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Southern Airways Express’ first Cessna 208B to wear the new livery since the Mokulele-Southern merger (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Trip Report: Turboprop Transcon Part 1

As airlines around the world introduce more routes in order to connect destinations together with the least amount of stops, this airline enthusiast decided to go in the exact opposite direction; the most amount of stops, and on the slowest type of aircraft…propeller planes.

I’ve wanted to make this journey for years and my class schedule finally gave me the opportunity to do so. I traveled from coast-to-coast across the United States on only propeller-driven aircraft, to be exact; the Cessna 208B, Pilatus PC-12, and the King Air 350.

This massive undertaking wasn’t able to be completed without major logistical planning on my part and by the three airlines I had a chance to fly on which included Southern Air Express, Boutique Air, and Advanced Air.

This trip would take me to parts of the country I have never seen before, on airlines I had never flown before, riding on aircraft I had never flown before.

Day One

The first day of my trip I found myself at West Palm Beach International airport in Southeast Florida with stops in Tampa and Destin, Fla. finishing off the day in Memphis, Tenn.

I arrived at the airport earlier than I should have, as the airline departs from a private hangar as opposed to the main terminal you’re only required to get to the airport 30 minutes prior to the flight, at West Palm they don’t have a traditional check-in process. Prior to the flight, the pilot will make themselves visible and you will check-in with them and give them your body weight and they will pick up your bags to estimate a weight for them.

My earlier than normal arrival paid off in the end as the local police were stopping people at the entrance to the road and turning them around unless they knew their aircraft tail number due to a VIP arrival into the airport at some point later that day.

Luckily I was able to pull up a tail number of theirs off of a flight tracker and was escorted past by the guards to the Atlantic Aviation hangar where they departed from, although I was fine I wonder how other passengers without previous knowledge of flight trackers are able to make it past that point.

Southern Air Express Flight 85: PBI-TPA

I would begin my trip onboard one of Southern Airways Express’ Cessna 208B Grand Caravans with the registration of N1154F, which had been recently painted into its new livery following its merger with Hawai’i based Mokulele Airlines.

My first flight from West Palm Beach, Fla. to Tampa departed later than normal due to the previously mentioned VIP arrival which turned out to be Vice President Mike Pence, but after a slight delay of about 30 minutes we departed west out of West Palm bound for Tampa International. Airport.

As we went further west I caught my final glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean and set my sights ahead for the thousands of miles left in my journey across the country.

This was the shortest flight of my journey by distance at only 174 miles, and the flight lasted roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes. The flight took us directly west until we passed Lake Okeechobee and then turned northwest towards Tampa.

Due to the Cessna 208B being an unpressurized aircraft we cruised at a lower altitude than other aircraft would, at an altitude of about 8,000 feet. This gave the passengers a wonderful of the Florida landscape below, especially flying low over the city and proceeded to make a smooth landing in Tampa.

A view of downtown Tampa as we approach the airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

After landing in Tampa, we proceeded to taxi to another private hangar, this time being Signature Flight Support on North Westshore Boulevard.

Southern Air Express Flight 11: TPA-DSI

After a short 30 minute wait inside the sparkling clean Signature building, we proceeded to walk out to the same aircraft that brought me here (N1154F) which would bring us to Destin, Fla. and then I presumed onward to Memphis, Tenn.

This flight was completely full with nine passengers including myself for the flight to Destin. The flight took off as normal and climbed to roughly 10,000 feet; the maximum altitude this unpressurized aircraft could comfortably fly at with a full load for extended periods of time.

This flight ended up being one of the longest by distance, as the Cessna 208B is a single-engine prop meaning it isn’t meant to fly extended periods of time away from a diversion airport. Due to this, the flight was forced to stay relatively close to the Florida coastline, bringing us almost an hour directly north until we were able to turn due west towards Destin.

View of the setting sun over the Gulf Of Mexico from the window of our Cessna 208B (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

As we approached Destin and became later in the evening, it gave those on the left side of the aircraft a nice view of the sun as it set towards the Gulf of Mexico. Bringing us into Destin slightly behind schedule due to the setback earlier in the day in West Palm.

Unknown to many, there is a second airport in Destin, Fla. which Southern Air Express flies into and sits just seven miles southeast of the larger Destin Fort Walton Beach International that is served by the major carriers. This airport is named Destin Executive Airport.

Southern Air Express Flight 2: DSI-MEM

As this flight landed at the smaller Destin, Fla. airport, the traditional check-in desk was present but as I was coming off a previous flight they were ready for me.

For this flight, I had my first aircraft change to N950PA, another Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that they operate but this one still remained in the yellow-tan Southern Air colors with the carrier’s previous logo.

Two of Southern’s aircraft sitting at Destin Executive, one in the previous yellow livery (N950PA) and the other in the new post-merger livery (N1154F)
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Being that we had an aircraft change and we were almost one hour behind schedule the plane was already gassed up and ready when we arrived from our previous flight, my fellow passenger and I had a quick restroom stop and boarded the plane and was up in the air for what was to be the longest flight by air time of the trip.

This route is an odd one in the Southern Air Express network, it connects its Florida destinations with the rest of its Gulf network up in Memphis. The route operates seasonally and only twice a week, not many people fly on the route at the moment due to its weird nature which I witnessed firsthand as there was only one other passenger on the flight other than myself.

Due to the delayed nature of the flight, I got an amazing view of the skies to the west with them turning a beautiful shade of red before the sun fell below the horizon. For the remainder of the flight, it was pitch dark outside.

Looking westward towards the setting sun en-route from Destin to Memphis
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

As we approached Memphis, Tenn. the lights of the city reflected off of the high-winged aircraft. Upon touchdown in the city, we taxied to the private aviation hangar which signaled the end of my first day of cross country propeller flights.

Joey Gerardi
Joey Gerardi
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