In my last article I told you what it took to get my wife in the air. As much as that short flight over La Jolla (San Diego) was fun, the goal was always, and forever will be, to use the airplane for family flying.
So after years of airport hopping, $100 burger runs (by myself I might add), and oh so many touch and goes, it was time to take the family on a real trip. Being the A type, “I can do anything” guy that I am (and yes, you are too) I decided on a destination: Puerto Penasco, Mexico, also known as Rocky Point. In the car? Nine hours. In the plane? Barely two. We all agree: Let’s fly!
If you have kids, you know that leaving the house is like a military operation that requires precision, accuracy and willingness to take a bullet for the greater good (“Honey, the kids are already in the car, you can pee later!”).
Flying a family in a small plane to another country? That is a whole different project. Charge the iPads, check! Ear muffs for the baby? Yes! Snacks, water, pillows, car seats, boogie boards, and of course my wife’s bag, which is probably 30 pounds all by itself, and has everything we need if we ever had to survive a nuclear blast. Now, did I mention I am flying a Mooney? Yes, a Mooney, which I would not consider very lush accommodations for a family with kids.
I am looking at the front door of our house and I see a mountain of luggage. “Honey, I said one suitcase under 50 pounds… I count four!” How is everything going to fit in that Mooney? That is just not going to happen! Luckily we had family members who were driving, so we basically gave them all of our luggage. OK, time to recalculate everything. Looks good, we are 10 pounds under gross and perfect on the W&B; let’s go.
Takeoff was routine, and enroute, was, well, enroute, beautiful all around, but don’t ask my kids, for all they know we are sitting in a bus or in the subway, because I don’t think they looked outside even once–the damn iPad is ALL they care about. Fine!
One hour into the flight and people started to move around in their seats. It’s tight in here, it’s hot, and I think (but I am still not sure) that someone went #2 in their diaper… not very princess-like, sweetheart.
The Mexican controllers are very professional, and provide clear instructions in perfect English. I am starting to feel like two hours is maybe pushing it. Fast forward an hour later and everyone is just eager to get out of the airplane. The iPads, the water, the snacks, they are all thrown in the back to make room for the people who are trying to move a leg before it cramps up. And the kids? Well, the kids would jump out if they know how to get the door to open.
We land in 110 degree heat; the bumps coming down are not helping. We taxi to the ramp, and I am amazed to see how fast the kids got out of the Mooney, completely ignoring the ten people with guns that are surrounding the airplane.
The Federales are super nice and helpful, my girl pets their K9, and he is friendly as well. The airport staff takes us into the commandant’s office, and he has air conditioning! Let’s stay here for a while (or for a few hours). The process is very smooth and relaxed; there is no rush, not for them and not for us. We made it, now it’s time to relax. The house we rented from Ed (a pilot as well) is right on the ocean and nothing short of amazing. Thanks, Ed!
I will spare you the details of the flight back, but I would just say that it was not any better, or any colder for that matter: we took off in 105 degrees this time. One hour into the flight and the same unrest routine starts again. Thank god for US Customs!
We land at Calexico and are greeted by two agents with a smile. Hot today? Ha-ha? Yeah, you have no idea.
Paperwork took less than three minutes. No, it’s not a typo, three minutes. They know we were coming (I guess that eAPIS is good for something) and we were out the door almost immediately. Hold on, what is going on? Where is everyone going? Kids? What’s with the sitting around? Get in the plane and let’s go home. Nope… not going to happen. They know what waits for them in my tiny sardine can, and they are stalling. We finally get home. That same night I get online and started to look for a six seater.
During the next few months I read anything I can find online about my six-seater options, and narrow it down to an A36 Bonanza or a Cherokee Six. One night, while reading in bed, my wife wakes up, annoyed. Are you still up? Why are you reading at 3 in the morning? Don’t you know the kids will be up in three hours?
