Friday, June 26, 2009

Flying the Florida Keys

On my visit to Key West I decided to get some much-needed cross-country time in pursuit of my Instrument rating. I found the flying solution at KEYW at Island City Flying Service, Inc. I called and scheduled a check-out flight in their fuel-injected C172R N2435X.
Below is my flight path for the round trip (click to enlarge):
Island City Flying Service will rent you a C172R after you get checked out. I used local CFI Perry Jones and we did a quick 0.5 hour (hobbs) check-out flight out towards Sand Key Lighthouse for some steep turns and slow flight. Then it was back to KEYW where I did a pretty good landing considering I haven't flown a Cessna in a while. (checkride route shown below) Cockpit audio of the entire flight is here.
The next day I scheduled a flight with another local CFII (Nick) for a flight all the way up the Keys to KHST (Homestead Air Reserve Base) for some instrument approach practice. Even though you can't land at KHST (military) they will allow civilian aircraft to make practice approaches when they are not busy. We departed KEYW and flew at 1000MSL (pretty much 1000 AGL) all the way up the south side of the Keys. This allowed me in the left seat to see the islands. Nick took some photos while I flew. Here's my complete flight track overlaid in Google Earth: (click here for a less fuzzy view)
Incredibly beautiful water even on this hazy day. We flew over this little private island. How cool is that! Turns out this place is for rent: or cut and paste this LAT/LON into to see where the island lies with respect to the other Florida Keys: 24.640523, -81.453077
Co-pilot CFII Nick has many hours of experience in the Keys. A good safety co-pilot to have along if you feel the need (as I did) for my first flight.

(below) Bahia Honda State Park as seen from my vantage point in the left seat. The tressel-like bridge in the foreground is the remains of the old Flagler Railroad which was also known as Flagler's Folly. In later years they actually built a roadway over the top of the RR tressell. Later the road was re-done as it appears today. This area is known as Bahia Honda State Park and is a great driving stop. You can get a close-up view of the tressell as you are allowed to walk out a limited distance on it and peer across to the other longer portion of the tressell.

(Below) Bahia Honda State Park as seen from Google Earth with my flight path overlaid in RED.
I flew two ILS approaches into KHST. The HST tower claimed the ILS was 'out of service'...but it seemed loud and clear and we shot it with no problem. So much for government operations. You can just make out the runway in the upper righthand portion of the photo below. (click here for a less fuzzy view) Also notice the cooling ponds on the right side of the image. The ponds are cooling for the nuclear plant located on the north side. These ponds show up on the Miami sectional chart as an easily-distinguished VFR landmark.

After shooting 2 approaches we headed back at 4500 MSL above the clouds and pretty much full throttle. Nick needed to get back so we didn't do much island viewing on the way back. The layer of clouds below us made the photography less inviting on the return trip. I did grab this nice photo from the left seat.

(below) Dodging a few clouds at 4500 MSL on the return leg.
Below is a track of my landing pattern at KEYW. KNQX is nearby so make SURE you are looking at the right airport when you talk to ATC!! It's easy to get confused visually!
Finally...I encourage pilots to try this island flying adventure but you need to study the airspace pretty carefully for "gotchas". In particular the tethered ballon at R-2916 which is way above where you'll be flying. Also the US ADIZ must be respected unless you plan to file a DVFR flight plan and stick to the required schedule. So just stay inside the ADIZ and no VFR flight plan is required. See some of the noteworthy details below or click here for a nice readable .pdf file.

You can reach the nice folks at Island City Flying Service, Inc, Key West, at the following phone numbers: 305.296.5422 or 305.296.8895 Friendly and courteous folks and once you are checked out you can return at any time, show proof of currency and rent the C172's. They will also get you in touch with CFI Perry or CFII Nick.

(below) AHHHH!! Back at the Condo after a great flight. Time for a Keylime Margarita!

Great Fun!