Looking for a pilot in the southwest

Update: Drat. It really looks like this is going to be impossible. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with offers and suggestions, but it just won't happen. Sorry about this -- and sorry, New Mexico, I tried!
If you caught last month's post on my upcoming tour in February for Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother, you'll have seen that I'm meant to be speaking in Albuquerque, NM on the evening of Feb 11, and in NYC on the morning of Feb 12. This turns out to be a nearly impossible trick to pull off, because the last red-eye out of Albuquerque airport to New York on the night of the 11th departs at 1930h, too early for me to do any kind of event at the store in Albuquerque.

On the other hand, there is a slightly later flight out of Phoenix that would work, but there's no way to get to PHX in time to make it... Unless you happen to be or know a pilot who wants to help out by zipping me from Albuquerque to Phoenix that night. I can offer a signed super-limited edition of my short story collection With a Little Help, a signed copy of Homeland, and a $100 donation to the southwestern library or literacy charity of your choice in return. Tor will also pick up your fuel costs.

Unfortunately, the alternative is canceling the Albuquerque stop, which I really don't want to do. I've never been to Albuquerque, and was looking forward to it, especially since I know that the nice folks at Alamosa Books really worked hard to get me in. It's a long shot -- everyone else was ready to give up on this when I suggested trying to find a pilot. But the southwest is full of retired pilots, and it's the kind of big sky country where hobby fliers sometimes congregate, so I thought it'd be worth a shot.

Are you game? Please email my publicist, Patty Garcia. Please use the comments below to let me know if I've overlooked another possibility, but please keep in mind that the morning event in NYC can't be moved, and neither can the event the day before. In other words, this is the only night I can appear in Albuquerque, and Alamosa is the only place I can appear.

One more thing, and it should go without saying: I can only accept a ride from a qualified pilot with an up-to-date license and an airworthy, certified aircraft, and we reserve the right to gratefully decline your offer if we're even a little uncertain about either of these facts. I promised my wife I wouldn't risk my life on this tour.

(Image: Stearman Bi-Plane, Jack Herlihy, Pilot, 1929, PA1968.1.39, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from abqmuseumphotoarchives's photostream)


  1. Wait, there are direct flights from Albuquerque to New York now? I lived in Farmington, NM, from 2006-2010. We had to drive to Albuquerque to get a decent fare ($300 roundtrip as opposed to $500), but I still had to always layover in Chicago, Denver or Dallas. 

    1.  The 19.30 flight is on AA to JFK via LAX, not direct. My experience living in Santa Fe was the same as yours – the East is hard to get to unless you leave by mid-afternoon, and it takes the rest of the day. There is a Southwest flight leaving 8:25 PM, arriving PHX 9:40 PM, then a JetBlue nonstop leaving 23:38 PHX, arriving JFK 6:04 AM. It’s minimum 20 minutes from the bookstore to the airport, but with traffic, I would plan for 40, so even this routing means leaving the store by about 7PM.

  2. I’m not sure if it’s direct, or through a hub — all I know is that I can get to NYC overnight from PHX, but to do so from ALB requires that I catch a 730PM flight, which is too early for me to make if I’m going to do an event that night.

  3. Albuquerque is a _long_ way from Phoenix, and you’d be heading against the prevailing wind.   It’s hard for me to believe that this would actually work, unless the Phoenix flight leaves well after midnight.   Also, night flying with a private pilot in the desert across mountains?   We want you to write more books, Cory.

    1. “I promised my wife I wouldn’t risk my life on this tour”

      I wonder if he has to make that promise often. definitely the most ‘xtreeem’ fiction author i know of – not as in “the Klurb’zxzz of Jklrjkq flew their awesome battlefleet through the blue sun of Lssldddldldvhflal to gain the element of surprise on a raid that would forever be at dawn.” but more “likely to bust out a bitchin 350 while signing autographs”

    2. It all depends on the weather. But in the southwest, conditions are often “severe clear” and a night flight in a well-maintained airplane with a competent pilot would not be a problem at all.

      That said, more money gets you a legal, certified commercial operation in a fancier airplane (turbine even, if one finds the right operator), better equipped to deal with even various kinds of weather.

      But if the conditions are good, doing the flight even in a little two-seater like a Cessna 150 would be fine.

      1. Finding a pilot to fly at night will be harder than one who flies in the daytime. The pilots I know are like birds in that regard.

        1. I can’t dispute that. Just as pilots make up only a fraction of the total population (so, finding a pilot at all is harder than finding a random person), not all pilots like or are even qualified to fly at night (so, finding a pilot to fly at night is harder than finding any random pilot).

