The Best Flying Vacations


In Brainteaser Quiz #210 we invited readers to share stories of their favorite aviation getaways, real or fantasy. Money was no object, because it wasn’t ours. And because fantasies can get a little weird, we’ve expunged all names that might link back to a non-pilot spouse or employer suddenly realizing why you get that faraway gaze whenever a Cub flies overhead bound for a misty sunset.

Bahamas and Points South of Miami

It must be the inevitable approach of winter or memories of past frozen hells that triggered many to dream of flying to not-so-lonesome islands scattered south of Miami. The Bahamas took top poll in this crowd; here, now, a sampling: Treasure Cay in the Abacos, Small Hope Bay and North Eleuthera, where the submitter said one could “boat over to Harbour Island; I love to explore the Bahama Islands. I have been to a number of them during my trips there. There are some excellent small hotels on Cat Island. Flying down the Exuma Chain is a most beautiful trip on a nice sunny day.” Are there anything but nice sunny days in the Bahamas?

A husband-and-wife pilot team reminds us to mind the paperwork while enjoying the sun: “Going to the great Bahama island of Bimini for spring break (no longer Spring Break, as we are both retired) has been a treat for 15 years. Going through Miami Center is sometimes an experience but OK. South Bimini has a great airport with easy customs and only a five-dollar cab/ferry ride to the north island. Even with an expanded ramp area, if you arrive Saturday, get there early as it fills up. Don’t forget E-APIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System). Bimini is still a laid-back wonderful island.”

Baltimore can be a bear in winter, so “Fourteen hangar flyers at the Suburban Airport southwest of Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) launched in a PA28R, a PA28-235 and a PA32 for the first trip to the Bahamas for all but one pilot. We left winter behind and stayed six days over New Year’s 1980 at the Rock Sound Club on Eleuthera. It was a perfect adventure. In fact, we had such a good time, we repeated a year later.”

Can’t please everyone with just cheeseburgers in paradise: “I took my wife, three children, and my mother-in-law from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (FLL) to the Bahamas in my Piper Lance on December 26, only to discover that Boxing Day is a holiday there, and everything was closed. To make matters worse, upon returning the rented life raft at Fort Lauderdale on the return trip, my youngest started to cry because, ‘We didn’t get to use it.’ “

“Landing at St. Bart’s in the Caribbean, although the Islanders (the airplane, not the locals) that fly there from St. Maarten will leave you deaf. The approach to land is worth the pain, however.”

“Puerto Rico is a great GA destination including the local islands.”

No one mentioned Cuba, even though at press time Fidel & Raul Enterprise LLC penned a deal to expand their Revolutionary Castroland theme park — renowned for its Che Waterslide — adjacent the suddenly trendy Bay o’ Pigs Phase II condominium subdivision. Not sure how much Disney is involved, but I smell a mouse.

Mexico picked up one vote for Baja Mexico Laguna San Ignacio (RCX) to “go pet the California Grey Whales in winter, especially in February and March.”

If you can’t stand the heat (or humidity), several readers suggested heading north to Hilton Head Island, S.C., although one pilot wasn’t so impressed: “I once flew into Hilton Head Island. The humidity killed me, so then I flew home.” Normally, it’s difficult to fly when dead, but that heat and humidity combo does funny things to a body.

Don Your Plaids and Explore the Northeast

Bar Harbor (pronounced “Bah Hahbah”), Maine, (KBHB) gleaned this plug: “Nice airport with good instrument approaches (ILS and LPV), which you do need sometimes. Beautiful place to fly with blue ocean, mountains, craggy granite coasts and lobster boats for scenery. The town is a bit touristy in the summer but a lot of fun. Early September is a great time to go.” If you’re reading this, it’s almost too late for 2015.

I assumed this entry was from The Donald, who’s been vacationing at the Iowa State Fair and needed a getaway: “Flew with The Wife for a romantic dinner from Linden, N.J., (LDJ) to Glenmere Manor, a Tuscan manor in Chester, N.Y., in the lower Hudson Valley in a helicopter, landed on their front lawn …” and then I knew it wasn’t Trump just getting over a bad hair day at the fair when he said, “… making all the rich people jealous. Ate a romantic dinner and flew back. All in three hours. Very good wedding anniversary present!”

