Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 3rd: One More Country in the Logbook

Jen and Mike were going to sit the next flight out, so we said goodbye to them and they went to check out a nearby store while Mark and I went back inside with Travis to go over the plan for our next flight. We were flying to Mexico!

When I had looked into First Flight (and before I'd emailed to schedule any of the flying), I noticed that they advertised Mexico checkouts on their website. I'm always up for flying in a new country, and I figured it would be a fun way to learn how to file flight plans with eAPIS (basically, customs) and how to clear customs when flying in a small plane.

Travis went over the eAPIS system, we filed our outbound and inbound flight plans, and once we got an email confirmation that everything had been accepted, we went outside and hopped in the plane. The tower cleared us for takeoff, then a moment later approved a left turn on course, and less than five minutes after we took off we were in Mexico.

You can just see Brown Field back by the tail; the runway on the right side of the picture is Tijuana. That big line that runs diagonally through the picture just north of the runway is the border fence. Hello, Mexico!

It was an absolutely beautiful day, so I checked out the scenery as much as I could while still keeping us on course. (As in the last post, Mark took almost all of these pictures.)

We climbed up to 3500' and flew south along the coast. Once you got a little bit south of Tijuana there were hardly any built-up areas. The coast was really pretty, and after seeing how congested California is, it was kind of crazy to see the same kind of beautiful scenery so untouched.

I think this was Rosarito; it was just a little bit southwest of Tijuana.

We kept flying south while Travis pointed out local landmarks and told us stories about flying around in Mexico. He does a lot of charter flying back and forth and regularly flies hunters and fisherman into remote dirt strips, so I figured if anyone could get us safely in and out of the country, it would be him!

After about half an hour, we reached Ensenada. The runway sits right near the beach. Pretty!

We were the only ones in the pattern, so the tower cleared us to land on Runway 29. We were on base in this picture; we flew a standard traffic pattern and landed with no problem.

The airport seemed pretty quiet, even though it's also a military base. We taxied past the tower, pulled up into our assigned parking spot, and went inside to clear customs.

I had never flown across the border in a small plane, so I'm definitely grateful that I got to fly with an instructor that knew how to clear customs! It took almost 40 minutes to wrap up all the paperwork, and most of that was a big game of getting different papers stamped by different officers. The terminal building was pretty simple and a little warm; there were a couple big German Shepherds panting in the corners. We eventually wrapped everything up, got our visas stamped in our passports, then went back out to the plane to head back to the US.

On the ramp at Ensenada. Travis took a couple pictures of us, but after a minute one of the officers walked by and gestured to stop. Apparently the Mexican military doesn't like when you take pictures of their military  training planes (which Travis had framed perfectly in a picture not posted here...I'd like to reserve the right to go back to Ensenada someday if I need to!). We tossed the camera in the back, hopped in the plane, and got the heck out of there.

Bye, Ensenada! Mark was hesitant about taking pictures as we departed, but I told him there's no way they would know once we were in the air. We got out of there with no problems, and turned north to follow the coast back up to Brown Field.

This is Travis. He was a great instructor...if you ever consider flying with First Flight out of Brown Field, I'd highly recommend him!

We flew a little further inland on the way back. It was so desolate!

We made pretty good time and were back to Tijuana in about half an hour.

This time we wound up on the east side of the two airports; Tijuana is on the left, and Brown Field is across the border on the right.

The tower at Brown Field had us enter a left base for 26L...which is that tiny runway off to the side. (Well, at 3180' it's not that tiny, but next to the 7900' runway on the right side it looks small!)

Final for 26L. We landed with no problem, taxied over to US Customs, and shut down. Travis said to make sure you didn't wander out of the lines painted around the parking spots until you had cleared customs. It was kind of funny to stand there, knowing that it was ok to stand here, but you weren't allowed to stand on the other side of the line, just a few feet away. The customs agents came out to meet us almost immediately, and after a couple quick questions we were officially cleared back into the US. It was so easy! We taxied the plane back over to First Flight, Travis signed my logbook, and we were all done. I had a really good time, and I'll definitely try to fly with him again the next time I'm out here! (He also said next time we could fly to San Felipe, grab a taxi, and go into town for some authentic Mexican tacos. Sounds good to me!)

Charlie had stopped by to say hi when we got back. He was working in the area that day and had hoped to join us for dinner that night, but he had to work late so we had to say goodbye then. He gave us a few recommendations for fun things to do that afternoon before heading back to work. Time to go enjoy our last afternoon!

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