I just returned from a trip through the US and would like to share a few bits and pieces from some interesting flights – even in Northern America, it doesn’t always have to be Airbus or Boeing!





Part 1: Las Vegas - Hawthorne | Boutique Air | Pilatus PC-12



This report starts in Vegas. After having been to a concert the night before (Garth Brooks’ live show is something you *must* see when in town!) it was now time to head on to L.A. When I looked around for flights just a week earlier, I spotted a strange new carrier in the list of offers. Their name “Boutique Air” sounded pretty promising, and when I found out that they fly a PC-12, I was hooked! I did some lengthy research on the web but couldn’t find too much about them (except for a nice-looking website) – but the opportunity seemed too good to be missed, and so I gave it a chance and booked.


GPS-Track: [url]http://de.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=5635545[/url]



The one-way fare was 149US, which at that short notice was only about 20 bucks over the big airlines’ offers. Take baggage charges into the equation and they’re about on par. However, on top of that, Boutique Air was departing from the FBO (Business Aviation terminal), meaning you could skip check-in and security lines and show up just 20 minutes before departure. Sure worth the extra money! Flying in a PC-12 was the icing on the cake: Built in my home country, this sturdy yet efficient turboprop has proved very popular around the globe. Over 1200 airframes (and growing) have been built and are used by customers like the RCMP in Canada, the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia and Air Forces and Governments from about a dozen countries. However, they're pretty hard to log on an "airline" flight - and while I'd been on a PC-12 joyride a couple years ago, this was the perfect opportunity to fill this void.



Thanks to the absence of any preflight hassles, I got to check out late and start the the day with a leisurely stroll up the strip and to the Atlatic Aviation terminal, located in the northwest corner of Las Vegas’ airport…




When I got to Atlantic about 40 minutes prior to departure, there was a bit of confusion first. No one really knew much about the ‘airline’ I was looking for, only the reg of the PC-12 was remotely familiar. A great start! However, it got much better soon, as I was quickly escorted out on the tarmac to check if the pilot of the PC-12 was there…




He wasn’t, and so I was told to wait back in the lobby – looks a bit fancier than the regular airline terminal too!




During the next 20 minutes, more and more passengers assembled – all of them had already flown in on the same company a few days prior and obviously knew better where to wait.

Once everyone was ready we were met by Michael, our pilot, and quickly escorted out onto the biz ramp and to the company’s (only, I believe) Pilatus PC-12. Haven’t seen a pilot carrying passengers’ bags in a long time!




N471SS is ready for boarding! This PC-12/47 was built in 2006 and obviously spent some time in South Africa first, before being ferried back to the US in 2012, routing via Nigeria, Spain and Greenland (in just 37 hours!). A few pictures from the ferry flight can be found here by the way: [url]http://forums.jetcareers.com/threads/ferry-flight-pc12-south-africa-to-new-jersey.148487/[/url]




The cabin looked very inviting, and a very welcome change to the usual airline seating! Seats recline quite a bit. The only downside is that the two front rows face each other, leaving people seated in these two rows with very limited legroom.




However, with this view, I didn’t care too much about legroom!




We then had to make the looooong taxi to the other end of the airport, joining the queue for 25R. Most of the time the PC-12 is allowed to use the north/south runway right in front of the biz-jet apron however, which is much more convenient.








Right there I couldn’t help pointing my tongue at the big guys down below :D




Bye bye, Vegas Strip! (you can also see the bizjet apron plus the Janet/Area 51 planes behind the two runways)




For someone whose country’s mostly covered in lush green (and some snow white), looking down on the ‘desert’ is sure an impressive thing!




As we flew out of the city limits and climbed to our cruise altitude of 20’000ft, the scenery got even nicer!




During boarding I’d asked about sitting on the co-pilot’s seat. However, as Michael, the company’s primary pilot, felt a bit tired after a long day of flying before, he brought along another colleague to support him (really commendable!). Thus, for once, it wasn’t single pilot operation and no room for me to sit.




However, both pilots were more than happy to welcome me up front during cruise, and telling them I was from the same country as their plane quickly broke the ice. An inflight cockpit visit in the US in 2013 – what a joy!




We kept chatting for the whole cruise, and Michael revealed how much he loved the PC-12 and the Swiss quality engineering behind it – which is always a pleasure to hear! Way too soon the descent was initiated. Here we’re already descending through FL180 again, with another 100 nm or 36 minutes to go




The pilot also told me how he personally soundproofed the whole plane (it was indeed extremely quiet), and also about the advanced avionics they installed. Seems they really love their PC-12 and keep it in top shape! To finish off, he quickly showed me some of the fancy functions in their GPS. Here’s the VCALC one for example: Instructed to be leveled at 12’000 by DAWNA by ATC, they just had to select a desired rate of descent (1500fpm here) and it tells you exactly when to descend or what VS would be required if you descended right now (in green). Impressive to see some airliner technology in this GA airplane!


