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

Today was packed with excitement—a tornado touched down inside of Vancouver, and at Pearson Field an instructor from Hillsboro encountered a flock of birds, 6 of which struck his plane, smashed through the windshield and covered him with dead goose. It was dark, cold, rainy, cloudy, windy, and turbulent for my 13th IFR lesson, but despite all of these bad omens I went flying.

SPB LOC/DME RWY 15 Profile

We departed via the SCAPO Four departure to the north, and after requesting the full procedure for the Localizer/DME Runway 15 approach in Scappoose, ATC vectored us to EXRAY interesection 11 miles out on the Localizer. I performed a course reversal using the holding pattern at EXRAY, entering with a Teardrop pattern, then intercepting the localizer inbound. There are 5 step-down fixes (including the FAF) on the LOC/DME RWY 15 approach in Scappoose, so I was busy with the throttle. The approach was pretty much perfect—there were no real noticeable deviations from the expected altitudes or course centerline. At 0.9 DME I executed the missed approach, switched back to Portland Approach’s frequency, and followed their vectors back towards Hillsboro.

The return flight was turbulent enough to compel us to report the conditions as moderate turbulence to ATC. After intercepting the localizer for the ILS at Hillsboro, the turbulence continued. My airspeed was fast on the ILS, and I had a very difficult time keeping the glide-slope needle centered. In hindsight my power corrections were too dramatic, so I ended up chasing the glide-slope pretty much all the way to the decision altitude (DA). That was probably my worst ILS approach so far; definitely not good enough for the check-ride! I floated and floated down runway 12 as I bled off our excess airspeed, then landed ok. A pretty uneventful flight, but good practice nonetheless. I have 17.2 hours of simulated instrument time and 4.5 hours of actual instrument time, which means that at the moment I’m a little over half-way through the 40 hour time requirement. Still a long way to go!

The go/no-go decision for tonight’s flight was a little harder to make than usual. The freezing level was right at 4,000 feet, 15% chance of SLD (super-cooled large droplets) with trace icing, light rain showers, and low scattered and broken clouds. The conditions were fine at 3,000 feet where we would be spending most of our time, so we cautiously made a “go” decision, keeping a vigilant eye out for any signs of structural icing. We filed two IFR flight plans: one that would take us to McMinville for a full stop after shooting the localizer approach at Aurora, then a second plan that we’d open from the ground in McMinville to take us back to Hillsboro.

UAO LOC RWY 17 Approach

I was a bit rusty on the Localizer approach into Aurora; I overshot the localizer course and descended a couple hundred feet below our assigned altitude. It’s a hard approach because it comes so quickly after departure from Hillsboro, which doesn’t give you much time to brief it and get the frequencies identified (they can’t be identified from the ground). Once I was established on the localizer it proceeded smoothly. I executed the missed approach, contacted ATC, and they vectored us towards McMinville.

The ASOS at McMinville was reporting gusting winds up to 19 knots, but they were only a couple of degrees off the runway heading. I intercepted the localizer and glide slope, then followed the needles down the bumpy approach. When Tyler had me pull off the hood, the runway was nowhere to be found! Then it hit me: Pilot controlled lighting! I clicked the microphone 7 times, and the runway lights and approach light system lit up brilliantly directly in front of us. Pilot controlled lighting always makes me feel incredibly powerful for some reason. There was a lot of turbulence on short final, so I guarded the throttle in case we needed to go around, but the landing turned out to be very gentle with no side loading. That was my 300th landing!

McMinville Radio Frequencies

On the ground we called Portland Clearance Delivery to pick up our IFR clearance for the flight home…. but nobody answered. Then we called Portland Departure on 126.0, but they couldn’t hear me. For some reason they heard Tyler’s transmission though, and gave us our clearance. When I tried to read it back they still couldn’t hear me, so Tyler tried to read back the clearance, but now they couldn’t hear him!! So we switched to McMinville Radio on 122.45 and had the Flight Service Station relay the request. He sounded pretty annoyed to be bothered with handling our situation, but our taxes are paying for the FSS operators to be annoyed by pilots, so he begrudgingly relayed our clearance from ATC.