          But, so? There are still plenty of pilots who are willing to fly at night, and this is true especially when dealing with pilots working at a flight school and/or charter operation, where the pilots are working hard just to earn enough to get by.

          Heck, this whole page is about the difficulty of finding someone (whether a whole airline or just a single pilot) to fly at night. Seems like you’re just stating the obvious here.

          (For what it’s worth, while I don’t much any more due to lifestyle changes, the first few years after I earned my pilot certificate, over half of my flying was at night, just because it was always dark after I got done at work. Night flying is actually quite pleasant, done with the proper concern for safety. I would expect that to be especially the case in the dry southwest being discussed here).

    3. The local FBO/Flight School/Charter service out there has a table of common destinations on their web site, and says to expect anything from 1:07 for a twin-turbine King Air to a little over two for a Skylane RG, for a trip to Phoenix. Since there’s no “90 minutes early for security” that’s probably faster than an airline can get him there. It’s been a LONG time since I used to hire aircraft and pay CFIs, but if prices have gone up proportionate to everything else, I suspect the cost of hiring that Skylane for four hours might even be somewhat comparable to an expensive airline ticket.

      1. Agreed. As a point of reference, one local fixed-based operator (FBO) in my area rents full IFR-equipped Cessna 172s for around $150/hour, and the larger Cessna 205 for around $200/hour. Add $50/hour for the pilot, and at worst the two-hour flight costs $1000, even if the operator requires you to pay the round-trip cost (since they need to get the pilot and plane back after dropping you off :) ).

        More likely, you’ll only be charged the full rate for the one-way trip, with possibly some reduced surcharge to cover the empty leg.

        On a short trip like that, not having to deal with all the hassles of the big airport pretty much guarantees that “block to block” travel times are as quick, if not quicker, in the slower airplane than traveling airlines. And of course, the whole experience from end-to-end is likely to be much more pleasant (no one trying to touch your junk, you get to sit right up front, you can ask the pilot questions, fly lower for better scenery, etc.)

  4. It’s not that far. 285 NM, about 2:45 in a bug-smasher at 100 knots. If someone with a little faster plane volunteers, it’s more like a 2hr trip. The biggest concerns I’d have are – find an instrumented rated pilot/plane and you’ll probably need oxygen. The min. altitude on the route westbound is 12000.

    Edit: forgot the most important thing. Be willing to abort the trip before departure that evening if the weather is beyond the plane or pilot. Don’t take a chance with icing in light aircraft.

    Since someone else brought it up, rules for “common purpose” flights for part 91 probably means you can’t split the cost of the flight with the pilot. It would be a good hearted volunteer.

  5. It’s not a bad idea. Call the local general aviation airports and ask around. I bet you find a pilot after a few calls. Also check the flight schools, you might find a bored instructor and they usually know most of the airplane owners at the airport.

  6. Your best bet is SW 922 @ 8 PM from ABQ to LAS, arriving at 8:35 (with time change), and depart on one of the 10 pm flights like the Jet Blue 196 @ 10:05 arriving JFK at 5:47 AM.

    8 PM is a tad early for your discussion but you are VERY limited with options.

  7. Sorry, but you need an air charter service, not a private pilot. There are very strict limits on what sorts of compensation a pilot with a private license can take, and what you’re describing is well outside them. Even the holder of a commercial certificate can fly for hire only as part of a commercial air service, while meeting all the other regulations required of that business.

    Even if you were good friends travelling somewhere together, the pilot could only accept a pro-rata share of the actual costs of the flight (fuel, landing fees, etc), not the entire amount  Since you don’t have what the FAA calls a ‘common purpose’–that is, since the pilot would be flying to PHX to get you there, rather than because she has a reason to be there herself–she would not be allowed to accept any consideration at all, including gifts.

    Breaking this rule (and doing so very publicly, given Boing-Boing’s visibility) wouldn’t just jeopardize the pilot’s license. It would also mean that the flight would probably not be covered by his insurance in the event of an accident, meaning third parties could pay for the rule breaking if something goes wrong.

    A quick search indicates that there are air charters available based in Albuquerque for everything from small private planes up to jets so big they have to be operated under FAR 121, the airline regs, despite being charters. It wont’ be terribly cheap, but hiring one of them is really the only safe and legal way to do what you’re attempting.

