Airplane camping in the “Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon” – Jim Wright Airfield, Cottage Grove.

An idyllic riverside spot for pitching a tent under the wing, Jim Wright Airfield makes a splendid, peaceful overnight campsite for pilots.Row River, end of runway 33 On one hot day in late July, we flew into Cottage Grove State Airport 61S (diagram at end of blog) and parked our plane on the lovely grass airfield, off the end of runway 33.  Grassy area end of runway 33With Row River (pronounced like “cow”) burbling and chuckling right next to our tent, we spent the day swimming in the river, picking an enormous amount of fat, sweet blackberries from the airport bushes, roaming the banks of the Row alongside the airport, and gathering wild mint to mix in with our camp-stove fried rice. Airport camping at its best! When we were present, the “Deathmobile” replica from the 1978 movie Animal House was onsite at the airfield.  Parts of Animal House had been filmed in Cottage Grove in ‘78, and the “Deathmobile” is stored in one of the hangars.Death mobile from the movie Animal HouseWe were also extremely lucky to meet Ron Englund at the airfield, one of the volunteers who helped Jim Wright build his H1-Racer Replica (H-2).  Soft-spoken Ron gave us a delightful tour of Jim Wright’s hangar, the very place with the H-2 was built.  Now filled with a fascinating mix of antique phonographs and H-1 Replica-building history, as well as several ongoing plane-building projects, the hangar is funded by Betty Wight, Jim’s widow.  We felt privileged and humbled to be given an intimate tour of the incredible workplace where such an awesome plane had been built.

In 1935, Howard Hughes’ H-1 Racer set a Land Plane Speed Record (352mph) and in 1937 set a transcontinental record (L.A. to New York Non-Stop in 7hrs 28 min at 327 mph).

Jim Wright & his replica H-1 Racer at Cottage Grove
Jim Wright’s H-1 Replica, on site at Cottage Grove (photos from “Guy’s Blog”

Jim first flew his stunningly beautiful full-scale H-1 Replica in 2002. The plane was so close to the original that the FAA granted it serial number 2 of the model. 300px-Hughes_H-1_Racer_Replica_Oshkosh_2003 On August 4, 2003, Jim unveiled his replica at the 2003 AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Alas, on the way home, he fatally crashed just north of the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.   In December 2003, the Cottage Grove airfield was named after him. Zeus checking out Jim Wright Airfield signThere’s a public museum near the airfield’s roadside entrance. Run by the Oregon Aviation Historical Society, the hangar museum boasts more than 6 pre-war Oregon home built aircraft that help to tell the story of experimental aircraft in the US.   We toured the museum and David charmed them into allowing him to use their shower while I bought a t-shirt of Hughes’ H-1 Racer.  (While there is a “Johnny-on-the-spot” outhouse for airplane campers back on the airfield, there’s no showers).Street entrance to airfield & museumAlthough we didn’t venture off the airfield because of all the river-swimming, blackberry picking, & hangar visiting we did on-site, Cottage Grove is well-known for its six historic covered bridges.  There’s a very pretty bike route to them, the Covered Bridges Scenic BikewayCentennial_Bridge Apparently, there is an airfield courtesy car available, and if you venture into town, bike rentals are possible from Rainy Peak Bicycles, (533 E Main,OR, Cottage Grove, 97424, tel: 541-942-8712).  There’s also a scenic bike trail along the Row River. We’re already planning to fly back to Cottage Grove next summer and cycle these trails.

If you want to explore the town itself, there are 20 outdoor murals commemorating Cottage Grove’s history.mural cottage groveBack near the airfield, there’s the 18 hole Middlefield Golf Course.  If you don’t have a car, it’s within walking distance of runway 15, through a cosy little neighbourhood whose houses have backyard lawns leading right onto the airfield (no fences!) middle_field_golf_1Further afield, there are several impressive waterfalls very close to each other in the Layng Creek Watershed– Moon, Pinard and Spirit Falls.  Just a short drive from Cottage Grove, these spectacular falls can be reached by short hikes through mossy, wooded trails.  Again, we are definitely returning for this! (photos plucked from the USDA gov website)



