New York to Florida in a Remos LSA
By Gregory Lettieri, for Light Plane World
I am a sport pilot instructor for Mid Island Flight School in New York, and I recently completed a flight from New York to the Florida Keys in a Remos GX light-sport aircraft. Obsessed with flying ever since I could walk, I had my eyes set on becoming an airline pilot. Achieving my pilot certificate in high school, and getting my instrument rating a year later, I was well on my way toward my goal. Obstacles were a commercial certificate and about 1,000 hours of flight time.
I planned to build that time flight-instructing. Then came the idea of flying to Key West, a place where I'd frequently flown to on my flight simulator and my ideal vacation of palm trees and Caribbean blue waters. A destination 1,100 nautical miles (NMs) from New York would provide a hefty amount of flight time for my further certificates. Not only was I working on building flight time for my commercial certificate, but I was also completing my 250-NM cross-country, along with my 150 miles/day and 150 miles/night cross-country requirements—all while flying in the right seat! Yes, that's right. On this trip I was also working on getting my sport pilot flight instructor certificate. There was so much to cover in one flight, but in all fairness we certainly had the time. With a torturous average ground speed of about 85 knots due to headwinds (we expected 110 knots), our journey would take approximately 13 hours one way to Key West.
My instructor and I would be flying the Remos GX, an all-carbon-fiber light-sport aircraft powered by a Rotax 912 ULS engine with 95 hp. The aircraft was part of the Mid Island flight school fleet based out of Islip MacArthur Airport in New York. The school owned two of these German-made aircraft; however the one we took didn't have the luxury of dual multifunction displays and autopilot that the other had. Instead we had just one multifunction display and no autopilot. We would be hand-flying this baby for the entire 25-hour flight. Onboard we also had a Garmin 496 GPS and a Garmin 396 GPS, equipped with weather and temporary flight restrictions.
View of the Remos cockpit
The morning of departure, after impatiently waiting to get out of my morning classes, I made a run for the airport where I'd meet the one and only Gold Seal CFI David Jensen for the journey. A friend and source of my early flight training, Dave became my aeronautical mentor. Departing Brookhaven Airport, we lined up for runway 24, and while gradually advancing the throttle to full power, we said, "Let's do it. Here we go, next stop Key West." We lifted off into the blue, heading south from the frigid air of New York to the tropical paradise of Key West, Florida.
Fresh off solid ground we expected our first fuel stop to be in Norfolk, Virginia, so we plugged it into the GPS and followed the magical magenta line. Shortly after takeoff, we began to feel a continuous pain in our lower backs. This we were soon to realize would happen after the initial 30 minutes of flight. Due to the way the seats were designed, our backs were put through rigorous strain throughout most of the flight. By the end of the flight, it seemed to be the only design flaw to the Remos GX. Our first leg brought us to Norfolk, Virginia, where we made a pit stop for fuel and took off into the dusk.
Weather clearing up at Norfolk
The sun was setting as we were heading into the Carolinas. Cruising at about 6,500 feet and in clear skies, we were able to watch second by second the sun slowly descending over the horizon. What a magnificent sight it was. As darkness started to set in, we turned on all the lights the Remos had to offer; thankfully the plane is night certificated. Cruising over North Carolina, we noticed something peculiar going on with the oil pressure indication. It rapidly would fluctuate between 2.5 psi and 5.5 psi, which were the lower and upper ends of the spectrum, occasionally peaking into the caution zone. Seeing Dave become somewhat concerned with the situation, I immediately perked up and mentally reviewed engine-out procedures and what we would do if the situation were to escalate. Flying at night and not being familiar with the area, we thought an engine issue now was a cause for alarm. For the rest of the flight we were cautious and watched the instruments closely, while monitoring airports nearby where we could land in case it got worse. We were in for a stressful night. To make matters worse, we noticed a strand of thunderstorms over the Appalachian Mountains moving eastward; even though they were a few hours away, we figured we'd spend the night at our next fuel stop. That came to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, not too bad to stay for just a fuel stop. After 6 hours of flying and an hour of closely monitoring our instruments, we were due for some shut-eye.
