Flying to acapulco in a Long-EZ, Varieze and other Burt Rutan Aircraft

Flying to Acapulco in a Long-EZ

David Orr

Wherein Five EZ's briefed for the flight by E-mail, Four ended up going, had a wonderful time and came back healthy.

The Briefing: A flight into nice weather to the South Coast of Mexico.
It appears that we are using Bill Oertel’s pre-manyana style of going early for a fly-in that starts officially on November 22, 2000. We will be launching when the weather clears from Chino, CA – as early as we can and flying down as far as Guymas and on to Alamos on November 18, 2000 (a Saturday) and starting back on Sunday, November 26, 2000 - you can certainly stay later or come earlier for the same hotel rate! There is a deposit required. We, so far means eminent tour director Bill "Duck" & "Twinkle" Oertel (Chino), probably leading Stet "Turtle" Elliott (NM), David "Beagle" Orr (SNA) Anoir “Jedi” Rizk (Brackett). Dave “Milkrun” Kolstad, who has lots of work in Mexico, went ahead earlier and met us down there.

I can count at least 2 wives in there somewhere, probably more. For those newcomers, let me introduce you to flying in Mexico – based on Bill Oertel’s 10 years at this. He tells us everything we know. Acapulco is halfway to the equator – the same distance from Los Angeles as the Mississippi River. With time zones and winter days, you can’t get there from here legally in one day – 1450 nm is plenty of flying – and there is the delay for gas and customs too. And who wants to make it in one day? I was first in Acapulco in 1961 – anyone beat that? But I’ve never flow there before – closest I’ve been is to the 13,000’ volcano north of there and Manzanillo on the same coast. There are actually two airports near Acapulco – we go to the second, International one – General Bumpty Bump de la Bump. The first airport is now a military base.

New guys might do well to tag along with an old experienced pilot – probably not as old as Duck, but he’ll do in a pinch; if you go Beagle’s route, you can keep them awake as we pass the high Sierras of Baja at 10,000 feet, (Duck will often bump off his intercom, so don't think he's sleeping.), fly over the crystal coves of the islands and skeleton shores while Beagle reads serially from the Baja book about every dirt strip en route ad nauseam. (just in case you are one of those people who like your back-seater to think about engine failures).

Well hold on, we can swamp you with more reading that you don't like to do anyway; read on.....with the details....

Map: CH-22 (1997 version) (I’ll point out any changes indicated by AOPA on tower frequencies down there – there are no ground frequencies at most Mexican airports – you taxi and fly on the single frequency in English hearing others in Spanish.) These are 1 to 1,000,000 maps – like WACs – the distances seem to stretch on and on. I ran over the past trips thinking about the route – we like to go to first to:

361nm from border: Guaymas 118.6 (MMGM) N27-58.2 W110-55.4 NBD 368 (weather alternate Hermosillio 118.7 Atis 127.7(MMHO) N29-05.8 W111-02.9 VOR 112.8) Both have nice runways – just ask Duck. Both are OK for customs. (You over-flew the border – didn’t need to land on either side – but you must have a viable flight plan, is all.)

