Florida is filled with fun, bright, beachy places—but there is nowhere quite like Sanibel Island on the state’s Gulf Coast.
Sanibel Island might be small, but it packs a lot into its 17 square miles. With 15 miles of beaches teeming with seashells, a rich history involving pirates, and lanais on every dwelling, it’s as “Florida” as Florida gets.
Thousands of years ago, Sanibel Island was a single island with neighboring Captiva. It was settled by the Calusa, Native Americans whose territory included the southwest coast of Florida.
Geoff Smathers always regretted the selling of the family 182. More than two decades later he bought it back.
“My dad loved to fly,” Geoff Smathers of Mars, Penn. told me. “The Skylane was his fifth or sixth airplane. He and my mom, Meg Smathers (now Meg S. Bauschard) used them for pleasure and business.”
His father purchased the 182L, N42364, new in 1968. “My brother, Win S. Smathers IV, was born the same year. I was born in 1970,” Smathers explained.
“My mom, my brother and I flew a lot with my dad in the 1970s,” he recalled. “My brother and I grew up flying with my dad—and fighting over the coveted copilot seat.”
His father based the plane at Butler County Airport (KBTP) in Butler, Penn. from 1968 to 1981. “My dad lost his medical in the early 1980s, and he let his business partner, Wilson Amsler, take the plane,” Smathers said.
Amsler was a U.S. Navy flight instructor in World War II. His daughter, Wendy Amsler, learned to fly, and so the Amslers kept the plane in Clarion, Penn. so Wendy could fly it. “But when Wilson Amsler died in 1989, my dad agreed to sell the Skylane to Wendy for $25,000,” said Smathers.
“I was beside myself. I asked my dad not to sell the airplane and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Geoff, we will buy a better one soon.’ That was in 1989.
“Dad died in 1992. Needless to say, we never bought the ‘better airplane’ as he had planned,” said Smathers.
In the spring of 1991 Geoff Smathers formally began flying lessons and attained his private pilot certificate that fall.
“After graduating from Washington and Jefferson College in the spring of 1992, I was planning on going to commercial flight school, but life got in the way,” Smathers explained.
“My dad died and I decided to go into the family business,” he said. The family business is real estate. As the years passed and Smathers started a family of his own, N42364 was never too far from his mind.
The search was on
“I loved every moment flying with my dad in this Skylane—even when I got airsick as a little kid and threw up into the instrument panel,” Smathers said. “I still remember that day. I warned my dad that we had better land because I was getting sick.
“He didn’t get the plane on the ground quick enough. We spent the rest of the day cleaning the airplane using Q-tips,” he recalled.
In early 2014, Smathers decided to track down his special Skylane. He researched the tail number and found that it had been sold by Wendy Amsler in 1999. Fortunately, the aircraft had stayed in Clarion.
“I wrote to the owner, John Schmader,” Smathers said. “Two months later, in June, I got a call. Just three days after that, my son and I drove up to look at it.
“It was just beautiful, with great paint—and it was like a time capsule inside. It was just exactly how I remembered it,” he explained. The aircraft was low-time for a 1968, with only 2,000 hours on the airframe.
Smathers wrote the check to hold it and scheduled the pre-purchase inspection. The inspection went well, and by mid-July 2014, Smathers was the new owner. “This was 95 percent a sentimental purchase,” Smathers admitted. “This plane helps me reconnect to my dad.”
And it has worked out very well so far.
First things first
The paint was in great shape, but everything else was either original or almost original. There were, of course, a few squawks. “I knew there was an alternator issue due to the headset noise and the bouncing amp meter needle,” Smathers explained.
The first upgrade was to install LED lighting on the exterior: the beacon, landing and taxi lights are all made by Whelen. “That solved the electric draw problems,” he said. He installed a new alternator, too.
In addition, Smathers decided to upgrade old radios and navigation to make it safer for flying with his family and to adhere to ADS-B requirements. For a cosmetic upgrade, he installed new carpet.
“I have always loved Garmin products,” Smathers said. “My first portable GPSMAP 195 was mind-bending. I loved it!”
Smathers’ Skylane now has a Garmin GTN 750 GPS/Navcom MFD front and center. “The touchscreen Garmin is the most incredible device ever,” he explained. “I’m able to make trips I never would have made without it.”
The aircraft has Garmin GNC 255A VHF Navcom radios and a Garmin GDL 88 datalink to comply with ADS-B In and Out.
In addition, he uses Garmin Flight Stream 210 as a wireless gateway for syncing flight plans with the GTN 750. Flight Stream also works with the Garmin Pilot App and the Garmin Aera 796 GPS on the yoke.
“The 796 on the yoke is hardwired to the GTN 750,” Smathers explained. “I use it as my ‘poor man’s HSI,’ and it does a great job,” he commented.
“The secondary navcom is a nice one, a GNC 255A. It also has a database. It tells you the airport or VOR that the frequency is for,” he explained.
In addition, Smathers installed new audio equipment. N42364 now has a PMA450 audio panel from PS Engineering, and the device includes Bluetooth as well as a USB charger.