    1.  A non-commercial pilot (e.g. a private pilot) can share the cost of the flight with a passenger.  E.G. if it cost $250 in fuel to fly the trip, they could take $125 for fuel (presuming its just the pilot and Cori in the plane) – Tor couldn’t pay the entire cost of the fuel.  A signed book really has limited gift value, I can’t imagine the FAA getting in a tizzy about that or a thank you donation being made.    They don’t need a “common purpose” for the trip – it is totally reasonable for a private pilot to want to go out and fly for fun and help one of his favorite BoingBoing authors make a flight – there is no regulation that prevents that.  As a small plane owner and private pilot myself, I would offer to do it if I lived anywhere near PHX though, as mentioned, I would be careful about avoiding any compensation, but I wouldn’t worry about the FAA knowing it happened… but I’m in Houston, so that won’t work.  I did copy this request to several aviation BB’s to see if there are any takers.. 

      1. A non-commercial pilot (e.g. a private pilot) can share the cost of the flight with a passenger

        No, actually in this case they may not. Sharing expenses is permitted in non-commercial operations only when the pilot and passengers have a common purpose.

        While the FAA is more concerned with pilots soliciting passengers than the other way around, neither is permissible without meeting the requirements for the commercial operation.

        Since Cory doesn’t own the airplane, even hiring a commercial pilot isn’t sufficient. He would have to go through an approved commercial operator, such as a flight school or charter operation.

        The reply from CHoldredge really is the very best advice Cory can get here.

      2. The FAA does not agree with you. They publish an excellent summary of the rules at http://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/2010/media/SepOct2010-ComeFlyWithMe.pdf

        According to that flier, “Common Purpose Is Key
        Underlying the concept of sharing expenses is the notion that you and your passengers are taking the flight for a “common purpose.” You and your passengers must be taking the flight for a common purpose; otherwise, you can’t even share the expenses of the flight with them.”

        Really, the service he’s asking for is exactly what FAR 135, FAR 125, and even unscheduled 121 exist to allow someone to provide. but they have to do so in accordance with those regs

        1.  The “common purpose” rule is a vague interpretation of NTSB ALJ’s and not actually written into FAR 61.113 that defines private pilot compensation.  If the FAA chose to make an issue of something so ridiculous as splitting the fuel cost for a short flight with my passenger and allowing him to make a donation to a library as “compensation”, I would hire a good lawyer and challenge it.  (Actually the library donation might make the whole flight fall under the “charitable” exception to “common purpose” anyway).   If I were doing this trip and anyone ask, my “purpose” for flying the trip would be that I also wanted to go to Cory’s book signing in ABQ, now there’s a common purpose between him and I.  Problem solved.  This is not one I would let worry me.   Last weekend, my aunt’s car wasn’t available, and I flew her across Florida from my grandparent’s house to her house to save her four hours of round trip driving time.  She bought me and my husband lunch as a thank you.  The FAA is probably not going to pound down my door for running an “air charter operation”.   If Cory was offering to pay someone $500 to do this at a profit, that would be looking for a charter outfit.  He’s offering to split expenses and make a donation out of gratitude, that’s asking for a favor from a friend (or in this case wider “friends” of the internet).

          1. I looked the regs up and mentioned it because of a personal story my CFI told way back in ground school. The rule is enforced. Perhaps unfortunately, the interpretations of an Administrative Law Judge are still precedent-setting and still constitute common law. It sure would be nice if the regs were clear enough that they could stand as the law on their own.

            Obviously the FAA’s not going to investigate every flight checking for a bona fide purpose. but if there’s an incident, you can darned well bet that the aircraft’s insurer will encourage them to look into it. And when the request’s been made in front of a quarter-million daily visitors, I sort of suspect that the FAA’s attention may be easier to grab.

            Honestly, the costs that you’re allowed to split with a passenger (fuel, fees etc.) are such a small part of the real costs of a hour of flight (capital, inspections, TBO, insurance) that it’s not worth it. Hopefully someone will just volunteer to do it for nothing. Beats an FBO hamburger as an excuse to go flying. If not, there are lots of 125 and 135 operators in the southwest.

          2.  Nah, you could make “common purpose” work.  Even the FAA circular says if your friend suggests you two go fly together for lunch somewhere, and you say “yeah, I’d like to have lunch too”, and you fly him to lunch and split the costs, you pass the common purpose test.  All Cory has to say is “hey, let’s fly together to my book signing” and the pilot says “yeah, I’d like to fly up to go to a book signing” and then they’ve created common purpose.  That’s the nice thing about general and vague legal concepts that were invented in a memo in 2010 by some FAA legal counsel and ALJ and not actually codified in the federal aviation regulations in any way shape or form.  Of course it could all be avoided as several have pointed out by volunteering the flight time, which many pilots would do out of generosity. 