As you proceed south along the coast, you encounter:
50 Miles: Ciudad Obregon (CEN) 118.3 (VOR 115.1)N27-23.6 W109-50.0 Duck says the runway is fine.
111 Miles: Los Mochis (LMM) 118.8 (VOR 115.5)N25-41.2 W109-04.9 Duck says this one is ok too – a way out of town though.
125 Miles: Culiacan (CUL) EDIT YOUR MAP:Approach 119.75 Twr 118.5 (VOR:112.1) N24-45.9 W107-28.5 Duck may not have been here – hey Duck?
MAP: ONC J24 (This massive map covers most of mexico. – Mine is a 1985 version – pretty normal.) You can get 1 to 500,000 quarter maps, but what a pain!
126 Miles: Mazatlan (MZT or MMMZ) EDIT YOUR MAP:Approach 121.2 Twr 118.3 (VOR:114.9) N23-09.7 W106-16.4 Duck likes this one – a hike into town, especially to resort hotels on the west facing beaches north of town. Good exhaust welder at the road town just East.
159 Miles: Puerto Vallarta (PVR or MMPR) EDIT YOUR MAP: Approach 119.4 Twr 118.5 (VOR:112.6) N20-42 W105.15 Duck really likes this runway – he’s been escorted all over by the sheriff here. (My guess is that Duck will opt to stop here for two days, take rental car to visit the nice Mexican resort of Guabitos instead of the glitter of this big town – after all it is Thanksgiving break and the nubile young things will be laying around drunk everywhere in Puerto Vallarta (Guabitos is so small it has 3 different names, see La Penita on some maps, El Llano on others.) (Weather alternate: Tepic (TNY) 118.8 NDB318 N21-25 W105-50) HANG GLIDERS SOUTH ALONG THE COAST.
99 Miles: Manzanillo (ZLO) EDIT YOUR MAP: TWR 118.7 (VOR:116.8) N19-09 W104-35 Duck has been here before – like this big runway – but the smog from the single power station allowed him to almost over-fly it. He started learning formation here!
200 Miles: Zihuatanejo (Z-What? to its friends) (ZIH) EDIT YOUR MAP: 118.3 (VOR:113.8) N17-36.2 W101-27.6 Finally one that Duck doesn’t know at all.
113 Miles: Acapulco (ACA or MMAA) EDIT YOUR MAP: Approach: 119.9 TWR: 118.5 GROUND: 118.5 (VOR:115.9) N16-45.5 W99-45.2 I don’t think Duck has been here. (Mexico is only 300 miles wide here – not yet pinched to 120 miles. Don’t over-fly city of Acapulco.
NOW, FOLD YOUR MAPS to 3 Panels, open face at the north end of each leg. Take along a Phoenix chart in case the weather in California goes to the dogs.

Flight Following in a relaxed way: Did we say we would stop at all those airports? No – but there is a friendly hello and goodbye that you might want translated first time – we might be able to sneak past Obregon, but not Los Moches – here’s the jabber – of course Duck uses his call sign N183W – “Rojir November 183 Weeskee”:

“Los Mochis Tower, this is Duck 50 miles north, good afternoon!”
“Rojir Senior Duck, wha ees your radial and dee em eee?”
“Mumble mumble – Beagle what’s the radial” (“Duck say 314.”)
“Los Mochis Tower, Duck is 314 radial at 50 miles.”
“Si, 314 degrees at feefty miles, what ees your altitood.”
“11,500’ and Los Mochis Tower, I’ve got 4 other planes with me too.”
“Say again.”
“I have 4 other airplanes with me.”
“Say the number of the second VariEze.”
“The second plane is a Long EZ – Beagle say your number.” (“Second Long EZ is N321EZ.”)
“Rojir, Very Esay November 321 Echo Zulu.”
“The third plane is a Long EZ – Carl say your number.”
(Carl reads back his number. – what is your number Carl?)
“Rojir, Very Esay November _______.” “The fourth plane is a VariEze – Anoir what’s your’s?”
(“Jedi has VariEze N42DS.”)
“Rojir, 42 Delta Sierra.”
“Duck, do you still have VariEze N321 Echo Foxtrot weeth you?” (They act as flight following too you see.)
“Stet is that your number?”
“It’s Turtle - Roger, Fifth Long EZ is N321EF.”
“Rojir, Duck, would you call abeam Los Mochis?”
“Roger Los Mochis – call you soon.”
(Abeam a simple check in with instruction:)
“Rojir, Duck, would you call 10 miles to the South?”

(10 miles out, another instruction:)
“Rojir, Duck, what radial are you on?”
Duck responds quickly
“Rojir, report 50 miles south.”

The next major airport you pass will want the same check in and check out – occasionally they have traffic to report by radial and – they often don’t have radar you see. Sometimes there is some chatter in Spanish for traffic.

NOTES: There is no special permit for flying your homebuilt in Mexico. The FAA some time back suggested you have to have an invitation letter – we never have. Be sure to bring Mexican Liability Insurance, Ownership papers or written notarization permission of the registered owner of the airplane, proof of citizenship, if a minor is traveling without a parent, written permission from the absent parent. 12" high reg. acft marks (may be temporary - only needed on the return trip).

GAS: There is gas at virtually all mainland airports – we have never found problems. (Baja sometimes runs out.)

