Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fly High and Fast

Well, we weren't as high as airliners (35,000 and 45,000 feet above sea level), but we were up at 8500, high enough to get a good bird's eye view and stay out of the convection bumps. This morning's ATC (air traffic control) assistance came from a new source, the military. Because we were flying under instrument flight rules (IFR), Concord Tower immediately handed us off to Travis Approach.

Each section of airspace has only one controlling agency. In the vicinity of Travis Air Force Base, it's managed by base personnel. Civilian airplanes passing through are given the same service as military aircraft. We chose to fly IFR for practice, and because it's helpful to receive ATC assistance especially in congested airspace such at the Bay Area.

Wayne has an IFR and instructor rating, so I help with the flying. We've become a well tuned machine when it comes to cockpit management. I usually do the takeoffs, while Wayne handles the routes and radios. Once things settle down, our third "pilot" steps in. That's George, the autopilot. He takes over enroute, but we still have to tell him where to go and how high. Once in a while he tries some funny stuff, but we are always watching.

Today's flight took us up Victor 27 along the California and Oregon coast. Victor Airways are low level routes (below 18,000 feet) created by navigation aids such as NDBs (non-directional beacons) and VORs (VHF omnidirectional range). Instruments in the cockpit pick up the radio signals, allowing pilots to follow the airways from point to point. Airways are very important in IFR flight, but any pilot can use them for navigational purposes. Today, satellite technology and GPS are revolutionizing flight navigation.

We started early to get through the overland section of Victor 27 from Concord to Arcata, California. On hot days like today, rising hot air can make for a bumpy ride. But we made it through fine. We stopped after only two hours of flying at Arcata Airport, so we could reward ourselves with some breakfast at the Silver Lining Restaruant and to top off our tanks.

The next leg took us to Tillamook, Oregon, and a "small world" experience. Our good friends Ken and Sam from Gibsons BC were on a driving trip. We arranged a met-up at the Tillamook Airport. Tillamook is well known for their cheese factory and for aviation enthusiasts, the Air Museum with its many warbirds. There's even a camping area on the field if you are so inclined.

We'd planned to spend another night along the Oregon coast, but the possibility of a storm moving in tomorrow pushed us on to our home base in Bellingham, Washington. At Astoria, Oregon, we turn up the mighty Columbia River on the way to Olympia, over Whidbey Island and finally Bellingham International Airport. The total flight time from Los Angeles was 10 hours, but in two-hour legs it wasn't so bad, especially with the overnight break at Concord.

Thanks for the "flight following." I hope you enjoyed the trip. If you've never been up in a small airplane, I highly recommend it. Most airports have flight schools that offer introductory rides. Go take one, even if you aren't interested in learning to fly. It just might be the start of a whole new life. It was for me. I married my flight instructor. -- Margy


  1. Hi Margy,
    What a lovely trip and a lovely story. I took a flight in a small 4 seater plane about 35 years ago over Vancouver with my friend and her brother. I had a lot of fun but learning to fly was not in the cards. When are you heading back up the lake?

  2. Glad you enjoyed your flight Margaret. I probably would never have become a pilot if it hadn't been for Wayne, but after we met it just made sense. -- Margy

  3. I learned to fly about 40 years ago but has been about 20 years since my last flight. I'll bet there has been a lot of changes. Thanks for the tour. We used to have a discount airline fly out of Columbus,Ohio to Bellingham. I never did get one of those $10.00 tickets but I will be out to "your world" there are some "must see" places I want to go Thanks

  4. I discovered the pleasure of ULM flights as a passenger last year. I wanted to see my region, our lakes in Champagne and the city Troyes from the air.
    Three exciting flights and hundreds of photos.
    Soon i'll fly again.