Just as impressive is the fuel economy: The PC-12 used just 580lbs (260kg) for the flight - that's the same amount a B737 uses for a 20-minute taxi! In comparison, the fuel used by a 737 flying the same route (without any reserves) would be about 5500lbs (2500kg).

(yes, of course, when you break it down to fuel used per passenger, you use only about half of the PC12's amount in a full 738).





Unfortunately, proceeding with out descent also meant that I had to return to my seat. Which I didn’t mind too much – I was still in a PC-12, and the views weren’t too bad either! Here we’re crossing the Rim of the World Highway (sparking great memories of an earlier roadtrip) and descending into the Los Angeles basin – or at least I hope it’s called that.




From here on, it was a never-ending sprawl of houses from San Bernardino all the way to the coast!




Then again, the whole Greater L.A. Area houses twice as many people as my whole country – that’s insane!





After a kind-of parallel approach with a United widebody and a Southwest 737 heading for LAX, we set course for the smaller Hawthorne Airport about three miles southeast. According to our pilots, the company uses both LAX and Hawthorne, and just flies to whichever seems quicker at that time. Of course, we were informed of this before departure, and a shuttle bus to LAX had already been organized. Here we’re already on finals, crossing over the Harbor Freeway, with a trace of the skyline visible in the distance…




Right before touchdown (with a speed just shy of 90kts) – good thing we didn’t have to stop on red!




While our bags are being unloaded, I grab a quick shot of the beautiful Swiss lady!




And only a couple minutes after setting the parking brake, we’re already through the doors of the tiny terminal. Unfortunately, due to some misunderstanding, the shuttle wasn’t waiting there, and didn’t arrive within the next 20 minutes either (which killed much of the time advantage). We finally ended up flagging down a taxi ourselves.




Apart from this (and a few other minor glitches) it was a fantastic experience, and everyone on board (the flight was fully booked) said they would prefer this over the airlines anytime. Saving the hassle of check-in and security queues, a short boarding deadline and the comfort of the PC-12 are sure worth some extra bucks. Plus, every person of the company I got in touch with was extremely helpful and passionate about aviation – just how it should be! Both my praise and criticism were taken seriously and dealt with immediately.


The one downside? That those flights aren’t scheduled yet! Apparently they’re just testing the market at the moment, and only offer flights whenever the big airlines can’t cope with the demand. Apart from that, the PC-12 is used for charters and business seems to be quite good. Their scheduled flights do show up in the popular booking systems (I stumbled over it on Kayak and booked it on Expedia, as their own website didn’t like my credit card), so just watch out for them there. You can also send them an e-mail via their website and they’ll let you know when any bookable flights are set up. They still have the goal of making these flights more regular – fingers crossed it will work!





Part 2: Los Angeles - Santa Rosa - Seattle - Vancouver | Alaska/Horizon | Dash8-Q400



After a week in L.A. it was time to head up the coast to Vancouver for another concert I wanted to attend (the Dixie Chicks – you start to see I like country music :)). Of course you could jump on a boring A or B – but there’s also a D-option! D as in Dash-8 of course (or Q400, if you prefer).

Alaska/Horizon runs a few Dashs up and down the coast between SoCal and the Northwest, stopping in smaller cities along the way. This way you can cover the whole West Coast by turboprop – not bad if you’re fond of them (like me). However, there was another reason why I booked one of them: Their usual routings passed a few scenic spots and their lower cruise altitude (most companies’ Q400 are limited to FL250) translate into better photo opportunities. So, with a bit of luck, it would turn out to be a pretty scenic ride – and luck was on my side!



GPS-Track: [url]http://de.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=5640833[/url]




I love the State, I love the brand, I love the airline – great to be back in ‘Alaska’ again!




After a looooong taxi around the whole of LAX, we finally climbed through the Marine Layer and emerged into plenty of sunshine!




Waving the L.A. area good-bye…




…and after a short hop over the mountains we’re in a much drier environment




An hour later, my first wish is fulfilled: Descending into Santa Rosa, our routing leads us straight over San Francisco – and the clouds just parted in time for an amazing view!




Shortly after, we’re on a straight in to Santa Rosa. Gear down!