Further west, another hotel gleaned a mention: “The Beaumont Hotel (07S) east of Wichita, Kan., is one of my favorite spots to go. The coolness factor is enhanced by landing on their turf strip, taxiing up Main Street past the old railroad wooden water tower and parking in the grass in the Bent Prop parking lot across from the hotel. Great food, charming hotel and friendly staff.”

Back in the Northeast, this pilot fell in love with old Cape Cod: “I would like to fly to Hyannis airport on Cape Cod (KHYA), Mass., in a Cessna 175 Skylark with a Continental O-470 engine and a constant-speed prop. My family lives on the Cape, and I grew up there.” He gained extra points for making the trip in a fairly obscure and under-loved old Cessna.

This pilot had no affection for security restrictions surrounding Martha’s Vineyard during the president’s August vacation: “What a godawful aviation economy killer this is, as well as a serious cramp to good recreational flying. Why does it (the TFR) have to be a 30-mile ring? What would be wrong with three miles like the VP gets? And just because our Rhode Island airport, Newport State (KUUU), has a notch in the ring to accommodate us, you had better be flying half-sized, crammed in tighter-than-tight-Paul-Bertorelli’s-Cub patterns to have any chance of not busting the TFR.” For those unfamiliar with Paul Bertorelli’s video on inappropriate traffic pattern dimensions, click here.

And speaking of politicians killing general aviation, this pilot waxes mournful over what once was: “The night VFR arrival into the now defunct Chicago Meigs airport was always my favorite.” Close your eyes and you’ll hear the faint echo of Taps being played.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Mackinac Island, Mich. picked up a pair of endorsements, with this comment from one: “Fly in and take a horse-drawn taxi to town … (the) island is a spectacular destination. The hotels and B&Bs there are very nice. It’s like a trip back in time … very relaxing!” Not sure I’d use an exclamation point to emphasize the relaxation factor, but there you go! (See? Not relaxing!)

Sometimes it’s good to know that your destinations will always have like-minded pilots who appreciate your airplane choice: “Cessna Pilots Society ( has an annual get-together (GTG) every summer somewhere in North America. I’ve attended the last three GTGs in McMinnville, Ore., (2013), Charlottesville, Va., (2014) and Loveland, Colo., (2015). Face time with forum friends and a wonderful opportunity to see different parts of our great country.”

Somewhere West of Laramie

Readers took us further west and way up north with suggestions reaching as far as Upper Trail Lake, Moose Pass, Alaska, and a pair of destinations in Oregon: “Sunriver, Ore., (S21) is purported to be the busiest private airport west of the Mississippi. Certainly one of the friendliest.”

The other gem at the end of the Oregon Trail is Astoria (KAST), where “getting there is at least half the fun — up the west coast from Camarillo, Calif., taking our time. Stayed at the old hotel downtown.” We can only guess what the other half of the fun was … Oh, c’mon, you were thinking the same thing.

If you’re on the West Coast, you might as well head southeast to Sedona. Ariz. “Our visit was in our C-172 while on a trip from North Carolina to California. As a former hang-glider pilot, I enjoyed watching a hang glider land and clear the runway as we approached. We stayed in a very nice motel a short walk from the airport. The landscaping with cacti and other desert plants was gorgeous. Our serviceable little rental car cost $20 a day. Breakfast at the airport restaurant was delicious. And Sedona is a very beautiful, artsy town with great food and free thinkers. Perfect.”

Sedona’s artsy lure continues: “Sedona, Ariz., is a special aerial destination. The airport sits on top of a red rock butte, looking like an aircraft-carrier deck. It is surrounded by magnificent red rock formations that can distract a pilot if not careful. Focus, and remember that you can take your own personal tour of the scenery during your stay or on departure like we did.”

