Sunriver, Oregon: Part 1

Geography Lesson

My brother Abraham, who lives in Texas, called on a Sunday morning and asked, “Is Oregon near Idaho?” After I informed him that Idaho borders Oregon he let me know that he was on his way to a conference in Sunriver, Oregon and wondered if Nancy and I could fly out and join him and his family there. They had reserved a two-bedroom condo, so there would be plenty of room for us to stay.

After we recovered from the short notice invitation, the idea started to grow on us. We had both recently commented that our big map of trips we’ve taken is pretty empty in Oregon. Abraham lives in Texas, so we don’t get to see him as often as we’d like to. This would be a great chance to visit with him, Sylvia and our youngest nephew Tristan.

Map of our big trips
A friend we met on a hike near Sunriver. View the larger image to see the reflection of the trees, sky, and me in his eye.

This flying trip would be more adventurous than some of our other trips. Not because of the distance or location, but because of the spontaneity of just a few hours notice. Phil and I are both planners by nature and prefer to prepare for our trips in advance. This trip was the perfect opportunity for us to try something new. Also, we just purchased a new digital camera and a flight to a new destination with great scenery and family provided the perfect reason to test it out.

We looked at the Sunriver Resort Website with its enticing pictures and list of activities, did some quick flight planning and determined that we could be to Sunriver in less than 2 hours flying time. Abe and his family had to fly from Texas to Salt Lake City, Utah then to Eugene, Oregon where they rented a car and drove 3 hours to Sunriver. Our flight of 245 miles would take less than half the time of their 145 mile drive from Eugene, plus we’d get better views along the way.

Our Route – we just flew the straight line to Sunriver. Fortunately that nicely avoided two Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) due to forest fires near our route (red circles with green hatches).

You can see some of the mountains that make up the eastern side of the Cascade range on the left side of the map.

Small planes are definitely the way to travel! Aviation author Greg Brown calls his personal airplane a “Magic Carpet”, and that’s certainly an apt description for the range of places you can go in just a few short hours. We decided to make the trip at 10 AM on Sunday, and had to do some odds and ends around the house and eat some lunch before we left. By 3 PM that afternoon our wheels were touching down at the Sunriver airport which is immediately adjacent to the Sunriver Resort.


One item that’s checked on every preflight inspection is to drain a bit of fuel from each fuel tank looking for water that could have entered the tanks. This is not a common occurence, in over 700 flights I’ve only had water in the tanks three times. During this preflight I found water, in fact my first sumping was 80% water and only 20% fuel.

There are two ways water gets in the tanks: condensation and leaky fuel caps. The most likely cause of this day’s water was condensation since there hadn’t been any recent rain, and due to airport construction we had to park our airplane out on the ramp instead of under our shade hangar. The recent high temperatures combined with partially full fuel tanks made for an ideal situation for condensation to occur. I drained a total of about 1/4 cup of water out of the 32 gallon right tank (it was the one facing south, so it got more sun) – there was no water in the left tank. It took a total of about 4 sumps to completely drain the water from the right tank, and just to be safe I shook the wing and drained 4 more sumps to make extra sure there was no water remaining in the system. Water in the fuel tanks is serious business – it can cause the engine to fail shortly after takeoff.

The middle of a hot August afternoon is definitely not an ideal time to climb into a small aircraft. We spent about 30 minutes packing and prepping the plane with temperatures near 90 degrees. Our temporary parking space on the black asphalt made it feel more like 100+ degrees. I tried hard to imagine the colder temperatures we would soon feel at altitude as I climbed into the roasting cockpit. The right seat is unquestionably the right place to be inside a Mooney on a sizzling summer day (the only door is on the right side) … front row air conditioning! Phil’s job was to taxi the plane and do the pre-takeoff checks. My job was to keep the door propped open and the air flowing as long as possible.

The breeze from the prop kept us comfortable until we rolled out onto runway 29 for a straight out departure.


A high overcast layer of clouds covered the western sky. Phil was concerned about the possibility of an afternoon thunderstorm and we talked about needing to turn back if we ran into anything questionable. We initially leveled out at 6,500′ with plenty of room below the clouds. I had originally planned to fly over at 8,500′ but it looked like that altitude would have put us too close to the clouds for this VFR flight.

The clouds occasionally sprinkled us, no more than 30 seconds at a time. After about 20 minutes of flying, the bases of the clouds were higher so we decided to climb to 8,500′ to take advantage of the tailwinds. The turbulence was much lighter than I expected. Just enough to make it fun without any ill effects.

Standing lenticular clouds near our route indicate mountain wave turbulence

The clouds cleared up after we passed the Owyhee Mountains. The air was smooth and there wasn’t much scenery for the next few miles, so Phil decided to get some additional practice flying on instruments. Pilots call this flying “under the hood.” The hood is a device that’s worn to block the pilot’s view outside so that he can only see the instrument panel to simulate flying through clouds. It’s important to regularly practice flying on instruments to maintain proficiency, and this seemed like a good time to do that.

After about 10 minutes of flying in perfectly smooth air, we hit an air bump and we were both lifted 1/2 inch off our seats. Phil was still under the hood, so I made a little joke about how I saw that bump coming. He was obviously focused on his instruments, because he briefly thought I was serious. Gotcha! I was using a good portion of my brain cells just to get used to flying on instruments again. When we hit that single spot of turbulence that bounced us off our seats, straining our seat belts, it took a lot of effort for me to get focused on keeping the airplane flying correctly. I didn’t have enough spare brain cycles to fully comprehend Nancy’s joke at the time.

We continued to get an occasional jolt, so I decided that was enough instrument practice for one day and it was time to look outside. The overcast skies had broken up and there were just a few scattered clouds against the backdrop of bright blue. Nancy noticed that some of the clouds in the distance were “standing lenticulars” (lens-shaped clouds), which typically indicate mountain wave turbulence and are usually found near mountain tops. There were no peaks nearby, but sure enough here was a series of standing lenticular clouds. The jolts we were feeling were from a broad range of mountain wave turbulence that was coming from the Cascade moutains which were still about 70 miles west of our position. At 8,500′ we were just below the bases of the lenticular clouds and I knew the air would be smoother if we climbed to 10,500′.

The Sunriver airport is the light colored area in the middle of all the dark green.

It was almost time to start descending for Sunriver, so I was hesitant to begin a climb now, but a few more jolts convinced me that it was worth a slight time penalty to get a break from the turbulence. As we expected, after leveling off at 10,500′ the air was smooth as silk. Unfortunately we could only stay at that altitude for a few more minutes before it was time to make our way down towards Sunriver.

The Sunriver airport was easy to spot in the distance, a wide opening in the trees laced with a winding river on the border of the airport. The airport traffic pattern was empty, so we crossed midfield to make right traffic to land on runway 18. I snapped a few pictures of the area and then tucked the camera away to prepare for touch down.

We secured the plane and walked a short distance to the FBO and met up with our family. Their condo was just a few minutes away, and it was great to catch up with family and just unwind after an interesting day.

The story continues with our return flight in the next part.

About to cross over the airport before making a right turn to the downwind leg of the traffic pattern.
This is our actual GPS ground track. I was able to fly a very square traffic pattern, despite being distracted by the beautiful scenery (as shown in the pictures on the right).
Turning right downwind. In the larger picture you can see some kayakers on the Deschutes River.
On right base. The Trout House restaurant and the Sunriver Marina are visible on the right edge of the picture.
Final approach to Sunriver
Series NavigationSunriver, Oregon: Part 2 >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.