Return from the Caribbean

It's the end of the trip, and we were now facing a LOOOONNNNGGGGG flight back. We had planned to stop in New Orleans, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas to break it up somewhat. Our return to the States would begin at Ft. Lauderdale Executive, a small airport we had chosen hoping to avoid the overcrowded customs offices found at places like Miami. Customs at Lauderdale Exec were very friendly. After initially treating us rather sternly, they calmed down and very a couple of very easy going guys. You see this a lot with law enforcement people. They act rather tough until you acknowledge their authority and then they're just regular guys. A few "yessirs" can go a long way towards making your next customs stop easier!

The FBO at Lauderdale is called Banyan Air, and is an excellent service oriented business. They loaned us a golf car and we went chasing across the field to have a burger at the local diner (it was very good) and then on to the local pilot shop, which was also very nice.


The islands in this area are very pretty from the air!

This was taken between Nassau and Ft Lauderdale. After stopping in Lauderdale it was time to fly on to New Orleans. This flight would be our largest over water route. It was fairly uneventful, and for awhile we had an interesting conversation going with a guy who was towing banners over the beaches of Louisiana. We estimated he was about 130 miles away, but sounded clear as a bell. Those VHF radios work pretty good sometimes! We picked him up on the over water air-to-air frequency 123.45.

Eventually we started seeing large cumulus clouds (bad sign for pilots, means thunderstorms) as we got closer to the coast of Lousiana. It was time to turn on the ole Stormscope and Weather Radar and see what we were dealing with.

The last time I saw these kind of green dots it was in the movie "Aliens" and something really bad was about to happen!

The green dots represent lightning strikes on what is called a "Stormscope". This is a passive instrument used to detect thunderstorms. Pilots hate thunderstorms because they contain extreme turbulence that can literally tear an airplane apart. Interestingly, if there is no lightning, there is no thunderstorm, even though the cloud may be black as pitch.

Anyway, you want to avoid flying too close to any green dots.

This slightly-out-of-focus image shows our weather radar at approximately the same point in time as the Stormscope display. Red is bad for this display. Do not fly through the red. You can see that the red correlates pretty well with where lightning is striking. The radar only sees ahead, while the Stormscope is omni-directional. The red/yellow/green colors are effectively a measure of how large and how many water drops are in the clouds, because the radar is tuned to a frequency that reflects water droplets.

I remember flying from Truckee back to SFO one time in a Beech King Air turboprop. It was a rough flight. There were briefcases and coats levitating in the aisles as we would drop into zero G for up to half a minute at a time. The folks I was flying with were terrified. I wasn't, but probably only out of ignorance. I was seated where I could see the cockpit, and gradually noticed that the major turbulence exactly coincided with when the plane flew right through a red area on the radar.

To complete the tutorial, here is the view out the window at the time. To the uninitiated, these clouds don't look that bad, do they? There's a little gray, but definitely no black. I've annotated the photo to show some buildups. These are clouds that show vertical development. This development is caused by heat energy, and indicates lots of turbulence inside.

As you can see, we are skirting the edge of this big builder. It was shaped almost like a mushroom cloud. The very strongest ones can't be flown over at all as they can extend up to 40,000 feet or more. This one is a baby, but there is still rain and lightning inside these otherwise benign-looking clouds. Just as where there is smoke there is fire, where there is rain and lightning there is also severe turbulence.

The thunderstorms were hanging around the coastline, as they often do, so we vectored around them and circled clockwise around New Orleans to get to the executive airport we were targeting.

Here we are about to turn final. It's a cool little airport. The runway extends out into Lake Pontchartrain. The real long thing that looks like a pier is the ILS (instrument) approach system.

About this time Steve inquired whether I wanted to land the Navajo. I gulped and said yes. This is a big airplane, and there's a lot going on, but the basic principles are the same as my little Cessna 182. The good news is I have a 1000 hour pilot in the left seat with his hands on the controls. I'm not touching the throttles, just focusing on maintaining the proper speed and glideslope.

I handed control back to Steve at the last minute just to make sure all went well on the runway. You can see that I had us lined up well before doing so, however.

The biggest surprise was that we actually seemed to get there a little sooner than expected. You sit high in the Navajo compared to a Cessna 182, so I thought we had a few more feet to touchdown.

That night, we strolled Bourbon Street, sample jello shots, and ate at Emeril's restaurant NOLA. It was really great! I hope to get back to New Orleans some day, though I'm not sure I'd care to be here for Mardi Gras.


Our table!

And to the right is our dining room.

The Rirz Carlton La Maison: Sumptuous!

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton right on Canal Street. Its a beautiful old hotel built in an old department store building. We'd reserved a room with 2 double beds, but they had no such animal in the hotel. They agreed to comp us to two rooms and then upgraded that at no charge to the exclusive La Maison. This is a hotel-within-the-hotel and it was amazingly luxurious. Has to be one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in.

The antiques are lovely, arent' they?

Modern bathrooms...

5 food presentations a day!

When we arrived there was an awesome display of European-style desserts including rich chocolate torts and cheesecakes. This is the breakfast spread. Fresh fruit, pastries, cereals, Lox and Bagels, etc. Really first class.

Our concierge, Barbara Jones. Barbara entertained us and gave us an excellent education on the Ritz system for making your stay perfect. Barbara was a Senator's wife at one point and has been advancing rapidly in the Ritz system.

We discussed the idea that at some point, high net worth individuals could really use someone like Barbara to run their households. I think visiting with hotel concierges like Barbara would be an excellent way to identify such resources.

Ritz likes to use an interesting technique to make sure their people will have the right "people" orientation to service. They periodically phone interview and pose hypothetical scenarios that have to be answered in real time over the phone. They will use a variety of techniques that border on stress interviewing. The recipient has no warning of the call, it can come at any time. They have to use their initiative and charm to provide an answer that fits within Ritz guidelines.

Interesting approach.

We are departing now. The white dot near the middle of the picture is a group of fishermen. It must be interesting to fish so close to the runway!

Our next stop was supposed to be Dallas for refueling, but we've decide to go to Houston instead. Its not as direct to Santa Fe, but there are a number of thunderstorms around the Dallas region.

Check the size of these towers over Houston!

We flew into a little airport called Southwest in Houston. Enroute, I had called my mother and father-in-law to come meet us for lunch.

They obliged and we all went out to a nice Chinese lunch. Its great to be able to do this sort of thing with a private airplane.

From here we refueled and flew on to Santa Fe. It was a pretty long leg, and fairly uneventful.

On to Santa Fe...

All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.