Pop quiz: What do Harrison Ford, an Arabian prince, Jimmy Buffett, one of the founders of Microsoft and Ed Santangelo all have in common? Answer: the Cessna Caravan—on floats.
Okay, you say, I’ve heard of those other guys, but who’s Ed Santangelo? No less than the founder and CEO of RMS Services, an international record systems firm that’s the company in its field. Santangelo saw the coming technological wave and prospered mightily by helping hospitals, university medical centers and other institutions with large healthcare networks to transition from paper and film to digital record-keeping.
It takes hands-on care to maintain a business employing more than 500 people throughout North America and Australia. And “hands-on” means travel—tons of it. Enter the Caravan 675 Amphibian. Spawned in 1985 as an entirely new airplane, not a stretch or modification of an older design, the Caravan is a rugged, reliable hauler that offers a broad range of complex transportation solutions. Configurable in a variety of models, the high-wing workhorse gets its muscle from a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A turboprop delivering 675 shaft horsepower. That engine has racked up an impressive 300 million flight hours with enviable safety and reliability records. For a man with a need to fly both business and family missions on an almost daily basis, flexibility and safety are top requirements.
“I travel 22 days a month,” says Santangelo, who lives with his wife and three young children near Pontiac, Mich. “But airfares for the short trips are outrageously expensive. While Detroit to L.A. might cost $450 a ticket, Detroit to Cincinnati can be $1,700.”
Crunching the numbers showed him travel costs in his own Caravan would be about $250 for the same 280-mile trip. Once he figured in all the convenience factors, as well as the ability to carry up to seven additional people (for around $30 per person!), “it just made a lot of sense to think about an airplane like the Caravan,” says Santangelo.
Owning a plane that can land on ground or water enables Santangelo to make business calls almost anywhere, plus take his family to their summer home on Lake Muskoka in Canada
But cost factors weren’t the only criteria that led him to take delivery of his Caravan 675 Amphibian from Michael DeWitt of Aero Power Distributing in October 2002. There was also that precious cargo he’d need to carry back and forth from his beautiful summer home on Canada’s Lake Muskoka—his family. Traveling 300 miles each way across the U.S.-Canada border in Santangelo’s Great Lakes environs is a long, wearying road trip. By air, it’s a comfy two hours or less. “That sure beats a rough six- or seven-hour drive for the kids,” Santangelo adds. Toss in the ability to make more than one business stop in a single day, usually impossible with commercial flights, and you see why the Caravan was Santangelo’s dream plane.
“Ed had the perfect need and utilization for the airplane,” says DeWitt. The exclusive authorized Cessna rep for Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, DeWitt was instrumental in making the concept of airplane ownership work for Santangelo in the first place. One of his biggest concerns was hiring a qualified pilot, getting the plane into service, then finding the right center to maintain it. “Mike DeWitt has been exceptional,” says Santangelo. “He went way beyond the call of duty by interviewing pilots for me and finding the very best aircraft service people.”
|Since Santangelo’s trips are both business and pleasure, he equipped his brand-new Caravan with every imaginable creature comfort and state-of-the-art avionics for weather information, traffic and terrain clearance.
Santangelo’s choice for number-one stick jockey was Brent O’Clair, an amiable man with an easy smile and a broad flight background that definitely made him a top contender for Ed’s multi-faceted mission. All of the obvious qualifications were there: 31 years and 20,000 hours of flight experience in everything from helicopters to small commuters to water bombers to regional carriers to, well, floatplanes. “Ed and Mike were looking for someone with over 18,000 hours and lots of float time,” O’Clair remembers. “I had less time in floats than some other guys, but more instrument time. I had also flown for Federal Express for nine years and that gave me 4,000 hours in Caravans.” When Santangelo, who also wanted to learn how to fly the airplane, heard that O’Clair was a certified flight instructor as well, that clinched the deal. “Brent, as chief pilot, is my safety factor,” Santangelo explains. “I can act as backup for him because I always want two pilots on board. We probably log 400 hours a year on the airplane. I’m in it for 300 of those hours, and for 200 or so, I’m usually logging time in the right seat.”
Santangelo’s world-beater schedule doesn’t afford time for much extracurricular training, but he and O’Clair go up now and then for an instructional spin. DeWitt lauds Santangelo’s accomplishments behind the yoke; this not only speaks well of Santangelo’s abilities and discipline, but also of the airplane itself. “Ed had some flying experience, but hadn’t even owned an airplane in almost seven years. He wanted to carry a big family and lots of gear, so he needed good payload capability, speed and comfortable flying. That’s where the Caravan’s docile handling characteristics shine.”
