flying across the atlantic in a small plane

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A transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Africa, South Asia, or the Middle East to North America, Central America, or South America, or vice versa. Such flights have been made by fixed-wing aircraft, airships, balloons and other aircraft.

Early aircraft engines did not have the reliability needed for the crossing, nor the power to lift the required fuel. There are difficulties navigating over featureless expanses of water for thousands of miles, and the weather, especially in the North Atlantic, is unpredictable. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, transatlantic flight has become routine, for commercial, military, diplomatic, and other purposes. Experimental flights (in balloons, small aircraft, etc.) present challenges for transatlantic fliers.

best small plane to fly around the world

Flying Across The Atlantic In A Small Plane

Before you read further, rest assured that this isn’t a treatise on how to ditch an airplane. In 40 years and 250 trips delivering new and used aircraft across one (or, in some case, both) of the world’s largest oceans, I’ve only lost one airplane—a six-seat Piper Lance, and that was in one of the driest places on Earth, the southern Sahara Desert of Ethiopia, Africa.

On that trip from Santa Monica to a planned destination of Nairobi, Kenya, I almost wished I had been over water. When the engine failed, the blistering desert below was anything but flat and level; no roads or even game trails, nothing that passed for an imaginary runway, just rocks, sand dunes and acacia trees, all baking at 114° Fahrenheit. At least an ocean landing would’ve been cooler.

Long story short, the airplane was totaled in the crash, but I must have done something right, as the owner and I walked away without a scratch.

Flying over water didn’t come naturally to me. In 1977, I was doing a story on how Piper moves airplanes from Vero Beach to points European. With the help of Phil Waldman, managing director of Globe Aero Ltd. in Lakeland, Florida, I flew a new Seneca from Lakeland to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport, where the Seneca joined a group of new Pipers on static display.

I was a little apprehensive about my first Atlantic crossing, 1,800 nm across one of the angriest and least-hospitable oceans on the planet. Typical water temperatures in late May rarely rise above 50 degrees F in mid summer. In winter, the water temp drops far below that level, down to 30 degrees or less. (Moving salt water can remain liquid well below normal freezing level.)

Additionally, the North Atlantic off Newfoundland, below Greenland and Iceland, is infamous for fierce storms that can swell ocean waves to 30- to 40-foot crests.

In other words, if you’re forced to ditch in the Atlantic at any time of year, no matter how complete and expensive your complement of survival gear, you have only three chances of survival: slim, fat and none. 

One ferry pilot, Harry Rhule, was flying a Twin Comanche home to the U.S. from Europe in November and had a tank fail to feed during the relatively short 650-nm leg from Wick, Scotland, to Reykjavik, Iceland. He had about 30 minutes of fuel remaining when he maydayed, but there was no land close enough to reach. He had passed the Faroe Islands, and there was nothing but water between him and Iceland.

Harry finally reached a Bondurant turboprop that was over-flying the same route at FL 200. Harry explained his problem, and the Bondurant pilot suggested he ditch while he still had some power remaining rather than attempt to dead-stick into the North Atlantic with few control options.

The Bandit pilot dropped down to Harry’s altitude and spotted the little Twin Comanche above the waves. He also saw a cruise ship a few miles ahead and directed Harry toward it.

Unfortunately, there was no way to talk to the cruise ship, as aviation and marine radio traffic use different frequencies. (I used to carry a portable marine radio for that specific reason.)

In desperation, the Bandit pilot circled the ship and buzzed it several times, trying to get it to stop. He finally succeeded—the ship’s lookout spotted the Twin Comanche and the ship captain turned his vessel toward the airplane.

Harry had managed to get into his survival dry suit before he hit the water, but the waves were running 15 feet at the crests, and the ditching was very rough. Harry lost his raft in the ditching and was left bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean with a water temperature later estimated at about 36° F.Advertisement

Harry said later that he couldn’t believe how cold the water was. He said the 15 minutes the rescue boat took to reach him seemed like an hour.

A very cold Harry Rhule emerged from the experience unhurt but wiser and determined to buy a portable marine radio before his next trip.

Many years after Harry’s brush with eternity, I was flying a new Piper Arrow straight across from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Shannon, Ireland, and I was reporting my position through a relay courtesy of TWA. When the Trans World captain finished the relay back to Gander, he asked me questions about my airplane and my sanity.

“How many engines on an Arrow?” he questioned. That’s not as elementary as you might think. Many airline captains cycle through the military directly to the airlines with little general aviation experience.

“Just one, a four-cylinder 200-hp Lycoming,” I answered.

“Do you have any radio navigation aids to help you determine position?” he asked.

“Just an ADF tuned to an LF commercial broadcast station near Shannon and a flight log with lots of numbers,” I replied. 

