Why I Fly A CJ-3

Most Citation CJ-3 owners love their airplanes for flying the typical mission, but Jim Pugh flew his around the world.

Two years ago, Jim Pugh, chairman of Epoch Properties Inc., took three pilot friends on a round-the-world tour in his Cessna CJ-3.

Over the course of 19 stops and 40 days, the group saw the Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens, the Taj Mahal in India, and a plethora of other architectural wonders and heritage sites -- in addition to having a great flying and travel adventure.

For most people, the trip would have been the adventure of a lifetime. But there's a fair amount of competition for that honor in Pugh's life. He has climbed many of the highest peaks in the world, including Denali, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. He has sailed a 51-foot sailboat around the world (189 days on the water, in three separate legs, over the course of six years). And oh, yeah. He was an Army Ranger, Special Forces commander and infantry captain.

How did flying make its way into that mix?

"Well, I started [Epoch Properties] 39 years ago, and my partner was a former Navy pilot." Pugh pauses, then laughs. "Actually, all our senior executives were pilots. We kind of recruited adventurous types."

Pugh got his license 38 years ago and bought a Piper Arrow. But the Arrow soon gave way to a line of Cessna products so numerous that Pugh has trouble keeping the exact timeline straight.

"It was a different time then, with insurance, so I hardly had my license before I was flying twin-engines," he says.

A Cessna 421 gave way to a Cessna 340, which gave way to a Cessna 425. Then, in the mid-1990s, he upgraded to a used CJ-1. He liked the CJ-1. But in addition to his main base in Orlando, Florida, Pugh has a home in Aspen, Colorado, and Aspen was beyond the range of the CJ-1. So in 2007, Pugh bought a new CJ-3. He couldn't be happier with his purchase.

"I can't fault it at all," he says of the CJ-3. "Mechanically, it's been virtually flawless. No problems at all. It's also a very powerful aircraft. Coming out of Orlando Executive Airport, you can't get above 1,500 feet for a ways because of the International Airport. And you have to really pull back on the power quickly to keep it under that ceiling."

The CJ isn't the most fuel-efficient mode of transportation on the planet -- Pugh says he estimates that it gets about four miles to the gallon. But he adds, "Some RVs don't get much more than that."

He also says that the CJ-3 is "probably the simplest plane to fly ever made" because of the array of information available to a pilot, the stable longer wing and the "absolutely flawless" autopilot.

"With a smaller plane, you're really flying the plane. With this plane," he says, "you kind of aim it where you want to go, and it goes there."

Pugh, who has about 5,000 hours of flight time, puts approximately 135 hours a year on the CJ-3 -- about two-thirds for business and one-third for recreational purposes. And while he doesn't make his living from flying the plane, he considers himself a professional pilot.

"There are a lot of people like me who fly and train just like 'professional' pilots, and we consider ourselves professional pilots," he says, noting that until recently, the NBAA "didn't have any committees to address that."

As for what gave Pugh the idea of taking a world tour in the CJ-3, he says, simply, "I'm kind of an adventurer. I'd sailed around the world, so I figured I should fly around the world."

He and his friends enlisted the aid of Universal Weather and Aviation to help with planning and ground logistics in the different countries, and Pugh rates Universal's support as "wonderful."

Were there any glitches along the way? Some low ceilings and icing in the northern latitudes. But Pugh notes, "the CJ-3 goes to 45,000 feet, so we could go over most of the weather."

The toughest weather challenge turned out to be Beijing, where the smog was so bad that Pugh says they "didn't see the runway until we were over it."

The highlight of the trip? Pugh can't list one, but he says landing in Hanoi, so many years after fighting on the other side as a captain in the U.S. Army, was "very cool, for me. You never got over that they were the enemy, so we had some trepidation. But then you see and think, wow, these people are nice, after all.

"We spent 2½ days there, and Hanoi is really a beautiful city," Pugh says. "I loved it. It's got a French influence, so it's got these grand boulevards, and they're beautiful. We even went to the prison where John McCain was incarcerated. You can go inside it. I found it really interesting that they've preserved all that."

What's next? In terms of airplanes, Pugh is pretty happy with the CJ-3. "All airplanes are compromises among price, range, speed and how many occupants you want to carry," he says. "But for what we do now, business and recreation, [the CJ-3] is fine."

In terms of adventure, however, Pugh is far from finished.

"I have a friend of mine, one of my old climbing friends, who called recently and wanted to go to Peru and walk the Inca Trail," he says with a laugh.

Peru may or may not turn out to be the next challenge on Pugh's list. But one way or another, the sure thing is that there will be a "next."

"We all, as pilots, have a little spirit of adventure about us," Pugh says. "And I think if you live your life so that every year, or every few months, you have something you're working toward, or you're planning for, or a trip, or something you want to do -- there's an enthusiasm for life that keeps you vital."