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WL resident completes a trip many lifelong pilots never attempt

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RICK FARNBACH - Rick Farnbach saw this view of the Columbia River Gorge as he headed west toward the Portland metro area during the tail end of his cross-country flight. West Linn resident Rick Farnbach was hooked from the very beginning.

And once he got a taste of flying, he went all in. From that first lesson a year ago at the Aurora Airport, it didn’t take Farnbach long to start plotting a way to purchase his own plane. And that led to one of the greatest adventures of his life.

“It was a great way to start,” Farnbach said. “Even if people ... are sort of on the fence, if they had the opportunity like I did to fly all the way across the country in a little airplane, I think everyone would be hooked on it.”

Farnbach, 49, now has about 40 hours of time behind the controls of an airplane — still short of the minimum of 45 flying hours needed to pass Federal Aviation Administration certification standards. But at least 27 of those hours were recently spent at the stick of his 2009 Cessna 172 as he ferried the plane back to Oregon from its previous owner in Florida.

The man does not mess around when it comes to his passions.

“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Aurora Aviation flight instructor Kent VonLetkemann, who accompanied Farnbach to Florida and back.

“A lot of pilots don’t do that,” VonLetkemann said, “and he already has on his second trip. There were a lot of lessons packed into that trip.”

The trip took a week to complete. It was packed with stops along the way as Farnbach and VonLetkemann avoided huge weather systems and other obstacles on a southerly route across the Gulf Coast states, Texas and New Mexico before swinging north into Utah and Idaho and then west into Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge.

The average flight student, according to VonLetkemann, flies between 50 and 70 hours before earning a license.

An application engineer for Synopsys, a California-based firm that specializes in electronic design automation of computer chips, Farnbach has been biding his time, waiting for the day when he would have the time and resources available to devote to learning to fly. When his children moved out of the house, he used that as a cue to act.

“That’s basically what it came down to for me,” he said. “I’ve been looking into it for a year or so, and preparing for when would be a good time. And finally it was sunny one Saturday and I said, ‘Today’s the day I’m going to find out what flying is all about.’ So, I went to Aurora Aviation and they convinced me.”

After that first lesson, he was sold. He continued to take lessons and quickly began the hunt for his own plane.

The answer is in Florida

The Cessna 172 is a single-engine, propeller-driven aircraft. It is one of the most popular civilian-owned models in the world and has been sold to the public for more than a half century. Older used models can be had for less than $20,000, while new specimens retail for more than $350,000.

Farnbach found something in the middle. But that required him to scour every corner of the country before finding what he needed in Florida.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RICK FARNBACH - West Linn resident and student pilot Rick Farnbach stands in front of his Cessna 172, which carried him from Florida back to Oregon during a recent cross-country trip.

“It’s not a good time to put myself at risk,” he explained. “My family, if you talk to them about flying, they’re convinced I’ll drop out of the sky at some point. So, I wanted an airplane that had the most safe situation possible and found this airplane.”

Boasting a sophisticated Garmin G1000 avionics suite that includes an integrated autopilot, there’s nothing run-of-the-mill about Farnbach’s Cessna.

It’s safe, and it helped make the journey back across America something memorable.

He learned how to navigate and plot a course using a map on the fly. He got accustomed to the so-called victor airways assigned to low-flying aircraft by the FAA. And he even got practice with take-offs and landings — by far the most challenging part of being a pilot, he said.

“Every step of the way I learned more about navigating and planning routes,” he said. “And once we got into the Rockies I learned about how to use a topographic map.”

Farnbach also got to experience the expanse of America, both its people and geography.

“It’s not just watching the land change,” he said. “It’s landing and talking to the people from one place to the next that was fascinating.”

It’s a lot different, he added, viewing the country from 10,000 feet instead of the 35,000 feet or higher typical of commercial flight.

Along with the Rockies, his favorite sights included the Gulf Coast along Alabama and other southern states, as well as flying low through the Columbia River Gorge and viewing the innumerable waterfalls from above.

He also happened to land at an airfield in Alabama where Naval aviation cadets were busy practicing touch-and-go landings in their two-seat turboprop trainer craft.

“We got to talk a little bit about flying, and obviously they’re in a completely different world than I am,” Farnbach said. “But it was fun talking to them about avionics. We talked about headsets, too, but they laughed because they wear these big helmets.”

Oh, and the aerobatics commonly practiced by military pilots aren’t likely to become a part of Farnbach’s routine, either.

“That’s something I won’t ever pick up,” he said, chuckling. “And if I do, it won’t be in a little Cessna.”

Back at home, Farnbach is working as quickly as he can to gain his pilot’s license. He still needs to fly solo, however, and a work schedule that routinely takes him out of the country is proving to be a challenge to get around.

But he’s still got some milestones in mind.

“My goal is to be able to fly down to California by myself for Thanksgiving this year,” he said. “I want to bring my wife. And my birthday is in July and it would be cool if I was soloing by then.”

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