An island oasis—flying around Puget Sound

Saturday was clear but going to be hot, with Sunday hotter. CJ needed a break from our isolation and Cousteau and Kepler were at their grandpa Rueckert’s for the weekend. Therefore, a flight to the Langley, Washington airport across some of Puget Sound was on the schedule. Chico refuses to wear ear protection or go in my plane so he stayed home.

Puget Sound
The views around Puget Sound are almost always excellent.

We took off from Harvey airport, where Gonzo (my Zenith 750) resides, and climbed to 3,100 ft. AGL, then turned west over the Snohomish Delta. Gedney Island was a halfway point and then Whidbey Island with the airport. I had flown over this spot twice but never landed. In the past decade, at least two small aircraft have crashed on final at this airport, with all killed. The airport is big enough at 2,500 ft. long and 24 ft. wide, but is surrounded by 100 ft. tall fir trees. Unless one is on line with the runway, the trees cover any sight of the field.

I overflew the airport to take a leisurely look and then flew south for several miles before turning. The winds are usually either north to south or the opposite. Today was a north breeze of 6-8 knots, but in the tree “tunnel” the breezes swirl and bounce around. There is a several hundred foot long clear area at both ends of the runway before the trees enclose the slash. I carefully descended, with my abort altitude being 400 ft.

My plane is a STOL aircraft with big, fat tires for soft surfaces. I don’t take much runway to land or takeoff but today it was hot, which reduced performance. I also had a passenger and a two third’s fuel load so we were heavier than when I fly alone. Nevertheless, I touched my main gear nicely at one third down the runway and was soon over to the side, near an older airplane with a tent in the fringing woods. Shade was good and out we tumbled, greeted by the airport owner and his wife. They urged CJ to skip the trip into the town (a 1.5 mile distance) and enjoy the local Mukilteo Coffee Grinders cafe, hidden in the trees a hundred yards back up the runway. We donned our masks and off we set.

Set 150 ft. into the woods was a dozen tables, mostly occupied. A soft accordion was playing on the edge of the area. Food and beverages were ordered outside and I had a sausage-egg muffin and CJ a coffee milkshake. The wait lady was young and stunning but copiously decorated with tattoos. Otherwise, all was upscale. We enjoyed the trees, the scents, and the spaced tables. After 30 minutes, we departed, satiated but looking for wild berries to take back home for a cobbler CJ was planning.

Grass strip
An oasis on the runway.

Ninety minutes after landing, Gonzo was full on in the hot sun and one gasoline tank was pushing out through the vented cap a steady dribble of gasoline. I leveled the plane and we prepared for departure, down a gallon or so of our 20+ gallons of gas. We cleared the runway approaches visually and on the radio before taxiing to the south end of the runway. About a dozen planes had come while we dined, most much faster than we, but because of the heat they were probably needing to stay until evening when engine performance would allow non-STOL aircraft a chance to clear the trees on takeoff. In other words, those planes were heavier and would require most of the runway to lift off, let alone clear the 100 ft. trees at the runway end.

When we took off at 11:30, it was hot enough that I noticed a considerable decline in our performance. We cleared the trees by 100 ft. but Gonzo was working and I decided once above the trees to slow my climb and circle a mile away to gain altitude for our crossing of the water. I measure coolant temperature only and assume my oil temperature is within ten degrees or so and I was at 195 degrees coolant temperature—above my usual. Therefore, slowing my vertical speed would allow more horizontal speed, less stress, and more cooling air flow through my radiators. Besides, the island is beautiful and why hurry?

The flight back to the Harvey airfield area was without event, although the smog was thicker. Harvey field was busy and I fell in behind one of the 152s in the pattern with a student. I landed a bit more roughly than usual on the grass strip 34L and on my taxi to the crossover of 34R, I felt a lurch and heard a noise as my bungee gave way. There’s a metal stop on the nose wheel strut that prevents a prop strike but my nose was 6” lower. I put away Gonzo after 1.2 hours of flight.

It was too hot to work on Gonzo and Chico was waiting at home so off we went. All told, our short excursion had been to another world, “the island world.”

2 Comments

  • Good article! Puget Sound is an amazing place to fly. I’ve only just started exploring and am looking forward to more.

    • Yes the area is beautiful some years ago hirer a Beech Bonanza A36 at Boeing Field and headed up to Friday Harbour for coffee then returned to Boeing Field just a great day.
      Might add the aircraft had a total of 50 hours and still smelt like a new aircraft. Similar A36’s in Australia are around 20 years old and showing their age plus cost as twice as much to hire compared to what I paid for in Washington.

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