“I see from your position report that you’re down at 9,000 feet in the clouds.  Are you picking up any ice? Do you have de-ice equipment on board that little airplane?”

“Yeah, I have pitot heat,” I joked, “but I just flew through some light rime a while back, not too bad. It’s pretty much sublimated now.”

The TWA captain chewed on that for a while, then said, “Better you than me, buddy. I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t have four turbine engines.”

The captain’s point about number of engines over the ocean brings up an interesting question. How many are optimum? If you’re flying behind only one and that one quits, you’ll obviously have to ditch.

But don’t imagine that having two engines provides ultimate protection. Very few general aviation aircraft can manage an ocean crossing, especially on the Pacific, without supplemental fuel tanks.

On a big twin such as a 421, Duke or Chieftain, you may have as much as 250 gallons of ferry fuel installed in the cabin. That can put you as much as 25% over gross (about 1,400 pounds in a 421), and few twins will maintain any altitude at all if an engine fails at that weight. (The FAA issues Special Airworthiness Certificates to ferry aircraft that must operate at abnormal gross weights.)

Conversely, having two engines can be a major advantage in some types of emergencies. Since we virtually always have ferry tanks installed on every oceanic flight, we make it a point to test fuel feed at near-cruise power on each tank before departing. If you fail to do that and one tank refuses to feed, you may discover too late that you don’t have sufficient fuel to complete the trip if one tank refuses to feed.

One pilot headed for Hawaii failed to test each ferry tank in a twin on the ground in Santa Barbara before departing for Honolulu and discovered the problem as he was approaching the Big Island of Hawaii. He knew he couldn’t make land at any power setting with both engines running, but he also knew the airplane had burned down to relatively light weight near the end of the trip and could probably maintain altitude on one engine. He also theorized that the airplane would actually realize slightly better fuel specifics with one mill feathered.

He shut down one engine and snuck into Hilo on the north side of the Big Island with what turned out to be 10 gallons remaining.

Another pilot, Ray Clamback of Sydney, Australia, one of the world’s most experienced ferry pilots, went in the water halfway between the Big Island and Christmas Island in the Pacific in October 2004.

Ray was on his way to Australia in a near-new 182 and began to lose oil pressure 600 miles south of Kona.

As it happened, I was flying the same leg 50 miles ahead of Clamback. I was driving a freshly reconditioned Shrike Commander to Cairns, Australia, and I was talking to Ray about his new HF radio, when he suddenly said, “Stand by. I’m losing oil pressure.”

Nothing Ray did alleviated the problem, and it soon became obvious he was going into the Pacific.

Like Harry Rhule above, Ray made a semi-successful ditching, but the fixed-gear Cessna “submarined” on touchdown (went inverted), and Ray lost his raft and all other survival gear except the vest he was wearing when the airplane nosed into the water.

“When the airplane hit the water, it flipped end-over-end, and I was lucky to get out at all,” Ray said later. The Skylane went down, leaving Ray alone halfway out on the 1,000-mile leg to Christmas.

Well, not exactly.

Clamback had another Skylane flying with him, and pilot Lyn Gray marked his spot until the U.S. Coast Guard C-130 arrived overhead and dropped survival gear. Ray was picked up later by a container ship headed for Melbourne.   

Though both Harry Rhule and Ray Clamback lost all their ferry gear in their ditchings, the big question is always how much survival gear is enough. I know of some pilots who skimp on the major investment necessary to cover all eventualities. Many of them are no longer with us.

It’s important to remember that you’ll need to get all that equipment home somehow after you deliver the airplane. An HF radio, two- or four-man life raft, die markers, flares, portable GPSs, survival rations, a fishing kit, water and a myriad of other items can increase the cost of getting into the ferry business by thousands of dollars.

It’s important to remember, however, that it all may be worth the investment if it only saves your life once.

flying around the world in a small plane routes

Eight Types of Private Jets: Which One Is for You?

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Privacy, time savings and unparalleled comfort are just some of the perks of flying via a private jet.
Cozy sleeping areas, contemporary showers, lavishly appointed board rooms, and plush seats with an abundance of legroom – these are the additional features you can enjoy depending on the private aircraft you are using.

Whether you are planning to buy your own business jet, or you wish to charter one, it is best to know which type will suit your needs and preferences to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable travel, every time.

1. Very Light Jets 

hondajet-elite

HondaJet Elite

The smallest type of private jet, Very Light Jets (VLJs) are cost-effective to operate and maintain in contrast with standard light jets. These are ideal for short-haul distances or up to a maximum of three hours of flight time.

Also known as Compact Light Jets, these can use shorter runways and fly into areas that are often inaccessible to commercial airlines. These jets typically accommodate four to seven passengers and carry a reasonable amount of luggage, but they have no room for a cabin attendant.

