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!

Night Currency Regained

October 8th, 2008

In order to carry passengers, FAA regulations require pilots to perform 3 takeoffs and landings in the last 90 days, and if passengers are to be carried at night (defined in this case to be the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise) those takeoffs and landings must be made at night, and the landings must be to a full stop. Well unfortunately it’s been over 90 days for me, so tonight I took 63843 up around the pattern to satisfy this requirement. It’s been increasingly difficult to schedule aircraft rentals from Hillsboro Aviation because there has been a high volume of flight training in the last few months. Their business model is definitely a flight school, not a rental agency, and tonight this was made abundantly clear to me. A recent change in Hillsboro Aviation’s policy requires EVERY flight to be signed off by a fixed-wing flight instructor (CFI), even renters with current pilot certificates who are just going up in the pattern. Unfortunately all of the flight instructors had gone home for the evening! I waited in the dispatch office for a solid hour before deciding to pack it in, but as I was heading back to my car I spotted a CFI and had him sign me out. I hopped in the airplane, started it up, and got my clearances from the tower.

It felt really good to get back up in the air, even if it was just in the traffic pattern, and the landings all went well. Taxiways A4 and A5 were closed, and the controller was having the other airplanes turn around on the runway and exit on A6. I decided that for the last landing I’d try to stop by A6 so I wouldn’t have to circle around, and I’d have an excuse to practice short-field landing technique. The controller had me extend the downwind leg clear out to Beaverton so another airplane could do the turn-around maneuver on the runway, giving me a few extra moments to take in the city lights. I approached at a higher than normal angle of attack for a short-field landing, kept in some extra power until I was over my desired touch down point, cut the power and planted it firmly on the runway, hit the brakes, and was stopped before A6!

I’m going to look in to some rental options other than Hillsboro Aviation. They’re just not set up for renters, their airplane availability is next to impossible to work with, and their rental rates are well above average. It would be nice to be able to start up lessons for the Instrument Rating again. Having some more options can’t hurt.

Last night Dave and I rented 386ME and flew to Tacoma Narrows Airport for dinner. The Oregon Air Show is this weekend at Hillsboro Airport, so there were some pretty cool airplanes parked there in preparation for the event. Right next to the Hillsboro Aviation ramp were two F/A 18 Hornets, and the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Jump Team’s C-31 and a Red Bull MiG-17 occupied the Runway 30 runup area. For this flight I did not set a course in the GPS, instead navigating exclusively by pilotage and VOR. It was exceptionally hazy, and we opted to climb to cruise at 8,500 feet so we could look at blue skies instead of murky gray. The haze was so thick that in the distance it almost looked like an overcast layer! But directly beneath us we had adequate visual ground references to navigate by pilotage to Olympia, following I-5 and identifying rivers and cities along the way.

When we reached Olympia we decided to tool around the south end of Puget Sound for a while before landing at Tacoma. Although it was exceptionally hazy, Dave still managed to get some pretty cool pictures. It was actually very easy to keep track of our position by comparing the shapes of the inlets and islands with the depictions on the sectional chart. After a few minutes of sightseeing we landed at Tacoma Narrows airport and taxied up to the “Narrows Landing” restaurant. Dave ordered a salad and I had a cheeseburger; we were actually both very impressed with the food, and left the restaurant satisfied. The sun had set and the tower had closed by the time we got back into the airplane, so I announced our intentions over the CTAF frequency as we departed to the south.

On the return flight we used radio navigation, selecting and intercepting radials from the Olympia VOR and the Newberg VOR. I also played around a bit with the Autopilot’s ability to automatically intercept and track courses defined by VOR radials. As we approached Longview we witnessed occasional but massive eruptions of lightning from a distant thunderstorm over the Cascades. Sometimes the lightning resulted in localized, explosive flashes, and other times it appeared as chain reactions that lit up lines of clouds for several miles. As we approached Hillsboro we spotted an object on the airport that is rarely visible from the air: THE ROTATING BEACON! Hillsboro is surrounded by city lights, making the rotating beacon next to impossible to locate from the air, but this time we actually located the airport by first spotting the beacon’s green and white flashes. With Hillsboro Airport in sight I closed the flight plan and touched down smoothly on runway 30 after a slightly high approach. Dave and I geeked out on the computer for a while back at my apartment, checked out the photos from the flight, and called it an evening.

See the rest of Dave’s pictures here

Yesterday Tammy and Fred went with me in a Cessna 172 P around the summit of Mt. St. Helens, and then for dinner at the Flight Deck Restaurant at Salem’s Airport. It was a tremendously hot day by Portland’s standards: 37° C (98° F), with a Density Altitude of 2800 feet at the time of departure, so we used up quite a bit of runway on takeoffs and landings, and our climb performance was exceedingly pathetic.