        2.  interesting that the FAA considers “goodwill” to be compensation as well.  (and log time, donations to others… charity, etc. etc.)  ok they’ve got you.

          but, in theory, if a private pilot took absolutely no compensation they could do this without a common purpose?

  8. This may not help, but if you can make it to Denver instead of Phoenix, you can catch a 23:30 flight via Boston that gets you to JFK at 7:18.

  9.  the internet says you can hire an instructor for a one-way flight lesson without going “commercial”

      1. Sure, a flight school is already an “on-demand” flight service under part 135. Whether you choose to have the pilot also be qualified instructor who can teach you stuff during the flight is up to you (and presumably your pocketbook)

    1. A flight instructor is “going commercial”, from the FAA’s perspective (i.e. it’s an approved commercial operation).

      That said, the FAA has wide latitude in enforcement, because it decides how to interpret the aviation regulations, not some independent body (in theory, the NTSB is the first level of appeal, and for serious enough cases, an appeal to federal courts, but the FAA is rarely overturned on enforcement cases).

      If the FAA feels that a “one-way flight lesson” was scheduled simply as an end-around the usual commercial flight rules, they are still free to bring an enforcement action against the pilot, and may well do so. What matters here is the underlying intent, not whether the strict letter of the law was complied with.

      All that said, none of this has much impact on Cory directly. Not being the pilot, he’s not the one who would get into trouble. So the only real questions there for him are, does he want to facilitate a pilot engaging in an illegal flight, and does he really want to fly with a pilot who would engage in an illegal flight?

    2. The flight would be Instrument Flight Rule, not Visual Flight Rule. Cory would be doing most of the flying in an instructional scenario. IFR and night flying are pretty advanced. I advise against this route.

      1. Charter flights and flight instruction can both be done under visual flight rules (VFR). Night flying is certainly more “advanced” training as compared to usual beginner’s training, but if the only reason for the “instruction” is to get around “for hire” rules in the first place, who cares how “advanced” the training is? The instructor is there to ensure the safety of the flight, which they can do whether the flight is day, night, VFR, IFR, in the middle of a hurricane, whatever.

  10. If my plane was finished I’d fly you all over the place for the hours and the experience.   But you (and your family and colleagues) would have to be OK with riding in an experimental sport plane at roughly 190mph over some dry, empty places.

  11. From what I can tell, the primary problem is that there are essentially no late flights out of ABQ to anywhere (for instance, today the latest flight out is at 8:55 to Tucson).

    That being said, you might look for a pilot to Denver in addition to/instead of Phoenix. The distance is about the same and the flight path could start east, then swing north straight up the front range possibly resulting in an easier (safer?) and faster flight. Jetblue Flt 98 flies DEN to JFK non-stop from 12:59am – 6:33am for only $94!

    1.  As a neckbeard who’s driven through a lot of the country that Cory wants to flyover, I’d fly commercial.

    2. Hmm, I think I resemble that remark. So let me explicitly describe the solution I’d use if I were in Cory’s shoes:

      Back away from the offer of expenses and gifts, and hope someone will do it out of generosity. Pilots like to fly (heaven knows I did) and good excuses to go flying are a great thing in themselves.

      Failing that, contact Cutter Aviation or Body Aviation at the Albuquerque airport, or  Air Charter Service who apparently keeps a plane there, and ask for prices and travel time for air taxi service to Phoenix. Note that I haven’t used any of these companies myself: my employer’s travel insurer balks at all charters. But from my limited experience with other flight services  he can expect a flight that’s quick, safe, friendly, obviously competent, and freaking LOUD, and that costs anywhere from a couple times a what late-booked commercial ticket does up to stratospheric amounts for a private jet. 

      Oh, and it’s be an absolute BLAST. The difference between Delta et al and a Cessna or Piper is like the difference between ridding the worst shuttle bus you’ve ever been on, and being ferried somewhere in someone’s prized classic sports car. It does cost more, no doubt, but it’s not even the same experience.

  12. Cory, hire a proper operator. The cost will be a couple of thousand bucks, but you will be doing it in a safer manner and completely legal. 