Popular types of VLJs include Embraer Phenom 100, Eclipse 500 and HondaJet HA-420.

AircraftEmbraer Phenom 100Eclipse 500HondaJet HA-420
Passenger Capacity4 to 7 people45 to 6 people
Range1,211 nautical miles1,294 nautical miles1,223 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity70 ft316 ft366 ft3
FacilitiesEnclosed rear lavatoryLeather seatingRear lavatory
Small forward galleyWork/dining tableFoldable table
Complimentary snacks and refreshmentsLED upper lightingOptional cabin management system

2. Small Light Jets

cessna-citation-cj2

Cessna Citation CJ2

Offering better passenger capacity, small light jets can comfortably seat up to eight people, making it widely popular among business travelers. These jets also have a higher average flight distance, ranging from 1,400 to 2,500 nautical miles with a maximum speed of 500 miles per hour. These capabilities make them ideal for two- to three-hour flights, even for intracontinental routes.

Like their smaller counterparts, small light jets can access small airports and runways, giving business travelers more flexibility and freedom to use less busier airports instead of crowded commercial airports.

Although most small light jets do not have room for a cabin attendant, they can be outfitted with a lavatory, unlike most VLJs. Hawker 400 XP, Cessna Citation CJ2 and Dassault Falcon 10 are some of the popular jets in this class.

AircraftHawker 400 XPCessna Citation CJ2Dassault Falcon 10
Passenger Capacity6 to 8 people6 to 8 people6 to 8 people
Range1,400 nautical miles1,530 nautical miles1,520 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity53 ft374 ft341 ft3
FacilitiesEnclosed lavatoryLeather interiorExecutive seating with fold-down center
Galley and refreshment barPrivate lavatoryRear bench seat
Rear luggage sectionGalley and refreshment barLavatory

3. Super Light Jets

embraer-phenom-300

Embraer Phenom 300

Super light jets offer enhanced size, range and comfort compared with the small light jet class. With a more spacious cabin and luggage compartment, super light jets can accommodate an average of eight passengers in guaranteed comfort.

Though larger in size, super light jets can easily navigate short runways at private airstrips and small airports, so travelers who want to avoid the crowds at major airports can have alternative options for departure and arrival.

Notable aircraft in the super light jet class include Gulfstream G100, which can up seat up to nine people, and Embraer Phenom 300, which can carry a maximum of 11 passengers.

AircraftGulfstream G100Embraer Phenom 300Citation XLS
Passenger Capacity7 people6 to 8 people8 people
Range2,550 nautical miles1,692 nautical miles1,687 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity64 ft374 ft380 ft3
FacilitiesFull enclosed lavatory Executive seating with fold-out tableRefreshment center
Mini galleyRefreshment centerInflight conference room
Power outletsLavatoryLavatory and sink

4. Midsize Cabin Jets

gulfstream-150

Gulfstream G150

Mid-size private jets are the optimum choice for travelers who require longer flight capacity. With an average range of 2,200 nautical miles – or around five hours of non-stop travel – mid-size jets can easily manage short-haul and long-haul flights, ensuring transcontinental capacity.

Because it comes with a bigger cabin, it is ideal for passengers who want more headroom, full standing capacity and additional space for luggage. Mid-size jets also offer more stylish interiors and can provide utmost comfort and convenience for five to 10 passengers.

Mid-size jets generally have enough room for two pilots, a flight attendant, a service galley and an on-board lavatory, while some can even be outfitted with an enclosed shower and fold-out divans. Equipped with Wi-Fi and phone capabilities, mid-size jets are perfect for those who prefer to stay connected and productive during flights.

Mid-size private jets can still use smaller airports and are more cost-efficient to operate in comparison with heavy jets. If you are eyeing a mid-size private jet for your next travel, take a look at Gulfstream 150, Cessna Citation Latitude and Learjet 60.

AircraftGulfstream G150Cessna Citation LatitudeLearjet 60
Passenger Capacity7 people7 to 9 people7 to 8 people
Range2,760 nautical miles2,700 nautical miles2,250 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity80 ft3127 ft355 ft3
FacilitiesFully enclosed lavatory Spacious lavatory and baggage compartmentBusiness-class leather seating
Fully galleyExpanded refreshment centerRear modern lavatory
Entertainment systemStand-up flat-floor cabinExecutive fold out tables

5. Super Midsize Cabin Jets

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Cessna Citation Sovereign

Larger cabin space and greater flying capacity are the upgrades that super mid-size cabin jets hold over standard mid-size private jets. The super mid-size cabin jet class can fly up to seven hours, covering an average of 3,500 miles.

