On Monday morning, they flew over from Baton Rouge, where they had spent Sunday night. I had contacted our local television station and our local newspaper about their trip. However, with Navy, Air Force and Army bases so close by, Pensacola is a pretty big aviation town and sadly, two guys flying across the country in a small plane is just not all that newsworthy here, no matter what their message was.
So I picked the guys up at Pensacola Regional Airport a little after noon. First stop was lunch and a tour of the outstanding Museum of Naval Aviation down at the Navy Base. I always love going there – and I don’t do that enough. The huge building is jammed full of airplanes, both on the floor and dangling on cables from the ceiling. I mean there are no open spaces. Every time I visit, it’s different. They’re always adding or rearranging the planes, changing things and making them better. In addition to the static displays which are not cordoned off (unlike the helicopters are in the Army’s museum at Ft. Rucker which you cannot touch), there are tons and tons of other things to view and do. It’s just an unbelievable place for any aviation buff. Best of all, admission to the place is free!
After dropping the guys off to check-in at their hotel, I went home to start supper. I figured they were tired of restaurant food, so I’d planned to pick them up a little later and treat them to some home cooking. That way, we could hang out and chill at my place and they could tell me all about their trip - the uncensored version. Which is exactly what happened.
Because all three of us are pilots, we have a natural affinity that is common among our group. We talk the same language, both in and out of the cockpit. Pilots understand each other. It’s why we sometimes like to associate only with other pilots and often have trouble relating to normal people. Both Jason and Vincent absolutely love to fly, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Fortunately they were hanging out with a guy who loves to fly as much or more than they do.
As I had expected, the trip was quite an adventure. And except for some bad weather on the eastbound leg through Texas, things went pretty smoothly with no real hiccups, mechanical or otherwise. A lot of stuff made it onto their Facebook page and website…but a lot more did not. Understandably, they found it difficult to do all the stuff associated with the trip during the day and then blog or write about it at night when they just wanted to get some rest. So as they lounged around my living room, they filled me in on some of the juicier details.
Some people scoffed at what Jason and Vincent were doing, claiming that it was “no challenge,” that anyone could do it. And that was exactly the point! The goal of the trip was not to set any records or prove anything other than to demonstrate the incredible usefulness and flexibility that general aviation offers, both for passenger and cargo operations. It’s a message that needs to be emphasized.
When you have your own plane, which is not all that expensive, you can travel on your schedule, not be a slave to the airlines. You can go to places which are not even served by the airlines – and there are many, many cities throughout the U.S. with no scheduled airline service at all.
You want to go to Crestview, Florida? Hattiesburg, Mississippi? Tuscaloosa, Alabama? You can’t get there on Southwest! Or any other airline for that matter. Granted, these are not huge population centers or tourist destinations. But you can probably think of some large communities in your own areas that have no airline service either in the town or even conveniently nearby.
Sometimes you have to drive over an hour or more just to get to an airport with a dinky commuter plane service (we call them “regional airlines” now), then take that to a so-called “hub airport” to catch a connecting flight to someplace close (hopefully) to your final destination. A trip from Brewton, Alabama to Hilton Head, Georgia would be a difficult, all-day affair either by car or airline. But not by private plane! Depending on what kind of plane you owned, it could take only two hours or less (albeit longer in a Cessna 150).
So the guys did it, crossed the country from coast to coast to (almost) coast, mostly on schedule, spreading the good word and proving what those of us in the business already know. They did get to spend an extra night or two shy of their intended stop that day, but would not have had to if they were in a plane with even slightly better capabilities. Remember, Jason’s Cessna 150 only cost him $18,000 and had the most basic instrumentation and fuel capacity. But it ran like a top and never skipped a beat.
From Pensacola, they took off next morning on the final leg home. In a couple of days, Vincent would board a 10-hour flight back to his home in Switzerland. Watching them climb out and turn eastbound, I felt a little sad - for them. I'm sure that although they would certainly be happy to be home, at least one part of them probably wished they could keep on roaming around the country.
Jason and Vincent have something else up their sleeve, but they did not share it with me, no matter how much wine I plied Vincent with (Jason does not drink, drat the luck). So we’ll have to wait and see. Meantime, I congratulate them! They are great guys, and it was a pleasure getting to meet and hang out with them. They were still in good spirits and obviously having a lot of fun despite being crammed together in that little plane for nearly a month.
I sure wish I could have gone along with them. Maybe next time…