I always wondered why you never saw small planes in The Walking Dead. Just fly over the Zombie hordes… Or did I miss that episode? I stopped watching once I realized it was more Zombie daytime soap than a serious plot. But! I do have a plane, and it was time I got the Hell out of New York before the COVID Zombies got me or de Blasio started to sniff my pockets for loose change.
Flying out of New York was sad but I know the city will always own a part of me; it’s such a magical place.
You can read the entire first part of my escape story here.
It was my first time in Charleston, South Carolina and I finally understood why people find this small coastal town so charming despite its dark past as one of the largest slave-trading ports in America. Acknowledge the past, learn from it, and become stronger and wiser for it. This was the Charleston I experienced on my short visit.
The city is still as resilient today as it was fending off three unsuccessful attacks by the British during the American Revolutionary war, what I will refer to as the original Brexit.
Charleston is full of charm and character. It has great seafood and a bustling economy, thanks in part to Boeing building the 787 Dreamliner locally.
Following a few hours in the saddle of the RV8 and after gassing up in Virginia I was ready to put my little lady down for the night and thaw out from the below-freezing temps of the flight from NYC to Newport News, VA.
I switched approach frequencies and let them know I had the weather for Charleston Executive. I had clear skies until the Carolinas but the clouds were moving in fast as I looked outside the cockpit. I was just above the scattered ceiling at 3,500 feet as I started my descent into the airport.
Sitting in the cockpit I had complete visibility: the Carolina coast was to my left, waves were lined up and crashing on the shores below me, and flocks of birds could be seen over the inner coastal waters. The hum of the 180hp Lycoming was magic to my ears.
My Vans RV is fast, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and goes upside down. There’s not much more you can ask for in a plane as a pilot, and no wonder Vans is one of the best selling experimental kit planes ever.
I bought the plane a year ago and finished it with WWII Spitfire Mediterranean camo paint with invasion stripes. I also did some mods to the avionics, added a second Garmin radio, a backup Garmin GPS touchscreen, a USB charging port in the backseat, and a GPS mount for the back seat. My only gripe so far is that the glass canopy was not sealing properly in the rear (the foam seal needed an upgrade) and I was getting an icy draft the entire flight down until I hit 44 degrees in Charleston, which at that point felt like summer!
A business jet had just taken off and I had the pattern to myself. Charleston Executive is non-towered so pilots have to announce and sort out the pattern themselves with published procedures as reference. I flew the downwind, saw Atlantic aviation on the ramp as I turned base to final, touched down, and since nobody was waiting on me and to save my brakes I let her roll long.
Atlantic Aviation is part of the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) network in America. FBOs services the private aviation community globally and typically I get exclusive jet service on a budget. To gas up my tank, it’s just over $100 but I get to use the facilities and services as if I was dropping $50k on a G5 fuel bill. Not a bad gig…
Taxiing into Atlantic Aviation, they got me sorted with full gas and made a hotel reservation for me. I called a taxi and was on my way downtown to catch up on email, call the team at SOFREP, and head for an early dinner.
It was supposed to rain the next day but was clearing up in the afternoon. My plan was to head to the airport, and wait for it to clear, hoping to make one gas stop in Orlando and then to Miami. But you know what they say about plans.
I had a working solo dinner at the Oyster House downtown; it’s an amazing spot and has excellent crab cakes. It also has a great wine list. I poached a glass of white wine from Croatia, I forget the grape but it wasn’t the first time I’ve been impressed with wine from the Balkans. The first time I had my mind blown was in Hvar, Croatia with a friend of mine from Australia. (Note to self: Don’t add in combat stories when playing two truths and a lie with two beautiful Croatian women. One of the girls turned white with one of the Iraqi stories I shared! Not a crowd-pleaser with the ladies. My friend Jock still gives me shit about this.)
I called my kids to say goodnight and that I love them. Their mom and I divorced a long time ago. She and I get along great for our kids’ sake and have become close friends and co-parents. I have cooked turkey dinner for her, her new husband, and all the kids twice, just to give you an idea of how good we’ve worked for our kids’ sake.
Morning routine. Make the bed. Fifteen-20 minutes of yoga. In-room band work. Push-ups, crunches, a glass of water, vitamins, and I start my day.
I was at the airport around 11 a.m. to check the weather. It was clearing fast overhead. As a small plane pilot, sometimes the best weather check is to stick your head skyward, which is what I did. I pre-flighted the plane and waited in the lounge. After playing a few games on Lichess.org (a great free chess website) it was time to grab a coffee and go. The lineman gave me a set of new double AAs for my Bose headset (the best), I thanked him and was at the numbers doing my pre-takeoff checks and engine run-up and blast off. A small left turn out to the coast and the RV roared to life in a short climb to 1,500 feet, just under the layer of scattered clouds.