Here, now, two Marbles you might be missing:
Marble Canyon, Ariz., along the Colorado River; and Marble, Colo., “a grass strip in a high mountain canyon south of Eagle. I’ve been in there many times in my hot-rod Cessna P172D. Beautiful place!”

Colorado accolades continued: “We had an amazing vacation flying around Colorado, including Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Cortez, and Eagle. I carefully planned the trip so that we would never encounter terrain higher than 10,000 feet therefore we never needed to be higher than 12,500 feet. Although this resulted in some significant course deviations, the terrain was incredibly beautiful. No one cared that it took longer. We only flew early in the morning to avoid afternoon thermals and weather.” Good plan, that.

Travels continue north through the western states, where several readers recommended camping in Idaho and one pilot reported she liked to fly from St. Cloud Regional (STC) in Minnesota to Cut Bank International Airport, Cut Bank (CTB) in Montana to vacation in Glacier National Park.

Many flying vacations pass through Oshkosh, Wis., for the EAA’s annual Embrace The Thunderstorms fly-in, with this Canadian entrant flying from Pitt Meadow, B.C., Canada, (CYPK) to Oshkosh “every three years or so. One or two overnight stops — two is best — planning to arrive at Whitman Field in the morning when fresh as a daisy.” And then notes that “Montana is a big state!” Big sky, too, and it’s all even bigger on the return trip, when the vacation’s over …

“Oshkosh was the best!” added another pilot, bedazzled by rows of P-51s and porta-poties shimmering in the noonday heat. “We had never been and flying our Cessna Hawk XP from Cape Cod was a terrific adventure. My partner walked in the entrance gate, turned to me and asked, “Is heaven like this?” Possibly, but less humid and more beer.

And, while readers praised the Oshkosh sense of aerial community and camaraderie, one respondent suggested that more discriminating pilots might visit the Antique Airplane Association’s headquarters at Antique Airfield (IA27) outside Blakesburg, Iowa, particularly during its annual Labor Day fly-in. Few Mustangs or B-52s on display, but on the upside “no CAP cadets, no FAA; instead, camp beneath the wings of 300 antiques (Tri-Motors, Wacos, Stearmans …) and hangar-fly in one helluva great bar (Pilots Pub) on the field.”

Pilots Pub

Photo courtesy of Brent Taylor Productions

And here’s a suggestion from Jake Hollow’s ghost: “Ailerona, Iowa, (IA66) — Aeronca Champ flying off a 2000-foot grass strip amid corn so tall TSA couldn’t find it using all of China’s spy satellites. Leave reality behind and use your imagination.”

Have time to spare on a vacation by air but can’t afford your own Corsair? Consider enlisting in the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). “For the past 30 years I have been a volunteer with the Commemorative Air Force. You get to ride in warbirds, and attend air shows all over the USA at no personal cost other than the time you spend selling t-shirts, hats and warbird rides to those who will give more money for a few minutes of fun. This is how the CAF keeps ’em flying. In 30 years, and about a dozen events per year, that’s almost a free airshow per years’ worth of days. Priceless.” Doug Rozendaal will probably verify this.

Runners Up

Another ghost trail, this one in the spirit of Antoine de Saint-Exupry: “Would like to re-create some of the Andean routes flown by mail-plane pilots in the 1920s.” Classy.

One reader shared a dream of flying in New Zealand, noting, “It’s as far south as you can go, but only visit in the Austral Summer.”

Not all goes as planned: “Took a friend for a ride to take some pictures; we hit a few bumps and he vomited all over me.” Now, if that’s doesn’t say “flying family vacation fun,” nothing does.

And The Winner Is

“A tour above all of the nude beaches on the West Coast …” (wait, there’s more) “… using the autopilot for safety!”

Yes, aero-campers, it’s “safety first” on the Brainteaser Fantasy Vacation Tours, where clothing is always optional. Just remember to pack the sunscreen and the GoPro, and then send the kids to Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp (UCSC) as you follow wherever your wings decide to carry you. Take plenty of selfies and write when you find words.