    I am yet another fully licensed commercial pilot, and seriously argue against an instrument, night flight, with a private pilot with unknown experience. Just the jump to a commercial pilot changes the deal, and over that terrain you don NOT want to be in a single engine aircraft at night!
    A twin engined flight with a licensed operator, or at least a single engine turboprop such as a C208. 
    Nightflights over harsh terrain are a special risk unto themselves, which is where experience, professionalism, and a second engine come in handy! Commercial pilots have a different (and more negative) approach to such a flight, and that is what you want!

    And that is apart from any legal requirements for the various FARs that have been mentioned. I am licensed in Europe so I only know the basics of the FAR stuff, but breaking those may, as was mentioned above, void any insurance on the flight.

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I tried badly to express in my previous message.   I used to live right between Albuquerque and Phoenix, and I know the terrain pretty well.   It is not a place where you would ever want to make an emergency landing—it looks smooth from 10k feet, but it’s not.   And there is very little light, so you almost have to do IFR.   Opportunities for controlled flight into terrain abound for the low-flying aircraft.

        1. Sorry, don’t find that funny.  In November 2011, a private pilot was night-flying his and his ex-wife’s three children from the kids’ Mesa home to his home in Safford.  The plane hit a high cliff in the Superstition Mountains.  No survivors.  The ex-wife lost her entire family because her ex-husband wasn’t -quite- as good a pilot as he thought he was.

          1. And that prevents a comment about the Lost Dutchman’s Mine un-funny because…why, exactly?

            Plenty of people have lost their lives in airplanes. Just as tens of thousands of people are killed in motor vehicle incidents every year in the US. And yes, Part 91 and 135 operations (flight instruction and charters) have a higher accident rate relative to Part 121 (scheduled airlines).

            But how does that mean people can’t joke about flying?

  13. The pilots posting on this board make me sad and remind me why general aviation is dying.  People should be abounding with ideas on how to get Cory into their Bonanza or Cessna or Mooney or whatever and introduce him to the joys and freedoms of general aviation and the flexibility it has to offer – a signed book or a donation to a library is just icing on the cake of a cool way to use your airplane for the night instead of letting it languish in its hangar unused.  Instead, all he is getting is posts about how dangerous it is, and how most likely anyone who transports him will be breaking some sort of law, a bunch of naysayers criticizing their fellow pilots skills, and expounding on the difficulties of what he’s asking.  Yes, the area he’s talking about has difficult terrain, and night flying does add a degree of difficulty, however, an airplane owner in that local area should be familiar with both and can operate in both environments as safely as the environment allows – yes, even on one engine!  These replies are why our airport cafes are empty and new American student pilot starts are at an all time low and the only people you see hanging out at airports watching planes any more are grizzled old men.  There are ways to promote general aviation and ways to hurt it.  You guys are definitely doing the latter.

    1. Yes, we are downers and we are boring.

      What you miss is that we also know how to manage our risk, and manage the risk for our passengers.
      Instrument night flying over treacherous terrain in a small single engine aircraft is ONLY done by those who do not understand the risks. It’s simply not a good idea! 
      The same flight in daylight and good weather still has risks, but those are acceptable (at various skill levels). Any nightflying outside of gliding distance of an airport and without full IFR instrumentation changes the risk in the way that relatively minor daytime problems are suddenly very, very serious and the survivability of any accident goes down to single digit percentages.

      Apart from my old flying jobs, I recruit for a gliding club, and I’ve done aerobatics (in powered and unpowered aircraft). It’s fun. I’ve also done ambulance flights in seriously nasty conditions. It’s exciting. But we operated with the correct tools for the job. That is not a Mooney or a Bonanza (though they are great planes).
      The Bonanza was  called “the doctor killer” for a reason. Inexperienced doctors, private pilots (often with more flight hours than you might think, yet precious little understanding of what goes on) with money to buy a nice plane would not understand the risk management, take off at night or in IMC conditions, have a problem, and plow into the ground. The conditions (at night you can’t see that active icing area!) often meant that there really had not been any way of survival except not to take off to begin with. Other times, the conditions meant that a minor issue changed rapidly into a fatal one.

      That reputation of the small aircraft sector (you know, the media coverage of the dead people) has NOT helped fill airport cafes. 

      So yeah, I’ll be a boring downer, if the opposite is throwing caution to the wind and taking risks without understanding them.