Clouds over Florida
Waking up with barely any sleep from Dave's incredibly unbearable snoring, I looked out the window and my heart sank. I laid my eyes upon the dreary skyline of low clouds and rain. While eating our continental breakfast at the hotel, we whipped out our iPads and iPhones and brought up every piece of weather information our devices could muster. Even though the airport was still IFR we headed out to Myrtle Beach International, and by the time we got there, the weather miraculously was clearing up and the clouds were burning off. Escaping Myrtle Beach's gloomy weather, we were off once again. Fighting with our ground speed, we were at full throttle going about 90 knots now. Cruising over the Atlantic coast, we broke out our Gleim workbooks, and Dave started to quiz me on the flight instructor aeronautical questions. After an hour of quizzing, we slowly drifted off into a quiet calmness with the soothing hymn from the engine. Realizing we had a 67-knot ground speed, I figured to myself that my grandmother could walk faster going backwards, and so we thought it would be prudent to try a lower altitude. So we brought the aircraft down to about 1,000 feet over the shores of the Carolinas, buzzing the beaches. It felt like I was home again flying over the beaches of the Hamptons. Making a tradeoff of speed for comfort, flying at this altitude increased our speed to about 95 knots but at a discomforting price. Turbulence! Between the seats, and now this turbulence — this was becoming one hell of a flight. I could tolerate a few bumps knowing that we were going 30 knots faster. Coming up to Jacksonville, Florida, we passed two submarines sailing by with an armada of naval vessels escorting them, one of our many intriguing views along the flight. Approaching our fuel limit, we set her down in St. Augustine, Florida, for another fuel pit stop. After settling the bill with the FBO we were off once again. This time it didn't feel right; I knew something was missing. I knew I left something behind. Oh yes, of course, my Oakley sunglasses. How could I be flying in the Sunshine State without sunglasses? The sun's glare can obstruct my view of the bikinis while in Miami and Key West, and it also hurts my eyes while flying. But no biggie — the Remos has sunshades in which I used thoroughly throughout the rest of the flight.
The shores of Miami, Florida
We were now on our way to Miami, where I planned to go to the infamous neon lights of South Beach. Making our way down the coast, we cruised at about 8,500 feet dodging the puffy cotton cumulus clouds all the way to Miami. Approaching the Class Bravo airspace, we began our sequencing into Opa Lockla International Airport (a large general aviation/corporate jet airport a few miles north of Miami International). Coming into the FBO we realized we were without a doubt the smallest aircraft there. Getting out of our trusty light-sport aircraft, I looked around and felt like high-roller parking next to a few Gulfstreams and Boeing business jets. We got ourselves a rental car and blindly headed to the nearest hotel according to our iPhones. Exhausted from 5 long hours of flying we had enough traveling for the day and mutually agreed to spend the night in this peculiar hotel. We freshened up in our room and headed to the great South Beach of Miami. Between the people, the music, the palm trees, and the lights, in general the atmosphere down in Miami was incredible and mesmerizing. One of the best nights ever, until we got back to the hotel room, where I found myself restlessly trying to sleep with my aviation headsets on to help win the battle against Dave's wretched snoring.
Key West International Airport
After waking up whenever our bodies told us we should wake up, we headed to the airport and casually began the hour-long journey down to our ultimate destination. From the night before, that Key West vacation frame of mind had already settled in. Upon our takeoff from Miami, ATC had directed us east, then south, to clear the Bravo airspace, bringing us over South Beach. What a view it was—flying over the beaches of Miami with the whole strip of hotels. What a change this was from the skyline of New York City and the beaches of Long Island. I was an ocean lifeguard in Westhampton Beach, New York, and I have a great passion and appreciation for the ocean. Seeing the gorgeous light-blue waters of Miami, I couldn't help but periodically say, "Oh, my God!" This quickly stopped after Dave would panic and think the wings were falling off every time I said it. And so on we continued down south, following the Keys all the way. While flying, we couldn't help but notice how many times the water changed color, from light green to blue to murky beige. Once the water became a beautiful turquoise (like the Caribbean) we knew we were close. Out of the corner of my eye, an F-15 Eagle came shooting by us from behind at about 15,000 feet. All I thought was, "Welcome to Key West." From my flight simulation days, I knew there was a naval air station right next to Key West International Airport, the F-15's most likely destination. After transitioning through the Naval Class D airspace, we were soon joining the traffic pattern at Key West International Airport. Getting out of the plane and looking around me, taking in the scenery, I felt a great deal of self-accomplishment. It felt surreal, and that I was dreaming still. I made those dreams into a reality.
Greg and Dave in Key West
We spent two days in Key West, taking in the sun, jet-skiing around the whole island, snorkeling on the coral reefs, and kayaking around some isolated islands. Unfortunately our responsibilities were waiting for us back in New York, including a flight instructor checkride due for me. We woke up at the crack of dawn, and we were at the airport and wheels up by 5 a.m. We made our way back to Long Island in one day, with fuel stops in Daytona Beach, Florida; Charleston, North Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia. On the journey back we lucked out with clear blue skies the entire way with a slight tailwind. We arrived back at Brookhaven Airport about 8 p.m. which concluded our 25.1-hour adventure flight.
Straight GPS plot of the return trip to New York