Tammy sat in the back, left seat so she could get some pictures out the left side of the airplane, since the plan was to circle the summit counterclockwise, and Fred sat in the right seat. We departed to the north from Hillsboro Airport and began a very, very slow climb to the south face of Mt. St. Helens. During the climb we encountered some fairly close traffic off to our left that suddenly turned in our direction, but passed safely under us. We reached the south face of Mt. St. Helens at about the same time we reached our cruising altitude of 9,500 feet. It was a pleasant 65 degrees at altitude, and we were in no hurry to get back to the hot surface temperatures. We circled the summit of the volcano, and Tammy took some amazing photos from the back seat. When we came around to the north face where the crater and lava dome are visible, we could see steam rising from several locations, and we noticed that the mountain’s snow was tainted a dirty brown color, presumably from volcanic ash.

Once we had completely circled the mountain, I had Fred set up a radial for us to intercept and track to the Newberg VOR, and once we were established I had him take the controls and fly us over the top of Hillsboro’s airspace and south to Salem. It had been a while since he’d tracked a VOR radial, so it was good practice for him. Fred earned his Private Pilot certificate at about the same time I did last year. We began our descent to Salem when we were about 20 miles to the north, and it became increasingly warmer as we descended. Fred made the call to Salem tower, and I took the controls to enter the traffic pattern and land on Runway 31. We taxied right up to the restaurant and had some tasty beef for dinner. I had a Bleu Cheese Burger, Tammy had a Cheeseburger, and Fred had steak.

We departed Salem Airport just before 8PM. On the return flight we navigated exclusively by pilotage to Haag Lake, west of Hillsboro. We followed a road with accompanying railroad tracks north to the town of Amity, then over McMinville, Carlton, and then to the lake. The combination of the setting sun and thick haze created some incredible atmospheric effects over the Oregon Coastal range. When we arrived at Haag Lake we were in no hurry to land, so we circled it a few times and let Tammy take some pictures as we took in the scenery. It really was a perfect flight, and a wonderful way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon.

Today Tammy and I set out for an evening cross country flight with the intention of having dinner at Wings Bar & Grille at the Eugene Airport. However, very little went according to plan. The first sign of difficulty appeared in the flight planning phase; as I was preparing to file electronically through my flight planning software, the power went out in my apartment complex! Without access to electricity, I was forced to plan it all the old-fashioned way: with a paper sectional chart, paper navigation log, plotter and an E6B. Then I called a Flight Service briefer, obtained a standard weather briefing, and filed my flight plan to Eugene in 386ME. Actually it was pretty fun having to do without the modern tools for a change.

During my preflight inspection of 386ME I noticed the right strobe-light was out. Maintenance had gone home for the day, and since I knew I’d be back after dark I decided to get a different airplane: 478ER. After calling Flight Service again to switch my flight plan over to the new airplane and completing another inspection, we were off to Eugene!

We started out by heading East to Clackamas and Estacada and spent a while exploring the beautiful area along the Clackamas River. Tammy asked if there was anything I needed to practice, to which I replied “stalls”. She was ok with a power-off stall, so I slowed the airplane down, dropped the flaps, and spent a couple minutes maneuvering in slow flight with the stall horn squealing. “Ready?” I asked her, and after acquiring her approval I reduced power to idle, pulled back on the control wheel, and held it there as the airplane slowed below the white-arc on the airspeed indicator, the stall harn blaring. The airplane stalled abruptly, and I quickly added power, reduced 10 degrees of flaps, and returned the airplane to a clean configuration, no problem. I asked her if she was up for another, but her stomach didn’t care too much for the first one, so we climbed to 6,500 feet and intercepted the victory airway V448 and followed it to the southeast towards Eugene.

There was quite a lot of haze in the valley, and there was a cirrostratus layer at 25,000 feet that obscured the sun, so we weren’t treated to any cool atmospheric effects or a sunset… it was blah weather for aerial photography, but Tammy still captured some neat photos, I think.

Eugene is in Class-D airspace, but it works like a Class-C or Class-B airport, right down to Approach Control, assigned transponder codes, two Tower frequencies, and a complex taxiway system (check out the airport diagram!). Fortunately I had the airport diagram handy, and was able to follow Ground Control’s taxi instructions on the map. I requested taxi clearance to the north GA parking ramp, and we hopped out of the airplane. To our dismay, there was no way to get to the main terminal building where Wings Bar & Grille was located from the north GA parking ramp. All of the gates were locked, the FBO was closed for the day, and nobody seemed to be around. So, we got back into the airplane and requested clearance to taxi to the south GA ramp, where there is a Flightcraft FBO. There was a lineman at the ramp who guided us to our parking spot using hand signals—Tammy thought it was hilarious that they use the hand signals for little airplanes—she was under the impression that the procedure was reserved for the airliners. Nope! And after all that, we were too late; Wings Bar & Grille was closing in 2 minutes. I chatted for a bit with the lineman, and we decided instead to grab dinner at the familiar Chinese Restaurant in Albany. Once again Ground Control gave me a taxi clearance to Runway 34L, and we departed straight out to the north. Well, at least I got some good practice following complex taxi instructions at an unfamiliar airport, but we were getting pretty hungry.

Tammy was surprised by how quickly we made the 31 nautical mile flight to Albany… the hefty tailwind from the southwest didn’t hurt. I manuvered the airplane for a left base entry for runway 34, announcing my position over the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) as appropriate. I was high on short final which resulted in excess airspeed as we crossed the threshold, which in turn resulted in quite a lot of floating as the airplane entered ground effect. But the touchdown was fine. We taxied right up to the restaurant and met another pilot from Hillsboro Aviation in the parking lot. “I thought you were going to Eugene!” he exclaimed. I explained our plight, wished him luck on his upcoming Multiengine checkride, and headed in to the restaurant for a Kung Pow Shrimp binge. I called Flight Service and Hillsboro Aviation to inform them of our diversion to Albany.

