At age 34, I added a flying trip to my dream list. It was a fly-in of 20 planes to Providenciales (nicknamed “Provo”) in the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of nearly 49 islands and desert cays just 35 miles southeast of the Bahamas. Provo is a destination that offers sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and good food.
When I turned 69, I started worrying about losing my medical before having the chance to make my dream a reality. Furthermore, my wife Rocío has strict flying rules that she adheres to, with no room for negotiation. Among them: She doesn’t fly more than two hours at a time and prefers two engines when over water.
But I got lucky. While sharing adventure stories with my friend Gabriel Peñagarícano, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, it surfaced that Provo is one of Gabriel’s favorite diving destinations. It didn’t take long for us to start planning the fly-in. Manolo Borrero, president of the Aeroclub de Puerto Rico, scheduled the event for mid-October in 2010, and we coordinated with Debbie Aharon, general manager of Provo Air Center. My wife arranged to have her demands met by joining Gabriel in his Cessna 414A.
On launch day, we gathered at Tropical Aviation, an FBO at Isla Grande Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The weather wasn’t cooperating, and as a result, 11 planes—not 20 as I had dreamed—departed for Provo with a total of 35 people. These days, I’m a VFR, GPS “Direct To” pilot, and as such, I had filed VFR. I was one of the only two airplanes not traveling IFR. My route up to the Peninsula de Samaná in the northeast part of the Dominican Republic would take me over familiar territory. From Borinquen to Samaná the distance over water is around 100 nm. From Samaná to my landfall in the Turks and Caicos, Ambergris Cay, the distance was 262 nm.
At 11 a.m., I was in my Socata Trinidad and rolling on runway 9, with an eight-knot crosswind from the north. About 10 minutes after departure, I engaged my KPC 150 autopilot system and activated the flight plan on my KLN 94 GPS. I was under flight following, and ATC kept me busy through the three airspaces of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. Our fly-in group also was monitoring 123.45 so that we could share position and weather reports.
I tried to contact Gabriel and my wife in the Cessna 414A on 123.45, but I was unable to reach them. Also, because I’m always competing with other planes under a handicap system conveniently conceived by me, I wanted to know where my “competition” was—specifically Manolo Borrero’s Cirrus, Ramón Torres’ Cessna and Charlie Santana’s Aztec.
Because of the hands-free operation under autopilot control, I had plenty of time to look outside, do some reading of the sectional charts and pilot’s guides, in addition to scanning instruments and monitoring equipment.
Suddenly I was over my landfall: Ambergris Cay, an island within the Turks and Caicos. I was in communication with Approach under an articulate controller who I was able to understand word for word. I believe he had about 10 planes to deal with, among them Gabriel’s. The pattern to land on runway 10 at Provo was right traffic.
The first to land at Provo was Juan Ocasio’s Aztec, which was followed by Jason Heter’s Cessna 320 and Manolo Borrero’s Cirrus. I followed, then Gabriel, Charlie Santana’s Aztec, Ramón Torres’ Cessna 206 and so on. We were missing Martín Brescioni, but we were aware that his plane was to land by 7 p.m.
At the Provo Air Center, we were received by Debbie Aharon and her friendly and efficient staff. That night, our group had a casual dinner at Flamingos Restaurant on the beach next to the Ocean Club. Martín Brescioni and his family arrived at about 8 p.m., and that made all of us very happy. Martín flew with his wife, a daughter and a son. Charlie Santana had his wife and son with him. The fly-in to Provo, among other things, was a family affair.
After a weekend of sailing, snorkeling and superb food, our day of departure was upon us. On Monday, we had blue skies all the way home to Puerto Rico. Once again, the competition was on, although nobody knew it but my closest friends. We all arrived well, and my dream, although it wasn’t a flight of 20 planes, had come true.