If you’re planning an under-the-wing camping stop at Cottage Grove, beware the Cottage Grove Speedway noise on Friday and Saturday nights!  Racing is every Saturday night, April through September, KART racing on Friday nights, and racing starts at 6:30 or 7:30, depending on the event.  Although the speedway isn’t that close to the airfield, by golly, you can certainly hear it loud and clear while snuggled in your tent.  When we were there, the racing went until 10:30pm! The Racetrack phone number,  if you wish to inquire about what nights they’re racing so you can avoid camping at the airfield on those nights, is: 541-942-7561cottage_grove

Jim Wright Airfield at dusk

8 Jolly Great Reasons to Fly! (or, How to Get Your Spouse in the Plane with You)

Mind-boggling as it is, the appeal of getting in a small plane is often lost on folks who aren’t pilots.  Many a spouse and offspring spurns the idea of accompanying the family pilot on yet another excursion into the skies.   Although hubby and I are lucky (we’re both pilots addicted to riding the air waves), getting the rest of the family to join us over the years has mirrored the challenge other pilots face with their spouses.  Making the flight about the destination, and not about the journey and amazing scenery en-route, turns out to be key.

Here’s some of the ways we’ve lured the reluctant to join us for a splendid outing via an airplane ride around the West Coast of BC and the States… and it has helped keep flying new and adventurous for us, too.  Paying $10 to $25 for a taxi-ride once at the arrival-airport opens up a whole world of possibilities beyond the airport restaurant….


Gorgeous squeaky whte sand dunes
Nehalem Bay, Oregon, USA

Suntanning, swimming, playing Frisbee, fish n’chips and ice-cream, sand-castle building festivals and competitions….  A number of airports are within either a short walking distance of some amazing beaches (Nehalem Bay, Gold Beach) or are a short walk or hike away (Orcas Island, Courtenay, Texada) or a $10-$20 taxi ride (Qualicum Airport, Powell River).

Parksville Beach, Vancouver Island, BC


Dog walks, seaside strolls, or hikes through sun-dappled forest trails—many start right at the airport (Pitt Meadows, Sechelt, Texada/Gillies Bay/Courtenay) or are only a short taxi-ride away.

#3—Golf!golf cart adventure

Hit the greens.  Rowena/Sandpiper airstrip near Chilliwack, Nanaimo, and Pemberton are just a few airports in BC that have beautiful golf courses located adjacent to the airport (you can taxi right up to them).

#4—Shopping!gift store

From the quaint and quirky boutiques in the picturesque harbour town of Sydney (a 15 minute walk from Victoria Airport) to the sprawling Bellis Fair right near Bellingham airport, those who so desire can shop ‘til they drop (while pilot spouse maybe visits the airport museum… or grits teeth and gamely pretends to enjoy the shopping experience, too.)

#5—Horseback Riding!

Nehalem Bay in the States, or the Flying U Ranch (Green Lake airfield) in Canada offer horseback riding right within walking distance of the airstrip.horseback riding

#6—Adventure activities!leaving the cave

How about spelunking in awesome caves of limestone stalactites or kayaking on a lake (Horne Lake caves near Qualicum airport)?  Or is learning to drive an old Model T Ford more your thing (at the WAAAM museum in Hood River, Oregon).  What about riding zip-lines high up in the trees (at Wild Play Park, 5 minutes from Nanaimo airport)?  And our favourite: airport camping—pitching a tent under the wing and listening to the cicadas chirrup as you fry up a camp dinner on a portable stove. How about skydiving, anyone? (Qualicum airport, Pitt Meadows airport).img_5816


#7—Lakes/rivers/waterfalls!Green River

Hopping in a cab, or going for a hike from the airport, can lead you to some amazing fresh-water finds, great on a hot summer’s day.  Penticton has a beach and lake right at the end of the airport!