Super mid-size jets feature spacious standing and walking room and have ample space for an enclosed lavatory and service galley. Featuring enhanced avionics that enable a quieter operation, super mid-size jets provide a higher level of comfort for travelers while delivering greater speed and range.

Gulfstream 200, Cessna Citation Sovereign and Bombardier Challenge 350 are premier choices in this class.

AircraftGulfstream G200Cessna Citation SovereignBombardier Challenger 350
Passenger Capacity8 to 10 people9 to 12 people10 people
Range3,130 nautical miles2,620 nautical miles3,200 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity150 ft3135 ft3106 ft3
FacilitiesForward full-service galleyRefreshment centerFully enclosed rear lavatory
Read enclosed lavatoryPrivate lavatory with vanityRefreshment center
Versatile cabin layoutsCenterline closetDivan layout or double-club seating options

6. Heavy Jets

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Bombardier Challenger 605

First-class seats, more spacious legroom, and pull-out tabletops are just a few of the upgrades that heavy jets present to elite travelers. Boasting significantly larger cabin sizes, heavy jets envelop 10 passengers or more in a high level of aviation comfort and elegance, with all the privacy and exclusivity available in private travel.

Standard heavy jets can easily accommodate two flight attendants to manage full in-flight catering, while still having more than enough space for entertainment facilities, enclosed bathrooms and dedicated sleeping areas. In-flight productivity is guaranteed with convenient Wi-Fi and phone capabilities.

These king-size private jets pack in power too, with a superior flying capacity of up to nine hours non-stop and a range of 4,000 miles. Bombardier Challenger 605, Gulfstream 450 and Dassault Falcon 900 are a few top-of-the-line models in this class.

AircraftBombardier Challenger 605Gulfstream 350Dassault Falcon 900
Passenger Capacity9 to 12 people14 to 16 people12 to 19 people
Range3,834 nautical miles3,680 nautical miles3,590 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity115 ft3169 ft3127 ft3
FacilitiesExecutive layout with divan option availableEnclosed lavatorySpacious customizable cabin
Full-service galleyEntertainment centerFull-sized galley
Rear enclosed lavatoryFull-sized galleyFull vanity rear lavatory

 7. Ultra-Long-Range Heavy Jets

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Bombardier Global 6000

If you are looking for something even better than heavy jets, then the ultra-long-range heavy jet class is probably the right choice for you. Renowned for offering the best in private travel, ultra-long-range jets provide generous cabin space with different areas dedicated to dining, work, entertainment and relaxation.

Complete with enclosed bathrooms, lie-flat beds, full-service galley and a roomy luggage area, this segment of private jets is designed to offer the highest levels of comfort and extravagance for the most discerning travelers.

With lavishly appointed interiors and ultramodern amenities, these jets ensure a relaxing and enjoyable trip, comfortably accommodating an average of 14 to 17 passengers. Capable of flying distances of 6,000 to 6,500 miles, ultra-long-range jets are the optimum choices for long-haul travels.

If you are looking to invest in an ultra-long-range jet, these are the top models you can explore: Gulfstream V, Dassault Falcon 7X and Bombardier Global 6000.

AircraftGulfstream VDassault Falcon 7XBombardier Global 6000
Passenger Capacity16 to 19 people12 to 16 people8 to 19 people
Range6,250 nautical miles5,950 nautical miles5,890 nautical miles
Baggage Capacity226 ft3140 ft3195 ft3
FacilitiesUp to four living spaces Three spacious lounge areasPrivate stateroom
Full-sized galley Forward/rear lavatoriesFull-service galley
Separate lavatories for passenger and crewRefreshment centerSeparate crew area

8. Executive Liners/Bizliners

Airbus ACJ320 photo by Comlux Aviation Group

The crème de le crème of private air travel, executive liners, or bizliners, are commercial aircraft modified for business travel or private use. Featuring a high level of customization, these are the most expensive private jets in the market.

From opulent and bespoke interiors, to spacious private suites, en-suite shower and on-board cocktail lounge, this aircraft class takes elite travel on a whole new level. Even with all these exclusive amenities, bizliners offer plenty of space for dining areas, conference rooms, overhead storage compartments, walk-in cupboards and full-service galleys manned by flight attendants.

As these private jets can navigate higher altitudes, they can operate in most weather conditions and cover great distances, making them the ideal choice for intercontinental flights or trips that last up to 10 hours or more without a stopover.

Depending on how the aircraft is customized, it can seat around 19 to 48 passengers in first-class comfort and pure elegance. Both Airbus and Boeing offer wide-body and narrow-body bizliners, such as Airbus ACJ380, Airbus ACJ319, Boeing B747-8 and Boeing BBJ.

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