Scooting down the miles and miles of untouched coastline was beautiful. There were flocks of birds and some small boats off the coast as I skipped by Hilton Head. I thought I was out of dodge before I hit another patch of thick low fog-like clouds and it became clear I was going to have to overnight on the Georgia coast. I know, I know, first-world problems…
The one thing I just don’t push is the weather. I like clear skies and high-pressure systems. Pushing weather gets you killed; just ask the late JFK junior. Great guy, terrible decision-maker, #piloterror.
Reminds me of a pilot I met in YPO who, apparently in trying to impress me, bragged about flying single pilot IMC from Canada into New York in a Cirrus SR22 in the winter. I could only think about how soon this guy was going to kill himself flying like that. Hard instrument flying conditions (IMC) should be done by professionals with two pilots at the controls. The only time I flew single-pilot IMC was to get through a high layer of stable fog in California. Anything else and you’re asking for a dirt nap.
Other than a Coast Guard helicopter on the coast, I was alone the entire flight and couldn’t be happier. Flying is my zen happy place. Just me and my personal time machine.
I called in to St. Simons Island, Georgia on the common radio frequency, and announced myself 12 miles out. I made the right base entry turn over the main harbor and the massive construction crane and helicopter to my left, turned final for the numbers, and greased the landing on runway 04.
With both front main tires down, I let her roll off-speed, felt the tail wheel drop, and again let her do a long roll to the end to save my brakes. I am a fan of aerodynamic braking so I pulled back on the stick smoothly to apply aerobraking with my rear elevator and settle down the tail wheel.
When you’re an owner/pilot who’s worked on planes you have an appreciation for keeping things running smoothly and will go easier on the hardware.
I run my engine super rich because I don’t care about leaning out the fuel mixture to save a few dollars on gas. Running lean heats up your cylinder head temps and puts more stress on the engine. I’ll pay for the extra gas to get my engine to a 2,000+ hour overhaul.
Rolling into Golden Isles FBO, I was given parking instructions over the radio. I shut her down and was shocked to find my rear strobe light dangling out of the tail cone hole it was supposed to be in. On closer inspection, it was never installed properly. So I pulled the electric plug apart and stuck it in my forward baggage compartment, I was still airworthy and I’d fix the light properly at North Perry Airport in Miami.
The folks at Golden Isles got me sorted on gas, accommodation, and loaned me a crew car for dinner. Another perk of flying private is that most of the FBOs have crew cars you can borrow to run into town. My plan was to get up early, which sparked memories of years ago in the Navy.
Most of my time in the SEAL Teams and combat deployments was filled with meaningful experiences and great mentors. Aside from the grief of losing close friends, my 13 years in the Navy was an incredible experience I’ll always cherish: it’s my post-Navy experience with the Teams that has been a massive, SEAL vs. SEAL, let down.
It’s sad seeing the Navy SEAL community cave in on itself over the last decade but I saw it coming and it was a contributing factor of why I left.
Poor leadership, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, war crimes, stealing government funds (taxpayer money), PTS, meth-fueled sex parties, and I’m just scratching the surface.
My hope is that the new leadership will clean it up now that the problem has spilled out of the saloon and onto busy main street America.
I almost feel like writing an update to my first book, The Red Circle.
I’ve written extensively on this over the years. It has usually been followed by personal attacks on my credibility but my record is my record and I’m proud of what I accomplished in and out of the SEALs. And the one thing that beats any drug the VA has thrown in my face is flying… being at the controls of a plane and cranking wrenches on an airplane engine.
Hopping in the loaner car, I drove a few minutes near the coast and had another great seafood dinner and a local draft IPA with frost on the glass.
Driving back to the airport hotel I was impressed with the southern architectural charm with long driveways lined with big oak trees. I packed it in early and was up at a familiar 0530 to pre-flight the plane for the final leg.
It was clear blue skies locally as I walked to the plane, took the cover off, wiped the dew off the glass, and fired her up for the last leg of my flight south.
I took off at 170mph cruise for a climb to 4,500 feet with a light tailwind. After a gas and weather check in Orlando, it was one final leg to Miami. Local weather was calling for partly cloudy and I nimbus-cloud-surfed into North Perry airport for a west approach to landing.
Mission complete. See you soon NYC.