      1.  Where did I suggest taking off in an unairworthy airplane, in bad weather, without adequate flight planning or with an untrained pilot?  All I said is its within the abilities of a licensed pilot and a single engine general aviation airplane.  Maybe you don’t feel the same.  However, most people that have experience working with people “new” to the general aviation community know that the best way to turn them off is explaining to them all the dangers that come with GA and tell them whatever it is they are doing is foolhardy, which it is not.  Some people won’t fly a single engine plane to the Bahamas, I just did, though I did carry a PLB.  Some private pilots won’t fly at night, or in a crosswind exceeding 5 kts because they think its “foolhardy”.  I think it is foolhardy not to refine your flying skills by stretching the conditions which you can fly in (within the limits of the law and your license and the equipment you are flying).  My flight instructor is fond of saying there are some people with 1000 hrs of flight time that just fly the same 1 hr over and over again, and some people who fly 1000 different hours and learn something with each of them to make them a better pilot.   Everyone’s risk tolerance is different.  I personally don’t trust the pilots that only fly on perfect blue sky days with no wind at sea level.

        1. You’re seriously missing the point.
          Airworthiness is taken as a given, as is the license.
          But during a single engine flight over harsh terrain at night NOTHING may go wrong. There is no margin for error or failure. Vacuum pump problem? Electrical problem? Engine problem? Fuel problem? A host of other minor issues? All of those are really serious at night on a single engine plane. Which is why most commercial pilots with experience of small aircraft operations would tell you the same as I am.

          On a trip to the bahamas you spend what? Half an hour to an hour over water (shortest between land is around 55nm, with the longer ones being aroun 100-120nm), with maybe 20 minutes out of gliding distance of land? Not really equivalent to 200nm at 12000 feet over really rough terrain at night, now is it? If you really wanted you could go high and be within gliding distance of land almost the whole way.

          As for fair weather flying (which you seem to be accusing anyone of who advises against Cory’s idea). I’ve gone from Iceland to Scotland (690nm) in a C172. Foolhardy? Not really. Using all the right equipment (certified north atlantic immersion suit and a rubber dinghy, plus everything else that is needed) and with a good understanding of the weather it really isn’t that risky. I take into account the chances of bad stuff, figure out the worst that can happen, and plan against that. Not so that I don’t go, only so that if it comes to the worst then I maximise my chance of survival. 
          Cross wind… a C152 can make a landing with a cross wind component of up to 30 kts (handbook only approves of 12kts IIRC). I don’t necessarily recommend it as nice treatment for the aircraft (full rudder won’t keep it straight, you need to kick the rudder when touching down), but it will do 25kts x-wind component just fine. The 172 is similar, although not quite as nimble for kicking it about.
          (I’ve also had to deal with electrical failures, magneto failures at night, fire in the engine compartment, and more. You just become more likely to get to try that crap just the more you fly, as problems DO occur).

          Risk management is exactly that, manging risks. Managing risks involves UNDERSTANDING the risks, and that is the job of the commercial pilot. The commercial pilot will do whatever he goddamn pleases when risking himself, and then behave very, very differently when taking a passenger. In my experience, private pilots often fail to understand this difference, and lack an understanding of some core components of risk management. In this case it is really that in the case of a problem with a single engine piston aircraft at night in these conditions (even  if the weather is perfect…in january) there is no way out. Any problem or failure in this case results in a high risk of death.

          Flying to the Bahamas on a sunny july morning.. no problem short of a complete engine failure even rates as scary.. 

          1. But during a single engine flight over harsh terrain at night NOTHING may go wrong. There is no margin for error or failure

            Just as I’ve disagreed with Rebecca’s mischaracterization of the general mood of the replies here, I have to disagree with your view of night flying as well.

            Lots of things can go wrong on a night flight without it turning into a disaster, especially for a VFR flight.

            Fact is, just making sure there’s enough fuel in the airplane will eliminate the biggest reason that airplanes make unscheduled landings. And unscheduled landings are relatively rare in the first place, even taking into account all causes.

            It is not uncommon during flight training, if not recurrency training, for a pilot to simulate a full electrical failure at night. I certainly did, and for a competent pilot it’s not a big deal.

            A watch, a compass, and a flashlight address the primary concerns of navigation and flight planning, in the event of an electrical failure. Furthermore, in such an event a pilot is probably less concerned with getting to the final destination as to just finding a suitable landing site. Fortunately, at night time airports are easy to find, due to the easily-identified airport beacons.

            Control of the aircraft is similarly only slightly harder and not at all in the realm of an emergency. Again, a competent pilot can tell airspeed from control feel and wind noise, and power settings can be closely approximated by engine noise. For landing, precise engine settings aren’t really necessary, as the pilot adjusts power as needed to maintain a correct glidepath, so there’s externally-available feedback to guide the pilot there as well.

            Vacuum pump failure? Use the turn coordinator (or electrically-operated attitude indicator, if equipped).