One big improvement is that the aircraft now has 3-D audio. “I like that feature very much,” Smathers said. PS Engineering’s Intelliaudio feature means Com 1 transmits in the left ear while Com 2 is in the right ear.
“Both coms have monitor modes, four different frequencies for Unicom, ATIS, and whatever else,” he added. “The PMA450’s Bluetooth is useful, too. I use it to make phone calls, stream music and to pick up IFR flight plans via cell phone,” he said.
Flight planning software
Smathers has flight planning software well covered. His iPad is running Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ, Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight. “I bought them all and I like features on each of them,” he explained.
Smathers uses the Flight Stream 210 to communicate ADS-B traffic and weather to his iPad either via Garmin Pilot or ForeFlight. “Seattle Avionics’ FlyQ doesn’t talk to the Garmin—yet,” he said. Smathers finds himself switching between all three apps when on a cross-country.
His flight planning protocol goes like this: first, he files the flight plan on his iPad using DUATS. “Once it’s filed,” he continued, “Garmin Pilot sees the flight plan; I look at my iPad, select ‘Forward to GTN.’
“The message button blinks on the GTN and asks, ‘Would you like to accept?’ I can [then] modify the plan from the GTN 750 if needed.”
Some additional upgrades are on the horizon for N42364. The largest of these is a replacement for the 230 hp Continental O-470-R. “I am planning on upgrading to a 300 hp engine when the current engine gets to TBO,” Smathers reported.
The Cessna 300 Navomatic autopilot is inop. “It wanders all over the sky,” Smathers said. Currently, he hand-flies the aircraft everywhere. Recently Smathers decided Genesys Aerosystems’ System 30 fit his budget better than the System 55X, and the installation will be his winter upgrade.
Another project on the list for someday includes a Garmin G500 flight display or an Aspen Evolution 2000. “If the budget is tight, then the Evolution 1000,” Smathers explained. “I’d like to have some glass in the panel because I worry about the vacuum pump failing while in IMC.”
No doubt, all of these upgrades are costly. To help keep his (and perhaps, his wife’s) dismay about the financial outlay in check, Smathers prefers to think of the items in terms of Aviation Monetary Units, or AMUs—a term he borrowed from a pilot friend in his flying club at KPJC in Zelienople, Penn.
“Doesn’t $15,000 sound like a lot for an autopilot?” he asked. “But 15 AMUs, now, that sounds a lot better.” Flying N42364
Right now, Smathers is just enjoying the wonderful experience of flying his father’s plane. He is an SE-L and instrument rated pilot with 1,000 hours and is currently preparing to take his helicopter private checkride.
“Hopefully by the publishing of this article I will have passed [my checkride] and have my helicopter rating,” he said. “I plan on getting a commercial and instructor helicopter rating and a commercial instructor airplane rating in the next 12 months. My philosophy is, ‘If you love it, do it and share it.’
“Mostly my plane is used for pleasure,” he continued. “Golf trips, beach trips, and just taking my son Rome and daughters Olivia and Lindsey for a very expensive breakfast. My son and I also flew to Frederick, Md. for the AOPA Fly-in last year.
“My wife, Jacqueline Rudolph Smathers, is a white-knuckled flyer,” he said. “She will go flying with me if we have a fun destination, like The Homestead [The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va.].”
He also uses the aircraft for business. “I’m a real estate agent and I use it for providing aerial photography,” he said. “However, with the new drone technology, it isn’t as economical or as high quality.”
The aircraft currently has two hangar homes; one at Zelienople Municipal (KPJC) in Zelienople, Penn. and at Butler Co. Airport (KBTP) in Butler, Penn. Soon, he will choose his Skylane’s permanent home. “I’m leaning toward KPJC because my A&P is based there; however, KBTP is closer to my home,” he explained.
Regardless of where his plane is kept or the reason he is in the air, Smathers counts himself as extremely fortunate to have N42364. “After buying this plane, I’m not walking in my dad’s footsteps; I’m flying in his seat,” Smathers explained.
“Each and every time I see this plane in my hangar and each time I fly it, I think of my dad.
“And Dad, apparently, was a great pilot. I say this because I remember him landing on Runway 26 at KBTP and stopping in such a short distance that he could easily turn off on Taxiway Echo to his T-hangar. That’s less than 1,000 feet every time.
“I have so far not been able stop the very same C-182 for that turnoff. Not even close! Perhaps my dad had stock in the brake manufacturer,” he joked.
Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .
Kansas City is the closest major city to the geographic center of the contiguous United States. As such, the city has been a hub throughout U.S. history. Officially deemed the City of Fountains—but colloquially referred to as the “Paris of the Plains”—Kansas City is now a burgeoning city for vacationers. Tourism grew by a whopping 500,000 visitors from 2015 to 2016 according to VisitKC.com. You can add yourself to the tally if you venture to the Heart of America this spring.
Getting there by air
It’s pretty easy to get here from anywhere, and there are plenty of choices for the GA flyer.
Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (KMKC)
The GA-friendly Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (KMKC) immediately north of the Missouri River will put you in the middle of the action. This historic airport was dedicated by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 and was one of the headquarters for TWA.
With a 24-hour control tower and FBO, Category I ILS, plus full maintenance, decent self-serve fuel prices ($3.99/gallon at the time of this writing), aircraft leasing, flight instruction, hangar rentals and car rentals, KMKC is a busy place for GA, charter and corporate operations on the Missouri-Kansas border.
Operations at KMKC average around 200 per day according to airnav.com, and the runways (01/19 and 03/21) are long and wide—and well maintained, too: both are listed as excellent. There’s another nice perk at KMKC. A free-of-charge wash bay is provided by the Kansas City Aviation Department for owners to wash their aircraft (cleaning supplies not included).
You’ve got plenty of GA alternates to choose from—it is the Heart of America, after all. The closest three are all to the east of KMKC. One of these is the non-towered East Kansas City Airport (3GV) in Grain Valley, Missouri, a privately-owned airport that’s been open to the public for more than six decades. Fuel here is also $3.99/gallon.
Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport (KLXT) offers two 4,000-foot runways and two crew cars. The FBO service gets high marks from pilots on Airnav.com. While Avgas is a little higher here ($4.79/gallon for self-serve), KLXT also has Mogas available. That’s not something you’ll find everywhere.
If you want a super-smooth landing—or at least, all the help you can get with one—the recently resurfaced runways at Midwest National Air Center Airport (KGPH) near Mosby/Excelsior Springs might be the spot for you. This airport is northeast of Kansas City and is relatively new: it opened in 1996. Self-serve Avgas is $4.09/gallon, and the field is quieter with around 33 operations per day. A nice perk at KGPH is that you’ll earn one free night of tiedown for every 10 gallons of fuel you purchase—and they have Mogas, too.
Local pilots Dale and Carol McCaslin recommend making a stop at Miami County Airport (K81) in Paola, Kansas. It’s a short flight to the southwest of KMKC and there’s a good barbecue restaurant on the field. The restaurant is open every day except Mondays; on Sundays, they serve a breakfast menu only. The airport has one paved runway and one grass strip.
The McCaslins are based at 0N0—Roosterville Airport in Liberty, Missouri. They told me that it’s sometimes called “Oh No” because of the 20 x 2,780-foot runway with obstacles. “Some pilots like the challenge,” they said. If you’re one of them, you’ll be rewarded with a fuel price of $3.85/gallon for full service.
Transportation and accommodations
Though Kansas City isn’t the most walkable city in the United States, it’s on its way. The recent addition of streetcars downtown and a comprehensive plan for additional transit means this city may soon be navigable without four wheels as required equipment.
Introducing electric streetcars in Kansas City has been a resounding success, and they’re completely free to ride. Hours are generous (they run until 2 a.m. on weekends) and there are currently 10 stops.
For accommodations, I’d recommend checking out the hotel finder function at airnav.com. Type in the identifier of your planned landing airport and you’ll get a list of the closest hotels. From there you can reserve a room, as all of the listings have hyperlinks and/or telephone numbers.
My research showed that hotels near KMKC average between $125 to $160 per night. If you base your search from Kansas City International (KMCI) instead, you’ll find many hotels that run about half that much—but you’ll need to factor in the cost of a rental car. KMCI is well north/northwest of the central city. Museums and attractions TWA Museum
If you tie down at KMKC, your first stop could be the TWA Museum at the south end of the field. With TWA memorabilia from various decades, scaled-down airline models, a cockpit simulator and more, this is a fun spot for any TWA enthusiast. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is $10 for adults ($7 for seniors).
National Airline History Museum
Also on the field at Wheeler is the National Airline History Museum. While the exhibits are closed through the end of this month, a grand reopening is scheduled for March 1, 2018. And if the website is any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be pretty awesome.
Currently, the museum is fundraising to ferry a Douglas DC-8-62—one of five DC-8s left in service—to the site. The museum has multiple airliners and two simulators, including a custom-built multipurpose simulator and a Link Trainer.
General admission is $8 for adults, and you get to see a ton of stuff, including a TWA Moonliner II rescued after 25 years outside the TWA building; a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation (N6937C) that was featured in “The Aviator”; a Martin 404 that flew for Eastern Airlines and is now on static display; a Northrop Delta 1D that was restored by Max Conrad; a KC Eaglet made by the American Eagle Aircraft Corp. of Kansas City, which produced over 700 planes in six short years; and the museum’s newest acquisition, a Boeing 727-223.
Kansas City’s architectural masterpiece, Union Station, is impressive inside and out. This enormous building saw its prime in 1945, when a million passengers traveled through on their way across the United States, including thousands of returning U.S. soldiers. But by the 1980s, the station had closed. A renovation of Union Station was completed just before the turn of the new century; Amtrak returned in 2002.
