As a traveling master instructor, I teach all over the US and am usually on the road 20-25 days per month. When my wife announced she wanted to go to Hawaii for our upcoming wedding anniversary, my first thought was how much I needed a break from flying. Don’t misunderstand me, I love flying even after teaching for 14 years. It’s just I needed a break from work. So in the middle of my vacation I decided to go fly anyway. Flying in Hawaii was an amazing experience and taught me three important lessons.
The first thing I learned was that renting an airplane in Hawaii is not as simple as just walking up to a local flight school and asking for a set of keys. All of the really good ones require extensive training with a local expert CFI before handing you an airplane. The best one I found was Tropic Bird Flight Service in Kona (PHKO) on the big island. Mike Lauro is the owner and chief flight instructor with over 13,000 hours flying in Hawaii. Mike certainly respected my credentials and experience but went on to explain why renting in Hawaii is not just a 30 minute checkout. He usually requires 10 hours of dual before he will let someone rent on of his aircraft. In fact his ground training session taught me the next thing I learned and why he is right to give even an experienced pilot that much training.
Hawaii is mountain and volcano flying. I went flying the day after the 6.9 earthquake and volcano eruption. I’ve taught mountain flying before, but never where you get such a rapid change of environment and weather. The big island of Hawaii has 10 out of the 14 climate zones on the entire earth. From the summit of Mauna Kea, which has snow often through June, down to small areas of hot desert area that gets less than 10’’ of rainfall per year. All of this is surrounded by tropical rain forest with 6 other climate zones mixed in! All of this incorporates into a rapidly changing weather pattern driven mostly by the trade winds. True to his word when we took off south from Kona the weather was marginal VFR with Vog (Volcanic emissions mixed with fog) and fairly low ceilings. After a quick trip down to the Captain Cook memorial we turned around and headed back north. Less than 2 minutes north of the airport we entered an area of light turbulence and high broken cumulus clouds with at least 30 miles of visibility.
Ten minutes later you could see a visible wind shear zone where the wind coming around the north side of the island broke the clouds as cleanly as cutting them off with a knife. Clear blue skies with unlimited visibility mixed with some light chop coming from a mountain wave. Seeing 3 completely different weather patterns and 5 different types of land in 30 minutes by a Cessna 172 is an amazing experience. Unless you are very familiar with the local weather and topography, even good pilots could get themselves into trouble.
The third, and most important, thing I learned is that it felt really good to learn. I think it’s pretty easy for professional pilots and flight instructors to become complacent and believe they don’t need any training when renting something simple. Private pilots seem to be more interested in seeking out adventures and new training. It’s sometimes hard for professionals to check their ego and seek out someone who is an expert in something they are not. I certainly talked about how I felt silly renting an instructor to “teach me” in a Cessna 172 before I went. I was 100% wrong and can’t tell you enough what a great experience it was.
Check out Mike and his website at www.TropicBirdFlightService.com. I took his Island Adventure Tour for visiting pilots. It will be the best money and time you’ve ever spent for C172 time and the memories will last forever. Flying with a true local expert not only makes you safer, but also provides the best local knowledge in where to fly.
What’s the best extra training you’ve ever taken and why? Let me know in the comments and as always…
Gary D Reeves, ATP, MCFI
Gary is a 7,000+ hr ATP and Master Flight Instructor. The 2016 FAA Instructor of the year, WP region, he is also a lead rep for the FAA Safety Team. A well know national public speaker at every major aviation convention he is the only Avidyne National Training Provider and focuses on single pilot IFR with Avidyne and Garmin avionics.