The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Dough Herlihy
Aviator 

There's something in the air about the Goldendale airport

 


Out on the road past the Klickitat Fairground lies the quiet Goldendale City Airport. Some days the only activity is passing tumbleweed. Owned by the City of Goldendale, it sits in the county beyond city limits, perhaps suffering an historical indifference by a city government whose traditional focus has been on community interests and events other than aviation. A few airplanes are parked, tied down to a cable, but there are no hangars, no fuel to buy. The phone booth is abandoned, its handset dangling, unconnected. A plastic port-a-potty offers the only flight crew rest stop. The occasional radio call on its “common traffic advisory frequency” rarely is answered. But that’s OK; there’s not much traffic. Last year, even the rotating beacon was shot out. Bypassed by most airplanes between Portland and the Tri Cities or the busier airports of Yakima or Ellensburg, the Goldendale Airport, even with its excellent east-west runway, hosts few visiting airplanes because it lacks the lifeblood of airports—aircraft fuel.

But wait! We may hear aircraft sounds on the horizon.

There is now a groundswell of interest and energy to “put Goldendale Airport on the map” in a very important manner. This interest extends beyond the pilots of the area. In the future, “on the map” may mean “we have fuel at the Goldendale Airport,” with an important chart symbol on the Aeronautical Chart showing fuel availability. Sort of “build it and they will come” idea. Notably, but with little fanfare, on Tuesday, May 24, Goldendale City officials, including Mayor Mike Canon, the Chamber of Commerce’s Dana Peck, Klickitat Sheriff Bob Songer, and other citizens held the first of important meetings with the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners with the aim of vitalization of this most important county asset. Vitalization that would include hangars, runway extension, and fuel! Not merely as a fuel stop, but a hub for future aircraft operations including firefighting aircraft, agricultural operations, search and rescue aircraft, LifeFlight, and host to business and recreational aircraft.

One may ask, “Why improve this airport when there’s a bigger one with fuel at Dallesport?” Similar to any property, be it residential, business or airport, it’s “location, location, location.”

At the May 24 meeting the strategic location and importance of both the Goldendale Airport and The Dalles Airport was explained to the Board of Commissioners. The Dalles Airport (actually situated in Dallesport) serves, and has joint support from, The Dalles, as well as Klickitat County. The airport at Dallesport, despite longer runways, many improvements over the years, and its fuel depot, suffers from a considerable environmental and location handicap because Gorge winds can limit some operations. Despite its lack of activity, The Dalles Airport has excellent management and offers professional maintenance. It’s a good regional airport when the weather cooperates. The winds in the Gorge often deal the Dallesport airport a tough hand to play. Consequently, area pilots would likely support airports at both Goldendale as well as The Dalles, especially considering the long waiting list to rent the limited hangar space at the Dallesport facility and the need for fuel when Gorge weather is so often contrary.

The history of The Dalles airfield was offered in the meeting, highlighting its important World War II aviation origin. That history included using challenging weather to its advantage.

During that war, the US Army Air Corps developed patrol bases along the west coast. Day after day, submarine patrol flights came and went from these now quieter fields. Most wartime pilots had received their training in the flatlands of Texas or California, but the flyers needed additional training for northwest flight conditions. The Corps found that two locations exhibited unique weather conditions for training pilots: Arcada, Calif., had the most foggy days in the USA; and The Dalles Airfield had fierce cross winds and dangerous high terrain. Thus, cross-wind training was instituted at The Dalles Airport. These conditions have not changed. Even today, pilots know that high winds, low clouds, and steep mountains surrounding The Dalles Airport can be a real challenge.

The Goldendale Airport has a better location, for many good reasons.

Our own airport enjoys a regular westerly wind, straight down its east/west runway 25. Moreover, the runway approach either from east or west is over flat terrain, and routinely the visibility is unlimited. Navigation to our airport is excellent for pilots. Likewise, FAA air traffic and weather facilities can be reached instantly by radio from the Goldendale Airport to the beacon facility at High Prairie. Unlike approaches to The Dalles, descents do not require steep mountainous-terrain maneuvers. Moreover, according to National Weather Service records, Goldendale boasts more visual-flight-rules (cloud ceilings above 1,000 feet and visibility above three miles) more days than any airport west of the Cascades. It’s a flight-friendly field, with space to grow—but without fuel, it is simply bypassed in favor of Portland or Troutdale, or the Tri-Cities to the east.

This brings the reader up to date. Standby for more good news.

 

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