After dinner we departed once again to the North, followed the 160 radial to the Newberg VOR, and arrived in Hillsboro minutes after the tower controller had gone home for the evening. I coordinated with another pilot in the pattern over the CTAF frequency as we performed 2 stop-and-goes, followed by a full stop.

That was quite the adventure! Had it all gone according to plan it probably would have been a fairly routine flight, but as it turned out it made for good experience and will certainly be memorable. We probably would have been able to keep our original dinner plans had we not switched airplanes at the last moment, dallied so long over southeast Portland, done the stall, and taxied to the wrong GA ramp in Eugene, but no harm done (other than perhaps annoying Eugene’s ground controller!). We’ll try it again soon!

Yesterday I rented 386ME and flew to Yakima, Washington to visit my dad for Father’s Day. I’ve been planning the flight to Yakima since I first started my flight training, and yesterday I finally had the perfect opportunity. Growing up, my sister and I visited my dad in Yakima every other weekend, so I’ve made the journey from Portland to Yakima literally hundreds of times by car. By land it takes about 3.5 hours; in a Cessna 172 it takes under 1.5 hours. For the first time in my life it was practical to leave for Yakima in the afternoon, spend plenty of time with my dad, and return later that evening.

I flew solo on this flight with my point-and-shoot camera, so the quality of the pictures is not up to the normal quality standard because I was primarily focused on …well… flying the airplane. I wasn’t able to get any good pictures of Yakima itself since I was busy with the approach and landing, but I think a few of the Gorge pictures turned out okay. The flight itself was a great deal of fun—immediately after departure I requested a frequency change to Portland Approach and received “clearance” through the Class C airspace. The controller had me fly the standard path over PDX, then over the city of Vancouver and on east through the gorge. I cruised at 7,500 feet, and kept in contact with Air Traffic Control with their “Flight Following” service for the entire flight. With Flight Following, ATC keeps track of your position on their radar scopes and they will alert you of any other traffic that may be a factor. After passing by the Klickitat VOR near The Dalles I turned northeast and intercepted the V497 airway to Satus Pass, north of Goldendale.

Over Satus Pass, Seattle Center issued traffic alerts for me and two other aircraft the vicinity. ATC was able to verify that we were all at different altitudes, and the controller kept a close eye on all three of us as our courses intersected without incident. Flight Following definitely proved to be a valuable service on this flight. I followed highway 97 north over the arid, hilly terrain. It was a hot day, and as the sun warmed the ground it produced thermals which created some very uncomfortable and unpredictable turbulence that pummeled my poor little Cessna. As Yakima’s lower valley came into view I was instantly able to identify the familiar towns of Toppenish and Wapato. Union Gap, which separates the lower valley and the upper valley, was also clearly visible to the north. When I had the Yakima Airport in sight I informed Seattle Center and changed to Yakima Tower’s frequency. The tower controller instructed me to fly left base for runway 27, “report the gap”. After doing so I landed smoothly on runway 27 and taxied to GA parking, and found my dad waiting for me at the gate!

In Yakima we had some delicious seafood at a restaurant called Zesta Cucina and had some great conversation about everything from the foreign exchange market to aviation user fees. After dinner my dad drove me over to his house in his MR2, showed me some websites on his computer and gave me a container of protein powder to take home!! As 8pm rolled around we drove back to the airport and he watched from the gate as I inspected the airplane, taxied to runway 27, and departed to the south.

The flight home was amazing. The sun began to set as I reached my cruising altitude of 8,500 feet, and I could clearly identify Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier out my right window. I swung around the south of Mt. Adams essentially following the same course I flew to Yakima and snapped a few more pictures before it got too dark for the images to turn out. PDX was operating with only one runway for some reason, and over the frequency I could hear that the controller was busier than normal as he lined up the airliners for landing. I tried my best not to be a nuisance as I descended through Portland’s airspace with a course that took me directly over PDX and downtown Portland, then west to Hillsboro Airport via Highway 26.

I think my dad got a kick out of seeing me arrive and depart via airplane, and I’m sure I’ll be visiting more frequently since aviation makes Yakima so much more accessible.

(Access a few more pictures here)

Warm weather has returned to the pacific northwest! Earlier this week I booked a rental airplane, and last night Tammy and I escaped the heat to cooler temperatures aloft. The temperature normally drops at about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit per 1000 feet, so after a climb to 6,500 feet we enjoyed a cool 72 degree breeze while everyone at the surface was sweating in the 95 degree heat. We flew over the Oregon Coastal Range to the city of Tillamook, then meandered aimlessly around a familiar stretch of the Oregon coastline for well over an hour. Although there was low visibility at the surface, the sky above the haze was a vivid blue. We kept our windows open for the most the flight and enjoyed the warm, ocean air for as long as we could. A few minutes before sunset we turned back towards the Willamette Valley, and on the trip back over the Coastal Range we performed some 360’s so Tammy could get better pictures of the sunset from her side of the airplane. It really was a gorgeous sunset, and Tammy captured some impressive pictures of it.

