Angel Flight to Portland

Nancy and I just joined an organization called Angel Flight which provides free air transportation in private aircraft for people needing medical treatment or other humanitarian needs. Our first Angel Flight mission was to take a little girl with leukemia from Baker City, Oregon to get follow-up care in Portland, Oregon.

Nampa, Idaho to Baker City, Oregon

Our flights from Nampa to Baker City, Oregon to Portland, Oregon

We arranged to pick up Ali and Chloe at 9:00am in Baker City. We started our take off roll at Nampa, ID at 9:00am Mountain time and we arrived in Baker City at 8:50am Pacific time. We got a chance to use the Angel Flight call sign for the first time during this short flight. It was a little strange saying “Angel Flight 1UT” instead of “Mooney 1UT” but we both got used to it pretty quickly.

We met Chloe and Ali in the small terminal building at Baker. There was a bit of a crowd waiting with them including Jake Jacobs from the Angel Flight Oregon Wing and Lisa Britton who is a reporter for the Baker City Herald newspaper. Lisa was doing a story on Angel Flight, and she would be flying on a few other Angel Flight missions over the next few days. We discovered that Chloe was actually quite famous in her hometown of Baker City. Some residents even refer to her as “Our Chloe” according to Jake. We all visited for a few moments, made our last pit stop and decided it was time to head out. After Lisa’s article was published, Jake and Joan Jacobs were kind enough to send us a few copies of the Baker City Herald newspaper where the Angel Flight article was the front page story! I think Lisa did a great job of capturing what Angel Flight is all about in a very well written piece. It’s wonderful that she took the time to go on a few Angel Flight missions herself to really see what it’s all about.

Chloe (age 6) was very excited about the trip, and really looking forward to seeing her doctors in Portland. That’s a real compliment to the staff at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) as well as an example of Chloe’s positive nature. She was in the airplane and ready to go before the three adults even knew it. Although this would be our first Angel Flight, our passengers were veterans. They’ve made this trip many times during the last year, including a lot of long drives before discovering Angel Flight.

Phil preflighted the Mooney while I finalized the Angel Flight paperwork and familiarized our new passengers with the plane and headsets. Before boarding, Chloe retrieved some activity items and a small blanket from her bag to make her flight more comfortable. Ali explained that Chloe had wanted to bring a bigger blanket, but they were concerned about space. This provided an excellent opening for me to share the special quilt made for Chloe by my cousin Ellen (Thanks Ellen!). Chloe was thrilled with the quilt especially since purple is her favorite color (a girl after my own heart). Ali and Chloe settled into the backseat with plenty of blanket for two.

Baker City to Portland, Oregon

We departed from Baker City’s runway 31 and that put us almost directly on course to our first checkpoint: Pendleton, OR. We got our IFR clearance to PDX from Salt Lake City Center, “Angel Flight 1UT is cleared to the Portland airport as filed, climb and maintain 10 thousand, squawk 4216.” Just a few minutes after getting our clearance, ATC called back and gave us a shortcut by clearing us direct to the Klickitat VOR.

Shortly after we leveled off, Chloe observed that we were “really up high.” I told her that we were at 10,000 feet or about 2 miles up in the air. Chloe thought that was pretty cool. The high altitude kept us in nice smooth air, and I didn’t even mind the 15 knot headwind we were pushing against.

Phil and I both enjoyed visiting with Ali and Chloe during our flight. Luckily, the Mooney intercom has an isolate switch. This allows Phil to communicate with ATC without being distracted by the cabin conversation and it also allows the passengers to talk without feeling like they’re interrupting. Chloe had a great giggle and quickly made herself comfortable in the backseat. Though she was seated directly behind me and out of sight, her energy was very present. As we were talking to Ali about Chloe’s condition, Ali shared a very powerful quote from Chloe that we found quite beautiful and touching. Chloe said, “God gave me this so people would learn how to pray.” What a courageous young lady. The prayers are working–her leukemia is currently in remission.

Columbia river in the foreground with Mt. Adams (left) and Mt. Rainier (right) in the distance.

