From the early days of flying training in Florida in 2005, an idea had been forming in my head. Given the ease of flying in the USA, why confine oneself to Florida? There was an entire country to explore, and it was no ordinary country; a trip from coast to coast would take you through everything from the steamy Florida Everglades, across vast agricultural plains, through the imposing Rocky Mountains into the western deserts, and finally to the temperate rain forests of the Pacific coasts. Of course, given the fact that aircraft rental does not operate like car rental, it would be necessary to then fly all the way back again to return to the FBO; but that would not be a hardship.
There were two major challenges to overcome initially. The first was persuading my girlfriend, Hannah, that this was a really great plan. Given that her total flying experience with me to date was 40 minutes over Cambridgeshire in a battered Cessna 152 that stank of AVGAS, I was expecting this to be a difficult task, but she jumped at the idea! This was all the more remarkable given her later admission that for the whole of that flight, and indeed the first week of our eventual adventure, she’d been thoroughly scared of the little airplanes, thankfully settling down to enjoy it by the time we’d been going for a few days.
The second, rather more difficult, task was to find someone who’d rent an aircraft to a 150 hour Private Pilot who wanted to cross a continent in it – twice. Despite firing off a multitude of emails, the answers coming back were all the same; “We can’t let a plane go for the 5 weeks you want it”, or “You can have the aircraft, but we require a minimum of five flying hours per day”. We wanted to make this a holiday, not a flying marathon! Thankfully, we eventually made contact with Palm Beach Flight Training. Located in, you guessed it, Palm Beach, this school has a very large fleet of C172s and a few other aircraft too. They were flexible on the daily minimum hours, and offered a very reasonable rate for a 3 year old C172. After the tired old aircraft I had learnt in, and then flown back in the UK, this was the absolute lap of luxury! Having trained on C172s, I was already confident in my handling of the aircraft; although the differences in the newer model such as a more powerful engine would prove very welcome once we started flying in higher country.
I now had a travelling companion and an aircraft. Great! There was, however, still a lot to do. We had planned 3 weeks vacation in Florida in advance of setting out on our trip in order to do a little flying and get used to the US aviation system again, and also complete our planning. There were also a few more tasks to complete before leaving the UK. The first of these was to obtain an FAA (American) PPL on the back of my JAA (European) PPL. This is necessary as the state of licence issue must match the state of aircraft registration, and we’d be flying a US registered airplane. This process was fairly straightforward. It does require up to three months so make sure you do this well in advance of travelling!
I made the decision early on that I would not plan our itinerary in exhaustive detail. Too much planning results in deadlines to meet, and a temptation to push on when perhaps the weather isn’t suitable. Anyway, this was supposed to be a relaxing holiday, so why not just set off and see what happened! The sum total of my pre-trip route planning was to estimate that the USA was about 3000 miles across, double it, and add a bit for luck. At 100 miles an hour, therefore, we’d fly about 70 hours in total. We also bought a large fold-out map of the USA to plot our route on as we went, as well as a USA guide book from Lonely Planet. Planning, done!
Click here to start reading about the USA – Coast to Coast adventure, or use the links below to skip to various points of the story.
- Section 1: The Arrival
- Section 2: First Flights
- Section 3: Key West
- Section 4: The Southeast
- Section 5: Plains and Mountains
- Section 6: The Desert
- Section 7: North California
- Section 8: Central California
- Section 9: Southern California
- Section 10: Southern Desert
- Section 11: The South
- Section 12: Back to Florida