Today, Union Station is also the terminus for the streetcars, and is open daily from 6 a.m to midnight. Inside there is lots to see, including a permanent exhibit called the KC Rail Experience, plus other galleries that feature international exhibits, a science center called Science City, a 200-seat live theater and an 80-foot 3-D movie screen. National World War I Museum and Memorial
Heading south from Union Station you’ll encounter the Liberty Memorial Tower and the plaza that commemorates the sacrifices of the soldiers of World War I. This National Landmark is over 200 feet tall and quite stately. The observation deck is currently closed for a modernization project, but a museum representative told me it’s targeted to reopen by mid-March of this year.
The National World War I Museum is recognized as America’s official memorial to World War I and has one of the largest collections of Great War artifacts and documents in the world. The array offers an excellent record of all of the nations involved in the “war to end all wars.”
The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with expanded hours in the summer. If you can’t make it to the museum in person, the website offers three online exhibits accessible via the Google Arts & Culture project.
Federal Reserve Bank/ The Money Museum
South of the World War I Museum is the Federal Reserve Bank and inside the bank is the Money Museum. This museum is free and open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (The building is closed on bank holidays, of course.) You’ll need a state-issued photo ID or a valid passport to enter. Photography inside is permitted—provided you conform to the policies.
A one-hour guided tour or the self-guided tour allows you to see Harry Truman’s coin collection (500 historic coins on loan from his Presidential Library); the $40 million wall (a giant stack of cash!); educational exhibits on the functions of the Federal Reserve, the U.S. economy and counterfeiting; plus a design-your-own-currency activity for kids.
Amelia Earhart’s Birthplace
Aviation trailblazer Amelia Earhart hailed from the Kansas City area. To make a pilgrimage Earhart’s birthplace, you’ll have to cross the Missouri River and head to Atchison, Kansas.
The Gothic Revival home home at 223 N. Terrace Street was declared a National Historic Site in 1971 and was privately owned until it was purchased by the Ninety-Nines Inc. in 1984.
The museum inside the home offers the public a look at Earhart’s personal and family memorabilia along with displays that highlight Earhart and other female aviators. It’s open Tuesdays through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults.
The Best Barbecue
Now it’s time to eat! Kansas City is getting high marks from the foodies at Zagat: it was declared one of the “30 Most Exciting Food Cities in America 2017” by the organization, with a number of award-winning chefs and bartenders. But I’m here for the original “slow food”—the barbecue! What about you?
A few of the more noted spots include Gates Bar-B-Q, which has six locations, and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, which gets a nod from Anthony Bourdain as one of his “13 places to eat before you die.” Joe’s has four locations; three are on the Kansas side of the metro area.
Perhaps the most legendary spot for Kansas City-style barbecue is at Arthur Bryant’s, founded by “King of Ribs” Arthur Bryant. The restaurant has been around for almost a century and though its namesake passed away in 1982, the recipes are going strong at two Kansas City locations.
These are just a few of more than a hundred restaurants that specialize in barbecue in Kansas City. If you really want to try one of everything (well, almost), consider taking the KC Barbecue Tour. You’ll be bussed around to sample various restaurants’ offerings with little to no wait time. Tickets are $65 for the Original tour with four stops, and $70 for the three-stop “‘Cue and Brew” tour that includes a complimentary beer or soft drink at each stop. The tour is a hit with locals and visitors alike.
Kansas City isn’t simply an old rock ‘n roll tune, or a place to eat barbecue before you die. It’s not even the only of the United States’ “twin cities” to share a name across two states. With a reputation for being both down-home and up-and-coming—and now, as a growing destination city—you might want to say “Kansas City, here I come!” before the airspace gets too crowded.
I thought I knew about Miami, I realize now, has all come from the television. “Miami Vice,” “The Golden Girls” and “Burn Notice”—these fictional portrayals all shaped my idea of the city’s surroundings, its residents and its culture. I think I was more wrong than I was right.
When I started looking deeper, I realized why Miami is portrayed so much in films and on TV: it’s a huge hub for this kind of thing. There are more than 2,000 motion picture, music and video companies based in Miami; dozens of recording studios and sound stages; hundreds of freelance production crews; dozens of cable television networks.
Miami looks shiny and new, and it is, relatively speaking. Nothing here is much more than a century old, as this port city was incorporated in 1896 with, surprisingly, just 300 residents. It’s a city that has made its name known—so much so that the former Dade County was officially changed to “Miami-Dade County” in the 1990s.
Today, Miami is considered one of the richest cities in the United States. With miles of picturesque boulevards and high-end shopping, hundreds of high-rise buildings and the most concentrated grouping of international banks in the country, this isn’t hard to believe.
Set up for success
There is no shortage of information about Miami. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming how much is available. The 2017 Visitor’s Guide is a whopping 252 pages—and it’s one of a dozen free guides available on the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau website.
With 22 regional visitor centers around Miami, this city was built for visitors. If you want to see the palm trees sway in real time, keep an eye on Miami through its seven live webcams. The information available online is abundant.
There are even mobile apps available for free (or nearly free; they cost a few dollars at most). With these apps you can get detailed information on the arts district, the parks, the airports and city transit, various historical sites and walking tours, locally recommended food, shopping and a lot more.
