by Yasmina Platt
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2018 issue
Two co-workers and I recently traveled to Brazil on a project assignment. When I realized we had a free day in Sao Paulo to explore, I quickly looked for nearby flight schools. The Aeroclube de Sao Paulo, at Campo de Marte Airport (SBMT), only seven kilometers from downtown Sao Paulo, not only welcomed my ability to go on a flight around the area with an English-speaking instructor, but they are also one of the oldest flight schools still in operation in Brazil, established in 1931.
Brazil seemed to be like Europe as far as departure times and protocols. My co-worker, Jack, and I arrived at the airport early and both the airplane and our instructor Cassiano were available; however, we had to wait to depart until the pre-selected departure time for flight planning purposes.
SBMT is an older airport with its pavement in fairly poor condition and the rest of its infrastructure in need of some up keep, but it is a fairly busy general aviation airport with lots of mixed traffic, including a good number of helicopters even on a Sunday. The community is apparently pressuring its closure since it is in the middle of town, but to us it seemed to be a very important transportation link and economic generator.
I rented what looked to me like a Piper Archer II/Cherokee 180, but they called it a “Tupi.” I thought it was their cute nickname for it, but was it? As soon as I sat inside, I noticed the Embraer logo on the yoke. I joked with the CFI that it was a funny touch given that Embraer is a Brazilian company. He educated me that the aircraft was, in fact, built by Embraer. Piper PA-28s were built under license in Brazil for a few years. The plane we flew was an EMB-712 Tupi (versus a PA-28-181). Neat! A pilot is always learning and another interesting logbook entry was in the works.
The planned route took us from SBMT to Palmeiras via a VFR corridor, then south to Santos over Rio Grande da Serra. After a loop around Santos, the return flight was back to Palmeiras and then Represa Suzano to take the same VFR corridor in the opposite direction. Specific headings and altitudes are given.
At an elevation of 2,406 feet and with three adults on a fairly hot day, the Tupi gave us a bit of a shallow climb. Considering that the only places to land in an emergency were the few airports across the city, and that two-engine incidents on takeoff/climb are still pretty recent in my mind, the rising homes on the departure end were closer than I would have liked. We performed a left-hand traffic pattern via radar vectors and off we went.
Sao Paulo’s crowded streets and large number of skyscrapers was shocking. I expected to see areas with favelas (a Brazilian Portuguese term for slum, favelas are very low-income homes in Brazil), but I did not realize that the rest of the city would be so incredibly crowded as well. We could not even see pavement, just roofs, at times, and we only saw a few green spaces.
Just a few minutes later, we were leaving Sao Paulo behind for the nice countryside and nearby Santos. While the distance between the two cities is only 46 miles, it can easily take upwards of two hours to travel by car due to traffic. We overflew a mountain range with a few waterfalls that reminded me of the Smoky Mountains or LA’s mountain ranges, since they were not too abrupt, were wooded, and had haze all inside them.
Santos is a coastal city with a major seaport. It also has a military airfield that civilians do not have access to even though it is not often used. At my request, Cassiano did all communications with ATC in English, so I could understand what was being said. However, he asked that he talk with the military controllers at this field in Portuguese because they probably would not understand English. No problem, but it is too bad they do not allow civilians use the airport because it is close to nice beaches.
As we got closer to Santos, we quickly saw that the developed areas looked very much like Sao Paulo. However, the coast and beaches were gorgeous to see, especially since I enjoy terrain/elevation by the water.
The weather was gorgeous, so people were out enjoying the day, including swimmers and sun bathers on the beach and a descent number of recreational boats.
Once back in the corridor, rather than heading towards Itaquera (a waypoint on the sectional), we went slightly left towards the Corinthians soccer stadium, built in 2014 for the World Cup. It hosted six games, including the opening match. From there, we flew straight back to SBMT. Like we have seen in other countries, SBMT had a visual approach chart. From our direction, it set us up directly on final for Runway 30.
It was also interesting to see that the approach chart calls for “circular patterns” versus the “box or rectangular” patterns we are used to here. You may recall that the University of North Dakota and the AOPA Air Safety Institute were going to study this option in late 2016 to see if it helps stabilize approaches, but I have not seen the results yet.
A wonderful 1.1-hour flight and $243 later, we were off to lunch. Jack and I had a hearty Brazilian lunch and a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça) at the onsite restaurant with fantastic views of the airfield.
If you want to read more and see more photos of this experience, you may do so at www.airtrails.weebly.com/brazil. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to fly. Too fun not to!