NWAAC Fly-In And Joseph, OR.

By admin on September 12, 2010

August 20th saw the first day of the Northwest Antique Aircraft Club’s (NWAAC) fly-in at Pearson Airport near Vancouver, WA. We decided, after enjoying last years event, to fly in, camp the night and then continue onto the town of Joseph which is located in the northeast corner of Oregon.

The weather here on the coast has been very foggy and cloudy this year so we decided to tly over to Mulino (just to the south of Portland) on Thursday afternoon, camp for the night and then fly the short journey around Portland to Pearson on the Friday morning. The departure from Florence was a bumpy experience as by 2:00pm, when the cloud had dispersed, the northerly winds had started and this always makes the going turbulent. However, once a few miles inland over the Coast Range the flight always becomes much smoother and this occassion was not different. Low cloud over the mountains meant we had to fly VFR Over The Top (for non-pilot visitors this basically means flying over a blanket of cloud) for a while, which is something we do not enjoy doing but it is frequently neccessary if you want to fly to the Willamette Valley from the coast. Soon we were leaving the mountains behind us and entered the Valley where sky conditions were clear apart from smoke drifting in from forest fires to the east and in Washington State to the north.

Once we had landed at Mulino we headed to the excellent Cafe just outside the airport perimeter for dinner, Mulino is an excellent $100 hamburger destination.

In the morning we packed up our tent and departed Mulino for Pearson, a short 15 minute hop but slightly complicated due to Portland International Class C airspace being located between the two airports. I contacted Portland for flight following and was told to remain clear of the Class C, this meant negotiating hills to the south of Portland using the 500ft space between high terrain and aerials (up to 2100ft) and the floor of the airspace (2300ft). To make things slightly more interesting Hillsboro Airport (10 miles to the west) had a TFR active for their airshow, avoiding this meant flying closer to the high stuff than I would normally choose to. After passing by the aerials and the highest point in the hills you have to descend quickly down the north slope of the hills as the Class C floor drops 500ft to 1800ft.

Once past the high terrain we headed to Vancouver Lake from where we followed the published NOTAM which defines the fly-in approach and departure prodedures. Pearson sits a couple of miles to the north of Portland International and under it’s Class C airspace, the NOTAM is published to help keep airspace busts to a minimum and to prevent aircraft confliction which may occur with so many flying in such a confined area. One thing I did notice was a gusty crosswind that was blowing across the threshold from the north, this would create quite a number of near incidents during the day as the antique tail dragging aircraft arrived.

We set up camp, sat watching the antique and vintage aircraft arrive and visited the Pearson Museum situated on the field. Last year we stayed for a couple of days but the next morning we were up early ready for our departure to Eastern Oregon.

Pearson has a small but very interesting museum housed in it’s historic hangar and free access was given to all visiting pilots, a nice touch.

The departure procedure published in the fly-in NOTAM stated that aircraft should call up Portland Tower when power checks were complete and they were ready to depart, after clearance and take-off you were to depart the area to the west. As it was early and relatively quiet at PDX I requested an easterly departure route through the Class C airspace, this was granted and once airborne we headed 090 along the northern bank of the Columbia River. There was low laying cloud ahead but was not given permission to climb due to incoming PDX traffic, luckily by the time we were close to the cloud I was given clearance to continue under my own navigation. We climbed to 4,500ft to get over the cloud and to get into smoother air which was not disturbed by terrain and the Columbia Gorge that we were by now flying over.

To the north we could see Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens and Mt Adams, and to the south we could see Mt Hood. Mt Adams was generating some nice little lenticular clouds as by now the wind was 20+ knots from the west.

Lenticular clouds developing off of Mount Adams to the north of the Columbia River. It was 7:00am in the morning and there was a 25 knot wind from the west.

Some of the many wind turbines located along the east Columbia River with Mount Rainier looking like an oil painting in the background. The wind is usually howling through the Columbia Gorge so the location of the turbines is underdstandable.

Some more wind turbines on the banks of the Columbia River.

Fire smoke waves created by small scale mountain wave. Although there was a number of large TFRs inforce in the area for forest fires the amount of visible smoke was not causing a problem.