There are a few attractions that I think are musts when you’re visiting Miami. Here are a few of my picks.
Calle Ocho – By my count, there are at least eight cigar shops and factories on SW Eighth St. in the Little Havana section of the city. Even if you can’t tell a claro from a maduro, you can’t help but feel fascinated while watching a master cigar roller create an authentic Miami-rolled Cuban cigar.
For a similar amount of immersion in Cuban culture with none of the nicotine, maybe order a cafecito (Cuban espresso, or Café Cubano) or stop in at El Rey de Los Fritas for a fast lunch (fritas, of course), and then walk down to Maximo Gomez Park to watch a game of dominoes—or maybe to enjoy that cigar. (I’m sure you won’t be alone.)
The Miami Circle – One highly unusual feature in the city is the Miami Circle, a prehistoric limestone building site that’s 38 feet across—in the middle of downtown, off Brickell Avenue. Though many at first doubted its age, the circle predates other East Coast settlements and is believed to have been used by the Tequesta Indians. Many Tequesta artifacts are viewable at the HistoryMiami Museum on West Flagler Street. The museum is several blocks northeast of the site, across the Miami River.
Biscayne National Park – This natural haven is within sight of Miami in nearby Homestead, Florida. This park is different than most: it’s mostly made of water. The National Park Service protects these shallow waters, coral reefs, marine wildlife and tropical hardwoods—there are no roads or bridges, and only one hiking trail.
Since the vast majority—90 percent—of the park’s half a million annual visitors enter the space by water, there is no entrance fee. There are, however, fees for special uses (overnight docking, camping at the two campgrounds in the park, etc.).
The Deering Estate – Environmental enthusiasts can also check out The Deering Estate, a preserve in the village of Palmetto Bay, which offers hikes and science education for visitors. It’s a lot closer to the heart of the city (and a little easier to access than Biscayne National Park if you don’t have a boat with you). The estate runs a moonlight canoe tour, which takes paddlers across Biscayne Bay to a waiting campfire on Chicken Key. The tour costs $40 and is open to adults only.
Art Deco Historic District – Lastly, Art Deco architecture is a worthwhile sightseeing trip from downtown Miami across the causeway to the east end of Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood. Tours of all types—guided, private, self-guided—are available seven days a week through the Visitor Center. There are more than 800 buildings to see.
Other ways to spend your time in Miami might include beaching it—no explanation necessary—or window shopping at one of Miami’s many retail districts. For an indoor (read: totally air-conditioned) experience, look to the Brickell City Centre.
If you want the full “I’m in Miami!” retail experience, the outdoor Bal Harbour Shops on Miami Beach are a fashion mecca. With an astounding number of luxury brands and an eponymous fashion magazine, I’d consider this a tourist destination in its own right.
Miami has several great events coming up in the first part of this new year. I’ve listed a few here, along with the dates. To find out more, see the Resources at the end of the article.
South Beach Jazz Festival – Latin, New Orleans-style and classic jazz music will be performed at various venues in South Beach January 5, 6 and 7. Branford Marsalis headlines this year’s event—it’s sure to be a big draw for a festival that’s just in its second year.
Miami Marathon/Half Marathon – This unique single-loop marathon has been running (sorry, I had to) since 2003. Since Miami is a Boston Marathon qualifier, it attracts 25,000 competitors from around the world—as well as 50,000 spectators. If you are in Miami on January 28 this year, you might want to be part of the cheering section.
Coconut Grove Arts Festival – A huge and highly anticipated arts festival occurs Feb. 15–17 in Coconut Grove. With fine art, food, music and performing arts all on showcase, it’s worth a trip to eat, walk and shop around. One-day passes are available for as little as $10 for this 55th annual event.
Calle Ocho Festival – This event has the feel of a neighborhood block party, except it spans 24 blocks. The Calle Ocho Festival has 30 stages of music and its vibrant atmosphere makes it a true Pan American celebration. This year, the date is March 11. If you go, just know that it might be a little crowded: one million of your closest neighbors will also be at the party.
Miami is a bustling place, and the Miami International Airport (KMIA) offers the largest quantity of commercial flights to the Caribbean and Latin America in the entire United States. It’s also first in international freight in the United States. There is a General Aviation Center at KMIA, and with customs there, it’s a must for international visitors. Many interstate flyers would probably look to land elsewhere, if possible.
There are a few other appealing options. The first is the Miami International reliever airport, Miami Executive Airport (KTMB). It’s located to the southwest of downtown, has 24-hour staff, three long runways and a helipad—and has about 500 operations per day. Fuel on the field averages around $6 per gallon at the time of this writing.
Similarly, Miami Opa-Locka Executive (KOPF) to the north of the city is also a reliever for KMIA. It averages about 400 operations per day and lots of these are jets—which means the runways are nice and long. Fuel is about a dollar per gallon higher than at Miami Executive, though one of the three FBOs was comparable to KTMB’s prices.