“The turbine is easier to fly than a piston airplane,” Santangelo chimes in. “The Caravan handles like a big Cessna 172 or 206.”
Stall speed on floats is only 59 knots, pretty much unheard of for a plane of its size—and that’s cleaned up! With flaps, stall drops to 45 knots, or two knots slower than with conventional gear, because of a slight aerodynamic boost from the floats. “It’s such a great, safe airplane to fly,” Santangelo continues. “I installed Nexrad Doppler Radar and TCAS, which is fantastic because there are lots of aircraft flying around at low altitudes throughout this region. I also have a TAWS ground avoidance system; you find a lot of towers coming in to land on lakes.” Santangelo’s panel is very solid for inclement weather, too, with a Honeywell Bendix/King KFC-250 digital autopilot, and Garmin 530 and 430 radios linked up to the autopilot. The panel also features a Honeywell Bendix/King IHAS 8000 with MFD and a Honeywell Bendix/King KTR-510 NEXRAD Weather Uplink, which displays not only NEXRAD Radar, but also METARs, TAFs and PIREPs.
O’Clair adds, “We’ve got moving maps, all the latest technology. This airplane pretty much flies itself from point A to point B. Between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, I normally go to GPS nav mode. We can even program in the approach data for our destination in advance, and the airplane flies us right down the pipe until we disconnect autopilot at 1,000 feet and hand-fly it down to ground.”
O’Clair also digs how well the airplane interfaces with the big iron at larger airports like Toronto or Detroit. “We can keep the airspeed up, then cut power at the last minute without the supercooling worries piston engines are prone to.”
Handling an 8,360-pound-gross-weight airplane on the water and on land requires a broad skill set. “Landing on a runway with the amphibious wheels requires a different technique because we’re sitting up so high,” says O’Clair. “It’s not hard. It just takes practice. And I love flying the Caravan off the water because you never get the same conditions two times in a row. You need to know a few sailing skills to get an airplane this size into a dock.”
|Owning a plane that can land on ground or water enables Santangelo to make business calls almost anywhere, plus take his family to their summer home on Lake Muskoka in Canada|
One tool is the Caravan’s reversible prop, which lets the pilot come in with enough forward momentum to maintain rudder control, then “brake” with the reversible prop to slow down at the last minute.
Santangelo’s airplane also has blade locks. “Not many Caravans do,” says O’Clair. “Locks position the blade for neutral thrust. So when I want to stop right where I am, I can put on the locks and it will stop pretty much on a dime.”
One finesse trick that O’Clair has learned from his mentor, Pat Maghee (one of the best known and most prolific float pilots alive), is how to do a 180-degree left turn. The trick is to use prop torque and the rather considerable thrust from the large turbine exhaust on the right side of the airplane.
When the Caravan was delivered in October 2002, the aircraft was equipped with wheels. After flying it during the winter, Santangelo converted the gear to floats, which provide great versatility.
“You can almost stand still and rotate,” O’Clair explains. “I use it as a backup—it’s perfect for a tight spot.”
Although Ed Santangelo generally pilots the Caravan, he also logs right-seat time with CFI Brent O’Clair. Having a second pilot on board not only eases the flight load, but gives Santangelo extra time to spend with his most precious cargo, his family.
More than 1,400 Cessna Caravans have been delivered to more than 70 countries since its debut just 17 years ago. Its reputation as one of the friendliest, safest, most versatile single-engine turboprops in the world is approaching “legend.” You can get a stiff neck taking in all of the amphib’s 16′ 4″ frame. “Often we’ll go into a big FBO, where several big, expensive jets are sitting on the ramp,” says O’Clair. “But everybody comes over to check us out.”
DeWitt proudly notes that the Caravan amphibian has no serious competition. “Ed knew he had a good investment. Caravans sell for close to their original Bluebook purchase price, even after several years of service.”
But as compelling as all the numbers and features are, nothing speaks quite so eloquently to the trust Ed Santangelo places in his Caravan as the loving smile on his face while lifting his wife, then each of their three children, up onto the float and into the large, luxurious executive cabin. He knows his most precious cargo of all will always be in good hands, under good wings.