OVER THE BORDER - from past experience: Good book: From 10 years of flying over the border, the great book for the West coast of Mexico is Arnold Senterfitt's "Airports of Baja California" which covers all the way down to Guadalajara on the mainland too - around $20 from your local pilot shop. Arnold seems to have retired, but his book is still good. Get a Baja map while you are there – it goes down the mainland too. Arnold has other books too, but his club has been taken over by some Arizona folks. You join the Baja Bush Pilots club too when you buy the book - if you become a Aero-Mexophile you can go to their flyins too, not just Save the Males with us. You don't need big tire aircraft for most of the flying we have done in these Long Range Ezs.

EIGHT WEEKS OUT: 1. Apply for a passport at a designated post office or consulate. The price went up in the 80s but it is good for 10 years. It now takes about 8 weeks to get them, but you can rush them. If you don't get a passport, if you have a U.S. Birth Certificate, bring that, if not, get a notarized statement which says: "I, the undersigned, hereby swear and affirm that I am a citizen of the United States of America by virtue of birth/naturalization, which took place in the city of ______________ and within the state of _____________ on ____________(date).

Dated________________ Name Printed___________________ Address___________________ City__________________ State________________Zip__________

There are special rules for children with only one parent, call me for a draft notarized letter.

2. FOR OTHER HOTELS in Mexico, see the Senterfitt book which has phone numbers for other places to visit, call me if you want a particular city or hotel phone number or recommendations. Some are US 800 numbers. The Auto Club card may give you special prices in Mexican Hotels; I don't know about AARP, I am in denial.

3. If you don't own the plane (with your name on the registration), get notarized permission to fly across the border from the Corporation/owner.

4. Get insurance information at least a week in advance. Senterfitt advised MacAfee & Edwards 213?-388-9674 and they insured me for $19.19 for a 3-4 day trip years ago - but the price is well over that now, and the yearly price was outrageous. For most of 5 years I had called Victoria Frisby at Oscar Padilla's Service 619-428-3628 and 619-428-8724(fax). I contacted them Monday for a Friday flight, and they mailed out a policy that Monday, I got it on Tuesday. They quoted $100 for a year which surprised me – it’s probably higher now. I discovered in 1998 that Southwest Aviation in Phoenix has insurance for the U.S. at the normal rates and a special Mexican policy for free, if you are going to turn your whole policy over soon, consider calling Mark Nichols at 800-324-6787! I think he has better rates if you include the back-seater in the simple flight liability coverage. I don't know if he covers liability for the aircraft down there too, you'll have to ask him. I've not lost as much as a pair of sun glasses in 10 years. Flat tires, more than Duck can remember.

Before Takeoff 1. Registration: Have all the normal US required items on board - they will be checked. 2. File international flight plan to your Mexican destination-keep in mind that an IFR-VFR on top flight plan should not be cancelled on top. Use the words "ADCUS" to advise Customs. They have Mexican weather at US FSS (some call it "1-800-VFR not recommended" by the time March rolls around.) You must fly to an international destination airport; we inevitably go to Guaymas we are equally comfortable with Mexicali, San Felipe and Hermosillo, although San Felipe was out of gas one year. There are some who suggest that if you have a forced landing on the way to that first stop you could get in serious trouble because you don't have your tourist visa yet; I have flown to Loreto, Guymas and Hermosillo direct and find them more friendly than the border international airports, so I guess I am fully deluded about that. Frankly, on a flight plan or not, you don't even have to check out with Uncle Sam as you cross the border. If you are over the 50 mile arc of a major Mexican airport you should talk to them for radio flight following - note I didn't say radar. 3. Have a bunch of $1 bills for tips. 4. Notify your annual insurer if specified on your policy. 5. Bring something for 12" numbers on the aircraft for the trip back into US Airspace. You could get them professionally made; instead, any dark tape, even colored masking tape or duck tape (other than silver which blends in to EZ paint jobs.) 6. MAPS: CH-22 and 23 charts, CJ-24 was last printed in 1985. (alternate: J-24 was also printed at that time.)

NO NIGHT FLYING: You can't fly a single after sunset in Mexico. "Sunset" in Mexico, doesn't mean when the sun sets; but if you don't make the big airports by "official sunset" you can find yourself doing a little airport stay open fee paying. If you really want to know what sunset is, it is listed in some Jeppessen manual, even for Mexican airports!

