Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Low Level By Columbia

When is it necessary to ad lib, and when is it just plain dumb?

I talked to Flight Watch several times during the trip down the coast to verify that Atlantic City was still up and flyable, and it remained a consistent 1,200-1,400-foot ceiling and 6-10 miles' visibility. Monmouth and Cape May, N.J., remained marginal IFR, but ACY stayed stubbornly VFR.

After my refueling stop at Midlantic Jet Aviation in Atlantic City, the rest of the flight south was almost silly simple. The weather picked up right after liftoff, and I climbed to a more civilized 6,500 feet for the short flight to North Carolina.

When I shut down for the last time, the Hobbs suggested just over five hours for the day's travel. I had avoided all the ice and most of the headwinds and turbulence, the route had been fairly simple and uncomplicated, and I had accomplished the mission without scaring myself or anyone else.

Best of all, I had used a general aviation airplane to maximum advantage, accomplishing a trip in a little over half a day, that would have required two days by car, and would have been laborious and inconvenient on the airlines.

No, it wasn't cheap. The big Continental TSIO-550C burned an average of 17.5 gph running lean of peak, and the total trip consumed about 90 gallons, roughly $500 worth of fuel at today's prices. Had I tried to do the same trip by airline without notice, I'd have had at least one connection, and the price would have been nearly the same. Despite the airline jets' speed, the time would have been the same or longer, counting the connection and the need to arrive two hours early for security.

In my case, I arrived at the airport 15 minutes before takeoff, kept my shoes on, was first to board, sat in first class, and flew with the sure knowledge that my baggage (including my raft, utility knife and emergency flares) would arrive at the same time and place I did.


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