Miami Homestead General Aviation Airport (X51) is a little further south and west of the central city and is more set up for the DIY types, with self-serve fueling at a more reasonable cost (right around $5 per gallon) and no tower. X51 has two paved runways and a turf strip along with 24-hour restrooms and lounge. Unlike KTMB, gliders aren’t restricted here, so parachutists, RC aircraft and agricultural aircraft are all in the vicinity; something to keep in mind.
Finally, North Perry Airport (KHWO) is located about 14 miles north of downtown Miami and 6 miles north of KOPF. North Perry offers four runways, a control tower, cheap Avgas ($4.25/gal) and a GA-friendly atmosphere. There are several flight schools at North Perry, so the traffic pattern(s) can be quite busy. However, you won’t have to dodge many jets; the airport is closed to aircraft over 12,500 pounds MTOW. Wrap-up
If you’re looking for a winter escape and like to be in the middle of the action, Miami may just be your ticket.
It’s not all shady smugglers, dotty retirees and former spies; it’s oceanside beauty, mingled cultures and exquisite architecture. There’s way more to see and do here than I’d ever known if I’d stayed in front of the television. Sources: miami-airport.com, miamiandbeaches.com, wikipedia.com, yelp.com.
Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .
Cessna’s pressurized Skymaster has a number of STCs developed by Jack Riley, of Riley Rocket fame. Cessna Flyer recently talked to Skymaster authority Bill Crews to get a brief history of the various P337 conversions.
Entrepreneur, innovator and master salesman Jack M. Riley came to the airplane business only after retiring from his first career in blueprinting. By 1962, Riley had been assigned the patent for an Engine Supercharging Apparatus, and it would prove to be one of his most important contributions to General Aviation.
“Jack Riley called me around 1988, maybe ’89,” recalled Bill Crews, owner of Skymasters International. “He did conversions for all kinds of different aircraft, and he was looking for a Skymaster.”
The turbocharged engines on the P337s were known to run hot. “His first mod [for the 337] was an engine intercooler system, and he needed an aircraft to test it on,” Crews explained, “so he bought an airplane from me. It was a P337 with 225 hp.”
Riley’s testing worked, and he was able to secure his intercooler STC for the P337. Riley soon began doing partial conversions to P337s at his California facility.
The Skyrocket is born
Never satisfied, Jack Riley was back on the phone to Crews. “He was getting tired of doing partial conversions installing his intercooler modification and a STOL kit and wanted a total conversion,” he explained.
“I helped him with finding derelict aircraft—by derelict, I mean they had low total time, all logs, zero corrosion and no damage history—but he didn’t care about engine times, paint and interior, because he stripped them to the fuselage, starting over.”
For the P337 conversions Riley International was creating, Jack Riley added the same Horton STOL kit as he used on the Riley Rocket conversion for P210s, and also came up with a metal panel. “The original plastic overlay would vibrate because it never seemed to fasten on correctly,” Crews said.
“A metal panel is so much nicer because the instruments are actually attached. Everybody hated that plastic panel, but Riley was the first one to do away with it. It was a great upgrade.”
“One very big thing he did was soundproofing all of his aircraft,” said Crews. He also upgraded the radios to state-of-the-art and put in an S-TEC 65 autopilot. “After a couple of years he came up with pressurized mags and [an] inflatable door seal,” Crews explained.
Riley marketed his creation as the Skyrocket. The paint scheme for these 337s was the same as what Riley was doing on the P210 Riley Rockets. “But he still didn’t have the air conditioning that customers wanted,” Crews pointed out.
“One customer did come [to see Jack] and he had developed his own air conditioning system for his personal P337,” said Crews. “Jack and the customer worked out a deal: if Jack would do certain mods on the customer’s airplane, they could work out a deal on this owner’s air conditioning design.”
“Jack then went about getting the STC for the air conditioning system, which he added to his future Rocket conversions,” said Crews.
“So, I’d sell these P337s to Jack, and Jack was turning these things out. We sold about 20 to 25 over two or three years. Pricing started at $225,000 in 1989ish, then up to $250,000, then $275,000.”
“The last one he sold with the 225 hp engines was in 1993 or 1994 I believe, and the cost was $425,000 or more,” Crews said.
The Super Skyrocket
“Then Jack Riley called me one day—he had himself a turbo 310 hp Skymaster, not pressurized, which he had bought at a government auction for $50,000. Only Jack Riley could get a deal like that,” Crews joked.
He then added, “I’m surprised he didn’t talk them in to giving it to him!”
“I can’t say what the previous owner was using it for, but it seems he was hauling something the U.S. government wasn’t happy with him hauling,” he said. This aircraft was Riley’s test bed for the 310 hp Riley Super Rocket.
“Riley got that 310 hp conversion approved, and started doing the Super Skyrocket in about 1994, ’95,”said Crews. There were over 300 changes in the Super Skyrocket, according to Gene Smith in “The Faster Mixmaster,” published in US Aviator in April 1994.
The Super Skyrocket was the sixth 300 mph aircraft in Riley’s Rocket series. These Cessna P337s were the fastest of them all, with an additional 85 hp per engine, three-blade props, a 2,500 fpm rate of climb—and higher fuel consumption to match.
