Four restless ATPL students skip Florida in favour of New York

By Andrew BinnsImagine the scene: four bored ATPL groundschool students sat around having lunch in between lectures. Myself, Paul Sherburn, Chris Davies and Mike Simmons were pondering over where to go in order to get the hours necessary to start the CPL course. America was the easy choice and it seemed sensible to go somewhere like Florida where it’s sunny and cheap. But we had bigger ambitions than to bimble round Florida. ‘Wouldn’t New York be fantastic?’

Two months later and we were arriving at Clearwater airpark; one of the few places happy to lend us two aircraft for a week away. Inspecting Cessna 172s N998RA and N66113, we were all very happy with our choice.DAY 1: CLEARWATER TO SAVANNAHWe arrived at the school to find that Cessna 172 N66113 needed some work on the nose gear. After about 45 minutes we were finally ready to depart and both aircraft rolled down runway 16 at Clearwater. Due to the weather we had decided to route across to Daytona Beach, avoiding the central Florida thunderstorms that are so common with the warm weather in June. For this first leg, Chris was in charge of 113 and Mike in charge of RA. After receiving flight following from Tampa, the racetrack at Daytona soon passed under our right wing; it was then a simple route following the east coast to Savannah. Climbing to 4500ft, we had fantastic views of Jacksonville as the weather cleared. Having flown for just under three hours, Savannah appeared off the nose. Positioning about five miles behind RA we were cleared to land and Chris brought us to a stop on runway 36. We had come to expect great things from American FBOs, however Signature at Savannah exceeded all of our expectations.As Chris taxied in we saw Paul, Mike and their bags being taken in a golf buggy to the terminal (walking in 30-degree heat is tough you know). Once the fascination of our accents had worn off the receptionist helped us find a hotel for the night and promptly had someone drop us off there. After an afternoon nap, we were keen to explore the town. Signature had a crew car waiting for us and Paul – being the onlyone of us old enough to fulfil the 21-year age restriction – set off with the GPS leading the way. Driving down the main street, Mike spotted ‘Churchill’s’ an English pub. No arguments over where to eat tonight then.DAY 2: SAVANNAH TO NORFOLKOur aim for day two was to head as far north as possible, stopping off at First Flight airfield in the Kill Devil Hills. It was myself and Mike at the controls today. We wereairborne by 8am and the early morning start took its toll on my co-pilot, as Chris wasasleep 10 minutes into the flight. With the map on one knee and a doughnut on the other I flew us up the east coast, making occasional diversions to avoid the numerous danger areas. After the morning haze had cleared we were treated to good views of Myrtle Beach. We requested a weather report for First Flight and the visibility came back as two miles. A group decision was made to not risk landing there and we refuelled at Plymouth. En route to Norfolk we were constantly asking for level changes to remain VFR until we were down at 700ft. We contacted Norfolk approach and after five calls got no response. A sixth call was finally answered, “Call us back soon”. Upon arriving at Norfolk, Landmark aviation laid out a red carpet to the doors.This we thought a tad over the top for aCessna 172 but never the less made us feel important. With a hotel booked, everyone was ready for a rest, with a take-away pizza for dinner, it was time to prepare for tomorrow’s flight to New York.DAY 3: NORFOLK TO NEW YORKIt was our aim to log at least one large international airport. La Guardia airport inNew York would accept a VFR 172, but at $450 an aircraft. Being students we decided to head for Teterboro airport instead. No landing fee or overnight fee would be charged if we bought fuel. Another early start saw us heading for Atlantic City and then on to New York. We flew up the coast then westbound with a turn to the north to avoid the airspace over central New York. With great excitement the skyline of Manhattan came into view and we were passed to New York approach. “N66113 what are your intentions?” “We are a C172 inbound to Teterboro at 2500ft VFR heading west to avoid your airspace. Request flight following.” “66113 can you see the Manhattan skyline?” came the reply. “Affirm 66113.” “Head towards the Statue of Liberty and fly the Hudson River northbound, that will take you direct to Teterboro.”With amazement we turned and put the Statue of Liberty on the nose! I asked Christo confirm we were cleared down the Hudson at 1500ft and the reply came, “Suresir, just maintain VFR.” Passing the statue we turned north and could not believe it when we were told to descend to 1000ft, which put us lower than the Empire State building, off our right wingtip. The view of Manhattan was stunning, everything was clearly visible; Central Park, Ground Zero and Central Station. It was a shame when we were handed over and told to turn away from the Hudson and onto a left base for Teterboro. On the ground we met Paul and Mike who were also treated to a run down the river, still smiling we headed into the Atlantic FBO to look for a hotel. Half an hour later we were in a taxi heading for the Hotel Carter in Times Square. It was cheap and very basic but the location was excellent. That evening saw us at the Yankee stadium watching baseball. DAY 4: NEW YORKToday was all about seeing the city. A day’s pass on the subway saw us visit the statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Central Park and of course the shops down 5th Avenue. With just about every cent saved landing at Teterboro spent and after a night time visit to the Empire State building it was time to head to bed and plan our exit from New York.DAYS 5, 6 AND 7: RETURN TO CLEARWATERReturning we left New York for Atlantic City to Fayetteville, then to Savannah and back into Clearwater. Due to a booking on N66113 we had to be back in Clearwater before lunchtime. The last leg was uneventful for both aircraft and unusually the weather held fair all the way back across Florida, one deviation for an isolated thunderstorm had to be carried out but in Florida that is considered a very good flying day! Arriving back down Clearwater beach Paul and Mike joined the overhead and right base for runway 34. We followed them in and after a smooth landing with 12 hours on each aircraft we were all back safely in Clearwater in time for lunch. After emptying both aircraft of our considerable luggage, the four of us strolled back into the FBO, handed the keys over and told everyone in sight about flying down the Hudson River. An experience which none of us will forget.