FAA regulations state that in order to carry passengers during the period beginning one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise, you must perform 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop during the same period within the preceding 90 days. Unfortunately this night-recency requirement lapsed for me, and so I had to have Tammy out of the airplane by 9:38pm (an hour after sunset). We arrived back in Hillsboro before the deadline, and after Tammy disembarked I took off again and performed 4 landings while she waited in the car and listened to music. I’m a bad date, I know, but hopefully the gorgeous scenery we witnessed made up for her having to wait for me, and at least now I’m once again legal to take her up at night!

Here is the full flickr set from the flight, and here is another video.

Tonight Tammy and I rented N3555L, circled the summit of Mt. Hood at sunset, then made a few passes of downtown Portland before returning to the Hillsboro Airport. It was a rare break in the rainy weather we have become accustomed to in the winter and spring months, so it was also a busy General Aviation day in the Portland area. Accidents had shut down Troutdale Airport and runway 12-30 at Hillsboro. Fortunately the wind was from 020 magnetic, perfectly aligned with Runway 2, so the runway closure did not affect us.

After takeoff we heard the tower controller scold another pilot in the pattern who evidently was not responding to his traffic advisories. As we circled the traffic pattern and climbed out of Hillsboro’s Class D airspace we both scanned vigilantly for other traffic. Our course veered south to avoid Portland’s Class C airspace, and proceeded to the north face of Mt. Hood. As we gained altitude I increased the airplane’s angle of attack to maintain a reasonable rate of climb since Vy — the “best rate of climb” speed — decreases with altitude.

I leveled us off at 11,500 feet MSL and leaned the mixture. We made our way around the mountain’s east face, made a few turns to get better camera shots, and came around the south face of the mountain as the sun was beginning to set. We had been at 11,500 feet for probably 30 minutes when Tammy informed me she had a headache and felt light headed and very dizzy. I recognized these as the symptoms of Hypoxia and immediately descended 1000 feet to increase the available Oxygen. She recovered pretty quickly, although her headache lingered for a few minutes longer.

We returned to Portland directly into the sunset, making good use of the airplane’s see-through visors to keep the sun from etching spots into our eyes. 20 miles southeast of PDX I called Portland Approach on 118.1 and requested to fly along the east bank of the Willamette River below 2000 feet. The controller responded that there were 4 incoming aircraft on the Boxer 4 Arrival, and requested that I stay above 3000 feet until he could call my descent. I punched the code he gave me into the transponder and descended to 3000 feet as we entered Portland’s Class C airspace.

As we approached the Convention Center I was handed off to another controller who cleared me for an altitude of my discretion below 2000 feet, so I dropped us down to 1300 feet so Tammy could get some pictures of the Portland skyline. I remember thinking how incredibly cool it was to be able to look down and see Portland’s familiar bridges directly beneath us. After some searching I spotted my work’s office building in the maze of downtown’s high rises, and made quite a big deal of it to Tammy. I advised ATC of our intentions as we made three passes of downtown, flying directly over the east bank of the Willamette at 1300 feet MSL. I was definitely pleased with how willing ATC was able to accommodate my requests, and I thanked the controller for her patience as she terminated our radar service and we climbed to 2000 feet and followed Highway 26 to the Hillsboro Airport. When I called McMinville Radio to close my flight plan, the FSS specialist asked us how Mt. Hood was. I told him it was spectacular!

(Note: unfortunately the photographer encountered some technical difficulties on this flight, so I only made the jpeg images available at a reduced resolution. The images were taken at 1600 ISO so they have a lot of noise; all have a blotch in the same spot from a dirty lens or sensor; and most of the night photos are out of focus and blurry, mostly attributable to vibrations from the aircraft and it being dark and all)

I got off work early yesterday and headed out the airport with Dave, where we rented N54477 and flew a cross country flight to Corvallis and Independence, Oregon. It was hazy with layers of cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, clear skies to the south of Hillsboro, and lots of other airplanes and helicopters in the air with us. During our climb out through the haze the tower informed all on his frequency “caution all aircraft, numerous targets in the vicinity of Forest Grove.” We stayed east of Forest Grove and scanned vigilantly for traffic as we passed over the Newberg VOR and climbed to our cruising altitude of 5,500 feet MSL. We took it slow at first, flew a 360 between Newberg and McMinville, then increased our speed to 100 knots and tracked the 174 radial of the V495 Airway to Corvallis. There wasn’t really a sunset, but the snow-flecked coastal range mountains were certainly worthy of a few photos.

There was an airplane on the VOR/DME approach for runway 35 when we entered the pattern at KCVO. I crossed the airport at midfield, checked the windsock, and maneuvered for a 45-degree entry to left downwind for runway 35. As I turned onto the downwind leg an airplane arriving from the north reported he was entering a 45 on left downwind for runway 17. We announced and coordinated our positions over the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) as I landed first, cleared the runway, and he landed the opposite direction. The windsock was pretty limp, but it was slightly in favor of 35, which is why flew over the field and picked that direction. Nevertheless, yet another airplane entered the pattern for runway 17, so I taxied us to 17 behind a departing twin, took the runway and departed to the south, then climbed back out to the north. There was a very low aircraft that looked to be an ultralight flying beneath us out of a private field (Venell). I’d say it was a moderately busy day in the skies above Corvallis.

