The air up there (Summer Weekends)

[skye:] We’re continuing to play on the idea that just as New Yorkers “are what they wear,” and Chicagoans “are what they eat,” here in Seattle, “we are our summer weekend.” Why do we continue to insist on describing our fair city with a one-dimensional idea? Because it’s fun, that’s why!

Using a five-question format to interview each other and random locals, we explore our summertime activities. Cat Nilan kicked things off in her paen to camping and hiking. Today David picks up where Cat left off, and takes us on a heady adventure.

David Herman is a Seattle area writer, technologist and aviation geek, who has been interested in flying ever since he was a kid. Now a private pilot, he bought an airplane a few years ago for recreation. He last circled the Olympic Peninsula in his Cessna 150 on Friday, his tenth trip ’round the horn. His flying websites can be found at

1) What’s your favorite summer weekend activity?
If the weather cooperates, I like to go flying. I have a small 2-seat airplane (nothing fancy or terribly expensive) that I keep at Seattle’s Boeing Field. I fly primarily for recreation — I find it’s very relaxing and I like the perspective it gives me on life and on the world below.

2) What is your favorite route to fly?
I’ve flown all over the Northwest, and there are plenty of great places to explore all around the region, but my favorite flight is probably a loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

under the wing
the view from under the wing

From Seattle I usually head out to the coast and land first at Hoquiam (to get fuel and maybe a bite to eat). From Hoquiam I follow the coast north, past miles of wild, broad beaches and rocky sea stacks, all the way to Cape Flattery, Washington’s “land’s end” — the tip of the upper left corner of the state and continental United States. I usually circle around wave-swept Tatoosh Island, a rocky islet just off the end of the mainland (if the plane had a horn, I’d beep it then), and look down at the lonely old lighthouse-keeper’s residence, and the hundreds of sea lions that hang out on the rocks there. Then I turn east, and follow the north coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca back towards civilization, and once I reach Puget Sound near Port Townsend, I head back south for home at Boeing Field.

The flight along the coast is utterly spectacular. I often see whales, porpoises, and plenty of other wildlife along this route, and the scenery is nothing but breathtaking — in my slow (relatively speaking) little airplane, there’s no better way to see the best views in the Northwest.

David and his plane at Copalis
Landing at Copalis

I sometimes land on the beach at Copalis, which is actually a state “airport,” and a real treasure to Northwest pilots. The only place in the state where you can land an airplane on the beach, the runway is really just a designated stretch of sand, but it’s smooth, wide, and makes a great airstrip — as long as the tide is right.

Along the way I usually stop to land and stretch my legs at Quillayute, an old Navy blimp base from the 1930s, now owned by the City of Forks and open to the public. There’s not much there now but a big old runway and a couple of WWII-era buildings slowly going to rot, but I love the feel of the old airfield — to me it’s Ghost Town International.

I’m convinced a small plane is the ideal way to see this area: much of this coastline is very rugged, isolated wilderness, and to see all the sights, you either need to be a pretty dedicated hiker or have a boat — and in either case, it would take quite a while to get there and it’s difficult to see it all. In a small plane, it’s just a short, incredibly scenic hop from Seattle. Every time I do this flight, I come back with all my mental and spiritual batteries fully recharged, and counting my blessings.

3) How much planning is involved?
Well, if you don’t count getting a pilot’s license and buying an airplane (both of which certainly take some effort but are a lot easier and less costly than many people might think), it doesn’t take very much advance work. Of course, any flight requires some prep work, and this one is no exception: checking the weather (really critical along this route, which is notorious for having perhaps the worst weather in the continental US — and I only fly when it’s nice outside); you have to do a brief preflight inspection to check to be sure the airplane is in good shape; you also have to check for any last-minute surprises that could get F-16s chasing you (like if a president comes to town and all the airspace is shut down). But I’ve flown this route many times now; I’m quite familiar with both the plane and the area, so I don’t need to spend much more than about an hour to get prepared for this flight.

4) How long have you been flying?
I first learned to fly when I was just 13 years old, and have been fascinated with airplanes all my life. After a long period of being stuck on the ground, I bought my first airplane in the fall of 2001. I try to fly at least once a week when I can get away with it.

5) Are there any unique features to flying in Seattle/PNW?
Of course, Seattle — aka “the Jet City” — certainly has more than a few historic connections to aviation. That well-known company that builds jet airliners (among other things that fly) is just one of the things that has made the Northwest a center for aviation, both commercially and for recreation. I’m convinced that there’s no place more scenic to fly around, and the region has plenty of really cool places to fly (there are 139 public use airports in Washington — I’ve been to 92 so far, and am working on the rest).

If this sounds like fun, or you’ve always thought “some day I’d like to learn to fly,” a good place to begin is the “Be A Pilot” website. See you up there!

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