FLYING Magazine

Have you ever been a passenger in a private jet? Imagine sweeping up those stairs and finding just the perfect seat in the back. As you fasten your seat belt you hear the clunk of the door as it is secured. You note that the first officer has checked the locking pins. Drinks, anyone?

I’ve been a lucky passenger on five such flights, and I have found them to be exciting and fun, but frustrating. The first was the most impressive. At dinner one night many years ago I offered how I was flying commercially from Tampa, Florida, to Chicago the next day. My dinner guests said they were too—only they were chartering a jet. Would I like to join them? Well, OK. I promised to bring sandwiches for lunch as partial (miniscule) compensation.

The next morning I arrived an hour early, loaded with expectations and roast beef sandwiches. I watched as the crew prepared the Challenger 604. There was a stain on one of the leather seats. The first officer arranged a blanket in an artful manner that hid the stain. Soon my friends arrived, the door was closed, and we started up. I sat as far forward as possible on a sideways-facing seat to get a glimpse of the cockpit.

Before I could stow the sandwiches, we were out of 6,000 feet msl and climbing. I spent the next two hours kneeling between the two pilots and occasionally making a big deal out of serving sandwiches to my hosts. I did not split my time evenly, and my behavior is best described as rude. I think they had to clean up the sandwich wrappers themselves. All too soon we were on the arrival into Chicago Midway (KMDW). My hosts wanted to know if I would like to join them in the limousine into town. Sure, I answered. Big mistake.

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Straining against the seat belt, I watched as we landed and taxied in. The crew shut down, opened the door, and got the luggage. Handshakes all around. And then an unexpected disappointment: We got in the limo and turned onto the grimy streets of the South Side of Chicago. There was no time to linger. No time to put the pitot covers on, no time to savor the magnificence of flying 900 nm in a morning in absolute comfort at FL 380. I sat in the limo, straining again against the seat belt, looking forlornly out the back window as the FBO and my friends’ many thousands of dollars disappeared into the gloom. Wow.

A few years later the same benefactors offered my wife, Cathy, and I a flight from White Plains, New York, to Tampa. This trip was in a Beechjet, so the magnificent stairs thing wasn’t happening, but the airplane was plenty roomy, and I got that seat that allows for cockpit survey. I was glued to the flight deck and let Cathy handle the niceties of polite conversation. Did I notice low fuel lights? I was too naive then to know what they might look like.

Speaking of naive, I was totally out of it when John and Martha King (yes, John and Martha—you read that right) offered us a ride in their Falcon 10 from Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB), to Tampa (KTPA) with a stop in Savannah, Georgia (KSAV). Oh, do I wish I had been typed in that airplane, or any jet, when we took that flight. It was just as you have seen in their videos—except no one was taping the trip. Their interactions were textbook. Their generosity was overwhelming. I still remember arriving at KTPA, taxing into our home base. Yes, I’m with J&M, everybody.

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The latest (and greatest, so far) was the shortest. John Raskai took nine of us in his Embraer Phenom 300 from Tampa to Savannah to visit the Gulfstream factory. That’s right, there were 10 of us in total. The Phenom has seven seats, a belted lavatory, and two pilot positions up front.

Raskai is a story in his own right. Newly married out of high school and driving a delivery truck, his is the quintessential American dream that now has him flying his own Phenom. I had never met him, yet here he was, taking us to Georgia. This is the kind of unreal generosity that seems not unusual among self-made jet owner-operators. I’ve benefited from it before.

After introductions all around, we boarded. There was no rush. John and his copilot, Christophe, had flown together before. We were like school children on a field trip. Everyone in the back was a pilot—most were high time ATPs. Raskai’s flying skills were about to be scrutinized by 100,000 collective hours of flight time.

Door closed and locked, I could hear the welcome litany of the checklist—in a French accent. Engine start was at 9:09 a.m. We took to Runway 1R at KTPA at 9:16 a.m. With 10 souls on board and 2,700 pounds of jet-A, we were still 2,000 pounds below MTOW and scheduled to land with a comfortable 1,300 pounds of fuel.

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The next few seconds were unlike any acceleration I had ever experienced. We were airborne in seconds. ForeFlight showed climb rates of up to 5,000 fpm. Rocket. As impressive as the jet was, the piloting was seamless. From the back I could see a knob turned (altitude preselect?), a button pushed (I’m guessing Flight Level Change), and then the gentle application of power until our deck angle had to be 20 degrees nose up. Our landing in Savannah on Runway 10 was smooth and right on the aiming point, allowing us to make the turnoff leading directly to the FBO. Pro all the way.

Our flight home left me staring out the window at a vivid sunset, thinking about airplanes and the people drawn to them. Everybody in that aircraft is romantic about them, and every one of them has been amazingly generous to me. We were treated to an instrument landing at KTPA. The light rain made the landing even sweeter. When we taxied in and shut down, I was suffused with a sense of well-being. I just sat there until everybody else had deplaned. Then I helped Raskai reset the seat belts the way any jet owner will understand—just so.

I was the last man out of the airplane, but nobody was in a hurry to leave. We hung around and watched John put on the pitot covers, stood around awkwardly, then reluctantly said goodbye.

This column first appeared in the April 2024/Issue 947 of FLYING’s print edition.

The post Riding in the Back of Some Nice Private Jets appeared first on FLYING Magazine.

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