Diving into Flying

Like many other pilots in my age group, I acquired my initial interest in flying by watching the CBS television series, “Sky King,” which aired from the mid-’50s through the early ’60s. I had the good fortune to meet the star of the show, Kirby Grant, in 1975 and we immediately formed a close friendship that lasted until his untimely death in 1985.

I have wonderful memories of Kirby’s many visits to my home, flying with me in my Cessna 310 (the type of plane used in the later episodes of the series), working on his media photo and video shoots and visiting him in Florida, where he moved after the series ended.

Another TV show I was hooked on during the same era was “Sea Hunt,” staring Lloyd Bridges. I never met Bridges, but his show planted the seed for my interest in SCUBA diving just as Kirby’s did for flying. As a result, I received my initial SCUBA certification when I turned 14 (the earliest age allowed then), and flew my first solo in a C-150 when I was 16. I have been flying and diving ever since.

It never ceases to amaze me how many pilots I talk to who also SCUBA dive. There is definitely a connection. Is it the freedom of motion in the ocean, which is similar to the freedom we feel when we fly? Is it the individuality of the diving and flying challenges? Maybe the spirit of adventure? Diving is certainly like flying in its demand for sound judgement, staying proficient, taking care of the equipment, and playing by the rules. Failure to do so in either activity can easily yield tragic results.

One of the many advantages of living in the southern part of the United States, for those of us who fly, is that there are so many great destinations we can get to, even for a long weekend, by private plane. If you’re also a diver, it’s just icing on the cake.

From my Salisbury, N.C., (RUQ) base, I can fly to a boat-load of great dive destinations, get in a couple of good days underwater, and be home by dark on the next day. And, yes, this is even after giving full consideration to the time required to surface after the last dive, before flying.

For example, many times I have left RUQ on a Thursday and flown to West Palm Beach, Fla., where there would be two morning dives, an early afternoon dive, and an awesome night dive on Friday. Saturday we’d get in two morning dives and be out of the water and on the boat by 11. We’d relax that afternoon by the pool and be in the air 24 hours later, at 11 the next morning, with arrival back in RUQ by 3 p.m. And this is flying my Cardinal RG, that only cruises at 142 knots, proving that even in a Cessna 172 this is still a very practical plan.

Another fly/dive destination I have visited is Beaufort-Morehead City, N.C. The boat ride to the dive sites takes about two hours and can get a little rough at times, but the wreck diving and marine life are really good. Last year, my wife and I also flew out to Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. It’s a little island not much bigger than its runway, sitting 110 miles east of Vero Beach, Fla. (Love that GPS.) The island is fully self contained with hotel, dive operator as well as fishing charter operators, and a marina with many private yachts and fishing boats owned by U.S. based citizens.

We went there specifically to film the “Shark Rodeo.” We jumped into about 40 feet of water, amongst 60 to 70 Caribbean reef and lemon sharks, and watched them feed on a special frozen block of chum, naturally called a “chumsicle.” They circled all around us and passed within a foot of us while finishing their meal. That dive was worth the entire trip, which was a good thing because the rest of the dives were not very impressive, due to the lack of marine life. We found out that these are unprotected waters and have been essentially “fished off.” We’d have had to go much further out from the island to see the fish, which is exactly what all the fishing boats also have to do. We plan on returning to the Bahamas in April, but I will do better research on the islands, the dive operators and their favorite sites to make sure they are in protected waters, to insure better diving.

A can’t miss destination for fly/diving is Marathon, in the Florida Keys. They have it all: a nice GA airport, plenty of good lodging and dining facilities, a number of excellent dive operators, with plenty of sea life and wrecks to see. It is no more than an hour by rental car from any other part of the keys, including Key West, offering a lot of variety to any vacation there. I definitely plan to return to Marathon.

Some dive sites that I have not yet visited by small plane, but have on the planning burner, include the South Carolina coast, the northern Gulf Coast of Florida and, eventually, the Cayman Islands. So you see, besides the common aspects shared by diving and flying mentioned earlier, diving also can provide a great excuse to use our airplanes. Uhhhh, Yeh, I know; as if we really need an excuse to use our airplanes, to begin with!

Guy R. Maher is a business owner and aircraft appraiser with more than 12,000 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters. He is an independent buyer’s agent and flight instructor for type specific initial and recurrent training. he can be contacted through the above e-mail address, or by calling 704-287-3475.

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