FLYING Magazine

It is hard to imagine this old dog could learn a new trick or two, but it just happened.

On a route I’ve flown a zillion times, epiphany! Because of a painful, expensive, nine-week-long annual on our Beechcraft P-Baron in Florida, my family found itself in New Hampshire without a way home to Tampa, Florida (KTPA). I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.

Our rescue lab mix is an aggressive dog not welcome on the airlines, so Rocco has become accustomed to (spoiled by?) the wonders of general aviation. He’s traveled in a variety of excellent airplanes, including the Baron, a turboprop, and two jets. He’s made the trip in fine style in this manner. Yet our airplane was more than 1,000 miles away. We needed help on a route I’ve come to know intimately.


I called Tom deBrocke and asked if he’d pick us up in his twin Aerostar. “Sure,” he said. DeBrocke’s an airline captain, an airplane nut, and an instructor, but most importantly a good friend. He’s gone coast to coast to help me out before.

It is close to 1,100 nm from Tampa to Lebanon, New Hampshire, but I doubt anybody has flown this route more than I have. At first, it was a Cessna P210 with stops in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, or Lynchburg, Virginia, northeast bound, or sometimes Norfolk, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, heading the other way. The northeast trip averaged 6.3 hours, the southwest slog 7.4. Most recently, our Cessna Citation CJ1 could make the northeast-bound trip in less than three hours.

Since it had been more than 25 years since I had negotiated the northeast corridor in a piston airplane, I was full of questions about this trip in the normally aspirated Aerostar.

READ MORE: Master of Airplanes: Rocco Is One Lucky Lab, Indeed

Lesson No. 1: Aerostars are amazing. Tom had told me he planned to land in Salisbury, Maryland (KSBY), on the way up, but when I turned on FlightAware, I saw he had already overflown KSBY at 13,500 feet. So much normally aspirated. I scurried to the airport to meet him. He made the trip in 5 hours and 24 minutes. This pleased me as I was paying for the fuel.

“Almost like a transcon at the airline, but I still have an hour’s worth of gas left,” deBrocke said upon stretching his legs. He collected his bags and checked the airplane, showing no interest in using the bathroom. Waving a portable john alarmingly close to my nose, I was relieved to hear that Tom hadn’t needed it. We arranged for hangar space as rain was predicted.

Lesson No. 2: There is no hurry. Usually, I’m running around wanting everybody to hurry up so as to get to Florida while it is still light and avoid any thunderstorms. Tom showed no such urgency. By the time we drove to breakfast, borrowed the crew car so we could leave our car at home, and returned to the airport, it was almost 11 a.m. After careful loading, explaining to my wife, Cathy, how the emergency exit worked and getting Rocco settled, we taxied out, did a fastidious run-up and took off. There was no rush. Tom was completely at ease. Our destination was Elizabethtown, North Carolina (KEYF), where it was said we could get 110LL for $5 per gallon.

Lesson No. 3: Just ask. I already knew that you almost never get the routing recommended by ForeFlight in this part of the world. But I watched with interest as Tom worked to get us headed in the right direction while level at 8,000 feet. First, he secured direct to Hartford (KHFD), saving about two minutes. When told we had to fly out over Long Island to fixes 40 miles over the Atlantic Ocean, Tom keyed the mic and said, “Hey, Approach. Any chance we could cancel here and climb to 8,500 and go direct to Richmond (KRIC)?”

“IFR cancellation received. Climb VFR to 8,500, keep the squawk.” Just like that, we were flying directly over JFK with Manhattan out the window. I had never had the nerve.

Lesson No. 4: VFR has special responsibilities not evident while flying IFR in jets. Having flown IFR almost exclusively since 1975, I was only distantly familiar with sectionals, military operations areas (MOAs), and restricted areas. Sure enough, Philadelphia Approach was kind enough to suggest heading to KSBY then JAMIE to avoid a restricted area around Washington, D.C. Patuxent Approach confirmed this wisdom. From then on, I watched as Tom sought to confirm the ceiling of various warning areas, MOAs, and Class B airspace.

READ MORE: Learning (and Leaning) a New Airplane Is Always a Rich Experience

Lesson No. 5: Even the pros can miss something. As we started our VFR descent to KEYF, the AWOS announced winds favoring Runway 32. As we discussed how to enter the pattern, Fayetteville Approach asked if we were aware that all runways were closed at KEYF. What? No mention on the AWOS.

Not embarrassed, Tom said, “I must have missed that NOTAM, and it isn’t announced on the AWOS.”

“The closure is definitely in the NOTAMs. State your intentions,” came the rejoinder. “Standby,” said Tom. We quickly found Lumberton, North Carolina (KLBT), nearby with $5.50 gas. Though we could have entered the right base for Runway 31, Tom did the right thing. He overflew the airport and joined the left downwind. In no rush and at ease, he chirped her on.

“Oh, there’s the reason for the $5.50 gas,” said Tom, spotting a self-fueling spot. While Cathy and I walked the dog, Tom filled 114 gallons into three tanks via a choreography required to keep from tipping the airplane on its wing.

Only later did I look up KLBT on AirNav to see the full-serve and self-serve gas were both $5.50. When apprised of this, Tom didn’t miss a beat: “But I’m quicker.”

Lesson No. 6: It is so important to have really good friends. This is true, in general, but if you can find one who loves airplanes, that’s the best. I’ve been very lucky in this regard.

Gassed up and heading for home, we got the rest done IFR with an astoundingly favorable route. Tom had arranged for his Nissan Pathfinder to be on the Sheltair ramp, so unloading was easy.

Once all in the car, Tom drove us down to see our own long-lost Baron, snuggled in its hangar. As we swung back around to head for the exit gate, two line guys came roaring up in their golf cart: “Hey, you’re going the wrong way.” “Yeah,” said Tom. “This is the owner of 260 Alpha Romeo, and he just had to lay eyes on it.”

Ain’t that the truth.

This column first appeared in the December 2023/Issue 943 of FLYING’s print edition.

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