During my recent trip to South America in my Bonanza, I met a delightful group of Argentinean pilots who were planning a flying trip to Alaska. In August of this year, I had the pleasure of hosting and flying along with them to our 50th state. These gentlemen are very accomplished pilots who all had their own planes including two Bonanzas, a Seneca, a 206, Cherokee Six, Piper Dakota, a C-180 with Tundra tires and a 182.
They have flown extensively throughout Southern Argentina and Chile, which is somewhat similar to Alaska. After a couple of days of orientation in my hometown, we headed north in beautiful weather which held out most of the trip. But they made a couple of stops on their way including Everett, Washington to visit the Boeing factory and Microsoft.
They then proceeded
northbound via the Alaskan Panhandle and the shoreline of the Gulf of Alaska to
the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. Weather precluded visiting Mount McKinley
(Denali) and the return was via the Yukon and British Columbia.
They were a fine group and many laughs were shared along the breaks in our journey. Only two flying days were lost to weather. A faulty magneto caused the only mechanical difficulty enroute.
I reconfirmed that Bonanzas have a major advantage over the fixed leg type of aircraft. On average I departed in my Bonanza 2 hours after their last plane departed and arrived 2 hours before avoiding their 2 enroute stops. Altogether if one computes the Bonanza operational cost at twice that of a Cessna 172 it appears that in this kind of trip the Bo will cost no more than the Cessna’s. Enjoy reading the details of this trip "Argies in Alaska".For an abridged SPANISH version by Dr. Carlos Korte click HERE
To watch a theatrical trailer of the trip click VIDEO
(send me a message if you want to see the entire videos produced by Oak Canyon Studios)
This story begins when I reached Argentina during my “Friendship Trip of the Americas 2” trip to South America in my Bonanza a couple of years earlier in December.
At that time I had corresponded with a number of airplane owners including Mr. Diego Ariztegui of Buenos Aires. He kindly provided advise about Argentina, places to enter the country and visit, etc. When I arrived in the capital city we went with a group of pilots to Martin Garcia Island in the Rio de la Plata for a luncheon and the subject of a flight to Alaska came up. They had read in a trade publication about a commercial outfit that organizes caravan flights of private planes through Canada to Alaska for a fee. I breached the theme explaining my previous experiences flying to the Artic North and how easy it was to accomplish on your own (and get rid of the middleman). They’d expressed great interest in the subject and subsequently corresponded via e-mail and additional visits.
Immediately it became apparent that a major obstacle was obtaining rental planes for the 10 individuals. Even the commercial “caravan” outfit would not touch this subject and signing them up was conditional to their obtaining or bringing their own from Argentina. Traveling from California to Alaska and back was a long trip and it was not their desire to fly their own crafts all the way from South America!
I called around to various West Coast rental outfits in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. By far their response was negative or non-belief that someone would expect such a renter’s exposure by taking a risk like this: renting to a rag tag of South American pilots, flying in the treacherous Far North of the Continent, during the prime rental season, taking 5 aircrafts, etc. A few outfits would consider renting maybe one plane but 5? – No Way!!
Through a local acquaintance I met Mr. Frank Mason, President of Squadron Two a large Flying Club located at my home airport: San Jose International in California (KSJC). Frank is a senior aviator who decided to preside this organization as a retirement job… He not only considered renting to them but also wanted to help out on the endeavor. Rental rates for each 160 horsepower Cessna 172 were negotiated to $55 Dry per hour (they pay for their own gas) Hobbs time. Subsequent related challenges included satisfying the insurance company for eligibility (two of the flyers were older than 60 years which was the maximum age allowed in the policy), obtaining a notarized letter of authorization for leaving the 48 states area and many others.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada requires that a pilot hold a Certificate from the same country that the airplane is registered to. All these gentlemen were already duly licensed pilots but only one had a US Certificate. To satisfy this requirement they had to present themselves to the local FAA Flight Standards District Office in San Jose and obtain their US Pilot Certificates based on their Foreign Pilot Certificate. In preparation for this I had counseled them to procure and use in Argentina the computer-training program named: “ Comm 1” which trains pilots for radio communications in the cockpit. I had also supplied them with Internet links to various busy U.S. Air Traffic Control facilities to listen to actual transmissions as they happen including: Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, JFK International Airport in New York, Miami Approach, etc.