The Male you save may be you; and it won't hurt if the other half relaxes while you are being saved.

Reminder to carry to the hanger: In spite of themselves.... Did you remember those deadlines, get the passports or birth certificates, Mexican insurance, tape for 12" numbers...? Did you check all the right paperwork is still on board, is your annual up to date? Will you remember to file a DVFR flight plan? Ok that's the easy part, now the complicated stuff.

We don't fly into Mexico alone, we are social ducks. So I suggest groups of 4 or so. Each group should always include an experienced Mexico flyer

OFF EARLY: There is one other little planning thing; if you aren't off the ground from here by about 10 a.m. in the winter you might not make destination with customs paperwork, etc., a real pain. Oertel is suggesting off at 6:30 a.m. We beachbums will probably make it off around 7:30+

NOCAL Stopover: Off Early means that you NoCals may not make it all the way down to SoCal and then on to Mexico the first day. If you want to fly down to Chino, "DUCK" can meet you any time Wednesday and take you to a local hotel and get you back to the airport for flight time. I can't promise as cheap accommodations around John Wayne, but I'll certainly pick you up after work and bring you back in the morning if you stay at John Wayne. We use 135.95 as common in California – 122.75 in Mexico – it is quieter down there –good weather reporting ahead.

DEPARTURE WEATHER BACKUP: Oh, and we really never know the best weather until close to the departure time out here on the coast so may I suggest that we have a night before weather alternate if the morning is going to be foggy: Borrago Airport (L08) south of Palm Springs and staying the night at Casa Del Sol Inn at 619-767-5442. (new area code 760 or 661?)

BASE CAMP: I’m going to ask Verne Simon to monitor his voicemail and e-mail through the days going down and the days coming back to relay for those who have trouble en route and want to relay messages to others: He also has supplies ready to post: SIMON, VERNE "CATMAN" & LINDA Hawthorne Airport spare nosewheel and tire, nose strut, retract assembly, old spare prop AN2 with bolts, one main, he's asking if anyone has spare exhaust pipes 310-374-2222(H, O & fax)

Flight Planning numbers: For flight planning purposes, the first Mexican landing you can use: Nogales, San Felipe, Mexicale, Hermosillo, Guaymas, Loreto (but feet wet to the mainland is a little ballsy.) I just ran the numbers - it is a: total of 520nm to Guymas from John Wayne total of 690nm to Los Moches total of 785nm to Culiacan total of 900nm to Mazatlan total of 1060nm to Puerto Vallarta total of 1160nm to Manzanillo total of 1450nm to Acapulco from John Wayne Acapulco is due south of Laredo, TX (Seattle is 900nm Denver is 720nm St. Louis is 1350nm. On the other hand, Sun n Fun is 1800nm and Fairbanks is 2600nm from John Wayne) Those with electronic devices can make me a liar - I used charts. We usually have a light tailwind down, headwind back.

So how did it go? Duck, our fearless leader, broke his plane and went commercial! Beagle took over as next most flaky. Alamos – first pictures! We decided to try for Alamos on the first day; “Dave” the airport manager at Guaymas used his cell phone to call a number from the Baja book for the hotel and we made reservations for that evening and just took off for Alamos. It looked a little dodgy from the airport, but the town is a spectacular colonial style city from the Silver days of the realm. It has a wonderful church and square, and apparently 500 American families who are investing in making the place nicer for retirement. The Airport was the most friendly in Mexico so far – we were parked on the postage stamp sized ramp by a man with wands! The hotel was at least 100 years old and the restaurant was excellent!

We stayed the next day in Puerto Vallarta – it is a very touristy town and a lot of fun. But then on to Acapulco – sultry, hot and fun. Dave “Milkrun” Kolstad came in as did his wife and daughter by commercial flight. The Mexican Hosts there squired about 15 American flying couples around for 6 days and it was a ball. Beach parties, boat trips, flying rally! .

Then Milkrun and Beagle, Turtle and Jedi went back in twos, landing first leg at Tepic, a wonderful international airport we had opened with an airshow years ago. It was fast turn and on to Guaymas. Milkrun and Beagle fast turned there and on to Mexicali before dark. 1450nm with two Mexican fuel stops, customs and one big meal in the US in 11 hours from takeoff!

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