Plane & Pilot
Thursday, June 1, 2006

Fly Chile

From mountains to oceans and deserts to glaciers, Chile is an aviator’s dream come true

We were greeted by cows after one landing in the middle of the Lake District, where we taxied on a dirt road to Fundo Chollinco Lodge. On the Calcurrupe River, the lodge offers fly-fishing for salmon and trout, rafting trips and as much serenity as you'd like—I secretly hoped that we'd get weathered-in for a few days. Luxurious log cabins sit at the water's edge facing steep mountain cliffs populated by pumas. "Don't worry," the lodge owner reassured us, "we never see the pumas—except sometimes at night."

With approximately 3,000 licensed pilots, Chile's aviation community often feels like a small family—one that will gladly adopt you. Pilots greet each other on the radio—everyone on the ground seemed to know Jaime. During a fuel stop in Osorno, we crossed paths with Madeleine Dupont, a national celebrity pilot in her sixties. In her 285 hp Bonanza, she flew with another "flying grandmother" over the Andes before heading to Brazil, Cape Verde, Europe and the United States. When Madeleine and I had another chance encounter, 500 miles from Osorno, she ran up to embrace me as though we'd known each other for years.

Throughout our travels, Jaime is constantly on his cell phone, arranging dinner and lodging reservations, transportation and even surprises. "Tomorrow, wake up early," he instructed, "la gringa will soar in the Andes." The next morning, I experienced the mountains in silence from the front seat of a Janus B. Behind me sat Jaime's brother, Roberto, who talked me through thermals, steep turns and stalls.

Because Jaime and his team have such a vast repertoire of airstrips and accessible airplanes, tours can be as structured or as spontaneous as you like. Don't feel shy about asking for something that isn't on the itinerary. Chances are that the group can make it happen. During one leg, I mentioned that I loved flying Piper Cubs. "Is that so? I've got the controls," Jaime indicated while starting a descent to the lakeside town of Puerto Varas. On the ground, we taxied to a flying club, and a few phone calls later I was practicing three-point landings in a Cub. We'd barely shut down the Cub's engine when Jaime's friend, Eduardo Salvador, beckoned us to his hangar. Handing me a helmet, Eduardo pointed to a bright green ultralight, which beamed almost as much as he did. Up we went, circling low over the lake's shoreline, bordered by a snow-capped volcano.

Although Chile is a remarkable microcosm of nature's extremes, Tour Aviation Chile's trips go far beyond sightseeing. Pilots hone their flying skills in diverse situations, including mountain navigation, over-water flights, short- and soft-field operations and high-altitude landings up to 8,000 feet MSL. Furthermore, new friendships are formed and aviation circles are expanded. I was feeling a bit down on our final leg to Santiago, not wanting my adventure to end. However, a festive welcome-back barbecue at the hangar immediately reversed my mood. Chilean hospitality is so genuine and over-the-top that when it's time for goodbyes, sadness is replaced with a feeling of belonging. The aviation community in this corner of South America is as welcoming as they get.


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