            Equipment failures while flying in instrument meteorological conditions are certainly more of a concern. But then, that’s true day or night.

          2. I experienced an electrical power failure on a night flight at about 9000 feet over north Georgia in a C172 RG (from the passenger’s seat — a friend was flying).  We lost all power in the cabin, including lights, instruments and radio.  We had aircraft battery power at first, but that didn’t last; if we left if off for a few minutes, though, we could still get 10 or 20 seconds of power out of it. The pilot pulled out one of his three alternate light sources from the flight bag under his seat, spent a few very busy minutes flipping through his maps book, then steered us toward a suitable airfield.  The airfield was unlit and unattended at night, so he tuned to the appropriate frequency and keyed his mike to turn the field lights on (a beautiful sight, I guarantee you).  He made a sharp turning descent that intersected the glidepath close to the approach end of the runway — eager to get us on the ground before we ran into something or something else failed, or unsure he’d get another shot at using the radio — then landed like it was no big deal.

            I found it all exciting in a remote kind of way, since there wasn’t much I could do to influence the outcome one way or the other; the third occupant was asleep in the back seat and missed the whole thing.  The pilot is a low-key guy, but I’m sure his mental workload was very high.  He did what had to be done; respect to him.

    2. Well said!

      If I still had my Debonair I’d fly down from Connecticut to hear his talk and then offer to drop him off in Phoenix on my way back home just to have the opportunity to fly somewhere and then spend a couple of hours with a guy who seems to be pretty interesting.

      As for night flying my airplane almost always worked better at night; the air was cooler and smoother and there was usually less VFR traffic.

      Alas, I am now one of those grizzled old guys…

    3. all he is getting is posts about how dangerous it is, and how most likely anyone who transports him will be breaking some sort of law, a bunch of naysayers criticizing their fellow pilots skills, and expounding on the difficulties of what he’s asking

      Wow. That’s a complete mis-characterization of the comments that have been posted.

      The legal questions are genuine; just because you aren’t worried about the FAA taking your certificate, that doesn’t mean it’s not something other pilots don’t worry about. Some pilots even need that certificate to earn a living; they aren’t so carefree about how they use it. For sure, it’s clear you’re unfamiliar with the case law and so at the very least under-appreciate the legal risks involved (even if that information wouldn’t change your decision-making).

      As far as the hazard goes, only a fraction of commenters have even described the operation as hazardous, and not all of those are pilots. At least one pilot (me) has even pointed out how such a flight can be made with relative safety and enjoyment.

      No one here is “hurting general aviation”. They are simply being realistic.

      There are lots of reasons general aviation is suffering today; blaming experts for simply stating the truth about it makes no sense.

    4. Likes upon likes for your post.   But GA is in trouble for other reasons, most having to do with the expense of owning/flying.   We never did recover from the gold rush of litigation that blossomed in the 70’s or the stereotype of “rich pilots” who can afford whatever luxury taxes are levied (CA resident)   With flying getting more expensive every year, it’s also no surprise that more young people aren’t getting into it and eventually replacing all the old guys who Go West.

      1. Learning to fly is expensive and aircraft are getting *old*

         Average age of General Aviation airframe is around 39 years. A  new budget cessna skycatcher is north of $150,000 and training to learn how to fly can cost $10k+ (fuel, instruction and rental).

        For most people $150k is a house and $10k would replace the beater car they drive.

  14. Some serious irony going on here. Anyone remember the book Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel (2001) by James Fallows? It was about *exactly* this problem and how it was going to be solved by an air taxi system built around a network of professional pilots flying ‘very light jets’in and out of the hundreds of smaller airports around the country.

    Fallows focused on rise of Eclipse Aviation, founded by a charismatic former Microsoft exec, Vern Raburn, and invested in heavily by none other than Bill Gates himself. The Eclipse 500 won the prestigious Collier Trophy in 2005 and was the biggest story in aviation for years. Raburn used splashy dotcom-style finance to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and spent over a billion, but ran into issues with engines and couldn’t make it happen. The assets were bought out of bankruptcy for $40 million in 2009 and they are now back in production and starting to be seen. I spotted one zipping out of my local small airport a couple of weeks ago, and it was thrilling to see, especially knowing the backstory.

    Ready for the irony? The Eclipse factory is on the edge of the airfield at ABQ.

    People are trying other models for making something approaching an air taxi system: social network-based charter sharing, brokering empty seats and repositioning legs on private jets, small fleets of VLJ’s and excellent fast turboprops like the Pilatus PC-12, etc. I’m not talking about jet card bling. Take a look at Social Flights, Imagine Air, Jet Suite, Kavoo, Linear Air.

