Yesterday afternoon I took my mom on her long-awaited first flight, and it was definitely an adventure. I picked her up from her house and drove her to the airport. When we arrived I checked out the airplane, then commenced the most heavily-photographed preflight inspection to date. By 3:30 the preflight was complete, I started up the engine, and taxied to the runup area. Runway 30-12 was closed at Hillsboro Airport, so the tower gave us runway 2 even though the wind was from the northwest.
We took it nice and slow, cruising at about 100 knots at 4,500 feet along the south bank of the Columbia River. There were a lot of ships making their way up and down the river, and my mom spotted a cannery on the Washington side. She was very familiar with the geography so she was able to tell me the names of islands, bridges and mountains in the area.
Our destination was Rosburg, Washington where my mom grew up and where my Grandpa and Uncle currently reside. Rosburg is a tiny rural community between Gray’s River and Deep River. I used Google Earth before the flight to get familiar with the surrounding terrain, and also calculated a radial (025) from the Astoria VOR that would intersect my Grandpa’s house. It actually was very easy to find; we spotted the two rivers, followed them inland, and pretty much immediately identified my grandpa’s yellow house. We descended to 800 feet and flew a couple of circles, and spotted him out in his driveway with his wife and her family waving up at us! We spent some time exploring the surrounding rivers and valleys, as my mom identified houses of friends and relatives. It was amazing to be able to experience this familiar area from a different perspective.
But then things got interesting. My mom had her window open so she could get better pictures. We were in a right bank at about 90 knots when my mom started to close the window, and without any notice the entire window wobbled off its hinges and flew off! It was totally gone. My first thought was that it could have hit the tail, so we both took a good hard look at the horizontal stabilizer and elevator, and there didn’t appear to be any damage. Fortunately we were over the woods so its very unlikely it caused any damage to anything on the ground. So, my mom was without a window on her side. I had to spend some time convincing her that she wasn’t going to get sucked out, and other than being a little chilly there wasn’t any consequence to having a missing window. I’m still investigating what could have caused this incident, and what kind of maintenance should be performed to prevent it, since opening the window in flight is a very common practice. I cranked up the cabin heat and we continued the flight.
We flew west to the Washington coast, over the towns of Chinook, and Ilwaco. We spotted long beach and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, then turned back towards Astoria. It was 34 degrees F at 5,500 feet, which was pretty cold for my mom without a window on her side, so we descended to warmer air at 3,500 feet and followed the Columbia river back to Scappoose. The wind at Hillsboro airport had strengthened to 11 knots, still from the Northwest, and the tower gave us runway 2 for landing. On final I entered a sideslip to compensate for the 9 knot crosswind component, and we touched down on Runway 2 at about 20 minutes before a beautiful sunset lit up the clouds to the west. After the flight my Grandpa called my mom to get the story and to share his excitement of seeing us circle his house. Mom said she had a great time and was ready to go again!