“He sold 10 or 12 of those, and they were doing pretty good,” Crews said. “Then Jack Riley had a stroke, and then another.” Riley was partially paralyzed and unable to continue working.
“Now, you have to understand, Jack was Riley International; the company stayed open [after its founder became ill] but sales fell off.”
The company declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California in 1996, and in 1997, SuperSkyrocket LLC bought all of the STCs. (These Riley STCs are now held by Tim Kasper of Kasper Industries. —Ed.)
“Riley had a real good product, but by the mid- to late 1990s, it was all over,” Crews said.
“The Super Skyrockets are rare; I sold one this year—there are maybe 20 Skyrockets and maybe another 10 Super Skyrockets still flying in the United States. The value has come down quite a bit, as these are now older conversions.”
Riley Rockets today
Bill Crews, along with Hank and Matt Kozub at Aircraft Sales, Inc., have developed a newer P337 conversion product called the Rocket II. “We’re continuing what Riley did,” Crews explained. “We just do the 225 hp engines, and the concept has been 25 years in the making.”
The Rocket II conversion includes two remanufactured Continental TSIO-360-CB engines with a factory warranty plus new engine mounts and engine hose kits as well as overhauled turbochargers, wastegates and turbocharger controllers. The aircraft uses Riley’s intercooler system on both engines and includes pressurized magnetos.
Two freshly overhauled props and governors are installed along with polished spinners. The aircraft has a four-color paint scheme and new stainless steel hardware is used all external fasteners.
Inside, the aircraft offers leather seats, integrated headsets—and the best soundproofing available, the same level of noise reduction that Jack Riley was so fond of.
The avionics package includes a Garmin GMA 340 audio panel with four-place stereo intercom and music input; one Garmin GTN 750 WAAS Nav/Com/GPS and one Garmin GTN 650 WAAS Nav/Com/GPS; as well as a Garmin 345 transponder. It also includes an S-TEC 55X autopilot and an engine monitor in its custom aluminum panel.
“One T337 has been completed with a glass panel, and will probably be the way most new Rocket II conversions will be outfitted,” Crews explained.
It took a lot of hard work by Jack Riley and his associates in order to transform stock Cessna aircraft into customized, high performance personal air transportation.
Today, as far as remade Cessna 337s are concerned, Bill Crews, Hank Kozub, Matt Kozub and others are picking up where Riley left off. But they know they owe a debt to their predecessor.
“Jack Riley was one of those guys in life,” Crews said. “One of those guys you are just glad to have had the privilege of knowing and working with.”
Special thanks to Bill Crews for his wealth of information and ready assistance, and to Herb R. Harney for posting the following helpful articles on the SOAPA forum: “What’s in a Name?” by Chuck Stewart. Air Progress, January 1996. “Riley Super Skyrocket” by Geza Szurovy. Private Pilot, November 1998. “The Faster Mixmaster” by Gene Smith. US Aviator, April 1994.
Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .
“There are no comparable models in the late model piston cabin-class aircraft,” said Ron Caruso, founder of Maine Aviation Sales, Inc. in Portland, Maine. “This aircraft literally has no competition in its class.”
Caruso should know. He’s been maintaining 404s since they debuted, and has been selling 404s along with 402s and other corporate and commercial aircraft since 1981.
This family-run business owns two 404s and three 402s, and all six of the staff are enthusiastic about the solid design and exceptional utility of the incomparable 404.
In 1973, Cessna executives began discussing an aircraft with a higher payload than the popular 402, and thus began the development of an unpressurized piston twin that was to become the 404.
The aircraft is clearly an outgrowth of the Model 402B, but with noteworthy differences. The biggest of these is its useful load: at just under or just over 3,000 pounds (depending on type), the 404 is 30 percent greater in ton-mpg than its predecessor.
Engineers also improved the low-speed stall characteristics for the 404 and gave it a smooth bonded metal three-piece wet wing as a standard feature. “Some [aircraft] attach outboard; this aircraft is attached engine-to-engine at the center section of the wing,” Caruso said. This design is structurally sound and incredibly strong.
They pirated some features from the by-then-proven Model 421, too, including the nosegear. However, engineers gave the 404 a brand-new trailing link main landing gear (only minimal rigging is required) and large four-piece semi-Fowler flaps.
The 404’s flaps, landing gear and wet wing would all be used on future Cessna aircraft including Citations. This stable airplane received a vertical tail that spans 7.6 feet, and the rudder trim tab has 4:1 servo.
The Titan was fitted with two 375 hp GTSIO-520-M engines, with no intercooler or cowl flaps. Its fuselage forward of the cockpit is almost identical to the Cessna 402, and the hydraulic system is based on the 402C.
Testing and marketing
The process from testing to certification was relatively quick. The prototype Cessna 404, N5404J, began flight testing in early 1975 and Type Certificate A25CE was issued in July of the following year. First deliveries of this business/commuter/cargo aircraft were in October of 1976.
