About 30 local pilots took advantage of a sunny, calm New Year’s Day to fly from the Roseburg Regional Airport — in the name of freedom. Freedom to fly that is.
The pilots have gathered every New Year’s Day for the past 13 years in support of aviation. They get out their planes for a ride around the area, just to celebrate the fact that they have the freedom to fly when and where they want.
The local pilots said they want to keep the tradition going, even though it’s not an official function of any organization.
The pilots meet every year on Jan. 1 for a chance to fly around the Umpqua Valley. Many of the planes are experimental or homemade aircraft, and some older models that have been maintained in excellent working order over the years.
“The idea is to celebrate our freedom to fly, because in this country we have so much more freedom than other countries, and we decided it’s a good excuse,” said Paul Schafer, a pilot and member of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The freedom to fly is something the pilots take seriously, and they are passionate about their planes.
“Many people in this country feel that before you take off you have to file a flight plan, but that’s not true,” said pilot Joe Messenger. “It’s perfectly legal, as long as you’re a licensed pilot and your plane is up to snuff, but we do have that right and privilege that a lot of people don’t have.”
Local pilots and aviation supporters met for breakfast at Elmer’s Restaurant on Tuesday morning to socialize and wait for the fog to break. By about 11:30 a.m. they were ready to put the planes in the air, as bright sunshine was breaking through over the Umpqua Valley.
Some of the people fly planes, some build planes, some are just supporters of aviation.
“One year we had 20 airplanes that participated,” Schafer said. “We don’t necessarily fly together. Everybody goes out and some go to the coast, some just fly around locally, so it’s been fun.”
The planes headed out in different directions with several heading toward the Glide area and making landings on some challenging short, hilly, grassy and sometimes muddy airstrips.
The flights continued on to the Callahan Mountains to the west following the North Umpqua and the main Umpqua River for much of the route, seeing some of the most picturesque parts of central Douglas County.
It was perfect flying weather Tuesday, but the pilots will fly in just about any kind of weather. The biggest problem in January is fog and low cloud cover.
“We’ve flown when we had rain showers. One year we just flew around the airport and never left the pattern, but it’s been fun,” Schafer said. “Of course pilots will take any excuse to fly.”
Rhonda Sprague, one of the increasing number of women pilots in the area, has become a big supporter of the aviation community in Douglas County, ever since her first date with her husband was up in the air.
“My husband Dan took me on a first date in an airplane,” she said. “I decided I wanted to know what was going on and I wanted to know how to land it — and by the time you can land it, you can be a pilot.”
A year later she had her pilot’s license, and now she has become an avid flyer with her own plane. She likes to show her support for the freedom to fly.
“We just go up for the joy of flying today. We’ve flown to the coast and over Crater Lake, and sometimes we just stay local. It all depends on the weather,” Sprague said. “You can get in the air, but you also have to get down. But just being up there and seeing the countryside, I’m always amazed at the beauty God created.”
A two-car collision injured at least one person and caused extensive damage to both vehicles that were heading south on Interstate 5 near exit 120 late Wednesday night.
Oregon State Police could not confirm any other details about the accident, only saying that it was under investigation.
Debris from the accident, including glass pieces and recreation equipment, was scattered across the highway for at least 100 yards after exit 120. It appeared a sport utility vehicle crashed into the back side of a small pickup truck.
Both vehicles were undrivable after the collision.
The SUV was dragged off the highway by emergency personnel, who also assisted both drivers safely out of their vehicles. Oregon State Police confirmed each vehicle only had one person in it but said they could not file an official report until each driver was interviewed.
Interstate traffic was briefly detoured with flares and emergency vehicles off I-5 and onto the Green exit leading to Highway 99 before it was slowed to one lane while debris was cleaned up from the roadway.
Oregon State Fish and Wildlife officers are asking for the public’s assistance in locating and apprehending the person or persons responsible for shooting and leaving an adult bald eagle on Nov. 16, in Douglas County.
The eagle was shot in the neck with a small-caliber rifle from Lower Cow Creek Road approximately 2 miles south of Doe Creek Road near Riddle. The suspect’s vehicle is described as a newer red or maroon compact four-door truck, likely a Nissan Frontier or similar model, Oregon State Police said.
Those with information are asked to contact Sr. Trooper Jason Stone directly at 541-817-4472 or OSP dispatch at 541-440-3333. Callers can remain anonymous, and a reward will be offered for information leading to a citation or arrest in the case.