Next we climbed and then promptly descended into Independence State Airport (7S5) which is near Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon where my very good friend Lindsay attended college. No traffic was in the pattern, so we entered on the 45 for left downwind runway 34. I let the airplane stay high on final so we floated a bit and ended up doing a full stop and taxing around to the beginning of the runway instead of executing a touch-and-go, but it gave us a chance to admire the wealthy homes immediately adjacent to the taxiway. An airplane entered the pattern as we taxied up to the runway, so we communicated over the CTAF frequency as I took the runway and departed to the north. We encountered no other aircraft within our immediate proximity for the remainder of the trip, and we landed safely back in Hillsboro. Dave and I finished up the evening with tasty Thai food at “Thai Derm” (what a name) and watched some TV over at my place with Tammy. Not bad for a Thursday night!

(flickr set)

Fred’s Bust-off-the-Rust Flight

February 16th, 2008

Fred and I met at the Hillsboro Airport this evening for a flight that was originally planned as a cross country to Eugene. However, the actual weather today was consistently worse than forecast, and at the time of departure the skies were overcast at 2700 feet, so we decided to scrap the cross country and instead make it a local flight. Fred did the majority of the flying since he hadn’t flown an airplane for a few months.

We departed to the North from Runway 30 and entered the traffic pattern for Runway 33 at Scappoose Industrial Airpark (SPB) where the skies were clear. Once we were established on the downwind leg I took the controls for a couple of touch-and-goes. After the second takeoff we departed the pattern and initiated a climb to the west just as the sun was setting over the coastal range. During the sunset the atmospheric haze turned the horizon into a deep orange color, but unfortunately I left the camera battery at home so I was unable to take a picture of it. We dodged a few puffs of clouds as we continued to climb and turn slowly to the south. We climbed to 7,500 feet and observed the overcast cloud layer over all of Hillsboro and West Portland. The AWOS at Aurora was reporting clear skies, so we proceeded to fly VFR over the top of the overcast cloud layer towards Mulino. It took us about 10 minutes to cross the overcast layer, and we initiated our descent as we approached Aurora. It was already hazy and it was growing dark by the time we reached the traffic pattern at Mulino Airport, so as a result it took us a long while to spot the airport. When we were about 8 miles out the white and green rotating beacon made itself visible, and Fred controlled the airplane as we entered the traffic pattern and landed on Runway 32.

With the airplane tied down in the transient parking lot, we got out for a few minutes to stretch our legs and use the restroom at the FBO. Back in the airplane, Fred took the left seat and we departed to the northwest for the short hop back to Hillsboro. The tower instructed us to report three miles out on a straight in for 30, and as we approached the airport a Lear Jet was cleared to land in the opposite direction. The controller knew what he was doing though—he knew the jet was considerably faster than our little Cessna, and he cleared us to land when we were on short final and when the Lear was clear of the runway. Fred landed smoothly on Runway 30 and taxied the airplane to Hillsboro Aviation. As we were packing our gear up Fred exclaimed that it was a good “bust off the rust” flight for him. Indeed, and it was a great deal of fun; I think it gave Fred the confidence to do more regular flying in the upcoming weeks and months.

Yesterday Tammy and I made the cross country flight that we’ve been planning for several weeks: we flew down the Columbia River Gorge past Biggs Junction, landed to a full stop in The Dalles, then returned to Hillsboro after sunset. The weather forecast looked promising in the days and hours before the flight, but when morning came the valley was covered in fog. We waited at the airport as the weather developed into low scattered clouds over Hillsboro. I commented that if I had my instrument rating we could have departed with an IFR clearance to VFR conditions on top, and we probably would have made it out of there by 12:30. As 1:30 rolled round the weather reports for everything east of us were clear, but Hillsboro was reporting 8 miles of visibility in mist with scattered clouds at 700 feet. When it appeared we had a pretty good sized hole in the clouds, we hopped in the airplane and climbed above the scattered layer. I picked up a transponder code from Portland Approach and flew ATC’s assigned vectors through the Class C airspace, then resumed my own navigation near the mouth of the gorge.

We observed Lenticular cloud formations over Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, which can form when a mountain wave pushes moist and stable air up causing the water vapor to condense, then pushes the air back down which causes the water to evaporate, resulting in the familiar lense-shaped cloud over the crest of the wave. We passed over the towns of Hood River, The Dalles, and Biggs. East of Biggs we spotted a wind turbine in the distance, then realized that the entire horizon was filled with them. As we descended, Tammy took pictures of the turbines, and I monitored the emergency frequency (121.5) in case the military chose to inquire as to why a Cessna 172 was circling around the U.S. electrical power infrastructure. Next we found the recreation of Stonehenge across the river from Biggs, so we descended lower and snapped some pictures while circling the monument. After we had our fill of Stonehenge I started us towards The Dalles.

