One thing about the annual WPA Veteran’s “Fall Foliage” flight; we never know what the flying weather will be like on the third weekend of September, until we get there! Even as I awoke at 3AM to drive up from Clarkston to pick up Dave and the 172 for a 0900 rendezvous, the radar peppered with cauliflower patches of brightened green and orange along our “normal” intended route up the Idaho/Montana border. Outside, the rain pounded our metal roof between nearly continuous deafening claps of thunder. “…We’re not going flying, TODAY” I thought.
Then, looking again, I noticed a clearing line rapidly developing over the L/C Valley and confirmed it with a quick glance at the Satellite view. There WAS a chance we’d have a “window” after all. So, in the 4:30AM darkness, I chased the back-end across the Palouse, catching up with the rain again at Rosalia… IF the GO-NO GO was going to be a last minute call between all of us, at least I’d be there to be GONE or NOT-GONE. The windshield was still lightly beading as we touched-down on Runway 3L at Felts and saw the group of Pilots & veterans already assembled on the Western Ramp. Pam Wicks (of the V.A.) had brought an “eager” group of guests this year~ one route or another; we would not let them down!
It was agreed conditions were looking better to the West, so, we chose the Spokane River route. Low ceilings kept our initial leg to around 4,000’ and working just out of the boundary of Class “Charlie” airspace presented some unique “ATC Challenges”, with controllers watching a string of aircraft pass across their screens. This marked the first time I was honored to fly the tour as “P.I.C.” and it would also become my first “Declared” (very loose) FORMATION and how exciting that was, when ATC asked us kindly to switch off the Transponders of the non-leading aircraft. We would be handled as “one” aircraft.
Our guests found it equally as exciting, with constant radio-chatter between the aircraft, maintaining separation and pointing out interests along the route down the river. (*I’d always wanted to fly that route) Over Long Lake, Nine-Mile, Seven Bays, and down the Mighty Columbia all the way to the Gran Coulee Dam! Lots of happy smiles and thumbs up from the backseat of our aircraft, anyway.
22 Passengers, in all, flown in 9 aircraft for the 212nm trip, making just a tad over 4,400 “passenger miles” flown! Coming back into town, ceilings greeted us at 1,400’ so we were very thankful mother-nature had given us such a perfectly timed window of opportunity before the radar again would light-up for the afternoon. Carolyn had all the fixings setup as the Vets were treated to “Hangar Lunch” courtesy of Subway, stories and friendships exchanged. Bonus: even our “ground support” Chris Wetherell of ARFF (an aspiring young aviator himself) got to “tag along” for the ride; Nobody seemingly to care, that we hadn’t seen a spot of “foliage” along the entire ride.
WASHINGTON PILOTS: Bob Warner, Dave DuFour, Geoff Scott, Mel Fitzpatric, Jeff Renfrow, Tom Morris, Larry Howard, Jerry Baur, Garry White, Duane Lukan, Paul Vietzke. (not shown: Carolyn White, Chris Wetherel – Ground support, Pam Wicks-V.A.)
PHOTOS POSTED AT: http://picasaweb.google.com/geoff945/2010VetsFlight#