Today was an absolutely beautiful spring day. Chloe and Ali were a delight to fly with and we had so much fun talking with them that we didn’t take as many pictures as we normally do. The vegetation along the Columbia River basin was lush and green as we flew by Pendleton, The Dalles, and Hood River on our way to Portland. Chloe passed the time by taking pictures of the scenery, and her pilots. That inspired Nancy to take some pictures of her own before we got too busy with the arrival into Portland. As the Columbia River came into view on our right, Chloe made the initial inquiry of “How much longer?” I consulted the GPS and shared that we were about 50 minutes out from Portland. Chloe asked how long that was, and Ali’s creative response was, “less than two SpongeBob episodes.” Moms are so clever.

As we passed the Klickitat VOR near The Dalles, we made a slight left turn towards the [Battle Ground](,_Washington#Name”read about the origin of the name Battle Ground”) VOR and ATC issued a descent clearance to 7,000 feet. Nancy’s ears are pretty sensitive, so I limited my descent rate to 500 feet-per-minute. Many kids have sensitive ears too, so this slow descent was also for Chloe’s benefit.

We flew down the spectacular Columbia River Gorge with beautiful green hills flanking the river and several famous mountains in view (Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson to the south, and Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier to the north). As we left the smooth air at 10,000 feet, the winds blowing across the rolling terrain of the Columbia Gorge started to do their thing and gave us a bit of turbulence in the descent. Wind blowing across hills behaves much like water flowing across rocks in a stream — creating patterns of disturbed air downwind from the terrain.

Detail of our arrival in Portland. The magenta line shows our filed route and the blue line is our actual track. Mt. Hood is visible at the bottom center of the map.

Because I kept our descent rate pretty low, we ended up quite high on our approach to Portland. When we were 25 nautical miles from Portland, we were given a heading of 190 and further descent clearance down to 2,500 feet. Once we were tracking the final approach course to runway 28R, it was clear that we would need to do some maneuvering to lose altitude before the runway. Before I could even ask, the controller cleared us to make S-turns as needed. This actually provided a great view of the Columbia River, Portland and Vancouver. After being handed off the 28R tower controller, we were about 2 miles from the runway and about 1,800 feet. We were still high, so Phil requested a right 360 and ATC approved giving us another striking view of the surrounding area before touch down. We rolled out on a one mile final, right on the proper glide slope. Even with the unusual approach, Phil managed a soft, well-controlled landing.

After about 3 SpongeBob episodes (1 hour and 40 minutes), some great scenery, a few bumps, and some turns we finally arrived at Portland’s runway 28R. We taxied to Flightcraft where they literally gave us the red-carpet treatment (by rolling out a little red carpet for us). We snapped a few more pictures and said goodbye to our first Angel Flight passengers who had a visit to the zoo planned before the next day’s appointment with the doctor.

Most of our friends and family asked, “Did you wait for them and fly them back home?” No we didn’t. It’s typical for one Angel Flight pilot to drop the patient off and a different one to bring them home. That makes it a lot easier for the volunteer pilots by limiting the amount of time they need to be away from work and home. So another pilot brought Ali and Chloe back home. Speaking of time away from work, my employer, Hewlett-Packard, encourages employees to do some kind of community service. I made a deal with my boss that I could get one day off per month to do an Angel Flight as long as it doesn’t interfere with my normal work. Our goal is to fly at least one Angel Flight mission per month.

After putting in our fuel order with Flightcraft (which they completed before we were off the ramp), we enjoyed a nice walk to the main terminal at Portland. Normally we think of airport food as being cheap and greasy. However, some pilots on the AOPA Forum recommended the Rose City Grill and they were right. We had seats by the window where we could watch the departures from runways 28L and 28R. I ordered the Cajun halibut which was the best tasting halibut I’ve had. The folks at the AOPA Forum also had some recommendations for places that were a short drive from the airport, but we decided that we didn’t want to bother with arranging for a car, parking, etc. I’m glad we decided to just walk to the terminal because the Rose City Grill was great.

Portland, Oregon to Nampa, Idaho

This image from Google Earth shows our approach and departure paths at Portland International. You can see the s-turns and the 360 degree turn I made while approaching 28R. On departure we were headed north towards V112 and in the Google Earth image you can see an approximation of our views of Mt. St. Helens with Mt. Rainier behind it to the north and Mt. Adams off to the east (view the larger image to see the details). Even though our GPS recorded altitudes in our track, Google Earth didn’t show that so the lines drawn on the image are on the ground even though we were flying thousands of feet above.

