Slipstream of a Dare

Posted November 2021

Happens like clockwork, don't it?  Seasons change, and here's 'ol Ron posting as to why THIS is his favorite flying season!

Yep.  It's another of those.

No question, I *like* flying in the summer.  No jacket needed, wear the light helmet and the earbud headset, just leap into the trusty Fly Baby, and off into the blue. September, the downsides start weighing in.

Biggest?  Well, the RIDE is pretty rough.  Warm weather means turbulence, and any length of flight means you're pounded by the bumps.  Here in the Seattle area, there's an easy cure...just pull out over Puget Sound.  Kazzilions of gallons of sea water don't produce thermals.

So it's actually kind of nice when the weather turns cool, and the thermals fade. Plus the fact that cool weather = leather jacket season.

I *like* throwing on my leather jacket to fly.  Wrapping my RAF scarf around my neck, pulling on my leather gloves.  Wearing the full headset deadens the ambient noise even more.  It's nice. 

One of my favorite songs is Al Stewart's "Flying Sorcery," about a woman obsessed with flight...and the implication that she's disappeared.

"Oh, you wrapped me up in a leather coat
And you took me for a ride..."

That's always been in my mind, the first few flights of fall.

Anyway, wrapped myself in my leather coat, spun my polka-dot blue scarf around my neck, and committed aviation yesterday.  Weather here in Seattle had been appalling, with rain and windstorms for the past week.

This weekend, though, the clouds were gone.  The wind was still here on Saturday, but Sunday was beautiful.

This flight was a milestone of sorts.  Since the pandemic hit, just about all the fly-ins and airport events around here have been cancelled.  I'm not the kind of guy who flies out just for lunch.  This means that most of my flying for the past 18 months has just been local...sightseeing, checking out friend's houses, dropping in at one other airport.  I decided to fly somewhere new.

About 30 miles from home is Snoqualmie Falls, a pretty big waterfall.  With all the rain lately, I figured it would be pretty specactula.  I launched and started heading northeast toward it. The flight was extremely comfortable.  No thermals, coat, scarf, and gloves handling the cold nicely.

There's a ridge I've got to pass to reach the falls.  It starts low next to Lake Washington, then rises to about 4000 feet by the time it intersects with the Cascade mountains.  The low point is within the Renton Airport Class D airspace, there's a second pass that's *just* out of the Class D, but the approaches are guarded by the 3,000 foot floor of the Seattle Class B.

Finally, there's a deeper one by Cougar Mountain a bit further east.  The deeper one has a 2,000 foot hill on the west and 3,000 feet-high Cougar Mountain on the right.  The floor at is about 800 feet, and the deepest part of the pass is only a half-mile or so wide.

Plenty of room for a Fly Baby...but everyone and his brother takes this route through the hills.  AND hang gliders operate from Cougar Mountain.  I went through at 3,200 feet (Class B there is 5,000 feet), leaning forward hard to watch for traffic.  Weird altitude to avoid the guys who like seeing three zeros on their altimeter.

Through the pass, whoosh in relief, the turn off to the East to find the falls.

There's an odd phenomenon near Cougar Mountain:  Very strong VHF radio interference. The radio breaks squelch, and there's huge amount of hissing over the headsets.  I ran the volume control down immediately.  I suspect there's microwave links or something between the mountain the downtown Seattle.  No doubt I messed up hundred of viewers' enjoyment of "Wheel of Fortune."  It faded away when I got a couple of miles away.

The terrain north of the ridge isn't very familiar to me.  I knew the approximate location of the falls.  But the Snoqualmie river flows through a valley there, and following it toward the mountains is a pretty good tactic.

Soon, ahead, I saw a pillar of smoke.  As I got closer, it was obviously mist from the falls.

Now came the hard part.  I removed my right glove, reached into my coat pocket, and pulled out my little point-and-shoot digital camera.

Why not my cell phone?  Because my point-and-shoot has a safety strap, a mechanical zoom lever, AND a physical shutter release button.  I like the idea of NOT being able to drop the camera overside, and the tactile feedback that tells me I've actually zoomed or took a picture.

Sadly, not a real good day for a picture.  A bit hazy, and the falls themselves were partially in shadow.

As I got closer, I help the camera out in the slipstream.  BRRR! went my hand.  Kept watch for traffic; the falls are a popular destination.  Punched the button several times, then turned right.  Held the camera across the cockpit, shooting out the left side as I went by.

That was enough.  Dropped the camera back in the coat pocket, put the glove BRRR! back on.  Head home, mostly retracing my trip out.

Traffic at Auburn hadn't been too heavy when I departed, but as I got closer home, it was obvious things had gotten a bit wild.  There's a water tower on the west side that's used as a landmark when landing to the north.  I crossed over the field at 1500 feet, heading for the tower.  Saw a Cessna on crosswind, figured he'd be the guy I should follow.

Went to the water tank, wrenched it around in a teardrop, acquired the Cessna again as he turned, and called that I was on the 45, coming in behind the Cessna on downwind.

Then a helicopter announced he'd entered the downwind. The local helicopter training schools come to Auburn to avoid their controlled fields.

As I turned downwind, I spotted the copter... directly abeam of me, about 500 feet lower.  Called that I had eyes on him, and continued following the Cessna, who was following two other aircraft.

The helicopter turned base early to fit in, and he was no longer a factor.  The Cessna flew a long downwind due to traffic in front of him.  He turned base, then final, with me tagging along behind.

"Auburn Traffic, Cessna XXXX short final, touch and go."

"Auburn Traffic Fly Baby 848 on half-mile final, full stop."

"Auburn Traffic, Helicopter Xxxx" on final for the taxiway."

A second helicopter?  Where did HE come from????

I did the Nordo Shuffle, trying the clear the baffles.  No luck.  Stared forward and down, on the path for the taxiway.  No joy.

The spidey sense was tingling, hard.  WHERE was he?  I hadn't pulled the power all the way off yet, and was nearing the point where I'd have to start a hard slip to the landing.  But I really didn't want to do that with traffic somewhere near me.

***** it.  "Fly Baby is going around."  Power forward, starting the climb.  "Never had eyes on that helicopter," I explained on the CTAF.

"We were behind you."

Oh, well.  Better safe, and all that.  I saw the same Cessna climbing ahead, and planned to follow him.  He turned crosswind and downwind, with me tagging behind.

"Grumman XXXX on the 45 for Auburn."

Crap.  Spotted the dot above the water tank.

"Fly Baby will swing out to let the Grumman in."

"Thanks, Fly Baby."

"I think you're faster than I am...."

Flew an even LONGER downwind this time.  Tucked in a little close to the Grumman.  Saw him land...and knew he probably wouldn't make the center turnoff.  I was a bit too close, with another go-around in the offing.

Slowed down as much as I dared, S-turning a bit as I saw him sail by the center turnoff.  Diddled with the throttle a bit to hang there a bit longer, finally rewarded with seeing him pull off the runway just as I sailed over the displaced threshold.

Touchdown, taildown, and off at the center taxiway.  A reminder of Al Stewart, again.

"Are you there
In your jacket with the grease-stain and the tear
Caught up in the slipstream of a dare..."

Al Stewart:  "Flying Sorcery"

Slipstream of a dare, indeed.  Heck of a lot of fun.

Ron Wanttaja

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