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.

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