Yesterday, we flew to Houston Hobby in a King Air C90GT to leave it for servicing. What an awesome flying machine and great experience!
The pilot contacted me about a month ago because he wanted a safety pilot and someone who is familiarized with communication and navigation ops in the US. We planned the route of flight and reviewed the charts, the airport info, and customs procedures for the flight.
In the day of the flight, we met at 9:00am at the GA gate of the airport and had to wait for him to come with the flight plan so I could enter the GA area of the aiport. It's a ridiculous procedure in mexican airports in case you don't have an airport ID.
We then drove to the hangar and towed the beautiful C90GT to the ramp. As I organized my stuff in the cockpit, the fuel truck filled the tanks with precious jetfuel. We got into the airplane and went through the cockpit preparation checklist to start both Pratt and Whitney PT-6As and taxi to the ramp next to the DGAC offices. I got to taxi the King Air for a short time and it's really nice to taxi it. Not like the Duchess, which requires a lot of rudder pressure to turn. We cleared our departure paperwork with immigration and as I was no longer needed, I got into the airplane to call fltplan and advise our departure for the mexican eAPIS and I also called the US customs in Hobby to report our estimated arrival time, which was in the next 3:10 hours.
As I hanged up, the pilot got into the airplane and we set ourselves up in the cockpit to get our clearance to HOU: "cleared for the Houston Hobby airport via GDL-UJ14-TAM-J177-PSX, TAROS2 departure, climb and maintain FL230, expect FL250, squawk 4226."
We then completed the before start checklist and started up the enwgines. The sound of those engines starting up in real life is just music to the ears! I then programmed the route in the GPS as the pilot requested taxi to the active runway.
As we approached the runway, we completed the before takeoff checklist and were cleared for takeoff on runway 10. That sound when the engines are spooling up and the governor starts limiting the propeller RPMs... We accelerated down the runway and lifted up. Passing 6500 feet, or 1500 above ground level, we were handed off to departure control: "Radar contact, climb and maintain FL230, and fly direct TAROS." As we climbed, the pilot set the autopilot modes for the flight director and he gave me control for some minutes. The King Air is stable and heavy, but responsive. Sure is a pleasure to fly manually. We then activated the autopilot, made our 10,000ft AGL checks, passed through transition altitude, and we were handed off to Mexico Center.
"Radar contact, climb and maintain flight level 250." We flew on route to Tamuín VOR and requested direct ONDIS on the J177 airway. It took a while for them to approve our request and I took some pictures and an in-flight footage:
As we were flying on J177 to Palacios VOR, we were handed off to Monterrey Center and we started to feel light chops. Nothing too bad. An hour or so later we contacted Houston Center and we were cleared for the ROYOH2 arrival. We then did an arrival briefing without an approach review since we couldn't copy the ATIS by then. As I copied Hobby's ATIS, we then briefed our approach for the LOC runway 22 and our taxi route to customs.
We were then instructed to descend and to fly direct to ROYOH. With further descents, we were instructed to fly direct Hobby VOR and as we approached, we contacted Houston Approach. We flew directly over the airport with a southeast heading and got vectors to the localizer. It was scattered, but we got to fly through a cloud on the approach. With the final altitude and heading instruction, she asked us to advise when we had the field in sight and a few seconds later I advised her we had it in sight, and we were cleared for the visual to runway 22.
Now with Hobby tower, I called the before landing items after we put the gear down, and we were cleared to land on runway 22. I must say it was a very nice day in Houston and I didn't expect that since I checked the weather a few days before and it looked like it was going to be cool. I took my A-2 flight jacket, but I didn't use it. "Wind check" - "wind 190 at 10." Flaps down and with the approach stable, the GPWS called "fivehundred". With some crosswind from the left, we touched down on runway 22 after a really nice flight over central Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico.
We taxied to customs, stopped on the ramp, and went through the shut-down checklist. We were greeted by two friendly CBP officers who checked our passports and visas, stampted them. We had to fill out the I-94s in the customs office, because the pilot was sure they were no longer needed, but we were done in five minutes. We shook hands and proceeded to the airplane to start it up and taxi to Horizon Air, which is next to Beechcraft Services.
After going to the restroom, we talked to the friendly girl at the counter and helped us book our flight back to Guadalajara with United Airlines. She called us a taxi as well and after saying good bye, we drove to Houston Intercontinental Airport.
We got our boarding passes and went through smurf security pretty fast. After eating a double cheeseburger at McDonalds, we went to our gate where we waited for twenty minutes or so. Boarding was quick and I chatted with the flight crew. I told them it was going to be my first flight in an ERJ-145 and I was going to sit in the back, but that at least the engine sound would be nice.
Pushback and engine start, we taxied to runway 17L, and took off into the wild dark-blue yonder. I really liked the ERJ-145XR. It's not that uncomfortable and the service was pretty good. After an uneventful flight, we touched down on runway 28 and taxied to a remote position where a bus took us to customs thereafter. After a quick customs check, the King Air pilot gave me a ride where I could take a taxi, and I then got home.
It was a pretty good experience and I had a nice conversation with the King Air pilot about corporate aviation, our experiences, the King Air, and plans for the future. We were an excellent crew!
This flight, and the one in which we'll bring the King Air back, is a very good transition from student pilot to corporate pilot. I could experience what must be done in order to perform the flight, and I could experience my first real-life crew operation in an awesome airplane.
I'm definitely looking forward to the next flight with the C90GT.