$500 Vegeburger: Suffolk Executive Airport (SFQ)

Finding airports with Cafes on the field is extremely challenging in the Mid Atlantic. Even websites like AOPA airports, Airport Facility Directory, Airnav or even ForeFlight don’t contain accurate information sometimes. I unearthed SFQ a few months back through reading some user comments and scouring the web for information on Virginia airports with restaurants on the field.

SFQ1Attitudes Cafe officially opened last April (2013), but they have unpredictable schedules, are open only Friday through Sunday, don’t answer the phone mostly, and possibly closed during holidays (Dec-Jan). They do have a Facebook page, where the most current information might be posted.

0SFQ5I began planning this flyout almost a month ago, just after we got back from the Bahamas. Some of us have been wanting to collect stamps for our Virginia airport passport and I in general love to fly to an airport I haven’t yet flown into. Although 4-5 airplanes with 8-10 people were interested, there were three planes with 6 people who made it comfortably to Suffolk for some lunch at the Attitudes Cafe. We lucked out on the weather once again. After the roller coaster weather we have been experiencing lately, Saturday dawned cloudy but calm in the Mid-Atlantic. Winds were raging down south but were expected to be aligned with one of the runways at Suffolk.

SFQ2Attitudes Cafe is busy, with a lot of locals and sky divers from SkyDive Suffolk, but provides ample opportunities for that Hanger talk while you wait for lunch. They are popular for their Gumbo… While I did not eat a vegeburger, their Flatbread was pretty good.

Other than winds gusting excessively along the route, the flight down south and the return was unremarkable. It was a good day for some crosswind practice, and flying in general, considering snow is expected again, in the next 48 hours! I don’t think we are quite done with winter just yet!

SFQ44Suffolk Airport is also famous for the annual Virginia Regional Festival of Flight to be held  May 31st- June 1st 2014 this year.


If wishes were horses….

The best experiences cannot be planned, so…
Remember to Get Lost
— Jonathan Petrino, Reader’s Digest (02/2014)

Last year when we planned the Bahamas trip, we set off with a hotel reservation in Fort Pierce, FL, which by the way, we had to change since we departed one day later than planned.  Of course, we did need to prepare ahead of the time: radio licenses for the aircraft as well as the pilots, decal for the aircraft, and eAPIS accounts to submit passenger manifests. That was the extent of our planning. I roughly planned what stops we would make on the outbound, so we could have a rough estimate of flight times to expect and where we would stop for fuel, food and customs. But that was it.

return1This year we had to do a little more. In addition to the Fort Pierce, FL reservation, we had to plan the Bahamas reservation several months ahead. Last year, few of the others, had stayed at the Fernandez Bay Village (FBV) Resort and liked it so much, that this year the choice was unanimous. At the start of our planning, almost 30 people were seriously considering the trip, and FBV resort did not have sufficient cottages and villas to cater to everyone. So we had to plan ahead of time, in order to ensure we had a spot.

Two years in a row, we almost winged the trip. Flying is that way. We can plan however much we want, but what transpires might be different from what is expected. So usually, we go as far as we can, and stop as needed.

The 4 days and nights at FBV were extraordinary: the perfect setting for a Tropics getaway. Almost. FBV resort is set on the beach, with an open clubhouse that faces the beach. Half the seating is outside and doors remain open 24/7. The greatest prey in the Tropics are the mosquitoes! Once the sun set, they plagued and harvested on poor unsuspecting victims and had a particular affinity for me. Don’t forget that mosquito repellent!

last4Flying to the Bahamas  is an incredible adventure, in any small General Aviation aircraft. This year we had 9 aircraft: 3 Cessna 172, 1 Cessna 182, 1 Piper Arrow, 1 Cessna 206, 1 Bonanza, 1 Twin Comanche and 1 Twin Star.

If you are only interested in getting there and back, then the bigger, faster and higher might suit you. If it were up to me, I would love to fly low and slow over the islands in a single engine airplane. A Cessna 172 suits that purpose well. I love to see where I am going and the Bahamas are magnificent, when you trace the islands, a few hundred feet from the ground.

return2We got to do some decent island hopping this year–  7 islands and 8 airports. Totally awesome.

