I had it planned for three weeks. I was going to put my brand new private pilot certificate into use and take passengers to my first fly-in breakfast. Although the day was a success and all enjoyed themselves, one unexpected occurrence made a lasting impression and reinforced the examiner’s statement that he was giving me a “license to learn”.
I was eager to spend the day really enjoying my flying. Although I’d developed a passion for anything aviation-related, through six months of flying lessons I’d always taken it very seriously and my instructor kept asking me if I was having fun yet. I was conscious of the responsibility – having three other people with me and their lives depending on my ability to pilot us safely back to earth.
I woke up to a beautiful day. The planned route went from SLE (Salem, Oregon) to Mulino for the breakfast with my 16-year-old son and my boyfriend aboard. My brother would meet us in Mulino, and from there we would fly to Seaside on the coast to visit our sister. Our planned 8:30 departure was delayed when we drove from our home in Dallas into Salem where ground fog had formed, creating temporary IFR conditions. Within an hour, the fog had burned off, and a call to my brother determined that it was clear in Mulino. After thoroughly pre-flighting the C-172 belonging to my flying club, the three of us were airborne and I was feeling my usual total exhilaration.
We had arranged to meet up in air with some friends who were coming from a nearby field to the breakfast and the coordinated point was perfect. My preplanning was accurate to lead us straight to the Mulino field and we landed smoothly, taxing past flaggers who directed us to an overflow grass parking area. My brother was waiting and I’ve got to say that we were served some of the best blueberry pancakes I’ve ever tasted. After breakfast, we viewed some vintage cars and a fully restored Stearman that was on display, then went to the FBO to get an update on coastal weather. The low ceilings earlier in the morning had cleared, leaving perfect conditions for the trip.
Taking off from Mulino, I navigated over the Newberg VOR, then turned to my heading to Seaside. Climbing to 5500′, I heard the expected oohs from my passengers as we looked down on the forests of the coastal mountain range, with the beautiful blue Pacific in sight. I began a slow descent over the Nehalem river then turned north along the shoreline. Approaching the Seaside airport, I made a pass down the runway to look at the windsock, which indicated light winds about 20 degrees off the runway. (Seaside is unattended and has no services on the field) I entered a downwind leg into the pattern and announced my intention to any area traffic, set up my normal approach, lowered flaps, turned final, then Whoa!! What are those brown shapes on the runway???
ELK! About a dozen of them, on the runway and in the grass on either side of it. Go-Around time! Think! Full throttle, carb heat in, raise flaps one notch at a time. Roar down the runway at about 200′, hopefully to scare them off , climb back to 800′. Key the mike “Seaside traffic, advisory, elk on the runway, repeat, elk on runway! Cessna 737CM is going around!” As a student I did go-arounds when my approach was poor, but was always told to be ready for one if there could be an obstruction on the runway. Actually, six weeks earlier on my check ride, the examiner told me there was an (imaginary) elephant on the runway to have me demonstrate my knowledge on go-arounds. But I never expected to have one in real life today!
In the meantime, a Piper Archer was approaching from the south to land as well. This guy was low on fuel! I completed my second go-around without being able to scare them off the field, but my brother had wipped out his camera and was snapping pictures. Around again, with the Archer behind, no success. I was considering a diversion to Astoria! Finally, on my fourth approach, I saw the elk heading for the treeline to the east of the runway. I radioed to the Archer that it was clear and they would not be a factor for him, and I would come around behind again.
The approach was smooth and I landed with a sigh of relief, taxing to the parking ramp. The pilot of the Archer waved “Wasn’t that special?!” I laughed “I won’t forget this trip!” We called my sister on a cell phone and she was on her way. When she arrived, she said that she had seen us circling and wondered why we didn’t land (on my previous trip to Seaside with my instructor, brisk crosswinds caused me to make two go-arounds). But she laughed when she heard about the elk “they live here too”.
After a short visit, we departed for home. The return trip was uneventful, although a bit turbulent over the mountains. I know that I learned something today, beware of any warnings for your destination airports, believe that it can happen to you, and most important, Always be ready!