Flying Over Portland at Night

Night flight over Portland

What a crazy summer its been. LRH and I have been so busy we haven’t had time to blog in months. We need to change that :(

With the completion of my night flights, I’m almost done with flight training. I had to log one cross country flight at night and Aurora made a great destination. After taking off, I just flew in circles to gain enough altitude to see the Portland lights. The local airfield is set in a valley, making it somewhat dangerous on a moonless night since the ridges are cloaked in darkness. As we ascended to our cruising altitude, my flight instructor asked me if I had ever done a stall-spin at night. I replied with, “No let’s do one! In fact, why don’t we descend to 3000’AGL so there is no room for error.” Fortunately we were both joking!

Night flight over PortlandAfter we reached 7500’MSL, we tuned Seattle Center and requested VFR flight following (asking for radar tracking). Soon after, we were handed off to Portland approach at PDX and headed west across the Cascades toward the city. En route, we listened to radio conversations between the PDX tower and 737 captains inbound for landing. The best of these conversations featured a Quantas captain complete with an Australian accent :)

It was an amazingly calm and clear night. I could see the tail lights of other air traffic as clearly as the sea of stars above us and the blanket of electric lights below us. As we approached Aurora, we descended and tuned the local CTAF in preparation for landing. There were three other airplanes in the pattern, including an experimental home-built RV. Landing at night was just as tricky as taking off at night. It’s difficult to judge distance and depth with the ground dimly illuminated by electric lights.

Night flight over PortlandThe return trip took us north to the gorge and we followed the Columbia River back home. As we we flew just east of the class C airspace surrounding PDX, a 737 passed under us during its descent to landing – a bit too close for [my] comfort :-)

This flight easily ranks as one of the top-ten most incredible things I’ve experienced. I can’t wait to take my wife on a night flight!

Flight to Lost Lake and First Solo

Lost LakeLast Tuesday’s flight lesson started out no different than all the previous lessons. I did a preflight check of the Cessna, my flight instructor joined me and we taxied out to the runway. It was a calm morning so the departure and flight were smooth. I flew to Lost Lake and Bull Run Lake, both located near Mt. Hood, taking pictures along the way. My flight instructor had just visited the lake with his wife and pointed out the available activities (boating, camping, etc.) as we performed a steep turn over the lake on our way back to the airfield. It was a perfectly windless, scenic, half-hour morning flight. Upon returning to the airport, I did a few more practice landings concluding with my flight instructor endorsing my pilot logbook and asking me to complete three patterns solo (takeoff, circle around the airfield and land). My response was simply “Oh @#$@ are you serious?” as he stepped out of the airplane.

Hood River ValleyThe first solo flight is an important milestone in flight training and I reached it without a problem. After my first solo landing, my flight instructor congratulated me over the radio with “good job flyboy!” Two patterns later and I was on the ground again having my shirt cut off my back. This tradition dates back to the early days of aviation when student pilots flew in tandem trainers where the instructor would sit behind them. Without radios the flight instructor had to tug on the students shirttail to get his attention before yelling into his ear. Cutting the shirttail off is a symbolic gesture indicating that the instructor has enough confidence in his student to allow him to fly solo, thus the shirttail is no longer needed.

Flying in Tevas

In fact, the removed piece of cloth is a trophy for the instructor who proudly displays it on the wall of the flight school (or FBO in my case). My instructor wrote down the date of my solo, July 28, 2009, our names, and my first words upon landing after the third pattern, “I survived!”.

Since soloing, I’ve moved into a more advanced phase of training. Earlier today I was maneuvering over the Columbia River at 5000 ft performing power on stalls. Essentially, a power on stall is a maneuver where the airplane pitches up to lose enough airspeed to stop flying and instead start falling like a rock. Fortunately, the fall lasts for only a few seconds since the maneuver concludes by recovering from the stall. Still, thats a terrifying few seconds!

Thanks GA News!

General Aviation News recognized my wife’s incredible support and posted about it on their blog. They also linked her recent post about flying with me last week. Check out the blog entry here.

GA News

General Aviation News’ Main Website is here.

Little Red Hen Gets to Fly

I took my wifey up with me today as I chased VOR beacons and simulated engine failures over gorge farmland. She sat in the back of the plane and took plenty of pictures. She also wrote about it on her blog. Check out her post and pictures here:

What Could be Better than Flying?

Earlier today I was cruising over the Columbia River Gorge at 2500′ MSL. Clouds were sparse and the winds were blowing out of the west at about 10 knots. Both Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood were well lit by the morning sun and clearly visible. The water sparkled below us and the green fields of the Hood River Valley seemed to glow. What a perfect day for flying. Noticing this, my flight instructor started the following (mildly paraphrased) conversation:

Flight Instructor: Isn’t flying great? What can you think of that’s better?

Me: Flying is incredible, true. In fact, I can think of one thing and one thing only that’s better ;)

Flight Instructor: (laughing out loud) Yeah, you’re right about that!

Me: …and, you know, that says a lot about flying!

Piloting a light aircraft is one of the most amazing, incredible, and memorable things one can do. I highly recommend it!

Flying Over the Columbia River Gorge

Flying over the gorge is far more beautiful than driving along it! Here are some photos I took while flying a Cessna 172 over the Columbia River – Mt. Hood is in the distance. Mt. Adams was covered by clouds.