Hour building is really a chance for a pilot to enjoy themselves and go and fly places and routes that not only give you good experience to use in future, but allow you to discover and see things you’ve always wanted to see. So what better place to do this than Florida?
Flying in America is certainly quite different to the UK, obviously because of the weather, but also because the rules and area I was flying in are quite different. Just the fact that we are operating around Orlando provides its challenges with busy and congested airspace around the airport. But once I got used to some of the differences, I was able to start stretching my legs and fly further and in some cases, very far with one flight lasting three and a half hours as part of a 3 day trip!
Kissimmee was a great airport to fly from with a great buzz and all the staff were so helpful. Straight away though, it became very apparent how helicopters really have a lot of freedom and my flying over there took on much more of a commercial style due to the fact that Air Traffic Control want you in or out as quickly as possible so as not to disrupt the fixed wing traffic. So my approaches and transitions were taking me direct to the parking area rather than having the likes of the ‘H’ at Leicester to aim for and then transitioning. But this was so much fun!
Approaches and departures from controlled airports for helicopters are expected to be carried out at 500ft or below from/to 4 miles. So you can imagine how uncomfortable this felt initially having been used to climbing up to at least 1000ft much sooner than that in the UK. What made it more uncomfortable was being at or below 500ft over the dense forest/swamp or lakes or built up areas. That certainly took some getting used to!
My single favourite moment from my whole trip was when i got the chance to fly down the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility Runway. This felt quite special to be able to fly there and along such a historic and impressive runway. I also got the chance to take family and friends along this runway to share the experience. One day, I flew the NASA runway with a friend and then landed at Space Coast Regional airport to go to the Kennedy Space Centre for the afternoon. Why not?
Another great experience was flying through the Class B controlled airspace over Orlando and being given vectors over the top of Orlando International airport on the way back to Kissimmee airport. I would love to be able to do something similar now at Heathrow airport.
Another great experience was flying to Key West which is the most Southern of the Florida Keys at the bottom of Florida. It’s somewhere I wanted to go before going over and I managed to do it with a friend making it a 2 day trip. The Keys look like paradise and on the way down, we also went over the Everglades which was an interesting experience. Interesting because of the vastness of it and also how the whole area looks like some kind of alien planet!
On the way back up North from the Keys, I flew along Miami Beach. This was the most intense moment of my time in Florida because of how busy the airspace is and how much is going on. I was instructed to fly across the open water to the shoreline for around 8 miles, had banner towing aircraft flying up the beach, nearby, and a lot of different classes of airspace to consider as well as seaplanes and helicopters popping up all over the place. This was incredible though and I’m glad I did it towards the end with a lot of experience on the radio and with the different types of airspace.
Florida was an exceptional opportunity and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone to go and fly out there even if it’s just two weeks! It is fairly intense with the dense airspace focussed around the bigger cities, but Florida also has so much barren land which makes for a lot of uncontrolled airspace and relaxed flying. There are so many more great stories from my time in Florida but I’ll save those for now. I’ve learnt so much during my time over in Florida which I can’t wait to translate this into my next stage of training in the commercial flying course.