It took us 8.2 hours to fly south from the Mid-Atlantic to Fort Pierce, FL under some stiff headwinds. The return instead was easy-breezy 7.0 hours from Fort Pierce back to the Mid-Atlantic, with a stopover at Orangeburg Airport, SC, where we grabbed the courtesy car for some lunch, while our aircraft was being fueled.

This year, other than having to do some flying in IMC, we lucked out. We had absolutely no delays, and got some excellent experience flying through some good IMC weather.

return3The Bahamas trip for now appears to be an annual to-do flight. This is the third year in a row some of the group members have made this trip. Doesn’t matter if one of them has moved to Stearman Field in Kansas…  I am sure they still would love to join the group next year 🙂

If wishes were horses, I would love to make this trip again, year after year.

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Columbus landed here

Almost every island in the Bahamas makes some claim or the other to Christopher Columbus. Last year, Linda and I, had attempted to track down the Columbus monument on Long Island. We never made it.

sansalvador0It is widely believed that Christopher Columbus in 1492, during his first voyage  to find the New World,  landed on San Salvador island in the Bahamas and gave it it’s name. For a long time, Cat Island was thought to be the island where Columbus landed. Maybe because until 1925, Cat Island was known as San Salvador, while San Salvador was known as Watlings island, bestowed by an English colonist of the name John Watling who resided there in the 17th century.  The name “San Salvador” was officially transferred from Cat Island and given to Watlings Island in 1925.

sansalvador1I had hoped to make the flight to San Salvador the day before our departure, so we would have sufficient time to explore the island and track down the Columbus monument. But we had changed our plans and decided to join the group the following day for the flight to San Salvador. It was also the date of our departure from Cat Island and we expected to get to Nassau to spend our last night in the Bahamas.

San Salvador lies slightly south east of Cat Island, a short 53nm away. All those planning the day trip had already left ahead of us. Linda and I departed Cat Island after checking out of Fernandez Bay Village, and headed east for the 30 minute flight to San Salvador.

exumas1Transportation to explore the island was limited. There were only a few bikes available for rental and the other choice was to persuade a cab driver. Within walking distance from the airport is a Club Med, Columbus Isle, an all-inclusive resort that offers views, plenty of water activities and food. A few us decided to walk down to the ClubMed instead.

exumas3After an hour on the island, we departed San Salvador and headed towards the Exumas, my favorite archipelago of islands in the Bahamas. The Exumas comprise of 360 islands and the entire island chain is 130 miles long. Although there are 14 airports in the Exumas, most are restricted, with only 4-5 of those accessible to pilots.

exumas2To truly experience the beauty of the Bahamas, one has to be  a few hundred feet off the ground. The greenery of the islands, interspersed with the white and pink beaches, and the vibrant azure hues of the ocean amidst the clouds and the blue skies all forge an unforgettable panorama that remains etched in one’s memory long after. Many people make it to the Bahamas for a weekend or week long getaway to relax, and enjoy the innumerable water sports offered such as  swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing and many more. For me, the lure is the flying. A few hundred feet above the earth, amidst the untouched natural beauty of the islands, resplendent in all it’s colors, waiting to be seen and savored.

atlantis1Ten miles from Nassau, we had the lucky fortune to do turns about a point over Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, waiting to land at Nassau 🙂

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Pigs can swim :-)

One legend has it that a few sailors dropped off some pigs on Big Major Cay (in the group of islands known as the Exumas) with the intention of returning to cook them. They never returned and the pigs survived by eating food dumped from passing ships. What ever the legend, pigs still inhabit the beach  and the beach is often known as “Pig Beach”. Many tourist boats make it there each day, and people swim with the pigs and feed them.

StanielCay2Last year, I had missed the flight to Staniel Cay (nearest town closest to Pig Beach with an airport) with the group since we had already made other plans. Those who had visited last year, enjoyed it so much, that they were ready for some repeat action. In order to get to Pig Beach, it is necessary to rent boats at Staniel Cay and make the short boat ride.

StanielCay1After breakfast, in a well orchestrated departure, 8 aircraft of different performance capability ranging from C172 to the Twinstar, departed in  tight sequence from New Bight airport and headed straight for Staniel Cay, a short 30 min ride away. To allow for sufficient spacing and safety, all aircraft were organized to fly at 1,000ft at 110 knots.

