Callum went on an exciting two-day trip to Key West, one of the most beautiful places in Florida where a chain of islands extend out from the South of mainland Florida for around 110 nautical miles into the tropical waters to the North of the Caribbean. These waters are warm and full of beautiful reefs and exciting wildlife which you certainly wouldn't see swimming around the shores of the UK!
The route Callum and Chairman Chris Line took went, first, from the aircraft's home at Winter Haven to Naples airport on the South West coast for fuel, before crossing the infamous Everglades eastbound to Homestead General airport. This section of the flight saw them fly low level at around 500ft across the open land with the high skyscrapers of Downtown Miami pertruding up above the horizon.
After this final fuel stop, the most exciting part of the journey was next. Callum flew the aircraft across a stretch of the Everglades once again down to the coastline of South Florida where the clear blue waters and the individual islands forming the Florida Keys opened up. They took the aircraft across the islands and before they had even gotten out over the water, a dolphin was spotted cruising along in the sea. After this, countless numbers of sharks, stingrays, seals, and more dolphins were spotted. Clusters of them were in every direction and Callum again took the aircraft down to around 500ft as they flew across reefs, shallow sea beds and the incredible islands.
After a short while, they reached the main stretch of islands making up the Florida Keys and followed the shoreline as well as Highway 1 which stretches the full length of the keys. Callum had prepared to land at a seafront restaurant with a private helipad on the waterfront which is located just to the East of Marathon Airport. This is avaiable to land at, free of charge, and on a first-come, first-served basis. As they got near, another creature of the sea was spotted in a harbour area. This time, it was a huge manatee and others were spotted on the journey north.
On final approach to the restaurant, a large sea turtle was spotted off to the port side from about 150ft. Callum set the aircraft down nicely on the helipad before enjoying some freshly caught shrimp at the restaurant!
The departure from this helipad is certainly something we would not be used to in the UK with the only two options being to take the aircraft vertical, or to depart over the water. With the conditions on the day, the only option was transitioning over the water which is what Callum did in a rather confined amount of space. It certainly made for an exciting departure and they then continued on to Key West.
When approaching the most southern Key, the Naval Air Station of Key West is the first ATC unit spoken to in order to get permission to cross their airspace before reaching the international airport. This is the southern most air defence station and on the day, had around 10 F/A-18 super hornets, a C-17, C-130, B-1 bomber, and an HH-60 Pave Hawk. After crossing this airspace, the approach into Key West is fairly straight forward with the tower controllers being very accommodating. Most of the arrival is over water to the south of the airport and then the approach and transistion to the hover is to their taxiway A.
Key West has a lot going on and of course an incredible sunset! It is defeintely a place worth visiting and especially to fly into. With so much to do, you'll want to go again and spend days on end there.
The journey up North the following day saw fuel stops in Marathon and Hollywood's North Perry Airport, Miami. The morning route up to Miami followed the Keys all the way up to the most North-Eastern key before an exciting flight along the Miami Beach dodging banner towers and other aircraft before continuing up the shoreline for several miles where they turned inland to the Hollywood airport.
After this, Callum took the aircaft up to 3,500ft and settled into an hour and a half cruise back up to Winter Haven airport.
This trip features so many amazing experiences and the opportunity to fly some of the most beautiful places in the world. The freedom to fly in the way that people fly in the U.S. opens up a whole new world of flying that you could never get to experience in the UK.
Look out for more video footage and imagery from future trips across Florida by both Callum and other pilots who use our aircraft!