There was a Beechcraft Bonanza in the traffic pattern at The Dalles, so I coordinated our movements with the other pilot on the CTAF frequency, landed, and taxied to the transient parking lot. There was a little cafe on the airport, so we decided to check it out. Inside we met the Bonanza pilot, a 300-hour pilot from Hawaii, and consumed hamburgers, chips, and diet cokes while we talked with him and his wife. The sun was starting to set, so we paid our bill and got back into the airplane. On our climb out from The Dalles we were presented with an amazing sunset, so in order to get some good pictures out of Tammy’s window we flew a couple of 360’s during the climb.

The visibility in Hillsboro was 6 miles in mist with the temperature at the dewpoint, so during the return flight I was considering alternate airports in case Hillsboro fogged in. As we approached the mouth of the gorge, east Portland and Troutdale were clear of fog, but the mist on the other side of the West Hills looked pretty thick, and patches of fog had already started to develop to the south. ATC gave us vectors as we descended through Portland’s airspace on a direct course to Hillsboro. Hillsboro Tower instructed me to enter a right base leg, then to follow another airplane on downwind. I spotted the traffic right away, but I was having a difficult time finding the airport in the mist. As I turned to position myself behind the other airplane, the airport suddenly came into view, and it became evident I had shot through the base leg. I informed the tower and we circled onto right downwind, then turned to base when we were abeam our traffic. There was no fog on the runway when we landed, but as we taxied back to our parking spot we passed through a couple of small patches. We were fortunate the events turned out as they did; had we arrived much later, we would probably have diverted to Troutdale and taken the light rail to Hillsboro. But it was still a great flight, and Tammy captured some of her most beautiful images so far.

Here is our course from Yesterday’s flight:
Our course for the flight

Early last week the national weather service began predicting a break in the weather on Saturday, so I booked an airplane for a 6 hour block and planned a cross country flight to the coast and Albany for dinner. Yesterday Dave and I made the long awaited flight, with Dave capturing some really amazing images with his digital SLR. We got off to a bit of a late start due to an inoperative left position light, but at around 2:15 we were cleared for takeoff. Our first checkpoint was the town of Vernonia; although the town was hit hard by the recent storm, we didn’t really see any signs of the damage from the air. We continued over the coastal range, around the south side of Saddle Mountain, and intercepted the coast at the town of Seaside. Since it was a nice clear day we got a great view of Astoria and the bridge to the north. We descended and turned south along Cannon Beach. In a previous flight I had mistaken a rock formation off the coast of Pacific City for Haystack Rock, but this time we got pictures of the real Haystack Rock! It was a perfect day for flying and the coastal terrain was really spectacular.

As we passed by Tillamook Bay, the GPS stopped reporting our current position and the map went blank. I tried rebooting the device a couple of times, but nothing seemed to work. So for the remainder of the flight we used old fashioned navigation techniques! We navigated by pilotage down the coast to Siletz, then turned to the east on our planned heading. As we crossed the coastal mountains I tuned and identified the Newport and Corvallis VORs and plotted our position on the sectional chart. The winds aloft were stronger than forecast, so we had been blown to the south of our course, requiring a different heading than planned. As we entered the Willamette Valley, Albany was directly in front of us, and Corvallis was to our right, so the course correction seemed to work out just fine.

We entered the traffic pattern at Albany airport on the 45 for runway 34’s left downwind leg, landed, and taxied to the Chinese restaurant on the south end of the airport. The only tie downs were ratty old disintegrating ropes, but they worked. We enjoyed some tasty Chinese food, and shortly after sunset we hopped back into the airplane and took off to the North. We followed the Newberg VOR’s 163 radial north, and compared the shape of the city lights to the sectional chart to confirm our location as we progressed to the North. I called Hillsboro Tower as we crossed the Newberg VOR, and entered a left base for runway 30. This was really an incredible flight; we saw some amazing sights, and there was an element of challenge introduced by the GPS failure.

(See the whole flickr set here)

Yesterday Dave and I headed down to Hillsboro Airport and departed in N52013, the airplane I flew my first solo in almost exactly a year ago. The avionics had since been upgraded to the Garmin GNS 430, and I’d never used that particular model, so I spent a few extra moments on the ground getting familiar with it. We departed to the North, and once over Scappoose we flew Northeast toward Mt. St. Helens, climbing above the haze to 9,500 feet MSL. I used the air-to-air frequency (122.75) to keep in contact with a Bonanza that was also circling the mountain 1,000 feet above us. The mountains were of course spectacular, and Dave snapped dozens of amazing pictures of them with his SLR.

We performed some 360’s to get better views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, slowly circling the summit of the volcano. Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson were also clearly in view to the south, and when we got a little closer to Mt. Adams we could make out Gilbert Peak and White Pass (where I learned to ski!) to the northeast. We circled the crater for about an hour, heading back towards Longview shortly before sunset. I called Hillsboro tower over Cornelius Pass, reported on right downwind for runway 30, and touched down at about 6:45 after 2 hours in flight. This flight was definitely an amazing experience.

