Spring Flight to Hood River, Oregon

March 13, 2009

We haven't had a lot of flying weather this spring. I've only been able to muster 2-3 flights per month. But this last week had 3 nice, clear, flyable days. Tried to get away Wednesday. Too much work. Nice day Thursday. Still too much work. But Friday dawned clear and cool, and my work was under control. I had never flown down to Hood River, Oregon. The flight would take me by Mt. Rainier, over some of the foothills, and down to the airport by the Columbia River. The airport directories show gliders there, so the surrounding terrain might be interesting. The airport also has WAAAM, the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum (waaamuseum.org).

By car, the drive to Hood River would take 3.5 hours. By slow motorglider, about 1.5 hours. Flying southward, I had a slight headwind, so it took an hour and 40 minutes. Coming back, it was closer to an hour and 20 minutes. Total fuel, for the 257 mile round trip by air was 10.2 gallons (includes engine warm up on the ground, taxiing, climbs, etc.).

I took off about 11am. Although it was considered clear skies, it was a little hazy. Soon on the left was Mt. Rainier.

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mr. Rainier, Washington

Continuing southward, over some of the foothills, I must have encountered something similar to a mountain wave. Despite flying at 7,500', I encountered some strong downdrafts. I applied full throttle, but I was still losing altitude. Since the sink rate wasn't dramatic, I felt I had time to fly out of it. Watching the variometer to make sure it didn't get worse, I exited on the south side of the sink, having lost about 1,500'--but sill having plenty below me. Despite the haze, I could see mountains from California to Canada.

Having passed Mt. Rainier, I could see Mt. Adams on the east, Mt. Hood faintly to the south and Mt. St. Helens to the west.

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mt. Adams (left), Mt. Hood (small, center, very faint) and Mt. St. Helens (right)

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mt. Adams

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mt. Hood

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mt. St. Helens

Hood River
Is a nice, small airport. Met the new owner of the FBO as I filled with fuel. Only purchasing about 5 gallons of fuel wasn't going to send his kids to college. Nice guy. While I was at the pumps, Terry Brandt happened by, who is the President and Founder of the Museum. He said that he had owned an RF-5B like mine. Terry has owned so many airplanes, I wonder how many airplanes could stop for fuel and he couldn't say that he had owned one. I taxied over to the north side of the airport and Terry and Tom Murphy gave me a ride to the museum.

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
The RF-5B at Hood River with the faint image of Mt. Hood over the trees

I didn't have long to stay. Clearly, you could spend a lot of time walking through the collections. Before long I was firing up the glider and heading out runway 25. The foothills were close to town. I could fly down the river, gaining altitude. But, there were some decent thermals over the town. So, I flew lazy circles over the town while I gained enough altitude to start toward the foot hills.

Sportavia RF5B Sperber
Mr. Rainier to starboard on the return flight to Auburn; a cold landscape

One of the joys of flying the glider, is flying fairly low over the landscape. Today, the landscape looked cold, beautiful -- and unforgiving. So, I returned at 8,500'** trying to make sure that I had plenty of altitude to glide to an airport should I have problems. Deep snow, freezing temperatures in remote mountains just is not a good equation for a lighthearted afternoon.

The flight was great. The next 5 or more days would be raining, so this was a great way to spend a Friday. Working on the weekend to make up for the time was a great trade!


** Being able to glide to a safe landing from this altitude was not an arbitrary assumption. In the summer of 2008, on a still, clear day (that had no promise for soaring because of the attractive, high-pressure weather system over the area at that time), I flew around Mt. Rainier to the east side. At 10,000' on the east side of the summit, I cooled the engine, shut it off, feathered the prop and trimmed for a 60mph easy glide toward Auburn, Washington. No engine noise, late afternoon, soft music...what a nice combination.

But....could I make it back to the Auburn Airport (S50) without restarting? If anything, I had a slight headwind. This would be about a 40 mile sled ride, coasting from the mountain to the airport. The air was stable. During the return glide, I neither encountered significant lift nor sink. I did experiment a little with forward speed. The POH indicates 62mph as best glide. But due to aircraft differences, weight differences and airspeed indicator differences (etc., etc.)--the actual best glide indicated on my instrument might be slightly different. It seemed to me that with just myself in the glider and a weight belt in the rear seat for slightly better balance, 60mph was slightly better than 62mph.

Did I make it?


Flew all the way from Mt. Rainier, just ducking under the edges of Class B airspace for SeaTac, crossed the pattern at midfield, and flew a normal pattern for landing. No other airplanes in the pattern, so I wasn't bothering anyone. (No FAA regulations would prohibit me from landing engine-off. It's just a courtesy issue.)

Normally, I would lower the landing gear on downwind. But with engine off, I maintained a little higher altitude and only lowered the gear on final, once I knew I could make the runway without problem. Anyway, for such a slow, straight glide, it was an odd feeling of accomplishment to fly the whole way, engine-off. So, on this day in March 2009 -- 8,500' over the foothills, with a tailwind would give me plenty of landing alternatives. It would be simply which airport to choose rather than which opening in the woods.