Over the vineyards the region is famous for, we’re descending our final feet toward the runway




During the quick stop at this small airfield, the whole crew gets changed (God knows why this is done here, but they switch to another flight passing through from San Diego to Portland) and all but three passengers exit. No idea why any non-avgeek would choose this flight over a direct one, but well. A few minutes later the passengers for Seattle board and we are good to go for the next leg! After departure, the scenery looks pretty charming…




…and it gets quite impressive even as we cross the Trinity Alps, featuring nicely named peaks like Sawtooth Mountain, Caribou Mountain or the Seven Up Peak! Makes you thirsty somehow! :)




However, this was only the appetizer for the route’s main scenic draw: Flying by all the beautiful volcanoes of the region's Cascade Range!

To start with, the Three Sisters, west of Bend/OR




Then: Mount Jefferson, 14'411ft (4'392m)




Next up: Mount Hood, 11'249ft (3'429m)




The next one to appear in front of the Dash's window: Infamous Mt. St. Helens, missing its cone after the 1982 eruption, and now measuring "only" 8'365ft (2'550m). Behind, Mt. Adams (12'281ft/3'743m) can be seen.




Aaaaand the Grande Finale: Passing Seattle's landmark, Mount Rainier (14'411ft/4'392m) well into the approach!




Soon after greeting Mr. Rainier we descended into the clouds and finally touched down on 34R.




Bye bye, dear Dash!




Not for long though – a couple hours later I boarded one of its sister ships for the quick hop over the border:


GPS-Track: [url]http://de.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=5635690[/url]



The flight wasn’t overly special or exciting, and it was mostly cloudy anyway. The only scenic thing enroute was Mount Baker, already wearing a snow cap :)





However, the Q400 flight was only a transition between more adventurous means of transport. For my return to Seattle the next day I chose a slightly less direct connection:



Part 3: Vancouver - Victoria | Helijet | Sikorsky S-76




When I got to the departure ‘airport’ of my first flight, this was the view I was presented with!




How beautiful (the helicopter, of course! :D)




As you may have guessed by now, the next air carrier on my schedule was Vancouver-based Helijet. The company operates several types of helicopters (and even a Learjet) on charter and sightseeing missions, but also shuttles its Sikorsky S-76s on up to 16 daily runs between Vancouver and Victoria. As this was a Sunday, fares were significantly lower too, and so it was a great way to add a new type to my log!


GPS-Track: [url]http://de.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=5635693[/url]



Once again, the whole preflight experience was a breeze: No body scanner to be seen, and check-in was done in 20 seconds. Instead, a nice small buffet of breakfast items was provided, plus copies of their magazine called “IFR” – quite obviously they’re very proud of being IFR-certified (in contrast to the seaplanes). However, on this beautiful day (the first sunny day in two weeks), IFR-skills were definitely not required!




As the two pilots climbed virtually straight up to 4’500ft, I had a fantastic view down on the north side of Vancouver




After that, we followed the water out of Vancouver Harbour and then turned south for Victoria. This had us cruise over the western parts of the city, lined with rows of beautifully colored trees…




…and then, lo and behold, straight over YVR! Whoa!




Here’s a close-up of the terminal – a lot of Air Canada planes obviously, joined by two Chinese widebodies kicking off the daily Asian wave (plus a boring new Boeing of Air North in the top left – last time I was in Vancouver I flew out on one of their old 200s!)




Next on the list of overflown attractions: Robert Banks Superport, including Westshore, the busiest coal export terminal in North America (from a photography point of view, I find it interesting how little light the coal reflects, and how it appears as being in the shade of a cloud)




The scenic flight hasn’t even reached half-time yet, and already my poor Powershot’s batteries are almost empty from the constant workout! No time for a break though as we cross the Fraser River…




…and make our way over scenic Westham Island!




Beautiful, isn’t it?




Finally, as we’re crossing the Strait of Georgia, there is a quick chance to regain breath and batteries. Ready for the next round? Here we go! Now the Southern Gulf Islands come into view…




…and we cross right overhead some of them. Here’s pretty Stuart Island, including a nice little airfield!




Way too soon Victoria comes into view…




…but the scenic flying isn’t over yet, as there are still some picturesque islands dotting our path…




I know I was already raving about the desert landscape around Vegas, but being from a landlocked country, such beautiful coastal scenery is even better!


As Google Maps just tells me, they’re called Chatham Islands…which brings back very fond memories of flying a Convair-580 to their namesake in the South Pacific!




This one here belongs to a group called Trial Islands and features a lighthouse dating back to 1906….




