The Long Trip

[Posted September 1999]

It's an odd thing to admit, but in some twenty-five years of flying, I've never flown that far from my home airport. I've always flown just to *fly*; using an airplane for travel hasn't had much appeal.

In fact, last weekend, I made the longest flight I've ever made.

It all started when fellow defendant John Ousterhout invited me to his EAA Chapter Fly-In at Independence Oregon on August 29th. "It's only 150 nm," he said... but by the time one converted to statute miles and real-world routing, the round trip came to about 400 sm. My long cross-country for my license was a three-leg trip about 350 miles...and THAT was back in 1970.

I originally turned John down. Not because of reluctance to make the long trip, but because the annual was about to expire on my Fly Baby. I figured I'd be using the weekend to pull the plane apart.

But as the weekend neared, the weather turned nicer and nicer. A high pressure area squatted over the Northwest like a goose on a golf ball. It was almost September, the time when the weather in the Northwest starts going to Hell. I started to think about making the trip anyway. By Friday, I figured I'd do it. I emailed John, and got a promise of a hamburger and a good parking spot.

Out came the chart. The distance was about 200 sm, right about my maximum comfortable unrefueled distance. No matter...Kelso, Washington was right about on the midpoint of the route. A nice little FBO, not very busy, and good place to stop for some gas and a bit of a leg-stretch. Then it'd be another hundred miles or so south, passing by Portland, Oregon on the way.

I got to the airport fairly early on Saturday morning. Weather sounded iffy. Kelso was reporting 1100-foot ceilings, and Toledo (on the route, about 25 miles North of Kelso) was currently Zero-Zero. The forecaster was hopeful they'd As I finished preflighting Moonraker, I heard the toot of a car horn. Up pulled Peter, one of the partners in the Story Special flying club. The Story is the Fly Baby's uncle...same basic configuration, except it has a steel-tube fuselage and landing gear. It's kept in the hangar next to Moonraker.

Peter was happy to have someone to fly with, and overjoyed when he found I was taking a long trip with free food at the end of the line. Peter likes free food. He sulked a bit when I suggested that he *might* want to buy a map of his own (just in case). Twenty minutes later he had a new map and was ready to go. The Story has an old "illegal" 100-channel radio installed. Most of the Story club members have their own handhelds, but not Peter. We agreed we'd monitor 122.8 and only talk if absolutely necessary.

We discussed the route a bit (Using my map so Peter wouldn't get his wrinkled) and found we had the same favorite route to Kelso. It took us a bit off the direct route by flying West early, but the terrain never exceeded 2000 feet and we would be able to follow Interstate 5 for most of the trip.

I propped Peter, then crawled into Moonraker and pulled the starter. Still experimenting with noise attenuation, I screwed in some foam ear plugs before setting the headset down on my noggin. Runup, a nod at Peter, then taxi past him to the active and drop the hammer.

About the first thing I found out: The ear plugs cut down on TOO much of the sound! I could barely hear the radio, much less understand it. I squirreled under my headset and flying helmet and pulled out the foam plugs.

I let Peter take the lead for a while. Peter doesn't really like formation flying, preferring to keep a fairly wide distance. I closed up a bit every time we crossed over an airport, but otherwise kept a fairly good distance.

Even early in the day, it was fairly warm. I'd worn a light sweater and my leather jacket, but kept my gloves in my pocket. We were at about 3000 feet, and the temperature was quite mild. About the only excitement on the initial part of the trip was passing a pair of biplanes headed in the opposite direction. If we had been out just for a local flight, I would have suggested checking them out closer.

I worried about the Toledo Zero-Zero report until we crossed over the ridgeline that passed us onto the segment of the route. Then I had a clear line of sight. There was indeed a low bank of clouds around Toledo...but they were blown clear of our route, and seemed to be dissipating even as we neared them. Mt. Saint Helens stood high on the horizon as we flew on, and Mount Hood beckoned far ahead.

As we neared Kelso, though, a low undercast became apparent up ahead. Kelso is on the Columbia river, about midway between the Pacific and Portland. Hills on either side of the river funnel the weather.

Still, the undercast looked like it had plenty of room underneath. We dropped our noses and started a descent. About five miles from the start of the clouds, it suddenly got colder. I slipped on my gloves and continued inbound.

I fretted a bit about how far south the cloud bank extended. We were about fifty miles north of Portland, which has both Class C airspace and a controlled field across our path. I didn't want to be stumbling about under an overcast when working our way past. But Kelso's Unicom frequency is the same as Scappoose, about halfway to Portland. As we entered the pattern, I heard someone ask what the current weather in Scappoose was. "It's clear," came the reply.

Landing at Kelso, we taxied up to the gas pumps. Peter trotted towards the bathroom while the woman filled the tank on Moonraker. He hadn't returned, so I decided to push my plane out of the way and get the Story ready to fill.

Got by the rudder of my plane and started pushing backwards, maneuvering towards the verge.

"WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA!!" shouted the linewoman.


