Thursday, August 2, 2012

The poetry of aviation from a Troutdale pilot

From OregonLive:  The poetry of aviation from a Troutdale pilot

Twelve hundred feet above the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls looks like a leaky faucet.
The mountains form powerful barriers to the north and south. There’s no fade from lush Western Oregon to brown Eastern Oregon, but rather a sudden, stark change in hue.

The best times in her little, ostentatiously purple Cessna airplane, says Mary Rosenblum, are at dawn and dusk, when the landscape is bathed in a golden light, smoothing out imperfections and highlighting the magnitude of land and water. And Christmas, she adds, when colorful lights sprinkle the view.

“I’ll never get tired of it,” says Rosenblum, who has flown 600 hours since she earned her pilot’s license three years ago. “I don’t think I’ll be tired of it after 6,000 hours.”

At age 60, Rosenblum, an award-winning science fiction author — “Horizons” and “Water Rites” are her most recent — is one of the few female pilots in Oregon aviation.

Of the approximately 500 pilots in the Oregon Pilots Association, of which Rosenblum is president-elect, about 10 percent are women. “It’s part of the reason I work so hard at being a good pilot — I want to do it as good or better than (the male pilots).”

She is based at the Portland-Troutdale Airport in Troutdale, the third-busiest airport in the state, behind Portland International and Hillsboro Airport, all owned by Port of Portland, says David Langford, air traffic manager at Troutdale.

On a clear day last week, small planes circled the control tower like seagulls. Typical, Langord says. Last year Troutdale had more than 150,000 takeoffs and landings with traffic from its two flight schools and its 150 private pilots. Traffic is nearly double since 2007, when the airport recorded 98,000 takeoffs and landings.
Rosenblum contributes her share to the traffic with several flights a week to master her skills.
She is instrument trained, the highest certification for pilots, allowing her to fly in inclement weather with analog instruments as guides. She changes her airplane’s oil herself and is active in the pilot association’s events and causes.

She's fulfilling her childhood dreams of being airborne.

“A woman couldn’t be a jet pilot or an airline pilot when I was a kid,” she says. “I wanted to be an astronaut when I was in high school, but there was no way for women to get into the program.”
Rosenblum is a year younger than Sally Ride, who at 32 was the first American woman in space. Ride died last week.

After Rosenblum's two sons were grown, she pursued her longtime dream to be a pilot. At 57 , she was in a small plane cockpit with an instructor, who would send the plane into a nosedive so she could practice recovering it.

“I thought, by then (in her late 50s) it was kind of late,” she says. “But then I thought, ‘I can be as good as the younger guys.’”

On a sunny day over Eastern Oregon south of the Columbia River, she took the plane to a 45-degree angle to spin 360-degrees on an invisible axis. Land sliced diagonally across the window. Then she smoothly pulled out of the rotation.

“Flying is an ongoing physics lesson,” Rosenblum says. “These planes are beautifully made; they want to fly."

“When lift exceeds gravity you go up,” she adds, as if the words are poetry. “It’s still all like the Wright brothers — pulleys and cables.”

She knows every centimeter and operation of her plane, as do all pilots, she says. Each year planes have to be completely disassembled and reassembled for a Federal Aviation Administration safety inspection.

A full log book and a couple years later, Rosenblum is a pilot the way other people are drivers: she hops in her plane for a day trip to the coast or for a weekend of camping.

Now she’s working to fill up her second log book.

“Flying itself is really empowering,” she says. “It’s not something we’re able to do; we made ourselves able to do it.”

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