The following morning (and by that I mean two hours later because the baby woke up and refuses to go back to sleep), I made my decision. I am going with the Six.
I will trade speed for space and comfort, because let’s face it: with three kids, two under 5 years old, you need all the space and useful load you can get. I make the announcement in the bathroom while she is brushing her teeth. For me it’s a huge moment, a moment of choice, a moment of resolve, a moment of happiness!
She drinks a little water, lifts her head up from the sink and looks at me thru the mirror… “Cherokee Six? Really? I heard it flies like a pig…” and walks out. A pig? A Pig? That’s what I get for months of research and sleepless nights? A pig?
Want to hear the really funny part? When friends and family go up to my wife and ask about our new plane, she has no idea. Is it a Piper? No idea. A Cessna? No clue. She has zero knowledge on the matter and she could not care less about what is the “professional name” (end quote) for the airplane. For all she cares, and for everyone to hear, she announces “My husband bought a pig.”
- Practical tips for family flying – how to keep everyone happy - August 27, 2015
- Why I bought a Pig! - November 17, 2014
- A family affair… finally - April 7, 2014
Adding my voice of experience. Did you ever consider the combination of a mini-van and a Flybaby?
Tell your wife to look at it this way: that pig is a lot less expensive than a Malibu. ;-)
Very true , but then again if a Malibu was involved, the story would have ended with her drowning me in the bathroom sink :-)
Pigs are freaking beautiful!!
That was hilarious
Remember, think bacon. Everyone loves bacon.
Great story. I can relate very well with three kids of my own–though not as young (7, 10, 12). My Piper Warrior is mathematically incompatible with family trips so a Six might be in my future as well.
Yes that trilemma will keep u up at night… Life is not designed for a family of 5… From getting a seat at the restaurant to picking up a good family car. I looked at 182s with benches and even sr22s (way too tight). The closer I got was a v35s with six seats but once you look at the W&B it becomes a four seater. A36 or a pa-32 are really ur only options :-)
Marco, if you are interested mine is for sale(take a look at the website n3723w.us.to). This article is why I chose the six and it is spot on. My kids are getting a little older and busier with school so we don’t do family flying as much and I cannot justify a six seater for pattern work(hence why I am selling it); but we have traveled most of the east coast over the past 6 years and the six 260 with a 1700b useful load was a great choice. I’m going to miss her a lot.
But I’ll disagree with your wife: a Cherokee Six is no pig.
It’s an airplane whose primary mission is that of a comfortable passenger/load hauler, not a sports car of the air. It is certainly not a fast airplane like a Mooney or even a Bonanza, of course, but it still flies and has fine handling qualities, like all Cherokees. It is stable, has no bad manners, and the wide-body Cherokees have a bigger and more comfortable cabin than even the Bonanza, which is relatively narrow and very cramped in the third row aft seating/baggage area.
Sounds like you picked the right airplane for your mission profile. If you eventually get a little frustrated with the 145-150 +/- knot cruise (assuming you have the Six/300), you can always upgrade to the retractable version (PA-32R Saratoga), which is good for up to around 160 +/- knots cruise. Sure, the Bo will cruise even faster (at up to around 175-180 knots), but it still lacks the full fuel payload, range, and cabin comforts of the Six/300.
Speed, however, is way overrated by too many pilots. Speed is very expensive, for one thing (the cost/mph goes up exponentially above 150 knots cruise, both in airframe cost as well as fuel and maintenance costs), so that adding 25 knots – a pretty expensive proposition – only gets you to your destination mere minutes earlier. Any airplane gets you there hours earlier than in a car.
As you discovered in your research, all airplanes are design compromises, with different missions in mind, and the airplane needs to fit the owner’s intended mission. You did well in buying this “SUV of the Sky”. When the kids are grown, and other changes happen in life, your mission may vary and then you’ll likely be looking at moving to a different aircraft.
They’re all good when they’re yours! No aircraft owner owns a “pig”.