Cessna initially offered two models of what was at the time its largest piston twin: the 10-passenger Titan Ambassador, and a cargo/passenger version called the Titan Courier.
By the early 1980s, a third model, the Titan Freighter, was also on the market. The Freighter was a reinforced cargo-only version of the 404.
With the Titan offering such a substantial payload increase over the 402, the aircraft was ideal for air cargo and air taxi markets—just as Cessna had suspected. Between October 1976 and January 1977, 17 were delivered.
With a ceiling of 26,000 feet and a range of more than 1,000 miles, the unpressurized 404 can fly both high and far—as long as you don’t mind wearing an oxygen mask. And it can fly in icing conditions.
“This is an excellent Known Ice aircraft,” said Caruso. “It can be dispatched into the same conditions as a Boing 737.”
Fuel capacity is 348 gallons, with 340 usable on the two mains. There are no wing locker tanks. Maximum takeoff weight for the 404 is set at 8,400 pounds, while its maximum landing weight is 8,100 pounds.
The aircraft can carry 700 pounds more than its closest competitor, the Piper Navajo Chieftain—and quite a bit farther, too.
You’d better believe this comparison with the Chieftain was a major selling point in the Cessna marketing materials from the early 1980s.
As far as flight characteristics, Caruso calls the 404 very dorsal. ”It has excellent flight characteristics,” he explained. “It feels like a heavy 402C.”
For takeoff, the flap configuration is 10 degrees (inboard) and eight degrees (outboard). The maximum deflection of the inboard flaps is 35 degrees, with 23 the maximum for the outboard deflection.
“The 404 has small throttle movements like a turboprop,” Caruso said. “We have certain training on the engines that we pass on to our customers and buyers. The engines run real nice, if they’re set up properly.”
If needed, the 404’s hydraulically-actuated landing gear can be extended in flight up to 182 knots, and the aircraft does have an emergency gear extension blowdown bottle with 1,700 psi.
Finally, the Titan, despite its name, is not very demanding on the runway. According to Caruso, the plane has great short-field performance. “It can operate out of 2,500-foot strips,” Caruso said.
The average buyer
The typical seller of the 404 has used the aircraft either for a charter or a freighter, according to Caruso. Sellers can be either corporate or personal flyers. “The average buyer,” he continued, “is looking at the 404 because of its cost of operation/range payload,” Caruso reported.
But not all buyers are corporate and charter ops. One other important—and perhaps unexpected—use of a 404 is for surveillance and photography. With such good flying characteristics, Known Ice capability and a strong airframe, the 404 has a niche.
The plane is also starting to pop up for private individuals’ use. “A 404 can fly to its destination and have enough fuel on board to return home. It hauls the most fuel of the piston-powered twins,” Caruso explained.
“This airplane makes a great charter, or a personal large-family aircraft—at a lot of cost per hour savings over a turboprop,” he said. “We’ve flown our family to Key West, Fla. from Portland, Maine—nonstop,” he added.
“Compared to a C-90 King air, the 404 is one-third the cost to operate—and it’ll haul more. Yes, it’s a little slower—bring lunch and dessert—however, maintenance cost is about half. It’s a good alternative.”
Maintenance and costs
“The 404 is 30 percent the same parts as the 402 maintenance-wise,” Caruso explained, “and similar to working on a 402C.
“Also, serial number [of a 404] does not guarantee a better aircraft. A plane’s history, including its usage, maintenance and where it has been operated is much more important.”
“The 404 has no major ADs,” Caruso continued, but one AD buyers should be aware of is AD 2000-01-16, the 12-year or 2,500-hour overhaul on the exhaust. “A lot of mechanics overlooked the 12-year and reverted to the 2,500 hour,” explained Caruso.
The typical 404 will likely have older radios and avionics. Many Titans were owned by government entities and are on the market as basically stock aircraft with an average 10,000 to 20,000 hours TTAF.
A popular modification on the 404 is a camera hole installation for use in aerial surveys. Maine Aviation Sales holds the STC, which meets most countries’ certification requirements.
Purchase cost of a 404 can range from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on an aircraft’s condition and options. Annual maintenance expenses are between $15,000 and $25,000. (Operations costs are listed on a table on page 45. —Ed.)
Solid, safe and service-oriented
The 404 definitely isn’t the plane to zip around the patch in, but it has its place—both in Cessna’s history as well as in today’s globalized market.
The Titan may not be fancy, but it’s solid and safe. And it can haul a whole lot of people, fuel and cargo. Even in today’s ultra-connected world, we still need to get people and products from Point A to Point B the old-fashioned way, and the 404 Titan Ambassador, Courier and Freighter are up to the task.
Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Cessna Flyer. Send questions or comments to .
Special thanks to Cessna twin specialist Jerry Temple for the wealth of information he provided.
Cessna marketing materials c.1980.
“Cessna’s Big Twins: the 400 Series” by Jennifer Dellenbusch, Cessna Flyer, July 2014.
“Cessna Wings for the World III: Development of the 400 Series Twins” by William D. Thompson, Maverick Publications, Bend, Ore., 2000. Wikipedia.org.