I spent a very special Father’s Day with Siena when I took her flying with me for the first time. She had been asking about “flying with Daddy” for some time now, but I was waiting until she was old enough to thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. A few weeks ago we tried to schedule the airplane for a few hours but our plan was shot down when we learned that the airplane had been grounded for weeks due to an FAA paperwork issue. Still, we went to the airport anyway and used the opportunity to check the fit of her car seat and bask in the excited glow of a three-year-old surrounded by airplanes taking off and landing.
We kept our plan a secret and only alluded to a “fun surprise” on Sunday. When Sunday arrived, Siena kept asking about the surprise up until the moment we parked in front of the FBO. It was then that she excitedly proclaimed “I remember!” and “I’m so ‘cited”. In fact, she was jumping up and down with excitement from the moment she left the car. She waited patiently while I did the walk-around and ran through the pre-flight checklist. We got the car seat situated again, with much less frustration thanks to our previous practice session. While taxiing out to the runway, she asked “Are we going to fly up in the sky or just on the ground?” Prior to departing I had to perform an engine run-up and some final pre-flight checks which started to wear at her patience. “Are we taking off soon?”, she asked. Followed by “Lets just go…!”, a few minutes later. When we finally announced our departure and began our take-off roll, impatience turned into fascination.
My wife did a great job of recording Siena’s excitement as we departed:
The weather was fairly windy with gusts out of the northwest up to 20 knots. There was also a broken cloud ceiling at 5000 feet MSL with very little vertical development. After departing, climb out took us north across the Columbia River and then northeast as we tried to punch through a hole in the ceiling. We had originally planned a one hour flight to Mount St. Helens but at 8000 feet, the mountain was not visible above the solid cloud mass. The Cascades act as a natural barrier to the moisture that develops off the coast of Oregon. Cloud masses start to break up as they pass over the Cascades, leaving the eastern part of the state a vast desert. Geography favored our flight since the broken ceiling let us pass through the cloud layer so we could see the peaks of Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
As we gained altitude, the radio came alive with chatter from distant aircraft. Radio has the greatest transmission range when line of sight is not obstructed and an airplane can reach higher altitudes than any terrestrial radio antenna. We had to adjust the squelch to mute some of the more distance signals but Siena enjoyed listening anyway. She kept wondering if they were “talking in her head or in Momma’s head too”.
It has been a while since my last flight so I took a flight instructor from Classic Wings along with us. Paul’s instructing turned our scenic flight into a learning experience for me as he spoke about cloud development and weather, with emphasis on how to pass through cloud layers while maintaining VFR flight. We flew a zig-zag course as we maneuvered to gain more altitude, trying to take advantage of updrafts and thermals that would augment our ascent. My wife enjoyed the view as we reached the cloud layer and eventually left it behind as we gained more altitude. Siena was not as excited when she announced she was “mad at clouds” since they prevented her from “seeing out the window.”
Mount Adams came into view and it was a breathtaking vista. The cloud mass was hugging the mountain with the majestic peak rising well above the cloud layer. Trout Lake was completely obscured but the eastern slope of the mountain was free of clouds, revealing an expanse of forest below.
It was here that we heard the five dreaded words, “I have to go potty!”. This was followed by a collective groan that filled the airplane cabin. It was almost humorous because Siena asked me to land the airplane right there. She didn’t appreciate my response when I explained we had to return to the airport. I changed course and headed back, descending through the clouds. My flight instructor saw another opportunity for a flight lesson and introduced me to the “long final” as an appropriate method of returning to the airport when time is of the essence. We descended down to about 4000 feet above the Columbia River and I announced my intentions to complete a three-mile-final over the radio. This type of landing skips the other three legs of the pattern in favor of lining up with the runway several miles out. After we crossed over the ridge that separates the Hood River Valley from the Mosier Valley, we had to lose a few thousand feet of altitude so we performed a descending turn until we were just above pattern altitude. My landing was excellent, considering I was feeling a little rusty. Siena later told her Momma that I deserved a “good landing treat”.
As we taxied off the runway Siena realized the flight was almost over, so she explained that she didn’t have to go potty after all. Once again, we let out a collective sigh, but her timing was perfect. Our flight ended up taking a little over an hour, which was what we had originally planned. Once we were on the ground, we asked Siena what her favorite part of flying was. “Taking off!” I think I’ll be taking her with me next time I repeatedly fly the pattern for landing practice.