From there, it’s only another minute or two until we gently touch down on the helipad (center of the photo), located southwest of downtown Victoria




Bye bye and thanks for the ride! Sure was quick and comfortable, and something different! Seating is 4 across, so getting your desired window does need some timing during the boarding process. It is relatively loud inside (was quite hard to keep up a conversation), but of course a fantastic experience – especially on a perfect day like this!





This wasn’t the last flight of the day though! I merely used Victoria as a transfer point to head on to Seattle, using one of the Kenmore Air seaplanes plowing this route.





Part 4: Victoria - Seattle - Kenmore | Kenmore Air | DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver



My onward flight was not supposed to depart till three hours later. However, just as I left the helipad, I received a call from Kenmore, asking if I would mind flying two hours early – obviously strong winds were expected in the evening, and seaplanes aren’t too fond of those. Of course this was perfectly fine with me. And so, instead of having a leisurely stroll downtown I started a little jog – still taking time for a photo here and there of course!




I reached the little seaplane terminal right in time (i.e. 30 minutes before the flight)…




…and even had a minute to capture this beautiful Otter here




Surprisingly, this wasn’t going to be my plane – instead, I was treated to this classic! Probably the most famous Bush plane of all times, so indispensable that it’s still flying 60 years after its heyday: The DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver!




Look at that beautiful radial engine!




Two more flights to go!


GPS-Track: [url]http://de.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=5635694[/url]



As I was the only one travelling alone, I got to ride shotgun in the cockpit – how great is that!

With its typical start-up sound, the Wasp engine springs into action and we taxi out of the harbor




A few minutes later we were ready to rock n’ roll!




The old Wasp purring in front of me, the huge De Fuca Strait expanding below – flying can be so beautiful!




Sitting on the co-pilot’s seat meant I was on the wrong side light-wise (a pet-peeve of mine and something I put a huge effort into avoiding) – but even so the scenery looked quite nice!




Back in U.S. airspace we overfly the community of Diamond Point, built around the private airfield of the same name




The next step into civilization: Meeting a lonely highway cutting through the woods!





The only bit of high-tech in the cockpit reveals that we’re 12 minutes away from Seattle’s Lake Union (LAKUN), cruising along with a groundspeed of 133kts (which, funnily enough, is roughly 30 knots lower than the helicopter’s!)




Soon, one doesn’t need any fancy electronics to see our destination approach!




Time to throttle back and get ready for the scenic arrival!




As a little extra treat (as if I hadn’t been lucky enough on this trip already), we flew right over downtown Seattle!




What a sight!




As soon as we’d crossed the skyscrapers, we made a dive for Lake Union – Kenmore’s Seattle base which can be seen in the near left corner of the lake.




Pretty rough water here, but nothing our trusty Beaver can’t handle!




We had to float around in a few circles to allow this Otter to get out…




…but then it was our turn to dock. Welcome back to the US!




In a little side-room the five of us (plus pilot) were greeted by two friendly TSA officers (yes, they do exist) for what was to be my quickest entry into the US. But my adventure wasn’t just finished yet – there was one more flight left! After stopping at their Seattle base, Kenmore’s Vancouver flights continue up to their hometown of the same name, at the northern shore of Lake Washington – and all passengers are free to join if they want! Of course I wanted, even though it totally wasn’t the direction I needed to go – but turning down some free extra minutes in a Beaver would be almost criminal, right? Exactly. So, buckle up and enjoy the beautiful ride!




The low-level flight provided great views of the coastal scenery and all the trees wearing their beautiful fall colors!





Definitely wouldn’t mind living here - *if* these piers can be used for seaplanes, that is!




What a beautiful ride!




On finals for our final destination – looks pretty!




After touchdown…errr…splashdown I enjoyed a quick look around the Kenmore yard, where I found another dozen Beavers bathing in the afternoon sunshine!




And after that, I jumped on the bus back to Seattle. What a stark contrast to all the beautiful flights!


Of course, I can wholeheartedly recommend this Kenmore service, and also this whole routing between Seattle and Vancouver. Admittedly, it takes even longer than travelling by car – but you do get to see a whole lot of beautiful scenery enroute, stay away from all the pre-flight hassle of YVR or SEA, and the quick immigration saves time, too. And most of all, you get to fly classic bush planes (and helicopters if you wish) and support these special kinds of operations!



I hope you enjoyed this jetless report even if the industry’s big brands were missing, and maybe I was even able to spark your interest in these charming alternatives (in case it hadn’t already existed). I only wish we had something like this here in central Europe!


Any feedback or input is greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking your time to read it or at least have a look at the photos!

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