remote expanses of white sandy shoreline, much of it not accessible by car. Houses were few and far between. Pilots landing at Punta San Francisquito’s 3,300-foot dirt strip will enjoy fish tacos, a bonfire pit, shelter in beachside palapas and lots of solitude. For this issue, we ventured farther south to a more luxurious resort in Cabo San Lucas. In “South Of The Border,” Jeff Berlin tells us what to expect regarding customs, flight plans and radio communications, and what documents and equipment to bring. Winter, just around the corner, is a great time to head south, when thousands of gray whales are completing a 5,000-mile, three-month migration from their summer feeding grounds in Canada and Alaska to breeding grounds in the warm waters and shallow lagoons of southern Baja. Spotting whales from up above is sure to make for a memorable flight.
Such unforgettable times in the sky leave lasting impressions. Reader Marco Fernandez told me of his first flight in a Stearman: “I’m speechless,” he said, although he wasn’t. “I think I fell in love today. With an airplane. It was the most fun flying I’ve had in my entire life. I savored every radial-engine-propelled second. It was glorious. There simply aren’t words…” But he found the words, and shares them in this month’s “Flight I’ll Never Forget,” a reader-written column that will be familiar to longtime subscribers. (It ran in the 1960s and ’70s, and we’re resurrecting it in this age of the blog.)
Did you experience a remarkable flight that you’d like to share? Maybe, like Marco, you piloted an amazing aircraft and realized a once-unimaginable childhood dream. Ninety minutes of basic aerobatics and tailwheel landings in the fully restored, open-cockpit biplane represented a turning point in his life. Whether you achieved a personal goal, learned a new lesson or counted whales in Baja, we’d like to know! We’ll publish reader contributions in this column and at our online home. Chances are, your challenge won’t be remembering a truly exceptional flight; it will be picking just one. E-mail your stories (subject line: Flight I’ll Never Forget) to [email protected]