Article: A Family Flying Adventure

Article: A Family Flying Adventure

Spring break was coming and it was time to start planning how I would fly my family of five children, and, of course, our dog from South Florida to the mountains of North Carolina.The flight was to be accomplished in our family plane, a twin engine Piper Turbo Aztec. I knew from experience that flying in April to mountainous terrain can be very tricky. It’s not quite like winter and it’s not quite like summer. In April, you never know for sure what to expect. You may encounter snow and icing or you may encounter thunder boomers more often seen in the summer. Or you may get a mix of every type of weather along the way.As a pilot flying your entire family for three-and-a-half hours in a plane, the responsibility is as awesome as the excitement of the journey. To prepare for this type of flight requires a careful study of the weather patterns days before the trip. Additional flight preparations require having all the maps of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. You must also plan for an alternate airport just in case the weather does not allow a safe entry into the airport in the middle of the mountains where our home is.

After all the planning, we loaded the plane with our children – the youngest 21 months and the oldest 14 years – oh, and lest I forget, our 12-pound Chinese crested powder puff. Our total weight was less than 600 pounds, well within limits for our plane with the 177 gallons of fuel we take on. Full fuel allows us to stay in the air for five-and-a-half hours. We had a very smooth flight after taking off from Miami, climbing through the clouds to an altitude of 8,000 feet, where I turned on the autopilot and watched the clouds begin to cover the ground below us. After three hours in the air as we were reaching our destination, 1A5, which is Franklin Macon County Airport, with a single runway of 2,000 feet surrounded by mountains ranging from 4,500 to 6,000 feet. The runway is in a valley and you must be able to see it from 8,000 feet to land so that you can avoid flying into a mountain.

When we reached the airport, we found ourselves in solid IMC (flying totally in the clouds). Atlanta Center radar informed me that if we went below 7,000 feet we would not be seen on radar and he could no longer provide us any guidance to help us avoid flying into a mountain. After flying over the airport twice with no ability to see anything outside the plane due to the clouds, it was clear we could not safely land at 1A5. It was time to go to the alternate airport we had planned for. I asked the very able radar controller from Atlanta to allow me to fly 30 miles to the south and land in Toccoa, Georgia. In 15 minutes, we were descending safely, without the threat of flying into a mountain in northern Georgia, the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. This time, at 3,000 feet we broke out of the clouds and safely landed in Toccoa with all five children and the Chinese crested powder puff. Now we had a one-hour drive to Highlands, North Carolina instead of a half-hour drive from 1A5. But, better safe than sorry.

Brett Panter is a licensed pilot and a partner in the Panter, Panter & Sampedro, P.A. law firm, at 6950 N. Kendall Drive. Panter may be contacted by calling 305-662-6178, by addressing email to bpanter@panterlaw.com or by logging on to www.panterlaw.com.