West Yellowstone – Day 1.

By admin on November 23, 2011

We wanted to depart Florence as soon as the sun started coming up over the mountains of the Coast Range, sea fog was moving in as we drove down to the airport and didn’t want to risk being fogged in for the rest of the day. We were also anxious to get an early start as we had a long journey to West Yellowstone, Montana in front of us. We had our camping gear in the back of the Cessna and were to stay at the campsite that is available at the airport, the Fall was approaching quickly and this would be the last chance of camping there before the temperatures dived. In fact West Yellowstone airport closes down towards the end of the year and would not be available again until next June. The winters are very harsh in this area and during late Fall, Winter and Spring snow and extreme weather makes the operation of the airport nonviable. The few resident aircraft based there and the FBO people leave the area for warmer climes and snow mobiles take over the facility.

We managed to beat the sea fog by several minutes and as we climbed up over the Coast Range heading east the visibility was severely reduced by forest fire smoke from a fire just to the north of the Three Sisters Mountains. There was a thick layer of acrid smoke that was reaching up to 6,000ft where it abruptly ended at an early morning temperature inversion. We were heading directly towards the rising Sun and this reduced the visibility further, we were looking forward to clearing the Cascade Mountains where, hopefully, we would leave the smoke behind.

Forest fire smoke and early morning temperature inversion.

We climbed to 10,000ft and managed to get into the flow of the 40 knot westerly tailwind that had been predicted right across Oregon and into Idaho, it sure beat having a 40 knot headwind!

As normal we routed to the south of the Sisters and this also kept us well away from the fire TFRs that were active to the north. Just as we reached South Sister I spotted smoke coming from an area in the mountains foot hills, at first I thought it could be early morning mist but on checking it was definitely a small fire. I contacted nearby Redmond Airport ATC and reported the fire so that they could forward the details to the US Forestry Services, who conveniently have a large base at the airport. The fire may have been nothing or may have been known about but I was thanked for the information and was told that it would definitely be investigated…this would not be the only time this happened during our trip.

Private strip with hard runway in the middle of Eastern Oregon.

As we had hoped by the time we passed over the town of Bend just to the east of the Cascades the smoke cleared and we could at last see the ground and ahead in detail. We kept to 10,000ft and the 40 knot tailwind stayed with us, it would be a good flight. On the way over Eastern Oregon I always make a point of trying to spot the private airfields in amongst the wilderness. There are only a couple of public airports in the area so getting familiar with other potential landing sites in this remote area always seems like a good idea. In fact the airfields are not just rough farm strips, many are paved and some are capable of handling executive jets owned by some of the rich land owners.

Castle Rock, Eastern Oregon.

Our refuelling stop was to be Ontario Airport which is located on the eastern border of Oregon and 30 minutes flying time from Boise, ID. There is an interesting collection of aircraft based here which is owned by a successful busineessman and as a bonus the AVGAS price was lower than at Nampa which was our planned overnight stop before continuing to Yellowstone. Upon landing it was obvious that my plan was slightly flawed as the airport was undergoing some major redevelopment thanks to some of Obama’s stimulous money being spent and as a consequence the apron and fuel pumps were inaccessible. During the year many airports in the area were having major works done to them, including our very own airport, but this work was generally leaving all of the airport facilities available for much of the time. At Ontario this was different and the whole apron was just a large sandpit. The fire fighting crew that was temporarily stationed at the airport for the fire season told us that we could call up for a bowser to come over from an off-airport location but that this could take an hour to get arranged. Another option was to fly the short distance over to Payette, ID. which also has AVGAS but I decided to continue onto Nampa with what fuel we had.

General Dynamics F-111, part of a private collection at Ontario Airport.

F-86 Sabre, also at Ontario Airport.

The aircraft collection turned out to be a considerable number of airframes laying around the hangar area. Many looked like they would only ever be suitable for static display, others looked airworthy including some really nice examples in a half opened hangar. Unfortunately the ones I really wanted to see, including an airworthy Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat and MIG-23 Flogger, were hidden away from view. For those into aircraft here is a list of what is there….
Gurmman S-2 Tracker, Douglas A-4 SkyHawk, Douglas F5D Skylancer, A-7D Cousair II, F-7F Tigercat, MIG-19, MIG-21, MIG-23, T-28A Trojan, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Vampire, L-39 Albatros, F-86A/L Sabres, F-111 Aardvark and F-104 Starfighter.

Ex. NASA F5D SkyLancer, also at Ontario Airport.

We departed Ontario and after a 30 minute flight entered the pattern at Nampa. On the way we passed over Caldwell Airport which is only a few minutes to the north of Nampa and saw something happening on the ground, we later found out that a few minutes earlier of us passing over a homebuilt aircraft had crashed there killing both onboard. It provided a sharp reminder of how things can suddenly go wrong!

As we entered left downwind for runway 11 a pilot a few miles out made a radio call saying he was going to enter on an overhead break and I joked that this was going to be one of the usual RV-6 or RV-8 pilots who thought he was flying a fighter plane. As we taxied to the parking apron we saw it was in fact a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk from the local air museum!

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk taxying in after landing back at Nampa Municipal.

The fuel price is always good at Nampa so we filled the Cessna up before parking and tying it up for the night. On top of the FBO building is the Starvin’ Marvin’s Blue Sky Cafe which serves excellent food, including many items more interesting than the usual burger meals, and provides a sun deck from which you can sit and watch the airport action. For additional aviation interest Idaho ANG A-10 Thunderbolts, which operate out from the nearby Boise Airport, could be seen flying overhead in pairs of pairs as they left and returned from their training missions.

Immaculate Beech Staggerwing fueling up at Nampa Municipal.

After eating we walked the short distance to Warhawk Air Museum which is housed in several large hangars next to the parking apron. We passed by the P-40 that had just returned from it’s flight and I got talking to the pilot who is lucky enough to have access to such a nice aeroplane. He invited me into the maintenance hangar where they were working on a fantastic looking P-51C Mustang, it was nice to see that they treat the aircraft as aircraft and not just museum pieces. In the display hangars was a fascinating collection of memorabilia. I must admit I don’t usually find memorabilia that interesting but the variety and quality of it and the way that it was displayed changed that at this museum.

P-51C Mustang.

The aircraft exhibits are mostly airworthy and include 2 P-40 Warhawks, P-51C Mustang, P-51D Mustang, 2 T-6 Texans, F-86 Sabre, T-28 Trojan, UH-1 Iroqouis, and a N3N.

N3N

We had a hotel booked for the night and the Nampa FBO, Avcenter, kindly loaned us one of their courtesy cars for the short journey to it. Good fuel prices, great food, free courtesy car, quality aircraft museum and comfortable hotel nearby….what more could you want?

Warhawk Air Museum’s other Curtiss P-40.

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