Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Llamas & Condors
XC Log: Try South America
|I was at a speaking engagement in Alaska awhile back, talking about the joy and pain of flying the oceans, when a member of the audience asked about my experiences in Central and South America.|
The 207 was very heavy with extra fuel, survival gear, replacement wheels and tires, spare parts, luggage, HF radio and lots of other miscellaneous equipment. At 800 pounds over its normal 3,800-pound gross weight (legal under a ferry permit), it was struggling to clear the ridge. The ridgeline between the two giant mountains forms the boundary between Chile and Argentina, dipping down to about 13,000 feet, and I knew the 207 had a book service ceiling of only 13,300 feet.
We hovered in the thermal chop of a December summer, but the airplane was all tapped out at around 11,500 feet. Finally, I spotted a condor circling in a thermal near the steep, jagged ridgeline, and carefully edged toward it, hoping to steal a free lift. I entered the weak thermal directly across from the big, black bird and turned to follow his lead. Sure enough, the VSI edged up to 200 to 300 fpm.
We were only a mile from the ridgeline, and after 15 minutes of soaring the thermal and watching the condor eye the Cessna suspiciously, I saluted my friend and bailed out of the circular lift at 14,000 feet, heading straight across the ridge. We cleared the aluminum weather station by about 200 feet and were grateful that the terrain dropped steeply away on the opposite side, because we did too.
South America isn’t always so dramatic. Jon Egaas of Kennesaw, Ga., flies the continent regularly and knows it like the deck of his houseboat. Egaas is one of the world’s most experienced and knowledgeable ferry pilots, with something like 600 trips (compared to my paltry 200).
A former Marine fighter pilot in Vietnam, Egaas has made a dozen trips with me across the Atlantic and Pacific. He has flown everywhere at one time or another, but these days, he specializes in South America.
Egaas delivers mostly turbine Air Tractor and Thrush cropdusters to Brazil, but he’s been all over the continent. “There’s really nothing that different about South America,” says Egaas, “but unlike the States, where no one seems to care about licenses and certificates, they’re sticklers for paperwork in that part of the world.
“In Brazil, for example, in addition to the usual ARROW requirement, they’re very picky about insurance,” Egaas says. “You need to have an original insurance policy, complete with a policy number and coverage dates. You’ll also need proof of yellow fever vaccination to enter the country.”
Egaas commented that many South American countries require you to clear customs at their border unless you’re overflying the entire country. “GPS is obviously the rule for navigation down there, as there simply aren’t many VHF facilities available,” Egaas commented. “Landing fees average about $100 for a Bonanza/Mooney/Centurion, and avgas is typically $10 per gallon, so be sure to bring your wallet.”
Another knowledgeable source of information south of North America is Paul Rooy, a patent attorney from Daytona Beach, Fla., with a Cessna Skymaster and a penchant for wandering the planet. Rooy grew up in South America, and it remains one of his favorite flying destinations.
If you’re interested in flying the Amazon River Basin, Rooy has written an unusually colorful book about South America, The Skymaster and the Piranhas. It describes a trip he and his wife took to the area a few years ago.
For pilots with a yen for warm-weather adventure, but no enthusiasm for crossing a cold ocean, South America offers new views of earth, wind and sky. It’s a destination that’s foreign, yet easily accessible—an intriguing, fascinating place practically guaranteed to provide stories you can tell the folks back home.
Bill Cox is entering his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot. He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at
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