Surprise ride in the skies on Veterans Day 2020

The author, along with pilot Jim Origliosso, get ready for takeoff in his Saratoga II HP on Veterans Day this past Wednesday, Nov. 11.

I have always appreciated Veterans Day, having had veteran family members and a partner, Nathan Neill, who serves in the Oregon Army National Guard.  

This year, we celebrated exceptionally.

I don’t think either of us intended on taking flight that day, but when we found out flights were being offered in the airplanes lined up on display at Creswell Hobby Field Airport, Nate signed a waiver immediately. I took a little longer to come around to the idea.

With Nate waiting for his flight in the 1943 Navy airplane, I spotted pilot Jim Origliosso and Navy veteran Jack Gradel. They chatted by Origliosso’s airplane Saratoga II HP, which Gradel was about to take a ride in.

Saratoga II HP had multiple passenger seats, and Origliosso asked if I wanted to come along for the ride. Thinking this was a photo and life opportunity I certainly did not want to miss, I was convinced and found myself chasing after Shelley Humble for a waiver. 

This was my first flight in a smaller airplane, and I’m thankful for how mellow it turned out to be. Nate told me later, he had been egging on his pilot to take some aerobatic maneuvers that would make roller coaster enthusiasts nervous.

Gradel said that in the Navy he was warned that if you didn’t have your seatbelt on while in the air and for some reason a window pops open, you’re going out of the airplane along with everything else.

I triple-checked my seat belt after that.  

We took off on runway 344. I had a second set of steering wheel and foot pedals in front of me, which moved simultaneously with every turn Origliosso made. I had a headset on, and Origliosso was nice enough to let me know anytime we were about to turn and Saratoga II HP would dip sideways.

Once we reached 170 miles per hour, it was easy to visit Pleasant Hill, Springfield, Autzen Stadium and back to the Hobby Field airport in no time at all. The ride was smooth, and I was surprised by how sturdy these little airplanes actually are. I thought I’d feel more worried about my body being that high in the air, but I felt at ease and chatted with Origliosso about his airplane while taking pictures.

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLEUniversity of Oregon’s athletic venues as seen from Jim Origliosso’s cockpit.

Origliosso has been flying for 12 years. He said the weather that day was great. If the weather had been rainy, there wouldn’t have been any flying at all. During this season, he only gets to fly about once a week, but during the better weather months he gets about three to four flying sessions weekly. The farthest he’d ever flown Saratoga II HP was to Wisconsin. 

Riding shotgun, I had a much better view than I ever had on regular flights in large commercial airplanes. I never realized before just how much water runs through the Willamette Valley until it was all in front of me at once. The mass forests of evergreen trees also seemed much less intimidating from up in the air. The most dominant landmark had to be Autzen Stadium, every massive yellow “O” decoration demanding to be looked at before anything else. I was able to see all of the trees changing color for fall in the valley, confirming that fall is definitely my favorite time of year. 

There was faint chatter between pilots on the headset updating their locations as there were multiple planes sharing the same air space that day. Even though we flew all over Lane County, the trip felt short and the landing was smooth, much better than most landings I’ve had on typical flights. If the opportunity ever presents itself, I recommend taking a peaceful ride in one of these little airplanes.

Emma Routley is a writer and photographer for The Chronicle.



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