The Washington State Department of Transportation and a bunch of aviation organizations just released the Fly Washington passport program. Basically, it's a program where you get a free "passport" booklet which contains a bunch of blank spots organized by region of the state, and your job is to fly to different airports and fill out the passport. Apparently there's some kind of prize at the end if you fulfill a set of requirements.
The goal of the program is to encourage aviation, and particularly to drive traffic to smaller airports that have been suffering from lack of use in the last decade or two.
I'm here to tell you, I love this kind of thing. I always envied people who had passports full of visa stamps; there's just something so satisfying about all those stamps from all those places. It's not even the places that appeal to me, just the sheer collector-impulse OCD satisfaction of pages covered in stamps. So I fell for the Washington aviation version hook, line and sinker.
Despite what it says on the official page, it appears that most airport offices have at least a handful of passport booklets available. You don't have to go exclusively to the four official places to pick one up. I was able to get one at the Harvey Field FBO office, and they had a stack of at least ten more ready to give away. At least here at the start of the program, it's worth asking at your local airport.
Norbert at the Darrington Airport (1S2)
This weekend was my official entre into the passport stamp game. I managed to hit five different airports over two days -- yesterday I flew up to Lynden to visit a friend, and today I took the afternoon to specifically go out and collect some stamps, eventually stopping at Arlington, Darrington, Paine Field, and Harvey Field. I expect to have more days like this over the summer, where I just go flying for the day and hit new airports I haven't visited recently, simply to collect the stamp.
The thing is, from what I can tell, pilots will grab at nearly any excuse to go flying. It acts nearly like an addiction. "Gotta go collect some stamps" is a ready-made excuse, and seems to me like an excellent way to get a bunch of pilots into the air and visiting airports far and wide across the state.
On today's flight, I started out at Harvey as usual, and grabbed the stamp from the office, where it's temporarily being kept until they set up an external station for it. Then it was off to Arlington for my next stamp -- Lynden was collected yesterday. Arlington was interesting, because the wind changed direction as I was fuelling up, then Norbert's carb heat seemed to malfunction at the run-up check. I pulled back around to a taxiway, shut down, and did a quick visual check -- everything looked right, and on the next run-up it worked like it should. These little Continentals apparently ice up at the slightest provocation, so a malfunctioning carb heat system is a big deal.
From Arlington, I had to ponder where I wanted to go next. Norbert is still limited by a lack of blinkenlights, which keeps it from being legal for night flight, so I had to be back to Harvey before the sun set. That ruled out any longer flights, but as I was looking at the chart, I realized that Darrington was only about 25 nm away, and I'd never been there before. That seemed like an ideal destination, so I launched and turned northeast from Arlington.
The Darrington airport is a very small strip set near downtown Darrington -- Darrington is a town of about 1400 people, so "downtown" is a relative description. Nevertheless, the airstrip is right in the middle of town. I was interested to see runway lights and a beacon: I had flown (in a different plane) out to the Concrete airport a few years ago hoping to watch a meteor shower from a very dark place, but Concrete didn't have runway lights. Darrington isn't quite as dark, but the ability to actually land at night overcomes that downside to some extent.
The wind was blowing pretty strongly from the west, so I set up for runway 28. I actually overestimated the amount of wind the first time around, and wound up too high to land, so I went around and tried again rather than try to salvage an obviously flawed landing approach. Once I got down, I parked the plane next to a helicopter with a massive boom strapped to the skids, which looked like it hooked up to some kind of geological sensor box. The stamp at Darrington is located in a "small box on the beige hangar" -- with the aid of the photo on the passport website, I realized it was what looked like a discarded electrical junction box. I gathered my stamp and took a few photos. I found Darrington to be a surprisingly delightful little airstrip.
The flight back was not as daunting as I'd feared (I was expecting the headwind coming up the valley to really slow me down, but it wasn't bad), and I realized that it was only 7:20, and I had ages until sunset (8:03 pm), so why not pack Paine Field into the flight? I entered my best powered-descent mode, hitting 115 MPH (normal cruise is about 85, so this is screaming for Norbert) as I made tracks for Paine's traffic pattern.
Once on the ground, the Paine ground controller didn't know about the passport stamp, so I stealthlily looked it up while doing a very slow taxi. I called the ground controller back, and after a few minutes of mutual confusion, they got me directed to the right spot, right next to Regal Air. I leapt out of the plane, ran into the flight planning space, stamped my passport, and dashed out again. Norbert was swung 180° and shuddered to life again -- that sun seemed to be accelerating toward the horizon as a cloud bank suddenly hid it from view, and the moment of sunset is my official cutoff.
Fortunately, there was no waiting to get to the runway, and I was off the ground having only spent about 10 minutes between landing and takeoff -- that's definitely a record for me. I managed to touch down at Harvey with nearly 5 minutes to spare, and relaxed with a celebratory snack as I watched the sky fade from blue to pink to purple over Norbert's nose. I had spent a mere 14 minutes between starting the engine at Paine and shutting it down at Harvey.
Flying continues to be a surprisingly potent source of happiness for me. It finally took finding my own airplane to really get into the groove of things, but I'm glad I did. Now I just have to plan out the next few batches of passport stamps I need to go for...