It was my hope that before flying north they would spend considerable time accomplishing this and become proficient in the “understanding & speaking of the English language” as required by regulations. It was my ever-present fear that some may not pass muster with FAA Inspectors while applying for their US Certificate. However, after inspection, only 2 of them were restricted to flying outside ATC controlled airspace due to poor language command (one of them actually was fully reinstated after returning from the Alaska trip). I had accompanied each one to the FAA and ensured that they “pass”. Three separate times the Inspector in charge even told me to “please step out and not to interfere with the examination” because I was “helping” too hard.
Part of the challenge involved was getting each of them checked out by the rental outfit’s check pilot in order to be eligible for the insurance company coverage. Fortunately this went really well as “Booker,” (former US Navy pilot) or “El Libro” as the men from Argentina fondly called him, was very sympathetic to Latin pilots and regularly flies to Mexico. His concern was that they were prudent aviators and since they all had many hours of piloting experience this was not a concern. He did not ask them to deal with the radio and preferred to perform all communications himself. All this was fine and dandy but as each got signed off by “Booker” they came to me asserting that they did not feel adequate enough to communicate in the complex fast-shot gunning Class Bravo, Charlie and Delta airspace that they would be traversing through in the San Francisco Bay, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and Anchorage areas. I had to quickly engineer an intensive course in ATC transmissions involving a series of Classroom lessons, listening to ATIS, Approach Control, tower, etc. Additionally I flew with each pilot to a nearby Class Delta airport (Livermore) and back to San Jose forcing them to communicate entirely with my coaching. We also flew to a different adjacent airport (Reid Hillview) involving a take off there and then obtaining a Class Charlie clearance to land back in San Jose. All this involved little flying but a LOT of communications.
While in San Jose we held many social events and toured a little including the giant redwoods and Jacques Littlefield’s 140 Main Battle tank private collection.
Following is the resume of pilots and planes:
Diego Ariztegui (jet manufacturer representative in South America) and Hector Morandini (agricultural commodities entrepreneur) flying N733AD. These gentlemen own a Beechcraft Bonanza and Piper Seneca respectively in Argentina.
Hugo Marti (geologist with a specialty in Vulcanology) and his wife Hebe flying N52492. Hugo has a Cessna 180 with tundra tires and extensive experience in “bush” flying in Southern Argentina and Chile.
Leonardo Losada (president of an automobile conversion company) and Dr. Carlos Korte (head of Dermatology at a leading hospital) flying N5093K. Leo has a Piper Dakota and Carlos owns a Cherokee Six at home.
Arturo Vercesi (former president of a regional airline and currently developer of an Andean resort) and Guillermo Tedesco (Business Consultant specializing in Airline companies and Hospital management) flying N65658 Arturo has a Cessna 206 and Guillermo rents Cessnas 172s and 182s.
The appointed date and time of departure (Tuesday, August 1st)
was only one day away and that Monday Squadron 2 had dedicated their maintenance
staff to install new tires and brakes, cleaning and gaping spark plugs, changing
oil and filter, etc. on the planes. Events took a turn for the worse when one of
the Cessna aircrafts did not return until very late in the evening. Their
mechanic announced that he could not stay late awaiting for its arrival and
would work from early in the morning precluding the planned very early
departure. Further the mechanic felt that they should instead plan taking off
around noontime forcing a major delay in the schedule. Everyone’s spirits went
down and that afternoon was dedicated to wrapping up last minute paperwork
The appointed date and time of departure (Tuesday, August 1st) was only one day away and that Monday Squadron 2 had dedicated their maintenance staff to install new tires and brakes, cleaning and gaping spark plugs, changing oil and filter, etc. on the planes. Events took a turn for the worse when one of the Cessna aircrafts did not return until very late in the evening. Their mechanic announced that he could not stay late awaiting for its arrival and would work from early in the morning precluding the planned very early departure. Further the mechanic felt that they should instead plan taking off around noontime forcing a major delay in the schedule. Everyone’s spirits went down and that afternoon was dedicated to wrapping up last minute paperwork details.
On Tuesday morning everyone got together at my hangar which by now had become a daytime home away from the Ramada Hotel, where they had been staying, and around 9 AM the mechanic came by wondering how come we were late for departure – contrary to his statements he worked until midnight and had this particular plane ready. Everyone rushed packing the planes for the final departure from San Jose. I called the Control Tower Chief and explained to her the upcoming mass departure of poor speaking foreigners and they looked forward helping them.
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