Fanboy Friday: Small Airports Rule!

The AOPA is fond of saying it: of all the flights logged each day in the USA, the vast majority are small GA aircraft. And I’d be willing to bet good money that the bulk of those flights begin and end at small airports. So what do you know about your local aerodromes?

Americans have a tremendous bounty when it comes to aviation. Getting a PPL is cheaper here than just about anywhere, and oh, so many choices of where to learn!

Here’s an example from my real-world training: my home base was Portland-Troutdale Aiport (KTTD). The usual training drill would involve taking off and flying south, across the rolling foothills of the Cascades just east of Portland. We did S-turns, stalls, ground reference maneuvers, you name it. The one thing my instructor kept repeating during all of this was to be aware of where the nearest landing options were in case something went wrong. It wasn’t exactly a challenge, as this shot from the Plan-G flight planner shows.

Every white dot is another airport. Some are fairly well-developed fields, while others are just grass strips. By my count, this area alone has about 30 of them, give or take. And bear in mind, this is within a few miles of downtown Portland. Multiply that by the ground you can cover in an hour or two in a light GA plane, and you’ve got hundreds of options for places to visit.

Ordinarily, heading off into the wild blue yonder in search of small airports yields mixed results in FSX. Sure, many of these fields are represented by default, but they’re often not much more than a rectangle of grass skirting with a runway plopped down – definitely not much to look at. However (and here comes plug), many of these fields have been given a complete makeover in FTX NA Blue, with the addition of custom buildings, refined layouts, and nifty extras like vehicles and 3D grass. So even if you think you know some of these airports pretty well, it might be worth it to give them another try in FTX.

Let’s Take a Flight

I could yammer on about the cool small airports in FTX, but I’d rather just go flying and show you. Here’s a PIREP from a recent trip I took. Originally, I planned to fly from Twin Oaks (7S3) to Nehalem Bay State, which is on the Oregon coast just north of Tillamook. Coincidentally, the flight was a palindrome: 7S3-3S7. How often does that happen? 🙂

The weather ended up being so nice, and  the scenery so gorgeous that I passed Nehalem by and kept moving, all the way across the border into Washington, and the tiny airport at the Port of Ilwaco (7W1).

Here I am doing the pre-flight at 7S3

Lining up on rwy 20 on a beautiful spring morning…

It’s a nearly due-west flight from 7S3 to get to Tillamook. Barring strong northerly or southerly winds, you can pretty much just point the nose at a heading of 255 and gun it. You know you’ve arrived at Tillamook when you see the huge wooden blimp hangar from WWII that now houses the Tillamook Air Museum. It’s a must-see if you’re ever in the area. Incidentally, this is a field I’ve got on the books to do in high-def for FTX at some point this year.

Past the airport, the bay opens up into the Pacific.

This is my signal to turn north, running just inland along the coast. The weather is a smooth as it looks, with little to no turbulence. Winds are coming from the north at 10 knots or so. Can’t ask for better than that. I took a snap as I overflew Cannon Beach, so named because of the British naval cannon that locals hauled ashore ages ago from a shipwreck.

Up ahead, you can make out the mouth of the mighty Columbia River emptying into the ocean. At the point where the river meets the sea is the town of Astoria, Oregon. Bomber pilots trained here in WWII to get experience flying “in the soup” over northern Europe. Luckily, this isn’t a good instrument training day.

Flying over Astoria proper, I lined up with the Astoria-Megler bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.

Washington, here we come! Ahead is the Long Beach peninsula, a funky ocean-side community that looks like something from a David Lynch movie. Our destination lies at the top of Baker Bay, at the port of Ilwaco. You can make out the VASI on the middle right of the shot.

Coming down low (too low, actually) over the marshy bay, I compensated for the northerly winds by aiming just to the right of the runway.

At the last minute, I managed to wrestle the plane onto the right path. Man, I need to practice my crosswind landings.

A few other planes were already parked, so I tucked up beside them. The weather was decent, so I decided to walk into town for something to eat.

Where to next? I’ll let you know when I figure it out. In the meantime, go have some small airport adventures of your own and let me know what you find.

Happy flying!

14 responses to “Fanboy Friday: Small Airports Rule!

  1. Awesome, just awesome. Think I’ll go check out that Carenado 172 and your HD panel. Is that what you have pictured there?

  2. Bill, you just made my day with a little detail you included in your text.

    I had just started researching for a “home base” in FTX NA BLUE to use with the soon to be released A2A Accu-Sim B-17. You just found it for me!

    Many thanks!

  3. Very cool little flight here!

    This is what really fascinates me about PNW. You can go up and just have a blast flying to these small little airfields.

    AND you can do it by using an actual sectional chart! It’s nucking futs.

    I’ve done a lot of real flying in this area, and just love the coastal region. Astoria is a magical city, and pretty much any city along the coast just has a great feel to it.

    This feel was captured well with PNW.

    I have a lot of flights coming up soon for Aviator90, so I’m looking for suggestions for quirky little flights.

    Alright, I’m out.

    Thanks for another great Fanboy Friday!

  4. Yeah Bill PNW continues to amaze me last week I was
    sorta doing bout same route flying straight up the coast
    north bound. Went out of Portland, past Astoria, saved the
    flight so I could continue. Also used a seaplane so I could
    land anywhere there’s water. Only thing missing where the
    fish jumping. Coast was beautiful at sunset. Never have explored
    as much in flightsim since all this NW stuff came out from Tongass X
    Ultimate Alaska, and Pnw.

  5. Thank you for bringing your part of the world alive. I had no idea where Twin Oaks was and now I know. The missiles are aimed and ready.
    Did you do all those planes at Twin Oaks? Did you get them to move? If so, why don’t you do it for Plum Island?

  6. Some of my favorite small PNW fields

    1. 39P Strom. Very challenging approach and landing given the short runway. It would be great if the PNW team will do a Starks or Darrington type detailed version. The Georender version was great in FS9.

    2. Westport 14s. Challenging short strip in higher winds on Gray’s Bay.

    3. Toledo State — another short strip with a difficult approach.

  7. Interresting! I use Plan-G as well. Great product. I see you flew to an NDB? Then North. In VFR flight, do you guys all typically do that as opposed to “as the crow flies” with GPS?

    Just curious. Going to replicate that flight myself if I get a chance tonight. Aslo wanted to mention I love your interior repaint. I put it in all my Carenado 172’s. Thanks for that. Only thing I noticed is I cannot see the trim position notch.


    • Charles, it just happened that Tillamook airport had an NDB. What I was really aiming for was the airport itself, since it’s such a prominent landmark. As you might have noticed, I’ve been on a realism tear lately, so I’ve been tending to fly the way I did back when I was doing it for real. The 172 I flew didn’t have a GPS, so it was pilotage + dead reckoning, with some radio nav thrown in for backup. I actually enjoy these methods more than just setting the GPS and following it, but if I were in a real GPS-equipped plane, I’d probably use a combination of it and radio nav. You can never have too many back-ups and cross-references.

      I noticed that the trim indicator is hidden with my panel mod. The only thing I can figure is that they used a tiny swatch of the panel color to create the indicator. If you zoom in really close, you’ll see that the indicator is there – it’s just black now. I’ll see if there’s anything I can do about it.

  8. Ross youngblood

    Nice! I’ve flown and video taped segments of this route in my Cardinal RG and posted on VIMEO. It’s amazing how good the sim scenery looks!

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