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Over the years I've read many articles about flying overseas, especially in the States. What makes this different is the way it came about.
For almost a year we had a family holiday planned in and around the Portland area of Oregon. This beautiful state is in the northwest of the continent, bordered to the north by Washington , to the South by California and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.
I decided that I wanted to get some flying in and on an earlier business trip to Chicago had sorted out my FAA certificate. But how to locate the right FBO and aircraft?
I turned to Compuserve, one of the several on-line services that are available to computer owners with modems. I'd been a subscriber for several years and had used it for a variety of personal and business reasons. One of the great things about Compuserve is the abundance of special interest forums; indeed the oldest and one of the largest ones is the Aviation Forum or AVSIG for short. When you call up the forum's opening screen you are presented with a number of choices, the more important ones being to "browse messages' or 'browse the library'. I selected ' browse messages' and was given a choice of 23 sections covering almost every aspect of aviation.
I selected section 11, entitled "Places/Fly-ins/Gigs", browsed through some of the messages to get the hang of it and then left mine:
Portland FBO Reco. Sought I'm a UK based PPL vacationing in the Portland area from July 27. Can anyone recommend a small, friendly airport with an FBO where I could rent a Mooney or Piper single?
This was about 7 days before we were due to go on holiday. I checked the bulletin board 4 days later and was delighted to see that I had 6 replies. From the information in these replies I concluded that I had 3 viable airfields to check out on my arrival. One in particular, Hilsboro, seemed to offer everything I wanted, namely a Mooney, 2 hard runways, 35 minutes travel time from my location and the personal recommendation of an existing pilot customer. If you read this Suro Ghatak, thanks once again for your help.
Having visited the other 2 airfields, checked the available aircraft and assessed the FBO's I went to Hilsboro, located 15 miles south west of Portland International Airport. The company recommended was Eagle Flight Services and I found them friendly, helpful and efficient although at times we were, as they say, separated by a common language. They had nine aircraft available. Eagle's policy is to have a full range of late-model aircraft for rent: Cessna150,152,172,182,210, Piper Warrior, Archer, Arrow and a Mooney 205.Hourly wet rates varied from $44.00 for the 150/152 to $63.00 for the Warrior to the IFR Mooney at $95.00.
Since I regularly fly a Mooney 201 from Wycombe Airpark I chose the 205.
The aircraft was in excellent condition and differed from my 201only in that it had electric rather than manual cowl flaps, a different action electric flap switch and rudder trim with yaw damper. At least those were the only differences I noticed until I got airborne when I became initially confused by the transposed positions of the manifold pressure gauge and the prop rpm gauge. Why did Mooney do this?
However before I could fly I had to sit an open book written quiz of 45 questions about flying the Mooney, covering critical speeds, fuel consumption, weight & balance, airspace limitations and wake turbulence. This was an insurance requirement and took over an hour to complete. I then signed the rental agreement that included the FBO's policies and rules. A recent addendum was that landings at Flying M Ranch were not approved. I never got to the bottom of this!
The check-out, carried out by Nick Chapman, the general manager and general all-round nice guy took an hour. I had expected to start with circuits but immediately after take-off he asked me to climb straight ahead to 5000 feet. Not something you hear much in the South of England. Hilsboro's elevation is 204 feet but within 20 miles to the west the sector safety-height rises to 3,800 feet and 50 miles to the east Mount Hood climbs majestically to 11,239 feet.
Nick had me do a lot of low speed handling work at altitude followed by approach and take-off configuration stalls. We then returned to the field for 3 circuits. I was really embarrassed when, having distracted me on the downwind leg, he pulled the undercarriage light circuit breaker on base leg and I missed it until very late. However I demonstrated a go-around and he seemed happy with my flying.
I rented the plane 3 times after this and enjoyed some spectacular sight-seeing: the Pacific Ocean, the forests, the mighty Columbia River, the mountains and the volcanoes including Mount St. Helens which last erupted massively in 1980 taking 57 lives and as recently as 1991 erupted steam.
So I can recommend two things. Firstly, use the bulletin board on Compuserve's Aviation Forum to ask other pilots to help you find places to fly. Secondly, Eagle at Hilsboro is an excellent outfit at a great airport ideally located for spectacular flying. Nick and his charming assistant Heidi will be pleased to help you out. They can be reached on 00 1 503 648 7151. If you want to subscribe to Compuserve call 0117 9760680 for information.
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