Courtenay Airpark has a kayak rental right at the marina beside the airstrip, and the lakeside beach at Penticton airport has them, too….

double rainbow over North Vancouver

If you have any other suggestions, we’d love to hear them!img_5916


















Jaunty octogenarians and their Model T Ford driving school, Hood River, Oregon, USA

WAAMSurrounded by lush vineyards and orchards, under the snow-capped peak of Oregon’s highest volcanic mountain, Hood River is a great little destination just 60 miles east of Portland.  There’s not much that you can’t do here, in this green nook along the Columbia River: skiing, hiking, wind-surfing, wine-tasting and—best of all—learning to drive a 1916 Model T Ford. Ken Jernstedt airport

On a multi-stop airplane camping trip from BC to California, we visited the marvelous Western Antique and Airplane Museum (WAAAM) located right at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield (4S2, CTAF/UNICOM: 122.8, Elevation: 638 ft.)  While touring the incredible collection of planes and antique vehicles in the museum, we learned about the Model T driving school and promptly signed up for the only class that was still available that summer.  Each class is limited to 10 participants, and they sell out early! us in the Model T

Weather almost defeated us when we flew down from Canada to Hood River some months later for our scheduled driving class.  But despite sulking clouds and petulant winds, we made it, to the delight of the folks running the driving school, who vowed to now declare theirs an international establishment.  In keeping with the early 1900’s theme of our day, we booked a room in the historic Hood River Hotel, a wonderful floorboard-creaky, brass-spigot place that’s been around since 1912. 1911 Hood River Hotel

We spent the morning in the museum, learning the history of the `Tin Lizzie’ and some esoteric facts, such as: the first cars produced were red, grey, green, and blue, even though Henry T. Ford declared that his customers could buy a Model T painted any color they wished, as long as it were black.  The iconic black was introduced as a cost saving measure during WWI.   He also offered kits to convert the Model T to just about anything his customers wanted, such as the Snowflier, where a second set of drive wheels were added and skis replaced the front wheels. (The first snowmobile!)  Apparently, another `conversion’ was for a traveling minister, so he could set up his Model T to power a portable pipe organ.

After a BBQ burger & salad lunch (included), we were released into a grass field, to drive a variety of Model T’s about willy-nilly and around a slalom course of orange traffic cones (a demonstration of chaos theory in action, make no mistake).  Neither of us could believe how vastly different driving the Model T is to driving today’s standard—or automatic—car.  pedals and gear systemWith three pedals on the floor (none of them in the configuration that we’re familiar with today), two levers on the steering wheel, and a third bar/lever necessary for operation, driving Henry’s `Fliver’ was kind of like patting your head, rubbing your tummy, and writing riddles using only your feet.  It was a challenge and a delight, and our volunteer instructors—ranging in age from 60 to 90 years old—had oodles of patience and wisdom.  Most of the instructors, we learned, actually forge the replacement parts for the Model T’s, by hand, right there at the WAAAM.

How to drive the Model T:

There are three pedals located on the floor, left, middle, and right.

To the left of the driver, there’s a large hand-operated bar-lever (said bar-lever makes it impossible to get into the car on the driver’s side, don’t you know).  Driver must enter on the passenger side.  There’s two more levers located on the steering wheel.

There are three positions for the left pedal.  All the way out, the car is in high gear.  Pushed ½ way in, the car is in neutral. Pushed all the way in, the car is in low gear.

The bar-lever pulled all the way back forces the left pedal into the middle and applies the handbrake.

If you move the bar-lever ½ way forward, it releases the handbrake and restricts the left pedal to middle and `all the way in’ only.  If you move the bar-lever all the way forward, then the left pedal is free to move into all positions and the handbrake is released.

The right pedal is the brake (just like a brake in our cars today).   Always drive with right foot hovering over the brake!

Middle pedal is the reverse gear.  To go backwards, hold the left pedal in the ½ way position and push the middle pedal in.  Anytime you’re engaging any of the gears (low, high, or reverse), as with today’s standard vehicles, you need to apply the throttle or the engine will quit. img_6912 The throttle is one of the levers on the steering column; the other lever on the steering column is the spark timer. You can’t apply the throttle without changing the spark timer, which you have to do simultaneously with the throttle lever.  How fun is that?!

Here’s a link to a video showing David masterfully driving, and me doing a Daffy Duck impersonation while at the

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