(More pictures here)

Night-Time Chinese Food Run

October 14th, 2007

I decided it was time to do some landing practice, so I booked N54477 for a flight on Friday evening. Tammy wanted to come along, so we turned it into a night-time cross country to Albany for some fly-in Chinese Food (again!), with the plan being that we’d fit in a few touch-and-gos at some point. On the drive to the airport we witnessed a breathtaking sunset; if only I had scheduled the flight an hour earlier we could have experienced it from the air.

The forecast for the evening was for overcast at 8,000 feet until midnight, at which point fog was expected to develop, so I planned for us to get back to Hillsboro well before then. I confirmed the forecast with Flightwatch on 122.0 once we were airborne, and kept an eye on the temperature-dewpoint spread as we ate dinner. Needless to say, the potential for fog occupied a great deal of my thoughts throughout the evening. The fog never did develop though, so we did some touch-and-gos at Hillsboro Airport when we returned. My landings definitely weren’t the greatest, but there was one smooth one in there, so it wasn’t a complete loss. All in all it was a fun Friday night date.

(More pictures here)

Yesterday afternoon Tammy and I went on a long flight up the southwest coast of Washington state, landing at Hoquiam, and returning along the I-5 corridor. I’d been planning the flight for several weeks, but weather did not permit it until this past weekend. As it turned out there were plenty of clouds to dodge along the entire flight, however none of them posed a problem. Our planned course took us direct from Hillsboro to Astoria, but we deviated slightly to the south so Tammy could get a better view of Saddle Mountain from her window. We met up with the Oregon Coast near Seaside, then proceeded up to Astoria. We deviated again to get a closer look at the Astoria Bridge, and then continued up the Washington coast past Long Beach and Willapa Bay.

We ducked under some low clouds over Grays Harbor as we maneuvered to enter the traffic pattern at Hoquiam. There was an IFR flight landing straight in on the ILS for runway 24, so we extended downwind to let him go first. He executed a missed approach, and we turned base and final for landing. The sun was in our eyes as we touched down on the runway and pulled off onto the taxiway. We debated getting out of the plane and stretching our legs for a bit, but decided instead to taxi back to runway 24 and climb out to the east. Our course brought us near a pair of cooling towers from an abandoned nuclear power plant—we flew directly over them so Tammy could get a picture looking down into the giant structure. Once we were over Chehalis, we flew low along I-5 and witnessed a breathtaking sunset over the Washington coastal range. It was a gorgeous flight, and a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening.


(See the rest of the pictures here)

Dave’s Flight to Hood River

September 19th, 2007

This evening I took my very good friend Dave on a flight down the Columbia River gorge to Hood River, and back to Hillsboro. We were planning on heading north to Mount Adams, then west to Mt. St. Helens, but we got off to a late start and ended up just flying the first leg. We had flight following there and back, and there was quite a lot of chatter from PDX that frequently interrupted our conversation, so the detailed explanation of the VOR system had to wait until we were on the ground. Portland approach took us directly over downtown, then over the field and well into Vancouver, WA before allowing us to resume our own navigation to Hood River.

We stayed on frequency with Seattle Center outside of Portland’s airspace and enjoyed ATC’s wonderful flight following service as we progressed down the gorge and back. Dave took the controls for much of the return flight, keeping us level at 6,500 and maintaining course like a pro. We initiated our descent over East Portland and continued down to Hillsboro’s traffic pattern altitude, landing on runway 30. I think it was a great introduction to general aviation for Dave, and I hope we’ll be making many more flights together in the weeks to come!

(View all of the pictures here)

Over the Cascades to Pilot Butte

September 9th, 2007

Yesterday my girlfriend and I flew over the Oregon Cascades to the city of Bend and back in N478ER, a Cessna 172SP. We followed the 095 radial from the Newberg VOR to the North face of Mt. Jefferson at an altitude of 11,500 feet. After crossing the Cascades we discovered the awesome sight of the palisades of Lake Billy Chinook.

The climate east of the Cascades is considerably more arid than the west side, with landscapes unlike anything we had seen in our previous flights. We followed highway 97 south through Redmond, arriving in the skies over Bend about an hour and 20 minutes after takeoff. Our specific destination was Pilot Butte, a location known to be of great significance among my very good friends, and the source of limitless energy when properly harnessed.

We circled the butte at 2,000 feet AGL, then started our return flight without landing, as the winds in Bend were too gusty to permit a comfortable landing experience. We intercepted the Victor 165 airway from the Deschutes VOR, climbed to 10,500 feet in accordance with the hemispherical rule, and passed between Mt. Jefferson and a TFR that had been established for an active forest fire.

During our descent, when we were near the town of Aurora at about 7,000 feet, Tammy decided she was ready to experience airplane stalls. I would never intentionally stall the airplane with a new or unwilling passenger, but this was Tammy’s 15th flight with me, so I figured she was ready. I started by demonstrating a power-off stall; I lowered the flaps, entered slow flight, set the throttle at idle, pulled back on the yoke, and with the stall horn blaring the airplane barely dropped 50 feet before I recovered. She was surprised by how little she felt the stall, and she agreed her fear of the maneuver had been unfounded. Next was a demonstration of a power-on stall; with the flaps up I slowed to 60 knots, applied full power, and pitched for the stall break. This experience left her with a greater appreciation of what a stall really was, as there was a much more pronounced drop, and it put her stomach in a bit of a knot. After the stall demonstrations she wanted to see more maneuvers, so I performed some steep turns and s-turns before crossing the Newberg ridge and entering the pattern at Hillsboro airport. Tammy took over 500 pictures on the flight, with some of her most incredible images to date. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and left me with a great desire to further explore the country on the other side of the mountains.