As we landed and tie-down the aircraft, the boat rental agency was already there in golf carts to shuttle us to the marina to pick up the rental boats. Packing 20 people in 3 boats we were off in no time headed for the Pig Beach.

StanielCay4It is interesting to see the pigs (some of them really huge) lunge into the water and head straight for the arriving boats. We had packed left over food ready to feed the pigs. Sometimes these pigs can be very aggressive and even bite your hand if you are not too careful. Within no time the food was gone and the pigs retreated, disinterested in pursuing us.

StanielCay3After a brief sojourn on the beach, we headed for the Thunderball Grotto made famous by the James Bond movie “Thunderball” where a underwater chase seen had been filmed. We anchored in place so those with appropriate gear could snorkle into the cave of the Grotto. The currents were pretty severe, so not everyone opted to snorkle.

StanielCay5We headed back to the boat rental to return the boats, and walked the short distance to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for some lunch before heading back to New Bight. There is no fuel at New Bight, so a few of us made a slight detour to Exuma International for fuel, before making it back just before the airport closed for the day.

All in all, it was a delightful trip!

Island Time

“Welcome to the Bahamas
No need to rush… Take your time. You are on Island time now,”

So greeted the ramp personnel as they helped us tie the aircraft down and unload the aircraft where ever we landed in the Bahamas. Island Time. Has a nice ring right?

The cab was waiting to ferry us over to the Fernandez Bay Village (FBV) resort. After a quick tour of the resort, and checking in, we were settled in our villa. A few of the others who had arrived earlier, were already out relaxing on the beach, in the warm waters or lounging in the Club House sipping intoxicating Rum Punch and snacking on cookies laid out to welcome us.

fbv2FBV is an idyllic paradise. Set on the western shore of central Cat Island, with a vast expanse of immaculate pink beach and turquoise waters of the bay, one could get lost on this tranquil out island of the Bahamas. The resort boasts of several cottages and villas on the beach; a clubhouse with outdoor and indoor seating facing the bay where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served; an outdoor bar where guests make their own drinks any time of the day based on an honor system; free kayak or bike rentals and friendly hosts- Tameron, Jason and Donna who wanted to make our stay there as comfortable as they could. So much so, that Jason brought over his own personal TV to the clubhouse, so that we could watch the Super Bowl!


Rainbows in the Sky

Day 2 dawned sunny and clear, at least at Fort Pierce. To expedite our departure, we had submitted our EAPIS before breakfast and received email confirmation. After breakfast, we headed over to the airport. After filing our International flight plan over the radio, collecting our vests from the Airport Tiki (APP Jet Center), we departed second behind Bob and Rebecca,VFR to the east. BTW, according to Dave and Susan, we can now file the International flight plan in Foreflight, who recently updated the software to include the ICAO flight plan.

rainbow1We had no trouble opening our flight plan with Miami Radio and obtaining VFR flight following with Miami Center, as we climbed to our filed altitude of 5,500 ft. The real fun began 20 miles out: a layer of thick cumulonimbus clouds formed between us and the Bahamas. We climbed to 7,500 ft to get over them and continued forth. Through a hole in the clouds, I thought I saw land and opted to dive to lower altitude. Our plan was to fly from FPR direct to Freeport, over the Grand Bahama island to the Abacos, over Abacos to Eleuthra and land at North Eleuthra for some lunch and fuel. Not all airports have fuel, customs and lunch facilities nearby. North Eleuthra airport happens to be one of the airports with all three available.

rainbow2Diving down to 3,500ft, we still couldn’t see a clearing. By this time we had been transferred to Freeport Approach. I realized that what I had seen was the shadow of clouds on the water and land was still another 20 miles away! We had no choice but to climb back up, in circling turns constrained by clouds all around and switch back to Miami Center as we climbed over 6,000ft to 9,500ft. We considered our options as we barely floated on clouds (topped at 9,500ft) and flew onwards. Very few airports in the Bahamas has instrument approach procedures and most of them require you to arrive before 5:30 pm before sunset and before the customs office closes.

rainbow3 We contacted Miami Radio for a weather update as we considered our options. We could always land at Freeport or Nassau, two public airports served by control towers with instrument approaches. Fortunately, we learned that 20 miles past Freeport it would clear up.