I would also add that the Cherokee Six is an excellent IFR platform. Once you figure out your power settings, it is very easy in IMC.
Thanks Duane, and yes I agree 100%, I am loving the six, how easy it is to fly, and the fact that I can easly skip a fuel stop in econ-cruise… That on its own saves me 30min which brings me in at about the same time as the BO driver but for much less $$$.
Im so jealous! I would not consider it a pig. Any plane that gets you up in the air and down safe is amazing. Especially one with 6 seats. Well done.
I too have fond memories of the Cherokee 6.
“I can easly skip a fuel stop in econ-cruise… That on its own saves me 30min…”
With a family, perhaps it saves even more time! A stop for a few minutes for gas may be impossible with a family.
It is not required that a Cherokee Six fly like a pig. LoPresti makes speed mods for the Cherokee Six that will speed it up ten knots and improve the flying characteristics so the darn thing just floats and floats on landing. Gap seals, wing root fairings, improved wheel pants, etc. I bought a ’79 PA 32-300 for exactly the reasons this author did. We outfitted it with speed mods and got an honest 10 knot increase in cruise. We had two kids and a desire to travel long distances. It had club seating so we pulled the alternate facing rear seats, giving my 8 and 10 year olds a huge amount of leg room. We travelled from Alaska to Angel Falls, from San Francisco to St John’s. Look down your nose if you want but buy it, fly it, and you’ll love it. I finally sold it when we iced up one July day over the northern Rockies and decided we needed a deiced P-210.
Thank you for your comments. I looked at all available speed mods and for me it makes so sense. With a ratio of $1,000 per knot, getting everything done will be an easy $10,000. I would rather get there 15min later and use the money for a glass panel…well, at least to get started on a glass panel that is :-)
GREAT STORY FROM A FELLOW MOONEY DRIVER. FORTUNATELY I ONLY HAVE 2 TEENAGE GIRLS AND THE WIFE TO SQUEEZE INTO MY MOONEY OTHERWISE I WOULD HAVE MORE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED THE 6. I DEFINITELY CAN RELATE. WE REGULARLY FLY FROM PENNSYLVANIA TO THE FLORIDA KEYS WITH THE 4 OF US. THAT WASN’T FAR ENOUGH SO WE EXTENDED THAT TO AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT TO EXUMA IN THE BAHAMAS IN JUNE. TALK ABOUT HOT, STICKY AND COMPLAINING. . . AND THAT WAS JUST ME! I DON’T THINK 8+ HOURS IN A 6 WOULD HAVE BEEN ANY BETTER THAN THE LESS THAN 7 IN THE MOONEY. THE VIEWS AND CONVENIENCE FOR ISLAND HOPPING MORE THAN MADE UP FOR IT THOUGH. NOW WE ARE TALKING ABOUT PA TO CA (SOLO WEST BOUND), CANCUN, AND THE CAYMAN ISLANDS OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS. KEEP PLUGGING AWAY, IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE ENJOYABLE FLYCATIONS.
Bernie, thank you for sharing. You are a brave (brave!) man for going this far this long in a mooney, I think you and your family deserves a medal :-)
An unexpected feature of the six is the huge amount of air that circulates in the cabin… It will blow the sectional out of my hands if I don’t close it down a notch. The mooney trades an air scoop for speed, and oh how much I miss that speed :-) !
How come a Cessna 206 was not in the mix with six seats? I grew up in Pipers and now own a Bonanza, so it is not like I have a bias. Just curious.
David, sorry for the late reply.
The 206 is significantly smaller then the six, and the two back seats are just too small. Try to plug two car seats in the back and the door may not close. I would say that the six (in size) is equivalent to an escelade, while the 206 is more like an Audi Q7, both are seven seaters but the cabin room is significantly different.
You may want to explain to your wife that a Cherokee Six fly more like a chicken then a pig – therefor it is totally kosher to fly as long as you do not put milk in it!