(Many more pictures here)

Return to Lum Yuen

September 1st, 2007

Last night Tammy and I met Fred at the airport for a flight to Albany, where we returned for Chinese food at the Lum Yuen restaurant. Fred took N62407, and Tammy and I flew in N65259. We departed shortly before 7pm, with the ATIS reporting the winds at 15 knots. Once we were airborne, Fred and I communicated on the air-to-air frequency, 122.75. I stayed mostly to the west of the Willamette River, and Fred flew on the east side.

I arrived in Albany first, and after a bumpy final approach we landed on runway 34 and taxied to the restaurant, just in time to see Fred flying over our heads during his final approach. Fred ordered the Mongolian Beef, Tammy had General Tso’s Chicken, and I had Sizzling Beef with Onions (very tasty!). We were back in the air at about 10pm, and we both leveled off at a cruising altitude of 4,500 MSL. Over Salem we encountered a pair of advertising spotlights dancing in circles on the overcast ceiling, which was quite dizzying considering we we were only about 1,000 feet below the clouds. For night-time aerial photography Tammy requires absolutely zero turbulence, so once we were past Salem we initiated a descent to 3,000 to escape some minor bumps. Fred soon followed us down to the smooth air below, and the only rough air we encountered after that was produced by mechanical turbulence from the Newberg Ridge.

Tammy continued snapping pictures as we entered the pattern at Hillsboro, performed a touch-and-go at her request, followed by a full stop. The Chinese restaurant in Albany makes a great excuse to fly, and it’s just over 50 nautical miles from Hillsboro so it counts as a Cross Country flight too!

(More pictures here)

Friday Trip to Friday Harbor

August 26th, 2007

I had been planning a trip to Friday Harbor for weeks, and on Friday we finally made the flight. I reserved N54477 for a 7 hour block, took the day off of work, and flew with Tammy to the San Juan Islands. We departed at 1:00 pm and headed north via Longview, Chehalis, Olympia, Bremerton, and the Penn Cove VOR. The only weather we encountered along the flight were some scattered clouds at about 5,000 feet south of Bremerton, and we easily passed over the top of them at our cruising altitude of 6,500 feet. The most impressive sight along the route of flight had to be the Olympic Mountains to the west of our course; we honestly had no idea that peaks of their size existed along the Washington coast. There was plenty of military airspace to avoid on the way up. We passed over the top of area P-51 (a Navy submarine base), the Chinook B MOA which extends up to 5,000 feet, and Widbey Island Naval Air Station’s Class C airspace.

We arrived at the San Juan Islands and commenced an aerial tour, starting with Lopez island, then Orcas Island, before landing on Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Orcas Island yielded the most spectacular sights; we descended to 3,000 feet and flew through a tree-covered ravine and then directly over Mountain Lake. In the hazy distance to the west we could barely make out Victoria, Canada. All of the airports in the San Juans share the same CTAF frequency, so although the channel was congested at times, it was nice to hear position reports from other traffic as we toured the islands. After circling around Orcas Island and overflying Shaw Island, we turned towards San Juan Island.

We landed on Runway 16 at Friday Harbor Airport and taxied to the fuel pump, where I refueled the airplane myself for the first time. Downtown Friday Harbor is only a 10 minute walk from the airport, so we walked through the streets for a while looking for a good place to eat and stumbled upon the San Jan Brewing Company. We had some great Fish and Chips, Prawns, and Salmon, but neither of us cared for the fried oyster. After spending a couple hours on the ground we departed the island and headed back to Oregon, arriving in Hillsboro at 8:00 pm. The flight was a total of 4.5 hours, covering a distance of 394 nautical miles (452 statute miles). I’m very certain we’ll be repeating this trip.

(More pictures here)

Boring Flight!!

August 22nd, 2007

Today I took my sister on her first general aviation flight. Our destination was Boring, Oregon, where we located one of our childhood homes. On the way there we circled her friend’s house in Canby, then we followed some power lines out to Boring with the aid of the ever-helpful sectional chart. Elena spotted the house and pond immediately, so we dropped down to 1,500 feet and circled for a few minutes. It was definitely cool seeing the old place from above.

On the return flight we were doing fine on time, so we entered Portland’s airspace and orbited downtown. Elena got some neat pictures of Portland’s bridges, and we headed back home once we had our fill. After calling Hillsboro tower they informed us of traffic climbing directly at us at 12:00 two miles out, so per the tower’s instructions we altered course 20 degrees to the left. Once we were clear they had us enter a right base for runway 30, and we touched down smoothly after some floating in ground effect.

Elena did great on the flight—no nausea and no freaking out. We called our mom after landing to let her know that both of her kids were safely on the ground, but driving and talking on my cell phone was probably more dangerous than the flight we just completed, so we made the conversation short!

(More pictures here)

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