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)

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