Flying Offshore

For whatever reason, as a pilot flies farther away from land over the water or other inhospitable terrain, the engine(s) run rough.  There is no factual or statistical evidence of this phenomenon, but there is plenty of emotional, anecdotal information.

Much needs to be considered before taking on such a flight; a pilot needs to evaluate the risks, there needs to be an inventory of all of the required equipment, the crew needs to be trained in water survival, and it goes without saying the route and weather needs analysis.

Whenever a pilot considers flying over any expanse of water, he or she must absolutely know the airplane goes beyond airworthy and is in fact, trustworthy.  Flying over water, particularly away from the sight of land, is often unsettling for many pilots.

There are other things to keep in mind when planning an over-water flight.  For one, altitude.  It is best to fly as high as possible.  This allows for easier visual navigation; from higher altitudes, a pilot can see island checkpoints more easily as opposed to flying lower.

One more advantage about flying at higher altitudes is time, when it comes to dealing with engine failures.  Unless you are near an island when the engine fails, more than likely the flight will terminate in the drink.

When it comes to setting best glide, forget it.  The speed you should use if you know you are going into the water is minimum sink.  It is unpublished; the aircraft manufacturers don’t like to advertise this V-speed because it is nearer to stall speed and they are afraid aircraft owners and pilots may stall and crash while trying to maneuver to landing.

To explain this speed briefly, “min sink” is the speed at which the glide produces the lowest rate of  descent and the airplane will stay in the air the longest period of time.  This is useful for radioing the authorities let them know what is happening and more importantly, where it is happening.

For VFR navigation, one technique for finding islands at sea is to look for cumulus clouds.  On an open, calm sea, clouds form over islands where there is lifting action.  A pilot can typically see these clouds from as far as 75 to 100 nautical miles away.  This makes navigation a piece of cake.

Another important thing to remember about flying at sea is this: no night VFR.  Most counties in the world do not allow night VFR operations.  Flying at night over the open ocean requires instrument skills and experience.  In the Caribbean, their regulations require an IFR flight plan for flying after sunset.

Many pilots agree nighttime nautical flying is some of the most challenging operations they have attempted.  At sea, there are no lights on the surface, allowing little for orientation.  On a night with a new moon coupled with a high, overcast layer, there is no horizon–even if the reported visibility is more than 100 miles.

During the day, landing is easy, as is navigation.  At night, however, again, instrument technique and procedures are a requirement.  If operating in the islands after dark, file IFR, tune and identify all navaids, and do not deviate from the approved approach procedure.  Use nighttime landing techniques to get on the ground.

Most pilots from the U.S. will get their experience flying over open water by going to and from the Bahamas.  Maybe they might venture to other islands in the Caribbean.  In addition to all the other precautions for island hopping, you should also keep security in mind.  Remember, the drug wars are real and drug runners play for keeps.

And the sons and daughters of the Caribbean pirates still ply their trade on the high seas and in the skies.


©2011 J. Clark

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