We enjoyed the nice walk back to Flightcraft, and started to get ready for our return flight. Flightcraft has a great flight planning room with a computer to check the weather. The forecast was for the clear skies to continue for the rest of the day. I phoned in our return IFR flight plan, and we got back in the Mooney to depart. There was a marked square at the northeast corner of the Flightcraft ramp for doing the run-up, and I made sure our prop blast was angled away from the sleek jets and turboprops parked nearby.

Mt. Saint Helens in the foreground with Mt. Rainier just visible behind and to the right.
Mt. Hood

After the run-up, we listened to the ATIS: “Portland International information x-ray 2055 Zulu. Winds variable at 4, visibility 10, few clouds at 4,000, temperature 17, dew point 1, altimeter 30.26, landing and departing runways 28 left and right.” I wrote down “X 2055 var@4 V10 few 040 17/1 30.26 28L/R.” Since we got a pretty direct routing on the way to Portland, I filed basically the same route back to Nampa (airport identifier S67): Klickitat direct Baker direct. I got pretty close to that as my clearance: “Cleared to S67 via the Portland 5 Departure, V112 Klickitat direct Baker direct, maintain 3000, departure frequency 124.35 squawk 6621.” The addition of V112 to my filed route meant we had to detour a bit to the north to the Battle Ground VOR, probably to keep us out of the arrivals coming into runway 28R.

When I finished reading back our clearance, I got out the Portland 5 Departure chart and reviewed it, then reviewed the taxi chart before I called ground control. For some reason, I was kind of rushing through these steps and Nancy called me on it by asking, “Are we in a rush to depart?” No, we weren’t and I have no good explanation as to why I started to rush. I was probably just keyed up about departing from a somewhat busy, unfamiliar airport. Nancy’s question helped me slow down and return to our usual methodical process. Ground control cleared us to runway 28R and advised a 737 that he’d be following us to the runway. The tower controller cleared us for take off on 28R and I think the 737 had just reached the runway threshold, so he didn’t have to wait very long for his turn. Departure cleared us up to 7,000 and soon 13,000 after we intercepted V112.

I filed for a cruise altitude of 13,000 feet so we could take advantage of the tailwinds, and we got a nice push home. Our average ground speed on the way home was 170 knots (196 mph). We enjoyed smooth air and wonderful scenery the whole way back. With our fast ground speed and high altitude, we actually had to start our descent to Nampa from about 90 nautical miles out. During the descent our ground speed increased to 190 knots (219 mph). We listened to the automated weather at the nearby Caldwell airport and heard that the winds would be favoring runway 29 at Nampa.

Our arrival into Nampa is shown in blue. I drew in the approximate path of the Cessna 210 in red. If we had crossed the runway from northeast to southwest at mid-field, you can see how we would have had a problem. Crossing mid-field at pattern altitude is a bit more risky than the standard 45 entry.

I maneuvered south of the Caldwell airport to enter on a 45-degree angle to the downwind for runway 29 at Nampa. I prefer to enter on the 45 whenever I can because it gives me a good chance to spot other aircraft. During our descent we heard a Cessna 210 call inbound to Nampa from Horseshoe Bend (25 nautical miles northeast), and I had a feeling we’d be approaching Nampa at about the same time. Sure enough, when I called in that we were 4 west of Nampa, the 210 reported he was 5 north. I made sure our landing light was on and entered on the 45 while keeping a sharp eye out for the 210. As I was turning on the 45, I spotted the 210 (who did not have his landing light on) approaching for a mid-field crosswind entry for 29 right at pattern altitude. I kept my eye on him and I asked Nancy to take a look for other traffic. Just before I turned downwind, I could see that the 210 finally had us in sight and he altered his course to his right to come in behind us. I think if I had also entered on a mid-field crosswind entry at pattern altitude, we both would have had a hard time spotting each other. When I’m making a mid-field entry, I prefer to do it 500 feet above pattern altitude, then about 2 miles after crossing the runway, make a descending turn to pattern altitude and enter on a 45 to the downwind. If the 210 pilot had done this he would have had an easier time seeing me, and we wouldn’t have had to have been so close in the pattern. The entry the 210 pilot made was perfectly legal, but not the method I recommend to my students.

We landed about 12 hours (I mean 24 SpongeBob episodes) after first waking up that morning. Neither of us felt tired, and we were both very glad to be part of Angel Flight and to have such great passengers as Ali and Chloe for our first mission.

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