Summer flying weather in the Great Northwest is the best in the country, with predominately clear, sunny skies, low humidity and great visibility. Usually that summer flying weather starts just after the 4th of July, and lasts until early September. In late June, 2023, we were treated with an early start to summer flying weather, and I had the enjoyable opportunity to fly four different aircraft with four different types of flying over the period of a long June weekend.
Friday started with an offer from my friend, neighbor and former AF Academy '77 grad Steve Cameron for a flight in his homebuilt Just Highlander. Steve had built the Highlander over a cold winter in Idaho, and after initial teething issues with his Yamaha Apex engine, had completely his required test program and could now take others up to experience the STOL capabilities of the Highlander. Dean Fox was the originator of the design shape that evolved with Dan Denney into the Kitfox, and through a number of companies, Just Aircraft designed the Summit, Escapade, and finally the Highlander in 2004. Although started in Idaho, Just Aircraft is now headquartered in Walhalla, SC.
Steve picked me up in his truck, since he was tankering fuel to the Auburn airport. I helped Steve conduct a thorough pre-flight as we unfolded the wings on the Highlander, refueled, and said hello to the pilots of two other Highlanders taxiing by Steve’s hangar. Once we buckled in, I was pleased with the amount of head and leg room, and the decent over-the-nose visibility for a taildragger with large bush tires. The Yamaha Apex engine runs at a very high RPM, and initial taxi sounded like we were revving for takeoff. We climbed steeply off Auburn’s runway 34, and headed directly for the short grass strip at Auburn Academy (WA84). Steve kept us high over the tall trees at the approach end of runway 27, then slipped us in to a nice landing and very short rollout. I had the second pattern, climbing out with good visibility once the nose was lowered, and tried the same slip technique over the tall trees. My round out for landing was more abrupt than Steve’s, giving us a small bounce but also aligning us off the centerline. Once firmly on the ground, we angled toward the taller grass on the runway edge, but we were still able to stop in a very short distance. Power control on final will take a bit of work with the geared engine. We then took a reconnaissance run over tomorrow’s planned wedding overflight location, acquiring good run-in landmarks. We cruised in perfect weather across the Puget Sound to the Vashon municipal airport, (2S1), where Steve demoed a nice steep approach to the 2100-ft grass strip, stopping again very quickly after touchdown. This STOL flying is fun, especially on grass runways. I flew back to Auburn, where Steve lamented the hard surface instead of welcoming grass. Thanks for the Highlander and STOL demos, Steve. Now to find some more smooth grass runways to practice!
Troy Larson, a Boeing test pilot, another AF Academy grad and member of the Boeing Employees Flying Association (BEFA) contacted me a couple of years ago about BEFA's potential acquisition of two factory built Van's RV-12 aircraft. Troy hoped that BEFA could establish a formation training program, and he requested my help in developing a syllabus and training program. Two years later, BEFA had finally acquired both new RV-12iS aircraft, and Troy arranged with aviation photographer John Parker to set up a promotional RV-12 video shoot. We briefed late in the afternoon on Friday, with glorious cumulus clouds building to the west over the Cascades. Troy flew solo in the lead RV-12, and I flew in the formation as #2 in BEFA's newest RV-12, N262BS, with BEFA pilot Rohan Sharma getting formation orientation in the left seat, and the Bonanza chasing and orchestrating formation position changes as we maneuvered over the Enumclaw area and the Cascade foothills. The late sun provided great lighting as we maneuvered through close and route fingertip formation, cross-unders, trail and pitch outs as John's video camera, mounted in a turret under the Bonanza's aft fuselage, provided unique perspectives on the formation. Even though it was only my second flight in an RV-12, formation flying was a breeze, like all other Van's aircraft. With outstanding visibility, crisp flight controls, smooth handling and good engine response, the RV-12 will be a fantastic formation training platform for BEFA. After our video shoot, John Parker and the Bonanza headed to Auburn, while Troy led our two RV-12s back after sunset to initial at Renton for an overhead pattern, pitching out and landing after a very enjoyable flying day. John Parker produced an excellent video from our formation flight.
Earlier in June, my friend Jim Lambert, Beaver pilot and head of NW Seaplanes Maintenance, called and asked if I could flyby his wedding ceremony on 24 June. The wedding venue would be on Jim’s 5 acre property north of Enumclaw. I heartily agreed, hoping to rope in a few fellow aviators for a formation flyby. On Friday, I used my Highlander orientation flight to conduct a reconnaissance of the venue, since Jim’s property is hidden on a wooded hillside overlooking the Green River. On Saturday, no formation partners were available, but Tom ‘TP’ Jensen had volunteered the use of his gorgeous N3N biplane. TP and I prepared three rolls of toilet paper to highlight the wedding, and launched into perfect skies with a TOT (Time On Target) of 2:00PM. I loitered to the west, trying hard to identify my run-in landmarks, which were harder to see over the windy nose of the N3N. TP helped identify the tents and wedding party, allowing for a perfect overflight from the west at exactly 2:00. I circled tightly and made a second pass, where TP and I dropped our 3 rolls of toilet paper. I didn’t want to hit the wedding party directly, and our ‘confetti’ ended up 50 feet from the crowd, suspended in a tree by Jim’s tool barn. Not bad for an air-to-air guy! Jim and his bride loved the flybys and ‘confetti’! Thanks for the loan of your gorgeous N3N, TP!
My good friend and fellow Air Force Academy grad Stan Mars had called earlier in the week and coordinated for a flight review. Stan had built and flown a Zenith 701 years ago, but he sold it to a New Zealand pilot, and flew and taught others in their aircraft instead. Stan and I helped each other with our multi-engine and instrument instructor ratings years ago. Recently back from Palm Springs, Stan and I met at Renton, where I loaned him my Warrior for an enjoyable flight review, reviewing the 'possible turn' maneuver and flying optimum power-off turns to minimize altitude loss when turning back to the airfield in case of a power loss. Stan flew excellent patterns and landings, only remarking that the Puget Sound general aviation traffic was way up from previous years. We both were busy looking outside and using ADS-B to keep clear of the many other aircraft enjoying this fine weekend summer weather!
Four different aircraft, four different missions - STOL (Short-Takeoff and Landing) practice, formation in a new aircraft, a wedding flyby in a classic biplane, and giving a flight review in my family cruiser. Not a bad summer flying weekend!