CRAP! I'd run Moonraker's wingtip under the Story's wing!

Flakes of orange dope from the Story slid down the slope of my plane's wing. The wingtips were just overlapped a bit. Just a scrape, maybe.....?

No such luck. Moonraker has those plastic blades on its position lights. The one on the right wing had cut a 8" gash into the bottom of the Story's wing.


I repeated a litany of childish swear words as me and Peter inspected the damage. "What do you want to do?" I asked Peter.

"Got any duct tape?" He reassured me... he was an old ultralighter, and felt the damage was all in a day's flying. I still felt like hell.

Incredibly, neither of us was carrying a roll of duct tape. Even more surprising, the FBO didn't have any, either. All they had was that tannish semi-clear tape used for sealing packages. Peter and I looked at each other and shrugged. We stuck crosswise pieces the entire length of the gash, then threw a set of spanwise strip on top of those. It looked pretty sturdy, though the tapes were a bit wrinkled.

Nothing to do but mount up and try it. We took off, and I took the lead for the leg to Independence. The delay had one good result... the overcast had completely burned away.

With the agitation about the ground accident, my confidence was suffering. I'd flown a lot around Puget Sound, which has a bunch of islands and similar obvious features to make navigation a snap. For the first time in years, I was heading into terra incognito. Paralleling the river made the first part easy, but after we left the river, we had to try to maneuver through the Class C and D airspaces.

I was having trouble with the scale of the map...shouldn't we have reached Scappoose already? There's an arm of the river kinda like it shows on the map...but I don't see the airfield. Up ahead, I can see the bend in the Columbia at Portland.

We continue south, climbing to be able to pass over the Class D airspace at Hillsboro. I'd brushed up on the airspace regs in AIM the previous night, and hoped I'd interpreted 'em right. Moonraker's transponder light was flickering.

We crossed over a ridge to the plateau that I knew held Hillsboro airport. Was my navigation on? Were we too far east, entering the Class C airspace? Where was that bloody airport?

Then, by the right side of the nose, I saw an open area. I yawed a bit to get a better look, and saw runways. Wonder of wonders, we were on course.

Every minute brought my pilotage confidence back. We should be passing over another airport by a small river...there it is. Over this ridge to see a biggish town by the Williamette River. Okay.

I'd planned to follow the Williamette to Salem, then cut over to Independence ten miles west. As I cut the bends in the river, the Story edged more and more west. Peter had apparently decided to take the more direct route.

We finally reached Independence...but where was the bloody airport?

I was stunned. There was the bend in the river, there was the town. Why couldn't I find the runway. Peter edges further west. I follow, scanning the ground. This is ridiculous. We've flown 200 miles, picking out airports all the way, but can't find our destination field?

As Peter keeps heading west, I *know* we've gone past the airport.

Down below I saw a flicker of white. A Cessna, heading toward the town. I watch it pass by, then ease back the throttle, pitch up the nose, and enter a diving turn after the spamcan. "Peter, we're too far west," I call over 122.8.

I kept an eye on the Cessna. He was heading south-east, just the right angle if he was going to enter the 45 at Independence. I scan in front of him.


The Cessna calls the 45 and turns downwind. I punch the mike button. "Peter, it's back here...Independence traffic, Fly Baby 45848 entering the 45 for 3-4, Independence."

John Ousterhout's voice comes up on 122.8. "Is that *famous* Fly Baby going to land at Independence?"

I still wasn't sure the airport WAS Independence. "Well, I'll be landing there, assuming that's...." Just then, I see the word "INDEPENDENCE" painted on the taxiway.

Works for me.

I call downwind, and hear Peter enter the pattern when I'm on final. John directs us over to his Chapter's brand-new hangar and parks us front and center.

It had been a long trip. Despite the stop at Kelso, Peter and I walked a bit stiffly for a while.

The food was good, the airplanes were great. Peter's building an RV-4 and glommed onto any VanGrunsven product on the field. John and I checked out the other planes, and he introduced me to a number of the people from his chapter.

It was interesting how similar our chapters were. The Independence chapter, like our Seattle one, has a Tech Counselor who's been flying and building since the '50s. He looked at our patch on the Story and pronounced it fit for the trip home. I met Myron Buswell, in his eighties, who knew Pete Bowers and George Bogardus back when homebuilding was just getting started.

Peter and I ate a couple of burgers and a bit of corn-on-the-cob and relaxed in the Chapter excellent hangar. There were several projects underway inside, as well as some nearly-complete projects outside.

The trip home was the reverse of the trip down, but without the wing-gouging when we stopped at Kelso to refuel.

We finally made it back home about eight hour after departure. 4.6 Flying Hours. Peter and I crawled out of our cockpits and shambled around like arthritic sloths.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed Peter examining some slips of paper. They were his fuel receipts from the trip. "Ron," he said in an aggrieved voice, "Do you realize that it cost us nearly _$50_ to fly there and back?"

Shameful, that's what it is... :-)

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