A wonderful flying adventure to Portland

Well that was fun! We flew out to Portland yesterday in our plane and... I'd say that was both the most harrowing, most fun, and most exciting flight I've ever done!

Planning the trip

For the past month, I've been trying to figure out how and when to visit my friend Amy up in Portland. I planned this trip

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But the problem with that route is that the Oregon weather was having none of it. I originally planned on flying out there for Easter, but the weather forecasts looked bad for it, so I tried the weekend before that looked better. It looked nice for a few days in the forecast, and then the forecast changed again. For an entire month, I kept going back and forth before settling on this weekend.

Unfortunately, the weather for even this weekend started to look bad. Looking at the weather of the course above, it looked like it was going to be overcast throughout most of Oregon. Now, the clouds DID kinda maybe look like they were going to be high enough to safely fly under... But we had to come over mountains first... Was there going to be a way in under the clouds? Only time would tell.

After talking through the plan with my pilot friends, I decided the best course of action would be to fly up to Siskiyou and evaluate the situation from there. So that's what we did!

Onto the flight

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One of the other problems with the flight was that there were some NASTY headwinds, especially at altitude. I tried going up to 8500, but was getting maybe 100kts ground speed. So I dropped down 2000 ft to 6500 and that was much much better. You can see me do that in this chart:

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Moderate Turbulence

At 6500, there was some very light turbulence, but nothing too major. However, when we got to Redding, things changed.

See, north of redding the terrain gets... bumpy. Here look

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And uh, there's also this big boi

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So like... Normally in that area, I want to be going around 10500 to have enough clearance and stay out of all the thrashing winds that hit you down below... But that wasn't really a good option here. So on we went at 6500ish.

As soon as we got north of redding, the turbulence starting throwing the plane about near constantly. I was focused on the controls and physically fighting the winds tossing the plane around. Avery described it like being on a speedboat. I'd been in turbulence like this before, but this was definitely up there.

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Just south of weed, though, we hit some sort of downdraft worse than anything I've ever experienced. For a moment, it felt like we were in free fall. Everything in the plane went flying. My passengers bumped their heads on the ceiling, even. It was intense.

Luckily... That was the end of it... After that, it calmed down and by the time we hit Siskiyou, it was over.

Decision point

Now we had the difficult decision of which direction we could go. To the north east was remote terrain, far from major roads and cities, but current weather reports were indicating clear skies. To the northwest was major roads and cities, always a comfort when flying a single engine prop plane, but lots of clouds. The northeast route would take us an extra 30 minutes and have us landing just after sunset. And it would, of course, need some extra fuel.

To weigh all these factors, I was furiously using my iPad to pull up current METARs in as many places as I could along both routes while we were coming up to Siskiyou. As I read through the weather reports, it was clear that the northwest route was a LOT clearer than forecast. Still plenty of big ol clouds, but clear enough to fly.

We went northwest.

Amidst the clouds

With smooth air around us, now we had a new challenge “Dodging clouds.” I'm a VFR pilot and as such I must maintain a distance of 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet abreast of any clouds. At first, the clouds were just above us around 7000 feet. But as we continued north, the clouds were showing up lower and lower. Near the end, they got down to 4000 feet or so.

So this became one of those VFR pilot moments where you really have to keep your eyes outside the cockpit, watching where the clouds are around you. Navigating to the sides of them or dropping altitude as needed to maintain VFR cloud clearance. It wasn't really dangerous or harrowing. It just required vigilance.

The sights we saw were beautiful though.

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I got to see a big ol cumulus cloud up close as we came over Eugene:

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That big boy had a TON of stuff going on inside it, despite its calm exterior. We made sure to give it a WIDE berth.


Portland was probably the most covered in clouds out there.

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Still high enough to fly under, but dark and forboding. Portland, btw, is on the right side of that picture far in the distance. Near the end of that mountain ridge.

This picture from one of my passengers really shows off how dark it was under there.

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PDX tower had us come over the tower, then told us those delightful words that every pilot wants to hear

“You're #2 following a 737, caution wake turbulence”

Gaaaah. Wake turbulence! And a 737!

The trick with wake turbulence is to watch the winds. Either give it enough time that the winds blow the turbulent air away, or land beyond where the big jet landed, staying above their glide path on the way in.

I did both to some degree.

I gave them a wide berth, stayed high on the glide path initially, then carefully descended to land just past the numbers with a beautiful picture perfect gentle-as-hell landing.

Taxiied over to Atlantic, parked the plane, and we were there!