Flying a Cessna over Lima, Peru

A Stearman in downtown Lima, Peru
Our aviation adventure started in the heart of Lima, where we discovered an old Stearman behind an imposing iron fence on Avenue Arequipa, Miraflores. The fence was ajar; we went in & snapped a photo. An armed guard politely but firmly prevented us from exploring further.

Lib Mandi is a privately owned and operated aerodromo in Lima, Peru (see below for airport info). It’s about 30 miles south of Lima; however, it’s almost a 2 hour drive to reach, not only due to traffic, but because there are so few exits off the highway.  We had to drive 30 minutes past the airport, then 30 minutes back down the other side of the divided highway to access the aerodromo entrance.

 

 

Even then, our driver almost missed the entrance to Lib Mandi, as there is no paved road; one simply pulls onto the shoulder of the highway at speed, then onto a dirt track.  Entrance to Lib Mandy
Peru has no “private” aviation and is home to only around 87 GA airplanes, all of which are commercially registered and operated, 17 of which are based in Lib Mandi.  The only way for us to rent a plane & fly as PIC was as flight students of Masters of the Sky, Lib Mandi’s sole flight school. Organizing this took place well in advance of arriving in Lima, with much assistance from Raul, a local aviation enthusiast.

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Raul is the first one on the right, across from his brother, a retired military pilot

Aviation in Peru is far different than in Canada. It takes one year to register a newly imported plane, and during that year, the owner must pay storage fees and wages to keep a mechanic “active” for the plane. Fuel can only be purchased by those with a fuel purchasing license; this was originally done to control the use of kerosene (jet fuel) in purification of cocaine, but 100LL got caught up in the same bureaucracy. Transportation officials actively and openly discourage aviation so as to lessen their own workloads, and because Peruvian airlines prefer to hire Venezuelan pilots for half the wages of hiring Peruvians, prospects for young commercial pilots are very challenging.

Lib Mandy aerodrome, from the Control Tower
View of Lib Mandi, from the control tower

From the moment we arrived at Lib Mandi’s gate, it was clear that we were entering a markedly different aviation world.  The drive along the short entrance road into the bleak airstrip, looking up at the control tower atop its desolate hill, did nothing to dispel that unsettling feeling.Lib Mandy control towerAt Masters of the Sky, we were given headsets & high-visibility vests, then briefed by our flight instructor, a friendly Peruvian with the very non-Peruvian name of Halfdan Bryhner. The immaculate airplane was completely incongruent with the surroundings: a late-model Cessna 172 SP, with a G1000 Glass Cockpit.  Pre-flight briefingThe weather was about 200 broken and 1 to 2 miles visibility in garúa, a thick mist which is the only source of ground moisture in this subtropical desert region. But we did have a fully IFR capable plane with a G1000 cockpit, no possibility of icing, and plenty of fuel to reach nearby instrument runways, so we completed the start-up procedures and headed towards the run-up area.

Glass panel, location Peru
During my turn as PIC, David snapped this photo of the glass panel

The 3200-foot runway has an elevation of 240 feet at one end, about 180 feet 2/3 of the way down, and 200 feet at the other end.  Heading downslope, we were airborne well before the middle!  By about 2000 feet, we were above the broken layer, with no cloud above. Visibility was still only around 2 miles, so we headed south, looking for a break in the under-cast. Desolate, dry mountains surrounding LimaHeading back to the airport, we wondered if we’d be diverting over-the-top to Pisco, an airport to the south, to do an instrument approach, but Halfdan assured us there’d be a hole right over the approach at Lib Mandi. We rounded a partly obscured hill for base, flew down a short valley, and, as promised, found the only hole in the under-cast for 20 miles in any direction. Apparently, prevailing winds combined with land-forms conveniently provide this access hole.

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Approaching base

 

Although the flight was exhilarating and Halfdan was a congenial and excellent pilot, we left Lib Mandi disturbed.  Where was the opportunity for a recreational aviation community, and for youngsters to pursue a passion for flight beyond a flight school? We found it at Cruz de Hueso, just across the highway from Lib Mandi.  Despite its close proximity, it was another amazingly long drive to reach it, due to lack of highway exits. 

BBQ!
Peruvian BBQ at the Cruz de Hueso pilot clubhouse.

Located in the seaside town of San Bartolo, Cruz de Hueso used to be a golf course.  Indeed, all the maps and aviation charts still list it is as such.  However, it’s now home to a thriving GA community of ultra-light pilots, with a few helicopters thrown into the mix.

IAOPA meets COPA
Here we met the Presidente of iAOPA Peru, Guido Fernandez, an 85 year old retired airline pilot and current ultra-light pilot.

Accompanied by several tail-wagging canine co-pilots, Guido gave us a tour of the new taxi ways and helicopter pads under construction and the “control tower” atop the clubhouse.

Cruz de Hueso control tower
Clubhouse “control tower”

We were impressed by the existing airstrip and the plans & enthusiasm for the future of Cruz de Hueso. 

 

 

During an incredible BBQ of sausages, pork, ribs, and alpaca, with sides of steamed asparagus and delicious “asparagus cream” (a savory, velvety concoction that I will crave for the rest of my life), Guido regaled us with tales from his airline captain days, the most notable being how a combination of turbulence, fumes from a bottle of aftershave in the aircraft lavatory, and a flickering fluorescent light fixture caused an in-flight fire and explosion that haunts him to this day (yes, he safely landed the aircraft, the fire was successfully extinguished in-flight, and there were no casualties).

Pilot & asparagus king
Helicopter pilot & one of Peru’s top asparagus farmers, “The King” made some divine asparagus cream to accompany the BBQ

We ruefully learned from Guido that we had paid a “special tourist” price of $250 USD at Lib Mandi; a local student would’ve paid $180 USD. We deemed the loss acceptable in exchange for the gain received: an exhilarating flight at a truly unique aerodromo, and a valuable perspective on how crucial it is that we Canadian pilots continue to actively fight any restrictions and regulations that threaten our own freedom to fly.

Cruz de Hueso Ultralight field
Cruz de Hueso Airfield

After saying goodbye to the folks at Cruz de Hueso, we popped over to San Bartolo, strolled along the beach, then headed back to our hotel in Miraflores. The entire day was extraordinary, and truly underlined what a wonderful privilege it is to fly, and how it is essential in Canada that we protect our “freedom to fly” as private pilots.

 

 

 AIRPORT INFORMATION ON LIB MANDI:

Airport: SPLX or Lib Mandi Airport (about 30 miles South of Lima) in the town of San Bartolo
Elevation at SPLX: 200 feet
Runway 32/14 (we used 32) is 3280 feet long by 55 feet wide. Significant DIP 2/3 of the way down 32.
Only one taxiway on/off of the runway – Taxiway ALPHA at the 32 end.
Flight Service Station (Lib Mandi Radio) on 118.80