A GA Flight to Perfection, USA10:19 PM
Ask any GA pilot, and they'll tell you of the same quest, where they strap on their favorite bird and launch in search of fun, sunshine and the elusive $100 hamburger. To many of us who hold our pilot's licenses dear, we seem to be in a continuous hunt for new destinations to aim our props, places with something to do once wheels meet runway.
In a perfect flying world, our dream destination would feature beautiful scenery, lots of good airplane folk hanging around a comfortable FBO where large amounts of pastries and baked goods are free for the taking, an FBO that also offers sensible ground transportation. This place would be close to endless recreation, in a location known for clean air, friendly people and a laid-back lifestyle.
Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I had the rare opportunity to find this exact GA Shangri-la, a wonderland of fun, food, airplanes and endless blue skies:
We launched out of Eugene Airport (EUG) and pointed Katy eastbound, hammer down. Our scenic 40-minute journey became more beautiful with every NM as we climbed up over the Cascade Range. We were awestruck with the panorama of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor peaks at our nine o'clock, and the Waldo Lake Wilderness off our three. With perfect zero winds aloft, the ride was on rails, and soon we had Katy lined up with runway 36 at Sunriver Resort's airport.After a nice greaser – ya' gotta love the way the Piper Cherokee almost lands itself – we taxied to parking on the kind of GA ramp we all dream of finding. Along with several full rows of your usual Skyhawks, Skylanes, Turbo Lances, Glasairs and a smattering of vintage hardware like a mint Cessna 170, we also saw a TBM 850, a King Air 350 and an Eclipse 500 parked over in the high rent district south of the main ramp. It was very cool to watch the TBM launch as we strolled to the FBO, where our day really started to come together:
After ordering fuel to a very friendly crew that seem a touch surprised a Cherokee of any kind had tip tanks, we were blown away to be offered FREE loaner beach cruiser bikes for the day. Yes, some FBOs give you a little cookie, or a bottle of water, but just outside the FBO was about 20 FREE bikes, just choose one and go. Had this been Palm Springs, you could expect to pay $18.95 for a half-day bike rental, but not at Sunriver. Here, it's gratis baby, and man, that sure makes you, the guest, feel important.So what do you do with free bikes at Sunriver? Better to ask what DON'T you do. You can cruise along the banks of the gorgeous Deschutes River on perfect paved bike paths, or roll on over to the brand new Equestrian Center for a guided horseback ride. Or, go past the horses and pull into the Marina for a canoe or raft rental, and float the river for six miles before the resort staff meets you and brings you back to your bikes. And then there's the golf:
O.K., I don't play golf, but I know people who do, including one PGA professional who has achieved the highest level you can get in PGA course management. I've photographed golf courses, and as an avid lawn mower, I just know healthy grass when I see it. And just about everywhere I looked as we pedaled along were pristine greens and manicured fairways that I'm sure are known for their wonderful playing qualities. But what blew me away was the professional-level Putt-Putt golf course, which was REAL grass! Not concrete painted green, where you try and hit the ball up the Clown's butt, no, these were real greens just like the real course, with real tee boxes, all perfectly clipped to allow a round of putt-putt golf like you've never experienced.After a great meal in the Lodge, we again cruised our FREE bikes all over the complex, in perfect 72-degree weather, breathing the cleanest Oregon air, saying hello to endless happy people. This was a GA day to remember, and I cannot wait to return again to Sunriver in August for our 22nd wedding anniversary during the Sunriver Music Festival Aug. 12 -22. On that trip, we will again claim our free bikes, take the two-hour horseback ride through the forest and along the river, stay in a condo we find on VRBO, and play a round of serious Putt-Putt golf.
If you own a GA plane and live within a couple of tanks of S21 - Sunriver Resort Airport - you really need to make this place a required destination. A flight in here to play for a day or a week is what GA flying is all about. It is the very essence of why we buy and fly private planes, a destination that defines the kind of freedom we as pilots enjoy.
And while I certainly can afford to rent a couple of bikes for a day, the fact that they are free to pilots is something that resonates with you long after you have departed the pattern for home. My ad agency reps several properties in the tourism field, and it's things like this – a freebie when they could have gigged you out a twenty spot – that keeps people coming back.