I flew with Flying Academy in Miami in July 2017 and in Corona, California in January 2018, flying for 65 hours in total. First off, Flying Academy is a very professional flight school with an undeniable family atmosphere: Lina María, Sandy and Natasha in Miami and Theary, Felicia and Matthew in Corona do a fantastic job at helping you out with every single issue or question you might have so far as the flight schedule itself but also the accommodation, transportation, paperwork for the validation of your foreign-based license, arranging the necessary meeting with the FAA agent and the list goes on. In both locations, I stayed at a school accommodation and rented one of their scooters. Their houses are modern and well-equipped and you share them with other pilots from the whole world.
This is literally an international experience and you are constantly immersed in aviation, there’s definitely a camaraderie spirit going on. I have made a lot of friends in the end.
Regarding the flying itself, the USA is a breathtaking environment. Landscapes range from paradise islands like the Keys, gorgeous beaches or fantastic national parks like the Everglades in Florida to magnificent snowy mountains, large freshwater lakes and arid deserts in California. I mostly flew on the Cessna 152, which turned out to be a most trusty steed, never let me down in all of the aforementioned climates. The USA has an extensive ATC coverage and when flying VFR you can always ask for flight following, a service providing the pilot with traffic advisory, basic guidance and vectoring, and any information deemed necessary for a safe flight. The US controllers are friendly and understanding people even in a heavy workload, and you get cleared through Bravo airspace in no time. But of course, before flying solo, you must take a few hours of flight instruction to get used to the American procedures and communications.
The CFIs at Flying Academy are very kind and professional and make you feel confident with your new environment.
Mark, Luis, and Danny in Miami and Mark in Corona, hats off to you guys!
In Florida I flew to Orlando, admiring the immensity of the Everglades, one of the largest swamps on Earth and packed with alligators, to Marco Island and its sandy beaches and resorts on the southwest coast or even to Vero Beach on the east coast where I once had to stay the night due to severe thunderstorms in Miami. Florida is indeed a fantastic place to fly but you always have to watch out for convective weather and thunderstorms especially in summer, since they can build up quite rapidly.
I also flew right along the coastline from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and was cleared by ATC to transition at 600 ft above the sea just under the flight path of the airliners departing Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale.
This would be impossible and frowned upon back in good old Europe. What an incredible experience! Special mention goes to The Keys, a marvelous archipelago off the southern coast of Florida, with its crystal clear and shark-infested waters (yes you can spot them from the plane), which are a must-see when you are in Florida.
During one of my flights there, shortly after departing Key West International, I was vectored by the ATC and passed just a stone’s throw away from four F-16 fighters practicing maneuvers. Unbelievable! Welcome to America!
In California, the landscape radically changes from flat-and-level Florida and I understood the true meaning of mountain flying. There are a lot of mountain ranges there, with some summits rising up to over 14000 ft AMSL!
You can even see snow-covered pines and peaceful natural lakes at the top while just behind them lay vast stretches of arid desert. Breathtaking!
Among my many flights, I went to San Diego municipal airport, which is just a couple of meters from the Mexican border, or to Agua Caliente, a small airfield right in the middle of the desert surrounded by mountains.
After I landed there, I took some time to stretch my legs in the desert sand, listening to the sound…of silence. Never in my whole life had I experienced this: not a single sound whatsoever. No wind. No city noises. Nothing!
My ears felt totally weird not picking up any sound in such an empty vastness, it was surreal. Not to mention the magnificent lunar landscape between Los Angeles and Agua Caliente: it felt like being on another planet. Did my GPS just go completely nuts and get me a few light years off my route? I wondered… Another day I flew to downtown Los Angeles at just 1000 ft AGL, landing at John Wayne Airport squeezing between two Boeing 737 and then over beautiful Newport Beach down to Dana Point.
I went to Las Vegas as well: after hours of crossing mountains, empty deserts, dry lakes, and mountains again, there it was!
Sin City, materializing out of nowhere, like an oasis in the desert. I spent the night there, enjoying all the insanity only this city can offer. The day after was my big day, the pinnacle of my whole trip. I had planned a flight from Vegas to the Grand Canyon and then back to Los Angeles, with 3 intermediary stops for refueling. Three States to cross Nevada, Arizona, and California. Quite an adventure, especially when flying alone on a Cessna 152 in a forsaken and desert wilderness. Well, I had my ATC friends to help me out in case something went south but with the high terrain, they sometimes lost radar and radio contact with my aircraft.
This was the most intense and incredible flight of my life: you really learn to plan ahead, to make decisions and to stay focused for a long time because in the desert you’re basically on your own.
As a conclusion, I strongly recommend flying in the USA to any pilot craving new adventures and challenges. Flying Academy is the perfect opportunity for this: I naively thought I would meet business people but instead I met friends. Furthermore, at Flying Academy Miami, nearly everybody speaks fluently English AND Spanish so if Spanish is your native language: fear not, you’re in good hands! Y créanme, son súper chéveres de verdad!
One massive thanks to you all guys: Lina María, Theary, Sandy, Felicia, Natasha, Mark R., Mark S., Luis, Matthew, Danny and staff, you helped me fly harder, better, faster, stronger.
I hope we’ll meet again soon cruising over the Atlantic at some 35000 ft. I’ll key my mic for you anytime.