Weather Minimums for the HIO VOR/DME-C Approach

After takeoff I followed the textual departure procedure from McMinville, contacted ATC, crossed the Newberg VOR, and flew the VOR/DME-C approach to Hillsboro Airport. I pulled off the hood, and Tyler had me fly a circling approach to land this time. We crossed over the runway and entered a right downwind for 30, flying a low-low traffic pattern at 500′ AGL!! It felt really weird to be flying such a familiar pattern at half the altitude I’m accustomed to. I circled around to the threshold and set it down on 30, then taxied back to Hillsboro Aviation. It definitely wasn’t my best flight, but the landings were good, the three approaches went well, and the communication problems in McMinville served as a good learning experience.

Today was cloudy, gusty and turbulent flying weather as a cold front passed over the Willamette Valley, which made it an excellent opportunity to practice some approaches under less than ideal conditions. Immediately after takeoff it was clear that this would be a challenging flight due to the amount of turbulence we were flying through. The plan was to shoot three approaches, but we were running short on time so we amended the plans and just made it two.

First was the VOR/DME-C approach into Hillsboro. ATC cleared us direct to the Newberg VOR and then for the approach, so I flew the procedure turn as published, reported after crossing the VOR inbound and descended per the approach profile. When we reached the missed approach point Tyler had me look up so I could see the airport, and he pointed out how I would maneuver to fly a circling approach to land on runway 12. I executed the missed approach procedure and requested the GPS Runway 12 approach. For the next 20 minutes or so ATC gave us vectors and altitudes to fly to position us for the GPS approach. When we were straight and level and had a few minutes to spare, I lifted my hood a bit and took a peek out the window to witness a breathtaking sight; we had entered a hole in the weather where huge ragged clouds above and on all sides of us were being torn to shreds by the 50 knot winds aloft, and tops of the snow-covered hills protruded through the cloud layer beneath us.

As ATC vectored us over the foothills of the coastal range, the turbulence increased dramatically. I reduced power to 2100 RPM to keep us below maneuvering speed and reduce the risk of structural failure. The airspeed was next to impossible to keep constant, and I was continually fighting to keep the turn coordinator’s ball centered, but I managed to maintain our assigned heading and altitude pretty well. After being pummeled for several minutes, the turbulence suddenly stopped, and the air was calm until we intercepted the intermediate approach segment. The reported winds at Hillsboro were from the south with gusts up to 21 knots, so I kept an extra 6 knots of airspeed in during the final approach for an added margin of safety. With the runway in sight I put in a side slip to compensate for the crosswind and to keep the airplane aligned with the centerline, then smoothly landed on the upwind main wheel first. It was a satisfying ending to an intense flight.

It’s been pretty hard to make IFR flights in the last few weeks; the weather in the Northwest this time of year is almost always overcast with rain, and the freezing level has been too low to permit safe flight into instrument conditions. Tyler and I did IFR Lesson #9 in the Frasca Simulator over a month ago, and it’s been a month and a half since the last IFR lesson in the air! Tonight the freezing level was adequately high, and we were able to fly at last. There was rain and an 800 foot ceiling, so I got a lot of actual instrument flying time in tonight.

We took it pretty easy. We departed via the Farmington Four departure from Hillsboro, then ATC gave us vectors to the Localizer Runway 17 Approach at Aurora. After intercepting the localizer I changed to the CTAF frequency, made my position reports, descended and leveled off at the step down fixes, and maintained the localizer centerline–everything went very smooth. We broke out of the clouds before reaching the final approach fix, so Tyler had me put the hood on for the rest of it. At our Minimum Decision Altitude (MDA) of 580 feet MSL I pulled off the hood and the runway was right in front of us, although at the missed approach point (MAP) we seemed very high to make a normal descent to landing. I executed the missed approach procedure, informed Portland Approach, and they vectored us to the final approach course for the ILS Runway 12 at Hillsboro. I started my turn to intercept the localizer a little late and blew past the final approach course, but we never reached a full-scale needle deflection so we didn’t have to go missed. The Approach Lighting System (ALS) became visible at about 1200 feet, and with 10 degrees of laps I landed a little flat but very gently on Runway 12.

It was great to finally get back into the air with my instructor. I’ve got a lot of lessons scheduled so hopefully I can make some significant progress in the next few days. Tonight I completed lesson 16 in the Cessna Pilot Center curriculum out of a total of 24 lessons. I also need to start hitting the books a little harder in preparation for the knowledge test.

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