The terrain to the east of The Dalles, which sits at the east end of the Columbia Gorge, changes to pretty flat farmland with numerous wind turbines on rolling hillsides. The wind being funneled through the Gorge gave us a useful 20 knot tailwind, this was no suprise as it is nearly always windy in this part of Oregon! Heading to the large town of Pendleton we had to make a slight deviation to avoid resticted area R5701 which is a naval bombing range. By skirting the area to the south we only added a few miles to the leg so it didn’t create a problem. Pendleton is a controlled airport so I made a call to them 20 miles out and we were given instructions to make a right base approach to runway 11, the wind was 5 knots from the southeast. One interesting thing we saw on approach was a group of dust devils moving around the fields just by the threshold. I kept a good eye on these just in case they wandered into our path as we were on short final, luckily they kept a hundred yards away from the runway and only caused us a few bumpy moments. We fuelled up, had a ‘comfort break’ and were soon airborne again on our final leg to Joseph.

Restricted area R5701 to the west of Hermiston. The area behind the lake is a naval bomb range.

Farmland near the town of Hermiston.

From Pendleton we had to climb as to the east of the town the terrain begins to climb, marking the edge of the Umatilla National Forest. This area is made up of high, rolling hills and forest with a few small hamlets nestling in the valleys. After 20 miles or so of flying at 7,500ft the terrain starts to fall away and we started a gradual descent around the northern edge of the Wallowa Mountain Range that was towering over us to the south. The approach to Joseph is an impressive and picturesque one as it runs along the eastern edge of the mountains which climb sharply from the surrounding countryside, it would not be an approach that you would enjoy during bad weather!

The Umatilla National Forest to the east of Pendleton. The terrain climbs quite sharply to 7,000ft here before falling back to 4,000ft to the north of Joseph.

Interesting terrain in the Umatilla National Forest.

Approaching Joseph after skirting around the higher peaks to the north of the Wallowa Range.

Tango Charlie tied up at Joseph.

Once on the ground we walked the short distance into the town, which is very much a tourist destination, for something to eat and to have a look around. Our visit had co-incided with the annual biker meet and the town was buzzing with hundreds of noisy Harley Davidsons and people walking around in leathers pretending to be mean. Later we returned to the airport to once again set our tent up and to watch the sun set over the mountains.

Chief Joseph Mountain (9,610ft elevation) which dominates the scenary at Joseph Airport.

There is an annual biker meet at Joseph which creates some action in what is a quiet tourist town for most of the year.

The next morning we rose early and as the weather looked good we took off for a scenic flight of the surrounding mountains. We climbed to 11,000ft to the east of Joseph so that we could clear the lower peaks with a comfortable margin. Over 9,000ft the winds, which were coming out of the west began to create gentle wave and was interesting to watch the VSI (vertical speed indicator) displaying climb and then descent without any control input from myself. The views across the mountains were fantastic with many different shades of grey caused by all the exposed granite and marble. It was tempting to travel further into the range but unfortunately a weather front was spilling in from the west with lots of black cloud and visible rain. We will hopefully return and do a more thorough flight over the area when the weather is cooler and less volatile.

Lake Wallowa looks like a man-made reservoir but was actually carved out by a glacier 9 million years ago.

A few pictures of the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness area.

The weather front was moving in quickly so we had to cut short our scenic flight, we didn’t want to be over the mountains when the cloud and rain hit and the winds were gradually getting stronger. We headed north, carried out a gentle descent and landed at Enterprise Airport which is only 4 miles north of Joseph, we thought we’d check the town out and grab some breakfast. We found that Enterprise was not like Joseph, it was more of a working town with very little in the way of tourist appeal and it wasn’t long before we were airborne once again on the short, 4 mile, flight back to KJSY.

The weather front approaching quickly from the west, time to get back to Joseph.

We can thoroughly recommend a visit to the area and will definately be visiting again. There is lots to do in the area, plenty of spectacular scenery to drive and walk around, and would be a great staging place if travelling on to Eastern Washington or Idaho.

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