rainbow4Two hours after leaving FPR, we landed at Eleuthra. After customs, fuel and food, we set off again. Tracing the islands, for the short one hour flight to New Bight.

rainbow6.As we made our way towards New Bight, we heard several of the others on the radio just having left FPR. IMC conditions across the south had prevented at least two VFR pilots stranded the previous day in Ferdinanda Beach and Savannah from making progress. A rescue effort was executed earlier in the day. Bob, Roger and Joe had hitched a ride in Troy’s Bonanza and flown back to not only move baggage from John’s 206 and fly him and Robin  to FPR but also fly Arnaud and his friend from Ferdinanda Beach to FPR. Rose and her friend who had experienced radio problems had to abandon the flight to the Bahamas and return back home. Dean who was flying a light sport aircraft with his dad had to also abandon the trip. Racing against time, all aircraft attempted to get to New Bight before sunset.

rainbow7Related: Night Comes quickly in the Bahamas by Jill Tallman

And so it begins again…

Night and Almost Actual


Weather has been weird lately– mild 50 degree days, followed by cold sub-zero temperatures due to the Polar Vortex which dipped as far south as Atlanta, bringing snow, frigid temperatures, delays, disruptions and chaos.

Last year, all the major flying trips I had planned were delayed, postponed or even cancelled altogether. This year though, things looked promising. As the big day arrived, the forecast surprisingly called for a mild 40 degrees temperature, filled with sunshine. Yet, we were not out of the woods. In a reversal of events, the Sunshine State, which we normally expect to be warm, sunny and full of reliable weather conditions instead, was calling for rain, mist, overcast skies and IMC weather for most of the day.

We departed an hour later than planned (but nothing new here :-)) and raced (or rather crawled at snails pace against strong headwinds) towards the Sunshine State, in communication with at least 3 other aircraft in our group, all headed to KFPR. There was much discussion about best flight levels to fly to counter the heavy head winds. Flying the slower C172, Linda and I had fewer alternatives and had opted for the lowest altitude we could safely fly: 2,500ft! We had selected Low Country (RBW) airport for a pit stop for lunch and fuel. Other than a short deviation to avoid some really tall obstructions south of Raleigh-Durham, we made it to RBW without incident after four long hours of flying.

The real fun began, on the second leg of our journey from RBW to FPR. After lunch at the nearby Duke’s BBQ, all of us headed back to the airport in the loaner cars and packed up and departed. Linda and I departed last, much later than I planned. There was no way we would make it to FPR before sunset.  As we crossed into Florida, thick clouds laced the coastline. Four aircraft had departed on an IFR flight plan and one under VFR. Hampered by headwinds, clouds, occasional rain and the impending sunset we all crawled south. The faster aircraft, provided periodic updates on flight levels and weather conditions ahead so the slower ones could plan accordingly.

I was glad that Linda and I were both night and instrument current. But….I hadn’t flown in actual IMC conditions since almost a year ago. Although I had done some night solo flying recently, my last actual IMC night flight was conducted several years ago…. and I have never flown in night IMC conditions without an instructor!

But… we were determined to get to FPR, with the backup plan to head inland, where VMC conditions prevailed if necessary. I opted to fly the ILS, either way since, finding an unfamiliar airport under night conditions is a lot harder. Almost an hour earlier, four of the aircraft had landed under IMC at FPR. Another VFR pilot flying a C172 had opted to land at Ferdinanda Beach (FBH).

The sun had set, and night had descended. Weather radar showed a storm system hovering over Melbourne airport, as we were vectored around it and cleared to intercept the localizer. As we intercepted the localizer and turned east, we saw the welcoming flashing lights of the ILS and the twin runway end lights at our 12 o’clock. Clouds hovering in the vicinity of the airport had moved on and FPR was VFR! It felt great to land there after having flown through IMC weather (part of it under official night time) and my first official night landing on a cross-country not related to any rating I was seeking 🙂

7 aircraft with 17 people had made it safely to FPR. 1 aircraft had not left the mid-Atlantic, and 4 aircraft had been stranded at different locations, 3 due to weather and one due to radio failure.

And so began the Bahamas II saga…

Related: Best laid plans by Jill Tallman