    As for your flight, Cory, the FAA is notoriously persnickety and I agree with earlier posters that you have very publicly blown the ‘intention’ sniff test. I hope you will do it by the book. Find a real commercial operation to sell you what you need and pay the market rate. Dollar-cost-average over your lifetime future last-millisecond travel when someday it does. Think about how much better it could have been if Fallows’ hopes had come true. I’d love to read a story of yours where ‘free flight’ figures prominently.

  15. I’m from Albuquerque, and really I can’t add much to the (exhaustive) discussion about airplanes. But if you do end up in Albuquerque, there are two things I have to recommend. Pop into any sushi joint and order an green chile roll (sometimes called an amigo roll). It’s a bit of fusion cuisine that really works, and not something you’re likely to find outside of New Mexico. Also, take a little time and check out the surplus stores on east Central. (Jones Surplus being one of the best) Albuquerque is one of the places where the “computer revolution” really got going, and much of that history is preserved (and for sale) at these places. Buen suerte! 

  16. There are two problems here…

    The first problem is that someone who wasn’t thinking (whom you probably paid to think) messed up.  They screwed up.  Let them foot the bill for a private plane, or be the ones that call and cancel.  If their solution is “bum a ride on a private plane”, then seriously – get a new person.

    The second problem is that it’s just a First World Problem.  It almost made me shed a tear. But the shaking of my head was of sufficient speed to dry them before they could form.

    1. There are two problems here…

      The first problem is that firing someone who makes an error or demanding that they pay a large sum in compensation is a poor long term strategy for business and personal relationships.

      The second problem is that figuring out a way to show up for a professional assignment is common even in the Third World, perhaps more so.

  17. I’m a pilot in the southwest (though unable to help, alas, since I can’t fly at night).
    I was up over the mountains east of Phoenix a few days ago. It is indeed nasty terrain with few options for emergency landings. I wouldn’t rule it out if Cory can find a pilot and plane with a pressurized cabin that can fly well above the mountains, but otherwise, it probably still counts as “risking life”. 
    The odds of anything bad happening are still extremely low, but if something bad does happen, the odds of surviving are doubtful. 

    Even ignoring safety, the chances of having a pleasant, turbulence-free flight over mountains in a small plane are very slim unless you can get well above the top of them.

    To re-iterate what others have said in a more optimistic tone, while we aren’t legally able to accept the kind of compensation Cory there is absolutely no reason a private pilot (or sport pilot, for that matter) couldn’t take you on this trip. As long as we can afford it, many of us are thrilled to share the experience of flying in a small plane with anyone who is interested.

    If there is a late-night flight to New York available, Denver is almost certainly a better option than Phoenix. The route (if you fly around the Rockies) is almost certainly safer.

  18. Cory, based on what I’ve read here, the best advice/information seems to be:

    CHoldredge: Sorry, but you need an air charter service, not a private pilot (7:13 am)
    Ialaire McFadden: Your best bet is SW 922 @ 8 PM fro ABQ to LAS, … depart Jet Blue 196 @ 10:05 arriving JFK at 5:47 AM.
    Sarah Anderson: Be willing to abort the trip before departure that evening if the weather is beyond the plane or pilot.  Don’t take a chance with icing in a light aircraft.

    1.  Or any icing in any aircraft.  Remember that investment banker last year-ish who fell out of the sky near NYC in his (amazing) Pilatus?  Icing.  All the tech in the world isn’t going to help a lot in severe icing conditions.

      I’m with CHoldredge.  We like you Cory.

      It’s hard to not be convinced by a pilot who really wants to fly that the flight is safe, even when there’s hail the size of golfballs.  This’d be an exciting excursion for anyone, very Hardy Boys (the 50’s editions), but the terrain and conditions all add up to hazardous flight.

      There was a private pilot who three times flouted distance warnings on thunderstorms; came back twice with dents all over his aircraft.

      Go Pro!  You want a salty skeptic on this one.

  19. I think we’re being somewhat narrow in our thinking, only considering air routes to Albuquerque.  I know of at least one guy who can get there underground in a decent amount of time, though for some reason, he always makes a wrong turn there.

  20. Wow, after reading some of these comments I wouldn’t ever want to climb in an airplane again (and I’m a pilot)!

    Statistically speaking, small planes definitely carry more risk than commercial jets but most (90%) of the risk is in the pilot and not the plane.

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